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Author Topic: Gigging w/Backing Tracks  (Read 122164 times)

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Aaron

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Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« on: June 07, 2011, 05:24:54 pm »
Since folks have been working so hard for me creating B/Ts, I thought I would share my techniques for using them in live (one-man band) situations.

I recently switched from a simple “I-pod” mp3 device to a laptop.  By collecting the backing tracks straight into folders for organization, it is a simple deal to find what I might need spontaneously, based on crowd reaction.  If they are leaning one direction, I can keep that flow, regardless of what I’m wanting to play or “fixed” song progressions in programed set-lists with Media Player.  The I-pod is handy, however, if I know I’m just going to bang, bang, bang right through a concert set or something.

I’ve found that the media player straight from the lap top, by having volume and other enhancements (EQ, etc.), gives me a bit more sound control.  The I-pod requires more fumbling in their menus (in low light stage situations, where it is harder to see and make it work quickly) when you are trying to minimize dead time between songs. 

No matter how good the source file is, when you have 40 songs to perform there are going to be volume and other differences between them.  The goal is getting levels and EQ as simple as possible to tweak when playing “live” for discriminating audiences.  So I run the input from either PC or I-pod directly to an Alesis 3630 stereo compressor, set to “soft knee” and “dual mono” (instead of “stereo link”).  This allows me to be able to quickly bring up left or right sides independent of the other, based on the nuances of the particular song.

The output of the Compressor then is routed to a dual stereo input on the main mixer.  (In this case, I have an Allen & Heath Zed 24 board, using ch. 23 & 24.)  A pair of Aux outs (3 & 4) from the Zed 24 get routed to a second (powered) mixer (Behringer Europower PMP 1280s).  The L/R “input to mains” receive the “canned” music, and it is routed to speakers that (I feel) recreate the “live band” feel “around the room” as good as it can be created.  Each side has an unpowered 18" custom built bottom end (loaded with an Eminence speaker), paired with a Peavey PVM 12" monitor on top.  Kick and toms, along with bass guitar, drive from the 18" speaker with chest-pounding stereo.  Guitars, keys and harmonics, along with vocals (on those songs where vocals are in the Mp3 mix) cut from the 12" & horn nicely.

Most songs in my performance have no “canned” vocals.  I also play rhythm & lead while singing.  So making all this happen takes more fore-thought.  The Marshall amp has a mic in front, that goes to its own channel of the board.  I run it clean, with a Digi-Tech GNX 3000 on the floor for fast sound changes from clean to crunch to whatever is needed for a given song. 

As a soloist, it is also critical to have a vocal harmonizer.  So the vocal mic gets routed to it, with a guitar input as well (for “key” considerations on vocals).  The vocal output gets its own channel on the Zed-24 (of course).

In the effects rack (where the compressor is on top), there are several more toys to make things interesting.  The vocal signal comes to a noise gate before it reaches the Zed – to keep unwanted bleed out of the mix when no voice is present, and cut down on feedback.  (Parametric EQ can enhance the vocals pre-mix, so that helps where you want a bit more bottom end on some songs.)  Below the gate are a pair of out-board effects units.  One is an ART DR-X 2100 (90's era multi-effects, but primarily for reverb or other specials).  The other, an even older-school Peavey DEP 800, is for really cool levels of delay.  I feed Aux 1 & Aux 2 outputs from the Zed 24 into them individually, and assign their individual outputs back into a pair of channels on the Zed – allowing me to raise/lower the reverb or delay in vocals, guitar or elsewhere as needed.  (Feeding it a signal from any channel’s Aux 1 or 2 feeds puts it where wanted.)

Then, the main outputs of the Zed 24 take a full mix of all of it into a stereo Ultragraph Pro dual 31 band EQ with feedback control.  Those outputs feed a Crown xti 2000 power amp.  Each channel of that beast feeds a L/R pair of speakers designed for both “front stage” and monitoring.  The “full” mix enters a pair of Yahama mains (15/horn loaded).  The monitor mix is a pair of PV 15M (15 & horn loaded), principally for vocals.

