Busking Harmonica. Battery backing track

How To Use Backing Tracks Live

When used correctly, backing tracks can enhance a Band’s live performance. Adding textures and harmonic depth beyond guitars, bass, drums, and even keys.

There is a lot of debate on the subject of using tracks live. But if you’re here I’ll assume you’re at least kicking the tires. If the purpose of a live performance is to create something memorable for the audience, why wouldn’t you use tools to enhance your show? I don’t view it much differently than using lighting and video to do the same.

Whether you’re adding textured synths, or third harmonies to that ripping guitar solo, utilizing backing tracks and click tracks live is a lot easier than you might think.

There are two distinct methods of doing this. This article will cover:

  • The Simplest Method For Tracks
  • The Expanded Method For Tracks
  • Best Software To Run Tracks
  • Setting Up In Ear Monitors Live

Method 1: Two Tracks (The Working Band’s Approach)

This method is the easiest one and requires minimal gear. You’ll want to prepare your tracks with EQ and volume before doing the mix down. Be aware of any excessive bass, uneven volumes, etc. You won’t be able to change that.

After you mix down all of your tracks into a single audio file, create a click track for every song. Be sure to add a count in or voice cue. The idea is that these tracks will be panned left and right and sent into two mono tracks. One for the backing tracks and one for the click and cue.

Use whatever DAW software you used to record or program those tracks. For this application you’ll just need two audio files, so you don’t need to go full pro with your software.

Note that you’ll need to make the click track its own audio file. You can create one on a MIDI track in your DAW’s Piano Roll.

(If you only want a click track, this procedure works the same, just omit any reference to tracks)

What You’ll Need

In addition to your smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you’ll need:

  • 1/8” TRS to dual 1/4“ TS (male) cable
  • Stereo DI (if you want to trigger from the stage)
  • You can use two mono DIs if you already have them.
  • Charging port to audio out cable if you use a Smart phone (e.g. Lightning to 1/8” TRS female headphone out)
  • App to play the tracks (recommendations below)

The 1/8” TRS cable will run from your phone to a stereo DI (or dual mono DIs). That DI will go straight to the board. The sound engineer will take the stereo track and put them in the monitors and FOH. The click will only go to the person or people with in ears.

If you’re an extra.working-Band (i.e. short on those funds) and want a free app option for playback, just use iTunes. Create your set (aka iTunes playlist) and go.

A paid option is Stage Traxx. You’ll experience greater flexibility and more remote control of your tracks. It’s modestly priced compared to multitrack software (more on that in the next section), and is perfect for this option.

You can program the tracks start/stop inside StageTraxx with a MIDI controller. And control both iTunes and Stage Traxx via Bluetooth footswitch by assigning key commands. If you use STOMP, the left switch in mode 4 will start/stop iTunes. It will not switch to the next track though (iTunes limitation).

PSA: If you’re using a, iPad, please please please get an adapter that allow you to charge while sending the signal out. I don’t care how long of a battery life it boasts. If it dies mid-show, there will be much egg on many faces. Don’t chance it.

Method 2: Multitrack (The Pro)

Instead of doing a basic mixdown of your tracks, you can use multitracks. Multitracks are exactly what they sound like: multiple tracks being fed into the house mixing console. Think about live playback of a recording session. That’s basically all it is.

This is especially important when you have a mix of bass heavy and non-bass heavy tracks. You can adjust levels and EQ during rehearsal or sound check (and even live in some cases).

You can use a iPad or laptop for this. iPad users should check out Stage Traxx. Church and worship team musicians should check out Prime or MultiTracks. Laptop users can use their existing DAW or ( ideally ) Ableton Live.

The basic signal flow will look like this:

Laptop USB Interface Sound Board

Macs rule the day when it comes to audio processing. But as long as your computer has enough RAM and sufficient disc speed, you should be fine.

Take your laptop directly into the USB interface via USB cable. This will take the place of a DI, but with better mic preamps for optimal audio quality. I’m a huge fan of the FocusRite Scarlett series. They’re affordable, have good mic preamps, are USB powered (in the smaller configurations), and have MIDI in/out (larger configurations).

If you just need to run backing tracks you can use the 2i2. If you’re thinking about also using this for recording you can go all the way up to the 18i20. The 4i4 is a sweet spot for most applications.

The more outputs you have on your interface, the more individual tracks you’ll be able to control at the sound board. You can use a small 2 output interface for a basic control-everything-on-one-channel setup (plus click track). Or you can use a 4, 6, or 8 output interface and have all of your tracks on individual channels.

