How do you trigger your backing tracks live

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by rob2966, Aug 11, 2009.

  1. rob2966


    Oct 19, 2006
    Vancouver, BC
    Hey all,

    First off, no "backing tracks == Milli Vanilli" debates req'd.

    I am starting to get a cover tune band off the ground (so far vocals, guitar, bass, and keys) with the intent of playing anything from 50's to modern, but with a likely weighting on 80's and all things pop.

    The intent is to create backing tracks for occasional extra guitars, extra keys, horns, percussion, and drums.

    The hope is that we will add a real drummer to the band but in the meantime this would allow us to practice more effectively (and maybe even a small gig with tracked drums, I won't rule that out).

    Basically I am wondering what type of setup people use live for triggering these tracks. I have a ProTools studio setup so I can create almost any track. Do most just make a CD, use an iPod, bring a laptop?

    Thanks in advance for the info.

  2. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    laptop, interface, ableton live, and a midi controller (i suggest the behringer fcb 1010 foot controller)
    trigger whole tunes or just parts on the fly.
  3. nsmar4211


    Nov 11, 2007
    Digitech Jam Man with the optional footswitch. Just gotta keep a list of which tune/part is in which slot......
  4. seamonkey


    Aug 6, 2004
    The trick is getting some backing tracks with some live feel to them. If you're willing to take a computer to the gig

    Just for percussion would be Jamstix
    You put in your song in simple patterns
    Feed it midi from the keys, and/or from a mic
    It will then listen's to you and jam along. Different beats for different intensities. All kinds of drummers to pick from.
    It has a fairly steep learning curve but well worth it.

    Another alternative is Band in a Box., It's been around forever.
    Type in the chords and pick a style. Use "Real drums" feature, "Real guitar", etc. It makes up tracks and the sound convincing.

    It has a "conductor feature" so you can in live mode repeat sections of the songs - like if everybody is dancing and you want to add another solo or chorus. Or the song sucks and you want to jump to the end.

    Ableton live is cool also, you can build up a song, start some solos, change it up, and morph.

    Feel the crowd and keep 'em jumping.
  5. GCool


    Dec 9, 2007
    Nashville, Tn
    The Low End, Orange Amps, SIT Strings
    Cheapest way is having your tracks on your Ipod. Then running your Ipod in to a sub mixer to split the click out .
    But the best way is ableton live and a lop top. Thats the way we are going and we LOVE IT!
  6. rr5025


    Nov 12, 2008
    +1 That's what we plan on doing.
  7. ga_edwards


    Sep 8, 2000
    UK, Essex
    My old band used to use backing tracks, before the iPod revolution, so we used minidisc. Pretty good format at the time, shame it died out. But if I were doing it today, I'd use an iPod or laptop, perhaps a cheap netbook. Avoid CD's and they can jump and skip if the music is loud. Logically, a solid state flash memory device would be ideal

    A few tips from my experience:

    Master them all as mono tracks, all instruments centre panned. If you're playing through a PA in a pub or hall, you're not really going to benefit from stereo, in fact in certain areas of the room, stereo might sound unbalanced.

    If you have the luxury of fold back, it might be helpful for certain songs to have a click track, perhaps just for the intro if there's no drums for a few bars. What you can do here is master as stereo, but as two identical mono tracks, except one side with click and one without. You can then send one side to FOH and the other with the click to foldback.

    Try to use the same patches where possible for different instruments. IE, find a nice drumkit and stick with it. It will sounds more like the same band playing and it will be easier to mix if you use the same instruments, as you won't have to constantly adjust the eq on live instruments to cut through.

    Be careful with using reverb in your tracks, esp on the drums. In your average bar gig with live drums, the only reverb will be the room acoustics. Play a backing track with reverb in the same room and it could turn to mush. As always, a little goes a long way. As a general guide with reverb (most effects IMO), dial in an amount you think sounds nice, then reduce it by half!

