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Backing Tracks in a Gig Setting

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by FunkBear, Mar 29, 2017.

  1. FunkBear


    Jan 2, 2009
    Hello All,

    I swear I used the search function before posting about this; if this is in the wrong section please move (and forgive me).

    This previous weekend the fiancee and I went out to a bar to celebrate a friend's birthday. The bar had a live 4-piece cover band playing, so of course most of my attention is on the band. It didn't take long to figure out that they were using multiple backing tracks to fill out their sound. They played Baba O'Riley with the entire synth part tracked and Bohemian Rhapsody with the backing vocals and various other parts tracked.

    Personally, I was not digging it. It really threw me off to see the intro to Baba O'Riley starting and the entire band is just lightly banging their heads while not playing any instruments. The vocalist really stood out when his part was the only vocal part not being tracked in Bohemian Rhapsody. I know it can be done tastefully, but it has to be mixed right and probably shouldnt be as involved as this band was when using them.

    The bassist rocked though; consistent with great tone.

    So, my question is: how do you guys feel about backing tracks?

  2. My band have been fighting them for years - we constantly bang on about playing live, but sadly our keyboard player has arthritis in his fingers and it is getting worse. At some stage, he won't be able to play what he currently does. We've discussed tracks to solve the problem - which could have the twiddly bits in it, and leave him with the bits he can play. Then somebody said, well - if we are going to go to tracks, we may as well add the little bits us a four piece can't do - the odd sax part, maybe that really tricky high part that kills the drummer. 50% of us are anti, I'm on the fence and one is pro. Oddly the keys player is anti!

    We'd also lose los of our flexibility. If the audience do certain things, we frequently might go into a vamp for a few bars, talking to the audience then back in, and other songs occasionally get an extra verse and chorus - all things tracks would kill off. My own view is that tracks can work, but my rule would have to be that it is us. No getting somebody else in and adding them to the tracks.

    One band we work with often uses tracks - they don't have a drummer or bass player, and they have a pile of synths that are not plugged in, played by one of the crew - who ironically can actually play, but isn't! Nobody ever asks where the drummer is. They have four who sing, plus BVs on the track. Nobody seems to care.
    FunkBear likes this.
  3. FunkBear


    Jan 2, 2009
    Flexibility was one thing I was concerned with when I was watching this band. In a setting without tracks if something goes wrong it takes only a beat to fix because everyone can listen to each other and get the groove back. I dont see this happening as easily when a part is tracked. I feel like it would encourage the bass and drums to listen more to the track than the other live players too.
  4. theduke1

    theduke1 Supporting Member

    Dec 22, 2010
    Manitowoc WI
    I don't like them myself. I only play covers and as a trio we make songs our own. If they sound good we do them if we can't make a song sound good we drop it and move to another.
    alack, Goatrope, tfer and 1 other person like this.
  5. Johnny Crab

    Johnny Crab HELIX user & BOSE Abuser

    Feb 11, 2004
    A lot of "touring bands" use them especially some forms of metal(Nightwish, Delain, Within Temptation, others in that vein). Delain's bass player had the severe misfortune to be standing above a confetti canon when it was actuated according to cue. He finished the show but went to the hospital after with a tour-ending injury to the groin. The guitarist recorded bass tracks that were added to the "backing tracks" and the tour went on.
    Meet the Bassist Who Ruptured His Scrotum on a Glitter Cannon

    Local band in a bar?
    Used minimally, ok. Used to make them a big karaoke machine? No thanks.
  6. catcauphonic

    catcauphonic High Freak of the Low Frequencies Supporting Member

    Mar 30, 2012
    Seattle WA
    I'm not a fan of using any, but sometimes they want to add a very basic something to a song, maybe even just an intro ... and i get outvoted. At least they're used very very sparingly with our group, so i don't balk about it. I'm talking maybe 3x in 30 songs so far (edit: origionals)
  7. What do you think the Who does when they play Baba O'Reily live? They have been using that backing track for decades...

    I have used sequences before and I don't have a problem with it unless they are vocals or any other standard band instrument ( drums bass or guitars). Some strings or textural stuff is fine
  8. Trouble is so many bands use them, and the big ones too. I've been producing tracks for others for years, and in Cubase my first task with any song is to build an accurate tempo map, otherwise lots of faciities - quantising, and chopping tracks up doesn't work. So I bring in the 'real' track I intend to copy, do the tempo map, then build it up one track at a time. Two things happen. The tempo even on really solid songs eavers all over the place - 92.3, then slows to 91, then up to 92.5, then back down to 92.1 - that I call good tempo. Others of course are wild with pushs and pulls in the tempo in and out of choruses etc - but some are the same, throughout. Did one the other day from a Live at the London Palladium album, and every song was a different tempo that was crystal tight from start to finish. The reason? They were playing to track. Looking at photos, there were instruments in the mix that were not visible in the pics. I don't know why their tracks were rigid - but they followed them. Status Quo - great live band - tracks!
  9. Steve


    Aug 10, 2001
    there's a time and place for them at gig level. That time and place isn't on a small stage bar gig for me personally. I like the creativity it forces when you just don't have the personnel or instrumentation or inclination to go for the clone.

    I have a Sunday night band with a guy that can cover devil went down to Georgia solo on a flat top acoustic and make it work. You can't really hurt a good song. As long as it is played competently, a good song will always be a good song
    theduke1 likes this.
  10. Joe Nerve

    Joe Nerve Supporting Member

    Oct 7, 2000
    New York City
    Endorsing artist: Musicman basses
    I can count on both hands the amount of times I've played with backing tracks prior to about a month ago. Just got into a band that uses backing tracks to the point of embarrassment. I'm sometimes playing along to the recorded bass track, on some pretty cool bass songs (JT - Can't Stop the Feeling).