Multitrack And Looping Software For Backing Tracks

As I mentioned earlier, Ableton Live is the biggest of the bunch. It’s a pro level app that allows you to import your audio files or create tracks (loops) directly in the software. You can easily create sets with simple start/stop triggers. These can be controlled via a MIDI controller or Bluetooth footswitch.

Again, if you’re more of an iPad user, Stage Traxx might be for you. It’s similar to Ableton Live but is specifically for the iPad. Cover bands will enjoy the feature of storing lyrics inside the app. This app is also able to be triggered with a Bluetooth footswitch or MIDI controller.

Church bands can utilize pre-made backing tracks from sites like Loop Community and MultiTracks. Both sites offer loops for thousands of songs. These are great options if programming loops and midi tracks isn’t your jam, or if you just don’t have the time.

Additionally, Loop Community has its own multitrack playback app for iPads called Prime.

Setting Up In Ear Monitors

Now that you have a couple of options for running backing tracks, you’ll need to think about an IEM / in ear monitoring system. If you’re a drummer, or you want only your drummer to use the click, you can run a small mixer from the board. This will be their personal monitor mix.

If the FOH has the capability then it’s always best to provide drummers with a mixer as opposed to a headphone amp. They can get their kick, overheads, click, and general “everything else” mix. They want to control that kick drum level. Kick drum level is life.

The venue should already have a snake run to the stage for monitoring. You’ll take the monitor sends directly to the mixer. From the mixer you’ll connect your headphones or ear buds.

For the rest of the Band, you can use a wired in ear monitoring amp. This gives you control over level and pan (if you like having one ear out).

If you just need volume, a wired IEM pack like this will get the job done super cheap. Volume can become an issue since it’s not amplified though.

Unless you need the flexibility to be wireless, I’d recommend starting here. Wireless IEM systems get pretty pricey and more complicated.

I personally prefer Shure in ear monitors. They’re not custom molded but they fit and sound great. The SE215 and SE315 are perfect for starting out. Don’t. Use. Apple. Earbuds. For. IEMs.

Finally, Decide Who Triggers The Backing Tracks

For most bands it makes sense to have the drummer trigger everything. They can keep that laptop or iPad discretely hidden behind the drumset.

You vocalist/instrumentalist is also a good option since they’ll be “leading” the crowd. The laptop can be kept wherever it needs to be. They’ll control the tracks remotely with a MIDI Controller or Bluetooth Pedal.

On a less technical note, rehearse the set in full several times before implementing tracks (or even just a click) live. It takes some adjusting to your collective playing to get everything dialed in and tight. I’ve personally been a part of some near train wrecks in a Band of seasoned musicians. The margins are small when playing with tracks.

When a single beat can be the difference between amazing and. well. not. it’s important to be as prepared as possible. So once you get your gear, rehearse until it’s all second nature, let me know how the show goes!

Busking – Paid Performance Practice

Busking combines practice with performance, while earning money. I often busk at local community markets, playing mostly fiddle tunes on harmonica. An ideal street musician combination is a duo, with guitar, harmonica and shared vocals. If you are already busking, or thinking about it, then the following will be helpful. For solo instrumentalists (harmonica in my case), accompaniment is useful. I use Band in a Box to produce backings for my fiddle tunes. These are loaded on to an iPod, which runs through my PA.

Band in a Box also produces decent jazz backing tracks. I have also seen many jazz players busking with the excellent Jamie Aebersold backings. A variety of good blues backing CDs are available. Also some free blues harmonica backing tracks are at my Harmonica Academy teaching site.

Busking PA

Using backings implies a PA. I recommend this, as unamplified busking will have you thrashing your instruments just to be heard. However there is no need to be loud. You should aim to be heard within about a 10 metre radius only. Any louder will discourage nearby listeners (the ones likely to leave coins), and will risk complaints from local shopkeepers.

Your gear must easily carried, as you may have to walk some distance to your busking “pitch”. My gear, including PA and merchandise fits into the bags shown here

A battery powered system is best, as power is almost never available. Something like the Fender “Amp Can” should provide adequate volume and battery life, and will fit into a backpack (along with the rest of your gear). I’ve made my own PA, shown in the photo) using a sealed lead acid battery, car stereo amplifier and speaker box, delay pedal, battery powered mixer and EQ. An iPod runs the backing tracks, which feed into the PA.

The “power” amp is a car stereo, working in bridged mode. This means that both channels are combined, giving more power. If you buy one of these amps for busking, make sure that it works in bridged mode, otherwise you will only be using half of the amp. Mine provides about 70 watts, which is plenty. The amp runs from a 12V selaed Lead Acid battery, which sits next to it, as shown in the picture. The battery goes for about 4 hours, I carry a spare.

