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How to Run Backing Tracks Live: A Step by Step Guide

How to Run Backing Tracks Live: A Step by Step Guide

I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that as a band, recreating your recorded sound live is crucial.

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What’s the best way to do that? Simple:

Use backing tracks.

We receive so many compliments about our live sound because we use backing tracks live.

In this post, I’m going to run through:

  • how to run backing tracks live
  • my exact setup to get both backing and click tracks for drummers
  • and why I think it’s the best way to play backing tracks live for people starting out.

Ready? Let’s get to it!

But first:

Let’s consider if you need a backing track.

Should you consider using a backing track?

Ever since The Beatles popularised multi-track recording, musicians have slowly been adding more and more layers to their recorded songs.

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If you play a style of music (e.g. alt-rock, metal, pop) which makes use of a lot of different tracks to add depth and thickness to your songs, you’ll want to play to a backing track live to make it sound like the record for your fans.

If you tend to play more laid back styles of music or have the luxury of having enough members on stage to play all the additional sounds, then lucky you! You’ll probably be fine without a backing track.

The simplest backing track setup for drummers:

I’m going to show you my way of implementing the split-mono method of backing tracks.

Here’s what I love about my setup:

  • Cheap: All of the actual backing track gear can be picked for £75 or less
  • Portable: My entire setup fits within this [easyazon_link identifier=”B000NZKGF6″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Stagg Pedalboard[/easyazon_link]
  • Foolproof: I’ve never had it fail on me in 50+ shows
  • Personal mix: The drummer can tweak the backing track, click, master and monitor volumes to create the best mix for them.

Note: Doing it this way only lets you run MONO tracks. Although that’s usually more than enough for most people starting out.

This is the setup I use:

Must haves:

  • Music player (I recommend a phone)
  • 4+ channel mixer
  • In-ear monitors
  • 3.5mm(⅛” jack) stereo male to 6.35mm mono L/R male splitter
  • 3.5mm female to 6.35mm male
  • Passive DI with a return/link channel.

Recommended additional items:

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  • 2 x 3.5mm (⅛” jack) extension leads
  • A [easyazon_link identifier=”B00KZH3K2S” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]gooseneck clamp[/easyazon_link] to hold your phone while you rock out!

What I use

Here’s the exact list of gear I use. There are a couple of additional cables I use in order to make it more plug ‘n’ play in my pedal box from the list provided above.

  1. Short patch cable
  2. [easyazon_link identifier=”B004G87FLY” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Stereo (3.5mm) to MONO L/R (6.35mm)[/easyazon_link]
  3. [easyazon_link identifier=”B00LM4OMW0″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Headphone extension cables[/easyazon_link]
  4. [easyazon_link identifier=”B000KUA8G6″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Passive DI box[/easyazon_link]
  5. [easyazon_link identifier=”B01D82XXGO” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]3.5mm headphone to 6.35mm jack converter[/easyazon_link]
  6. [easyazon_link identifier=”B005712VCC” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Angle to straight patch cable[/easyazon_link]
  7. [easyazon_link identifier=”B004TM31QK” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Alto ZMX52 mixer[/easyazon_link]
  8. [easyazon_link identifier=”B004PNZFZ8″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″]Shure SE215[/easyazon_link]

What I use to run my backing tracks

And it looks like this in the board.

Preparing the tracks

To use this setup we need to create the backing track in a specific way.

I’ll do a full write up about this in another post but we basically want a stereo track:

  • Mixed, backing track
  • Click (in sync with the backing track and with a count-in for the drummer!)

I usually recommend having the backing tRack on the Right channel and cLick on the Left as it’s easier to remember if you ever need to.

Putting it together: Running backing tracks live

Here’s how you want to set up all your equipment:

Let’s break this down. I’ll number bits of gear from earlier in the post for reference.

The phone is playing stereo sound with the splitter cable[easyazon_link identifier=”B004G87FLY” locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″][2][/easyazon_link] separating the track: click in the left channel and track in the right channel. (I use stereo headphone extenders to deal with cable length issues live [easyazon_link identifier=”B00LM4OMW0″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″][3][/easyazon_link]).

The left channel goes into the mixer (channel 2/3) and right channel goes into the input on your DI box.

The right channel goes onto the sound desk. Since it’s passing through the DI box [easyazon_link identifier=”B000KUA8G6″ locale=”US” tag=”repeatreplay-20″][4][/easyazon_link], the desk is getting a clean and balanced signal.

This is the important bit that stops crosstalk or click-bleed coming through the PA!

The link from the DI goes back into the mixer (channel 4/5). This allows the drummer to mix click and track independently.

The last bit is to get a monitor line from the sound desk and put it into channel 1 on the mixer. This will mainly be mixed by the sound engineer so you can hear yourself and the other members of the band!

We use channel 1 for the monitor mix as it has an XLR input and more control over the sound of the input.

And there we have it! Let me know if you have any questions/suggestions in the comments below and I’ll add them into the article!