A brief guide to using backing tracks on stage

What format to use


Backing tracks generally come in two flavours - Midi and Audio.


Midi is a way of sending musical data between electronic devices; information about what notes to play, how long, how loud, and what instrument to use, etc. However midi does not send any sound at all and relies on the final link in the chain (usually a keyboard or "sound-module") to produce the actual music that's heard.


Audio is simply a recording played back. This could be a recording of a midi performance, real instruments and voices, or a combination of both.


Both have pros and cons...

Midi is flexible - it's possible to change to any key or arrangement of the song without affecting the sound quality. But the final sound depends on the device used. The same Midifile that sounds weak on a standard computer sound-card, will sound better when played using a dedicated "sound-module".


Audio is much more reliable - an mp3, for example, will sound more or less the same whether on a high-end PC or a portable mp3-player. However the key/arrangement/ending is fixed.



Experience has shown us to use the advantages of both - create tracks using midi and audio, but for the performance (where reliablity is everything) use audio.

Audio formats

Uncompressed

WAV, PCM, AIFF are examples of uncompressed (ie. studio quality) formats - better quality sound comes at the price of larger file sizes. An WAV file could be as much as ten times the size of the same track in a compressed format.

Compressed

MP3, AAC, OGG, WMA are are examples of compressed formats - take up a lot less storage space. If encoded correctly, the slight drop in sound quality can be minimised - in real situations, it’s usually unnoticeable.

We can supply audio in whatever format works best for you.

For custom backing tracks, we usually supply stereo MP3 (192kbps) which we've found to be the best compromise between filesize and acceptable audio quality. However you can specify any format that suits your needs.

Playing backing tracks live

What device?

This is very much down to personal choice and budget. In an ideal world we'd all have a technician running the tracks for us on a dedicated machine. However, a lot of acts we encounter are solo performers and singers, or small bands/duos, who do everything for themselves. This is the real world!

We recommend a laptop (suitably maintained and protected for transport). The device needs to be affordable, yet rugged. Many people find a tablet to be the perfect compromise between portability and useability. Some even use their phone - after all, they always have it with them!

Our most important suggestion (from years 'on the road') is have a back up plan. Having your precious tracks backed up on a spare laptop, or even a spare phone or MP3 player, will make sure the show goes on even if the worst happens.

If at all possible, run your device from mains electricity rather than battery, during the performance. One extra cable on stage is worth it for peace of mind during a gig.

What software?

This will obviously depend on your device. But here are a few considerations we reckon are important...


There are very few apps dedicated to playing tracks live, but most are expensive. Of the ones that are free, many will only allow you to play tracks bought from the same company.


Here are a few suggestions (based on our experience). All are free to use...

Winamp - older software, but recently re-launched and is still very useable

https://about.winamp.com/

VDJ - although aimed at DJs, can be easily configured for singers/musicians

https://www.virtualdj.com/

Musicolet - in our opinion the best free android player for live gigs

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=in.krosbits.musicolet

How can we help

For more information, or free advice on using backing tracks

Email us now