I use a small number of effects, as shown here. The delay pedal is the most important. It fattens up the sound a lot, while still keeping it clean and easily heard. The graphic equaliser is very useful if you use backing tracks. In particular, I use it to reduce specific bass frequencies, which means that my system will go much louder while remaining clean. The pink loop station acts mostly as a two channel mixer (harmonica and backing tracks). However I play harmonies on some of my tunes, and use the loop function for that. My backing tracks are on an iPod, which feeds into one of the mixer inputs.

My effects run off 9V DC. I could use batteries… but would then have to buy and carry replacements. Instead I use a 9V regulator, which inputs the 12V from the main battery and produces 9V to power the effect pedals, as shown here. I built it myself. No rocket science needed for this (although I do have an electonics degree).

In recent years an excellent range of small weatherproof high power speakers have become available. These are often used for piped music in outdoor spaces. They are small, easily carried, loud, clear and excellent. You can see mine here, and in the picture below.

The whole setup looks like this.

Buskers need water…

Busking usually involves playing outside. You will find that wind removes moisture from your lips, and that your mouth becomes dry. For instruments like harmonica, a dry mouth and lips means no music. You must carry a water bottle, don’t attempt to busk without it. If you forget to bring one, then get bottled water from the nearest store).

Street Musician’s trade show.

Busking often ends up as paid practice, and can greatly sharpen your skills. Also, if you have CDs, then busking can pay quite well. Take a small stand, make up some decent signs (think of it as a miniature trade show), and you may be surprised at the business you get.

What does it sound like when you busk?

Glad you asked. This video below is me busking on Peel St at the 2009 Tamworth Country Music Festival

Free 5 part series How to Succeed with Harmonica Sign up here to get it

Check out the Tony Eyers Trio!

Category: Backing Track Rigs

This is probably the simplest way to run backing tracks at any gig with a minimal amount of equipment. Although an iPhone is pictured, you can use any device capable of playing any digital stereo music file. I’ve used this setup everywhere, from small clubs, to live performances on national TV. Although it’s not ideal for bigger venues with stereo PA systems, it works great in a pinch when you have to deal with budget, setup time, or equipment size limitations.

If you’re new to this world of backing tracks, you can check out this article for a quick overview: Backing Tracks Rigs – An Introduction

Playback: Mono, limited by device’s built-in digital-to-analog converter

Audio Fidelity: depends on the file type (mp3, wav, AIFF, etc.)

  • (1) iOS or other device with a headphone jack capable of stereo audio playback (not included in price estimate)
  • (1) DI box
  • (1) Personal mixer with at least 3 mono line level channels
  • (1) Stereo Y-cable or splitter cable
  • (1) ¼” cable, balanced or unbalanced
  • (1) Headphone extender (optional)
  • Prepare your backing tracks so that the Left side of the stereo mix is just click track/cues and the Right side is just backing track. In other words, when you bounce down your backing track to mp3, put everything you don’t want the audience to hear on the Left side and everything you do want the audience to hear on the Right side.
  • Plug Y-cable into 1/8” headphone jack on your iPhone, iPod, iPad, or other device capable of mp3 playback.
  • Plug the (Right) ¼” end of Y-cable into DI box input jack.
  • Plug the (Left) ¼” end of Y-cable into a channel on your mixer. Label this channel “Click” on your mixer
  • Run the ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from the “thru port” on your DI box to a second channel on your mixer. Label this channel “Trax” on your mixer.
  • Introduce yourself to the sound guy/gal or monitor engineer and politely ask for a feed to plug into a third channel on your mixer labeled “Mon”. Make him/her aware of your mono DI for Front of House playback.
  • Connect your in-ear monitors or headphones to the headphone jack on your mixer using the optional headphone extender.
  • If you’re using a Smart phone for playback, unless you want the crowd to hear that phone call from your mom, make sure you turn off the “phone” functions during your performance. On an iPhone this is accomplished by putting your phone in Airplane Mode.
  • If you’re using an iOS device, your iTunes app will automatically advance to the next song in your playlist. I recommend using a backing tracks app such as BackTrax TM by Aisle Pro Software or LiveTrax Pro TM by Monakrome. These apps will stop playback at the end of each track and automatically cue up the next track. They also include very large buttons for playing, stopping, and advancing through your setlist.
  • Leave your device plugged into a power supply so you don’t have to rely on your device’s battery life.