With this combination of speakers and sound assignments, it literally sounds like a stage would sound for a live band.  Drums & bass are in their spots, the guitar is out there in its zone, and everything ends up mixed and routed to the mains, or monitors, accordingly.  Just a bit of spatial mixing in backing tracks ends up “placed” on stage, right where it might be if there were musicians up there in specific roles.  (You never find karaoke able to pull that off.)

It takes a whole lot of planning to get things spatially oriented, but with a bit of creativity (and perhaps experience in bands with sound reinforcement training), you can do an excellent job.  The variable, of course, is the talent of the musician working with the BT’s.  Without doubt, using BT’s will make a better musician of you.  You can’t blame the bassist or drummer for foul-ups.  Their parts are set in stone, and every gig is perfect (assuming the tracks were perfect to start with) from their perspective, the same way, every time.

Playing several guitar parts while singing is a challenge for anyone – especially when you are the only “lead” all night long, in both guitar and vocal aspects.  The vocal harmonizer will make your life a lot easier, properly used.  It can fill those voids left by not having other singers around – and this would be a noticeable gap without it (especially on those quality songs that demand it).

Perhaps the toughest challenge of all is if you attempt this WITHOUT a sound man present for a show.  It’s just nutty trying to rotate a dial while you keep a guitar playing.  So I suggest finding a trainable partner.  Make notes on your song list, so someone (you or a partner) will remember to switch to “reverb 111" on a particular song, or to “add 10 db” to one song, dropping it back for the next (where volume levels vary between them), etc. 

Furthermore, unless you are in front of the “mains”, you really cannot tell what is needed.  It might be perfect “on stage,” but in the crowd (where it matters to them) there might be fine-tuning required that only someone out there can discern.  Even if you have all the gadgets within your reach, someone can make the suggestion quickly, before a whole set goes by with no lead guitar present in the mix, or something equally annoying to the crowd.

If your sound guy is up to the task, run a snake out front and put the board out there.  Get a “talk back” system that enables you to communicate with the sound guy, and he with you, so each can make changes as needed.  And if that is not enough confusion, add another whole lighting system load of foot or other controllers to the program.  Then get a high-end video camera with low-z audio inputs and shoot your video while pulling live audio from the mains (see if that sounds like what you expect).  Before you know it, there are five people around again as roadies and specific technicians. 

Did we think using BT’s would be a way to reduce the number of people on the payroll for gigs?  Oops!

Tbart

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2015, 11:35:29 pm »
Aaron, very interesting. Though it's old, I am glad to see I'm not alone. My project is much simpler. BTs on laptop into stereo channel on Beh powered stereo PA head into 15" 2 way speakers [Beh] Main outs to a Peavey IPR 3000 that has a crossover that can run stereo subs. !8"pair of Eminence. Really makes a track thump. I use an SG90 mostly into either Hot Rod Deluxe[ or a pair of them with a Vox Tonelab] but I've found that is too much amp. I also mostly use a Fender Gdec 30 that can store BTS and act as a player. I have had good luck and trouble trying to master the Gdec. It has great stereo sounds and you can program your BT with the guitar tone you want and separate the BT into the outputs and just mike the amp. I spent a lot of time putting a whole classic rock show on an SD card and after a few plays it fizzled out.
 My main problem is not gear but good tracks to perform with. Most have something really cheezy about them. Or lead guitar or vocals or something that makes them un usable. Not to complain but I wish BT guys would just make Bass and Drum Tracks.

Axefiend

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2015, 05:19:42 pm »
Awesome posts! Thanks for the insight.  :)

Aaron

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #3 on: December 26, 2015, 06:24:46 pm »
TBart ... I never considered the SD card option, and the way Microsoft has renamed "folders" into "libraries" and messed with everything else for no real good reason other than "because they can" ... has had me rethinking a couple of the situations involved.