    I don't like doing this.

    I like making money much more than I don't like doing this.

    This band earns more money than any band I've ever known of outside of arena bands. And they're paying me more than I ever got paid steadily.

    If I were performing my own music, it's doubtful I'd ever use backing tracks. If I'm playing to make money, I'll do whatever works best, happily. I'd much rather be playing bass for a living than fixing sinks, teaching, driving Uber, or whatever.
    mc900ftj, Oddly, ak56 and 3 others like this.
  11. I used to do click left, and track right in mono - mainly because that is how holiday centres like warners and haven do it, but we did try doing a 2 channel mix - BVs on one channel dry, and instruments with a proper count in on the right - with drum track simply doing thump click with kick/snare. We all found that actually easier to play too, and didn't need to blast a click into everyone ears, or worse, their monitors. With a human one, two, three, four - the audience couldn't tell which of us called the intro. I think the timing is perhaps sloppier than a click, but much nicer to play along with!
  12. delta7fred


    Jul 3, 2007
    Old school old guy here. I know it goes on but I am not in favour of it. I would rather see a band play honest "live" without all the bells and whistles than have a backing track where you are never quite sure what is live and what isn't. You are getting dangerously close to singing to an Ipad with autotune as the next (retrograde) step! (IMO YMMV of course,)

    I was in a band years ago that tried it (I was against it). We practised to the backing track for weeks before trying it on stage. It went ok until the drummer lost sync with the backing track (poor monitors) and it all turned to rat$#1t. The keyboard player was playing the backing track from one of his magic boxes so stopped it quick.

    The subject was never mentioned again! :D
    theduke1 and FunkBear like this.
  13. I was at a Nashville church many many many years ago during the choir rehearsal. The choir did a song very nicely with a track. Pianist walks over to director and says "Why are we using that track?" Before he could say anything she says "That's me on the track playing the piano. That's ____ on the guitar - he's a member here. That's ______ on the bass - he's a member here. Why not use us?" Total silence. Red-faced director. I heard later that on the following Sunday those people played for the choir. Here in Nashville, the people putting down those great licks are probably members of your church.
    derrico1 likes this.
  14. lz4005


    Oct 22, 2013
    Queen did the same on Bohemian Rhapsody pretty much every time they did the song in concert. At least the middle section.
    You can't do a 26 person choir vocal part with only 4 people on stage.

    That said, my jazz/rock trio does Baba O'Riley and we don't use tracks. We just play the keyboard parts as an intro and then switch to the guitar and bass parts.

    People get way too upset about tracks vs no tracks. It can be done well, it usually is done poorly. Just like everything else.
  15. NoxNoctus

    NoxNoctus The Crushinator

    May 9, 2004
    Annapolis, MD
    We use backing tracks to great extent for our music. Due to our diverse style, it's pretty much mandatory for our sound. A lot of it is layers and supplemental things that we could not realistically do live without either have 5 extra people on stage. Supplemental harmonies, atmospherics, electronic drum hits, keys, etc.

    The backing isn't the band, it's supplemental and makes it a much richer experience. It's a lot of work to get the sound right but it's paid off in spades.
  16. buldog5151bass

    buldog5151bass Kibble, milkbones, and P Basses. And redheads.

    Oct 22, 2003
    The Who used to tour with backing tracks for those tunes before they added a keyboardist in their live show. But other than something like that, I would rather hear a sparse arrangement than a full arrangement with backing tracks. I don't mind if a keyboardist is playing a horn line, since at least he/she is actually playing the line.
    FunkBear, delta7fred and Oddly like this.
  17. I was actually irritated when I saw keyboards and an area for a horn section at a Who concert. Until they began playing. They sounded so much better than before and it was sill the Who up there. I changed my mind very quickly to like having more people playing alongside an established group.
  18. My formal/private event band uses them in everything from weddings to the better dance floor clubs in town. I created them, and they are slammin' tight and tasteful. We use them on less than half of our playlist and usually for horn section stuff, and always for important elements of the song that everyone in the room anticipates.

    The only people in the audience who would object are the <.01% of musicians who might catch it and get judgmental. The other 99.99% + of the audience, being non-musicians and simply wanting a good dance party band and a good time, probably doesn't notice and surely couldn't care less. They usually want their favorite party tunes like their Big Macs, the way they've had them the last million times. So that's what we give them and we're doing very well.
  19. Oddly


    Jan 17, 2014
    Dublin, Ireland.
    I've done it with a guitarist/singer - Pop covers band, we used a drums/keyboards/backing vocals track.
    I hated it.
    It just felt like we were cheating the audiences...and I simply didn't like playing along to them.
    No spontaneity, no possibility of real audience interaction...
    I didn't even have Joe Nerve's justification of good money, so after about 8 gigs of it, I put my foot down and got a drummer and keys player in.
    The problem then was a lot of smaller bars wouldn't book us and the whole project collapsed.

    I personally would think a lot less of a band I paid to see who were using them.
    That's just me being a grumpy old-school Luddite of course.
    catcauphonic likes this.
  20. duff beer

    duff beer

    Dec 2, 2007
    I don't like them and none of my bands uses them. In one of the bands, the keyboard player has told us: "I'll make any sound you guys want, but I have to be hitting a key, not pushing 'play'".

    But, as has been stated, most audiences don't care.
    FunkBear and Oddly like this.
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