The iOS Interface Backing Tracks Rig

What if you love the idea of running your backing tracks from your iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, but you need your tracks to play in stereo and sound really good? The headphone jack on your iOS device can be a great option in a pinch, but it only puts out 1 stereo track (or 2 mono tracks if you utilize a splitter). You need an external soundcard, also called a digital-to-audio converter (DAC) or external audio interface. In the past few years lots of companies have introduced audio interfaces for the iOS device to the market. Many of them have 2 outputs, and that’s fine if you want to run mono backing tracks. However, if you need to send a stereo backing track to the house AND a click track to yourself, that puts you at 3 output tracks.

My favorite iOS interface at the moment is the Native Instruments Traktor Audio 2. I love the Traktor because it’s super compact (fits in the palm of your hand) and super affordable (100 retail). Though it’s geared toward the DJ market, the Traktor does have two independent 1/8” TRS outputs, for an output track count of 4. One limitation to the Traktor is that it has no audio input preamps or analog-to-digital conversion. In other words, you can’t record with it; strictly playback, but for running backing tracks, that’s all we need in order to get the job done. If you want to purchase something you can also use for recording, the Apogee Duet is a great option.

You’ll also need an iOS app that allows you to assign your stereo mix and click to separate outputs. ShowOne by One Zero One Audio is a fantastic app designed specifically for playback of mono or stereo backing tracks and click/cue tracks through separate outputs. At only 8.99 for the full version it also comes with a bunch of really handy features like automatic click track syncing, voice countoffs, and setlist management.

Ease of Editing: app dependent

  • (1) iOS device such as Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad
  • (1) iOS compatible audio interface with more than 2 outputs
  • (1) Personal mixer with at least 4 line level channels
  • (1) stereo DI or (2) mono DI’s
  • (5) 1/4” cables, balanced or unbalanced
  • (1) set of in-ear monitors or headphones
  • Prepare your backing tracks within your playback app so that you have a stereo mix and a click track routed to individual outputs. Use outputs 1 and 2 for the left and right sides of your stereo backing track and output 3 for click.
  • Connect your iOS device to your interface. Some interfaces may require adapters from Apple 30-pin to Apple Lightning.
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 1 on your interface to the input jack on the stereo DI box labeled “Left”.
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 2 to the input jack on the DI box labeled “Right”.
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from the left thru port on your stereo DI to the left side of a stereo channel on your mixer labeled “Tracks”.
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from the right thru port on your stereo DI to the right side of a stereo channel on your mixer labeled “Tracks”.
  • Run the ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 3 on your interface to a channel on your mixer labeled “Click”.
  • Introduce yourself to the sound guy/gal or monitor engineer and politely ask for a feed to plug into the channel on your mixer labeled “Mon”. Make him/her aware of your DI’s for stereo front-of-house playback.
  • Connect your in-ear monitors or headphones to the headphone jack on your mixer.
  • Put your device in airplane mode when using it for playback.
  • If your interface uses TRS outputs to combine pairs of output channels (the Traktor Audio 2 does this), use a stereo “Y” cable to split these channels instead of the two ¼” cables in steps 3 and 4 above.
  • Some interfaces are bus powered, meaning they use your iOS device as a power source, and they will thus drain your iOS device’s battery very quickly. So make sure you use an external DC power supply to power your interface.

The Hard Disk Backing Tracks Rig

This rig is based around a hard disk recorder like the Alesis HD24 (pictured). With this setup, you have the stereo playback resolution and output options of a computer/high track count audio interface, but without some of the hassles that come with laptop based systems. However, you have the added step of importing your audio files from your computer into the HD recorder. You will also need to set up markers in order to indicate the start points of each song. Although editing and even changing setlist order can be a little cumbersome, the reliability and roadworthyness of a rackmount hardware unit can offer valuable piece-of-mind.

I suggest looking for a used hard disk recorder. Why used? This is 1990’s technology. If you can find one of these new, it will cost over 1,000 and you’re better off with one of the other options at that price point in my opinion.