For one, I dumped the MP3 player, just because I can't even find one to replace my old (and worn out) one.  The problem is that the manufacturers have forgot to include an option to IMPORT WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYLISTS.  That was really important, because at least with that, I could bang, bang, bang through 10 songs straight, with nice transitions, minimal pausing between them, and all that jazz. (I.e. the appearance of professionalism.)

The changeover was rather pricey, but it works better now.  I bought a $300 Windows 7 Pro laptop to replace a $25 MP3 player.  Actually, I bought 3 different MP3 players first, couldn't import the media player collections into any of them, kicked a few tree stumps in anger, and then bought a dedicated laptop. :)

Then I hear that the gods at Microsoft are doing other (future, but coming) levels of stupid with their Media player.  Fine.  I downloaded WinAmp, loaded it, dug deeply into the preferences, and basically told WinAmp to take over (default for all media files).  I'm recreating the song sequences for WinAmp, and built some folders (libraries?) in which to drop the songs for the short term.

There are some significant advantages to this. First of all WinAmp has some truly FABULOUS "visualizations" compared to the Microsoft editions.  So you have these songs playing, you hook up a good projector (in low light situations) to the laptop, project them on a white kick drum head, or the entire backdrop of the band (if you have sufficient parameters for it to be seen), and voila -- a really "60's ambiance" light show working -- only better, because those visualizations in WinAmp are super high tech fractals!  Off the charts, compared to the Wimpy stuff embedded in Windows.

But back to the music side of things ... the laptop has major advantages other ways over a mere MP3 player.  WinAmp (as does Media Player) does have eq built in, which gives a single spot for minor song corrections between backing track creations.  (Just dealing with on-stage playback at the moment, letting aside the recording aspects...)  I did pick up a new M-Audio interface, and that will be of major help with certain aspects of recording for the future, including the video side of it.  But again, that's another rabbit trail.

I agree with you completely that the full range of available BT's are still falling short of the potential for this product.  Like anything new, it's taking a while for the "consumers" to get with the "producers" and articulate need, and more importantly to give effective suggestions on how to make them even more useful/better/flexible.  I'm with you totally in finding ones that are pretty trim -- and for many in the genre I work, Drums/Bass only is a pretty fair solution. 

However, if you are doing the one-man-band drill, D-B only is somewhat limiting -- unless you are only doing ZZ-Top, and the Georgia Satellites in your performances.  Many 5 piece bands produced the hits that we want to perform with BT's, and having one guitar player trying to cover both guitar parts requires one heck of a guitarist on even the milder songs -- particularly if that same guy is also singing, etc.  So in that case, having maybe the LEAD as a third backing track would be the "better" option in some cases, whereas in others, the rhythm guitar would be preferred for a third track. 

For the good BT creators/guitarists out there, that's really no more complex than just fully recording the song, and then making one mix with rhythm present, and minimizing it out in favor of the lead track on the other mix.  Then post both for the situation presented by the consumer in question. (And that is happening, at least with some songs posted here...)

Non musicians, or even those skilled in another instrument, don't always understand some of the truly difficult sounds that have been achieved by the virtuosos in their fields.  Forget "under-rated" as a term.  Rhythm guitarists particularly are completely ignored and forgotten for their skills when standing beside the "gods" of lead work.  Yet the complicated picking assignments they have while keeping all 5 fingers of the other hand simultaneously busy forcing strings down to avoid fret buzz in a studio setting is quite an accomplishment -- at times overshadowing the actual work involved with the leads.  Not in the average listener's mind, of course, but take one of these people into the studio and give them a fast-progression rhythm track to lay down, and they have all sorts of troubles.  (Anyone who has built BT's on guitar will verify the truths of that.)  And it's the same with bass lines.  How hard can it be -- only 4 strings, right?  Yeah ... work those scales a bit in a studio, making sure your attack remains consistent, with no fret buzz caused by landing about 1 mm short of the sweet spot during a run up/down the neck, and then tell me about it.

