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.

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.

 The $200 Backing Tracks Rig