If you’re new to this world of backing tracks, you can check out this article for a quick overview: Backing Tracks Rigs – An Introduction

Playback: Up to 23 channels (plus click) 24bit 48 kHZ

  • (1) Hard disk recorder such as Alesis HD24 (pictured).
  • (2) DI boxes or (1) stereo DI (your own). Label them “Left” and “Right”
  • (1) Personal mixer with at least 4 mono line level channels
  • (5) ¼” cables, balanced or unbalanced
  • (1) Headphone extender
  • Prepare your backing tracks in your DAW so that you have a stereo mix and a click track.
  • Import your tracks into the HD24 such that the first two output channels are your stereo backing track, left and right respectively, the third and fourth channels are duplicate outputs of your stereo backing track, and the fifth channel is your click/cue track. You can use the additional output channels if you are sending multiple stems to the house.
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 1 to the input jack on the DI box labeled “Left”
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 2 to the input jack on the DI box labeled “Right”
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 3 to a channel on your mixer labeled “Tracks L”
  • Run a ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 4 to a channel on your mixer labeled “Tracks R”
  • Run the ¼” balanced or unbalanced cable from Output Channel 5 to a channel on your mixer labeled “Click”.
  • Introduce yourself to the sound guy/gal or monitor engineer and politely ask for a feed to plug into the channel on your mixer labeled “Mon”. Make him/her aware of your DI’s for stereo front-of-house playback.
  • Connect your in-ear monitors or headphones to the headphone jack on your mixer.
  • The high output track count on the HD24 and units like it make it possible to create an extra left and right output for your backing tracks that you can use to send to yourself for independent control of the track level in your own in-ears. This will allow you to ride the level of the tracks in your mix without affecting the level going to the house.
  • If anyone else in the Band needs to hear click/cues, you can use one of the available outputs to duplicate that track and send it to that player or to the monitor engineer.
  • The HD24 is a 3-space rackmountable unit. You can house it in a soft rack case such as the Gator GRB 4U, with the mixer and DI’s on top. To decrease setup time, bundle the three cables that connect the HD24 to your mixer using cable ties, and bundle the two cables that connect the HD24 to your DI’s. Label the ends of each cable.
  • To be extra slick, you can get a rackmountable mixer, a rackmountable DI, and a rackmountable power supply, and house everything in one rack. This option could work for van and bus tours and church installations, but will likely be too big and heavy to fly.

Backing Tracks 101

From my experience, and in talking to drummer friends, it seems drummers are taking on more and more responsibility in terms of running the show. Traditionally, this has involved cueing count-offs/endings, communicating dynamics, and defining the tempo. But now, with an increasing number of acts using prerecorded material, another opportunity has been created for the tech savvy drummer – managing the playback of backing tracks.

In case you’re new to the world of backing tracks, just think them as pieces of pre-recorded audio running in the background of a performance. This can be anything from a few background vocals, to string arrangements, to entire finished album mixes that the performers mime to. (Yes, I’ve done a few of those gigs.) A click track is used in order to keep the live performances in sync with the pre-recorded content. Syncing of the show also makes automated lighting and video cues possible.

The hardware for live playback can be stationed on stage and run by a Band member or offstage with a tech. At the club level, it’s pretty common for it to be part of a keyboard player or drummer’s rig because we tend to be stationary. In the case of bigger acts, the playback rig might live offstage and be run by a dedicated tech.

Becoming familiar with the many options for live playback hardware is another way to set yourself apart in the marketplace of drummers looking for gigs. You’ll be ready to take on the additional responsibility of setting up, running, and editing a vital part of the show; you’ll be able to speak the production language used by professionals; and you’ll be better suited to move into more of a musical director’s role if that’s your thing. If you’re part of Band, you can use this information to add production value to your Band’s live show in the way that’s most practical for you.

busking, harmonica, battery, backing, track

Note: The decision to use backing tracks is a matter of taste that can be very genre-specific and artist-specific. Perhaps the decision to use or not to use backing tracks will be the topic of a future article here at The Drummer’s Mouth.

As the technology keeps changing I’ll be using this as an archive for different configurations at different price points. There will be graphics explaining the setup, a rating system with 5 categories, and links to shopping lists. Be sure to check back here often or subscribe to the newsletter for the latest updates on backing tracks rigs.

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With a simple built-in toggle switch, you can have a working fixture light or a hand-held flashlight during a power outage.

Peace of mind starts with easy installation

Screw in your LED Battery Backup bulb and let it charge for 10 consecutive hours. After the initial charge, your bulb will be ready to give you extra peace of mind during a power outage. They’re compatible with fixtures that require a general purpose A19/21, floodlight BR30, or 6-inch recessed lighting fixture.

Available in the following:

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Connect these bulbs through Bluetooth® for high-quality sound, minus wires. Available in Daylight, Soft White and NEW! Color.

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Use it in a fixture and as a flashlight. You’ll always have light even when the power is off.

LED Color

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Reveal ® is a trademark of Savant Technologies LLC.

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GE Lighting, a Savant company products are only intended for use within the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada.

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