Songs where there are keys present that set of problems, and songs with the presence of female vocals yet another.  And as BT makers/users, every possible combination of need vs. availability is going to present itself.  Realistically, there is a whole potential clientele of pianists who would want the BT's to contain ALL the guitars, so they could showcase their keyboard talents (or just help develop them, if they are student musicians, rather than one-man-bands).  I can envision female vocalists wanting all the parts to those cover tunes except the lead vocal tracks.  The reality is pretty dizzying.  Granted, this site caters to the guitarists of the world, but even saying that implies the general stringed instruments commonly found, which would include bass (leave out the bass lines on one mix for those guys), or even banjo and perhaps violins for the country guys and another 10,000 songs which (currently) are not showing up amid the crazy collection of stuff from certain bands that are getting all the attention around here. (~wink~)

But beyond all the whimpering and complaining of the consumer (myself included on many occasions), I want to shout out praises of THANK YOU to all those producing and making these things available.  I think what is going to happen over time, like any other true "product," is that the quality items are going to be easily visible and drive out the lesser.  Stripping vocals off using a cheap karaoke device still leaves a piece of those frequencies hanging out, and it doesn't take much of a musical ear to know it.  Talented musicians building custom tracks come off totally clean and contain exactly what is required for the situation.  Good musicians to produce such items are in demand, and this particular venue seems to be accumulating them.

Something else that is starting to happen (thanks to Axefiend in my case) is that I have been able to unearth old originals from studio sessions decades ago, and rework them. (From various bands I played/wrote songs with over the years...)  Creating original songs via collaborative track work with thousands of miles between the musicians involved is just mind-bending to consider.  It presents a whole new set of problems involving technology -- but the good news (for me) is that most musical stuff that gets airplay (rock, country, etc. -- symphonies being the exception) starts with the drum track.  And at this point at least, the standards are in place, and working fine.  The .WAV file is the foundation for production, with MP3 being the preferred finished product.  So long as there is any of 100 ways to get to the starting line (a .WAV file stereo drum track), and a vehicle large enough to transmit these rather large files from point to point (FTP or other upload sites via the internet), there is a whole new recording industry undercutting the deals with the devil that were previously required for recording contracts and producing new material.  The end results of some of this preliminary work are going to start showing up shortly.

Of course, there are a thousand ways to record now -- but in my case it is a Tascam 2488 Neo digital deck with all sorts of outboard stuff I have accumulated over the years.  I get the drum .WAV file, drop it from the laptop over to the Tascam on tracks 1 & 2 of the new song, and start adding layers from there using old-school instruments, somewhat local musicians, and outboard FX.  (Even though the Tascam has lots of built-in gadgets, I find it more flexible and easier just to patch in the settings about which I am much more familiar straight to the channel inputs from the rack-mount gear.)

For those who read through all this ... there is a coming punch line.  Be on the look out for a posting sometime shortly from me about a solution to the long-distance recording problems we have at the moment.  I am part of a start-up University, and we are currently hashing out some technology infrastructure issues (server/storage) for our School of Music.  That's all I want to say at the moment, until our team can sort out the "how to" of it all, and get things available, and useful.  One problem, of course, is large file sizes.  This involves not only audio production, but video as well.  So you can only imagine the levels of server space potentially required.  And it might be another year till we can get all involved parties agreeing on various aspects.  But server #1 could come on line as early as next week. 

Site building and many other things are going to take time, and it's complicated by far more than the music side -- we have the other aspects/departments of a college/university in the loop each tugging for their slices of server space and VM's, not to mention bandwidth.  But I would like to help somehow to facilitate multi-track file transfers between collaborating musicians.  Those who can/would be involved should message me privately (for now) simply to keep from boring the musicians here to death with over-the-top technician psychobabble they will never touch anyway.  I do want to know what our most active recording folks are using in the realm of software/hardware for production, and what standards ought to be in place for multi-track transfers, and try to stab at how many TB of data we are looking at, or perhaps for what periods of time, etc.  It's complicated.  But something tells me it's possible.  I doubt the average web host would want anything to do with it, unless there were major bucks in it for them per megabyte.  And in that case, there wouldn't be free BT's available.