    Before you load up your finished backing tracks to say an iPod, be sure to do some basic mastering. Load them all up into individual tracks into a sequencer with an eq and brickwall limiter on each track. Roll of anything below 40Hz, you can get away with as high as 80Hz, this will stop the PA speakers crapping out when you turn up, besides, your bass will fill the low end. Then use the limiter to increase the overall loudness of each track so they all seem about the same level, so much easier to do in the same sequencer project. Be careful not to squash the life out of them though. But a healthy squash will allow you to maximise the volume they can be played back at through the PA without distorting. If you want to, try strapping a sonix maximiser/exciter over each track too, can add a little sizzle to the top end and make it sound more 'live'

    That's all I can think of for now, I'm sure other people would be able to suggest more.
  8. RicPlaya


    Apr 22, 2003
    Whitmoretucky MI
    I got a horn and key player for our cover band

    I know I am not helping
  9. WalterBush


    Feb 27, 2005
    Yuma, Az
    Full disclosure, I'm a certified Fender technician working in a music store that carries Fender, Yamaha, and Ibanez products among others.
    DO NOT USE A CD PLAYER!! They skip at high SPL's.

    Avoid laptops as well; computers crash. If you're going to use one, make sure it doesn't get used for ANYTHING else. I've seen shows come to a complete halt for a reboot, and when the band got going again, the crowd was gone.

    Most bands using backing tracks use iPods these days, with the tracks in mono on one channel and click on the other.

    Other things I've seen used are minidisks and sequencing keyboards. Hardware dedicated to the task is crucial; reliability and ease of use/setup trump most other considerations when using backing tracks.

    Note, some keyboards and newer media players have more than stereo channels available; some people are able to arrange for a stereo output with a click track on a separate channel, I just don't see it done often.
  10. D.A.R.K.

    D.A.R.K. Supporting Member

    Aug 20, 2003
    on the computer thing,
    i've been performing with computers for about 7 years now.
    i've had no more or fewer technical issues with the computer than i've had with instruments or cables.
    you have to be aware of your system limitations and work intelligently within those limitations, just like an amplifier.
    i also use my laptops for everything from business to internet and have never had one issue. i use mac though, i can see how a windows machine might need to live in quarantine. just the nature of the beast i guess, i don't personally prefer one platform to another, i just ended up on mac because that's what 99% of the touring industry happens to use ime.
  11. runawaymartin


    Feb 5, 2011
    Runaway Bay, Queensland, Austr
    Affiliated to SCS
    Hi Guys . . . I realise that this thread's a bit old but I'm sure that this is an ongoing situation and I have a feeling that if you start using 'Click' and backing tracks you'll get some inspiration on how to expand your on-stage production even further.
    I've been doing a couple of shows for the past six years or so and am using a laptop to provide a creative show even when the performance fee is pretty small.
    The shows consist of a live band using some additional pre-recorded backtracks (strings, brass etc...). We're running 7 tracks of audio (could be more if required), 1 audio 'Click' track, Video, and a MIDI file which operates lights, reverb presets, my guitar pedal patch changes and keyboard prog changes.
    This is how I'm doing it . . . the whole lot is being run from one laptop, but you will need to have the facility to prepare the tracks and MIDI files beforehand . . I happen to be using Cubase.
    From Cubase I mixdown all the tracks I need, ensuring that for any particular song they are all the same length . . . these can be a mixture of mono and stereo. From the same project I then export a MIDI file containing any info I need . . . prog changes, note ON/OFF for lights etc... .
    Now this is where it all comes together . . . The laptop is running a program I came across about five years ago called SCS (Show Cue Systems) where all the required files are loaded into and then it is used as a very sophisticated sort of jukebox. You can get a free demo from SCS.
    Into each song created I then load the relevant audio files, MIDI file and Video file all programmed to start at the same time. You then build up a whole load of songs that are then simply displayed as a list on the main screen. Each song is started by the space bar and at the end of that song it automatically cues at the beginning of the next song. You can easily scroll up or down if you change your running order on the fly.
    The 'Click' track is actually an audio file and I use a drum 'stick' sound playing on every beat but you can use whatever you like . . . the beauty of using audio for 'Click' purposes is that you can also add piano/guitar chords for a cappella pieces and/or voice prompting such as the count-in for example.
    At present the output for all this is running via an Edirol UA-101 but you could use any USB or Firewire interface giving you multi-track audio outputs and a MIDI out.
    The audio is then run to the mixer for FOH and monitoring purposes (the 'Click' track is only fed to the drummer and anyone else on stage using in-ear monitoring). The MIDI signal is distributed to the devices mentioned above.
    I'm not a lighting person so I can't actually tell you how the lights are working but anyone with some knowledge of MIDI->DMX will know what to do.
    It sounds complicated but is in fact a very cost effective way to go.
    Hope all of that makes some sort of sense . . . I'd be happy to assist anyone who wants to give this a go or you can read an article I’ve written at
    Cheers . . . Martin