The backing track is very controversial amongst purist musicians. Some say it’s cheating and only a full band of proper players will suffice to keep them happy. However, when members of a band turn up late or even not turn up at all, get drunk, call in sick, fall out with the others, play badly, not learn the songs correctly, act unprofessionally, etc. etc. …..and above all, need paying, then the humble backing track comes into its’ own as, by far, the best option.
In my vast experience of playing all types of shows internationally, I came to the conclusion many years ago that the only person I can always trust to turn up, play properly and do exactly what I require for a top pro performance….was me.
Adding others to my line up who were conscientious with good performing abilities plus a great attitude for doing what the performance required and being able to work well in a team, has always been a bonus.
I’ve always been a big fan of playing in an ‘all live’ band with great players and have done tours and gigs with a variety of brilliant musicians in my long career, treasuring many moments of excellence when it all comes together in perfect harmony.
Being a realist, this cannot always be achieved, mostly with budget restraints and decent musician availability. Therefore for the past 20 years or so, I’ve been producing my own tailor made backing tracks to suit myself playing either solo or as an entertaining band. I say ‘entertaining’ as I was the leader of a party band for many years which had no bass player or drummer (‘shame on you’ I hear – from bass players and drummers) but, I would augment my line up with female singer/dancers, percussionist/guitarist/singer and another keyboard/sax player. Combinations of this line up could suit whatever show I was booked for and we always entertained, becoming one of the most popular pop party bands in the south of England. Never did I have someone come up to me asking where the drummer or bass player was (they were too busy watching the girls!).
I produced my own tailor made tracks with bass, drums, percussion and the occasional fill in keyboard so that I could sing and play guitar over.
Vocalists have been able to perform on their own for a long time now using ‘karaoke’ style backing. The problem with this is that it is exactly that…controlled karaoke. For a solo performer, it works fine as the audience can focus on the vocal and performing talents of the vocalist. Plus the booker saves money.
The trick though, is to not sound too mechanical with an awful sounding drum machine and low quality backing tracks sounding too much like the original record on the radio.
This is why I (and I know of others who have successfully achieved a good balance) produced my own live tracks with a live feel, fun intros and endings (no fades please) plus an uncluttered clear bed of music enabling the totally live stuff to flourish on the top. A good ‘mix’ is vital.
The big positives are that the ‘backing track’ band is never late, has perfect pitch and tempo too. However, if you, the musician or vocalist, fails to play the correct arrangement, your virtual band cannot adjust to suit you.
There are some “secrets” to using backing tracks live that can determine whether your audience fills the dance floor or not.
The most obvious is choice and sequencing of material, playing what your audience wants to hear as opposed to your own selfish playlist.
One of the most important things to do is make the backing track sound ‘live’. That means the level of compression / limiting of the backing tracks should be at a minimum.
So use raw, uncompressed tracks for the backing that have a full dynamic range, same as the live performers.
Unless you are U2, bands inevitably break up or change personnel. By tailoring your virtual band around you, you can only break up with yourself.
I’m off now to have an argument with Barry Upton about musical differences which will resolve its self when I’ve decided (after a reasonable debate with myself) what new tunes to add to my repertoire for this week.
Whatever road you go down as a performing musician…mot importantly, have fun.