The short version of this is that what gets produced via other channels is probably going to end up posted as final mix MP3's here.  Moving monster multi-track GB files containing assorted parts between musicians and mastering sessions will be the primary point of those private discussions.  I'm really hopeful that all these software and hardware devices are closely enough compatible that the multi-track (raw) product from one can interface with another.  And that's only question #1 involved with such gadgetry, but my focus at the moment.  Simple and down-to-earth personal -- can whatever software YOU create with become a (x)track .WAV file that my Tascam can use?  Or, if I create it with my Tascam, can your software import it cleanly into those separate tracks?  Let's figure out what hardware/ software "plays nice in the sandbox" with which others as a starting point.  That would be the beginning of establishing a set of standards that those jumping in can see and benefit by.

Aaron

johnnymegabyte

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #4 on: December 26, 2015, 08:37:15 pm »
I have a friend in London UK, who gigs a lot with a Notebook and a 22" monitor screen. All backing music on it. Connected to his PA via a small Behringer mixer.
He plays keyboards thru PA and guitar, using real amp.

Here's a video when when he was in Toronto a few years ago ... I'm singing and he's on Keyboards. Another friend off camera on guitar
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Rx3nHRdAE

we did a gig together, as well, using his "Canadian" setup
I played my guitar thru Zoom G5 into Tech 21 Power Engine

Franknal

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Gigging w/Backing T
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2016, 06:09:53 am »
Eh, Im being overly critical. Orbital is back

EP soon? Album later? These tracks feel more at home on a special EP.

Yurichъ

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2016, 10:18:34 am »
Valuable info, cheers to all!

I have a friend in London UK, who gigs a lot with a Notebook and a 22" monitor screen. All backing music on it. Connected to his PA via a small Behringer mixer.

That's foolproof for sure, Zinchuk and Golovin basically use the same ways on tours.
USB здесь! Здесь все: Тагир, Стас, Юрич, Турбо и Эдуард Суровый 

eduardoritos

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2016, 02:01:33 pm »
I use a little laptop with traktor, because the "limiter/gain controll" that "masterize" the songs at some point. BT from many diferent sources have diferent level and peaks.

The result... here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVtlpwhC5nM&list=PLKsEYUbxyQSWQdpunJ4KqWDMoC5xZRB8l

Better with a great singer, like I have the great luck of having with me.

Yurichъ

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2016, 05:34:21 pm »
The result... here:

Thanks for this one, man! I can see that you are totally there, inside the melody

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0C3hUFMeII

Steven recorded that song on a white 7-string Universe guitar to ADA MP-1 via Mesa poweramp + Eventide H-3000. A difficult sound to copy these days.

Nice to meet you!
« Last Edit: December 09, 2016, 05:49:21 pm by Yurichъ »
USB здесь! Здесь все: Тагир, Стас, Юрич, Турбо и Эдуард Суровый 

eduardoritos

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2016, 03:13:35 pm »
The result... here:

Thanks for this one, man! I can see that you are totally there, inside the melody

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0C3hUFMeII

Steven recorded that song on a white 7-string Universe guitar to ADA MP-1 via Mesa poweramp + Eventide H-3000. A difficult sound to copy these days.

Nice to meet you!
That one (VAi's) was the gig on my 41 birthday, and, after the last song at 1h30 a.m. I'd dedicated to the last 4 guys in the pub, without having played it in at least 5 years, improvised some parts, but in the mood of the original song.


Thank you.

Baxter.G

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #10 on: October 17, 2019, 02:39:01 pm »
Good God Aaron, do you really need all that equipment to perform with B.T.'s? And I'm interested to know... how do you go with using mixed down mp3's? I would have thought they wouldn't have cut it amplified through a P.A.! Wouldn't you need wav's for that kind of thing? (quality wise I mean)
Cheers.

MichaelRLarose

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Re: Gigging w/Backing Tracks
« Reply #11 on: October 22, 2019, 09:17:00 am »
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