Who was the bright spark in the Tamworth City Council who moved the goal post to allow nearly every busker in the Tamworth Country Music Festival to have a PA system which churns out backing tracks? Since when did Peel Street become Karaoke Avenue?

No seriously… Singing with a black box churning out backing tracks is NOT busking. It’s Karaoke! The whole idea of busking is for entertainers to stand out amidst the din of the street and attract the attention of passers by.

How the bloody hell can one do that when there is a PA system literally every ten feet? You’d think if all one has to do is stand on the street and sing that they’d be something bloody special to be able to stop people and make them part with their money. But nope.

Peel Street sounded like one very bad LSD trip and I couldn’t wait to squeeze into a hot sweaty crowded pub with a real live band for some peace and quiet.

Now I have read comments and had arguments with people over this issue but I’m standing firm.

Some singers say they can’t play an instrument and therefore “they have to use a backing track”. Really? Well maybe if these singers would tear themselves away from their I-Bands and join a real band with musicians, they could actually get some gigs or at the very least may be able to put together a duo to perform live on the street.

Then there are those who do play an instrument and say “My guitar playing isn’t confident enough to busk”. Well then, DON’T BUSK! It’s as simple as that really! Spend some time practising instead of listening to your family saying you can be whatever you want to be and telling you how good you are. You’re shit unless you practice. That’s life! If all else fails  find someone who is competent and is able to accompany you.

Singing to backing tracks is bad for a singer. It has its uses but only to a point. At some stage every singer who is serious about performing outside of their bedroom will come in contact with other musicians. Maybe a full band, a church organist, a couple of dudes playing acoustic guitars, they will eventually work with other musicians. They cannot spend their whole life singing to a black box. But the longer they are tied to the I-Band umbilical the more unbearable they are going to be for musicians to work with.

So back to Tamworth. Gone are the days when you could walk down Peel Street and be impressed by raw talent of street entertainers playing warts and all and doing their best to get your attention. Now, Peel Street is a din of MIDI laden backing tracks with singers standing rigid and competing with the next singer 10 feet away who is doing the same thing.

So… If you’re thinking about busking in Tamworth next year, you had better keep it live and un-amplified. Doesn’t matter how old you are. Yes even you, the cute little 9 year old NO BACKING TRACKS or you will be heckled until you cry.



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About Tony B

Musician, producer and fledgling blogger. I like writing about the world around me including the people I meet and the places I visit. I also like writing about things that are cool and things that piss me off. This a place where I vent about stuff. Opinions are entirely my own and feel free to agree or disagree. Cheers :)


  1. Pauline says :

    So who made you boss. Who the bloody hell are you to heckle people till they cry. If you don’t like it, stay away. Not everyone can sing and play an istrument, why should they be penalised for that. If they can do one or the other, so be it. You do not have to stop and listen. Is it really busking when there is a whole band???? Some interstate acts can not afford to take the whole band due to the outrageous accommodation prices. Did you busk this year?
    Are you an artist? or just an opinionated onlooker


    • cottoneyedjoe says :

      Hi Pauline

      Thank you for your comment. No one made me boss. This is just my opinion. I am a musician and have been performing around Australia for over 40 years. I was in Tamworth and spent my 20th year there this year performing in venues during the festival. I started out busking as a 9yo kid and learnt very quickly that outside of school or your home, the world can be a harsh place. I enjoy walking down Peel Street and in the past 20 years I have produced albums for people who I met on Peel Street. Some have gone to do hugely too.

      I stand by my comments that anyone who sings should get together with other musicians. It takes time to find the right people but no one says its easy. Venues are taking advantage of the backing track phenomenon and more and more bands are finding it hard to get gigs. If I am harsh in my assessment, its because I am seeing the slow death of live music in this country and karaoke style performance is one of the reasons I believe its happening.



  2. Rob F says :

    Hi Cottoneyedjoe. Firstly, good on you for having the balls to say what you have. However, as a professional working artist who makes a living from my craft of “entertaining” I personally am able to combine the both, i.e. go and play guitar and sing with a live band. ie. drummer, guitars keys etc etc.. whilst also being versatile enough to do solo, duo and trio work with tracks which includes live guitar and live keys in most cases. For me, it’s about sustaining a living out of what I do best. I get work quite simply because I can cut it both ways. For me, I am able to put bums on seats 9/10 times because people enjoy what I do. Venues, i.e clubs in particular dont seem to have a problem with booking me as a s/d/or trio and the next night they might have a 4 or 5 pce band. They are looking for good entertainment that brings people in the door. The issue of tracks dont even rate a mention in my cicumstances. Never once has a venue said, “hang on your using a midifile or B/T”.

    I have been performing in the business for 35 years and have had to embrace changes to stay in the business. The more versatile I am the better it has been (for me) .

    Now, your disgust at Karaoke is obviously a personal opinion and everyone is entitled to that. I too have also hosted Karaoke at clubs, pubs etc and also for disabled groups. The fun and joy that people get out of this is what matters here. So karaoke has its place.

    If an artist is using a backing track, it is not karaoke. The definition of Karaoke is when a singer sings along with recorded music (a music video) . Lyrics are usually displayed on a video screen, along with a moving symbol, changing color, or music video images, to guide the singer.

    At least the artists whom you have an issue with were singing live which is a far cry from the miming thats gone on in recent times by some of the biggest names in the entertainment business world. Some have come here and charged like a “wounded bull” for tickets. Interesting thing is however that peoples opinions were varied with the majority saying, they didnt care as they were entertained by someone they adored. !

    Just another perspective to this debate.

    The issue of getting a band together is not an easy one. I for one would be selective in who I work with for all sorts of reasons. I got away from the bands all those years ago because of the difficulty in finding commitment from people.

    Times have changed.

    So singing to backing tracks is not bad in my case. We also write original jingles for Radio, TV, Cinema, using electronic means commonly done by most studios these days. Anyway, thanks for the post and best of luck with your music.

    Regards. Rob.


    • cottoneyedjoe says :

      Hi Rob F

      Thanks for your reply and apologies for the delay in getting back to you.

      First off, let me please clarify that the post you replied to was more about the art of busking and how people use it to sell merchandise and show off their talents. My blog was about people busking using backing tracks and expecting people to part with their hard earned money to tip them or buy a CD based on someone singing to a backing track while a few meters away, some kid with an acoustic guitar is tearing his/her voice to shreds and breaking strings trying to compete with the volume of PA systems being set up on the footpaths of Tamworth. It’s very easy to sound good in front of produced backing track but what sets a good busker apart from the rest is the ability to perform as raw as possible.

      I also respect and appreciate you using backing tracks at gigs when necessary. I too have also used backing tracks at gigs and varied the line up of a band to suit the event or the venue. I don’t use those gigs to sell my original music and merchandise. I also understand the commercial necessity of using electronic means to produce jingles etc. The costs of using orchestras and full bands to produce a 30 sec sting is prohibitive.

      In the end though, a paid gig is not the same as busking. Busking is an old art form of itself and the widespread use of PA systems and backing tracks is ruining the experience and not doing those performers on the street any favours. The punters walk past and are overwhelmed by the wall of sound and I’ve heard this comment in Tamworth on many ocassions “they all sound the same”.

      Thanks again for reply and I hope you continue making people happy with your music.


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