Reflecting a music production on the live-level is a challenging thing. There’s a thin line between creating a tasty live-set and overloading a musical performance with a bunch of glitz. Classy live-sound is all about balance. Especially if you pursue a hybrid type of performance with live and electronic elements like live backing tracks.
I’ve played with a variety of projects, from stripped down acoustic set-ups to one-man full backing track live-shows. Either way, working with live backing tracks is an immensely fun thing, if you play it right and get the mix the way it should be. To share my experience, I’ve collected 5 vital pointers that I found helpful when dealing with this form of extended performance.
Keep it structured
A cornerstone of a strong backing-track-arrangement is a clearly structured session, on a software level. On stage you need to act fast, and you’re going to have to find a way to tweak parameters according to the situation. You really don’t want to spend extra time searching around a chaotic workspace, digging through several unnamed tracks.
Keep your live session structured, and prepare something that you can work with relatively fast and spontaneously. Clean up the tracks and have a birds eye view on everything that is happening.
This way you can relax and concentrate on the live-show, and even if things go haywire, you’ll be equipped to deal with the issue in a professional and fast manner.
Be sure to practice the backing-track usage in several run-throughs. Enact mistakes and break-downs in hardware and find a way of dealing with issues like that.
Just like all the song-forms and instrumental content has to be tight and on point. The backing-track performance has to run in the background like a silent mirror of what’s visibly happening on stage.
If everything runs well, there will be a common thread running through the whole show. This should already be evident when rehearsing the set. Try to get a feeling for the way sounds and backing tracks pop into focus. Then submerge it back into the mix.
Get the leveling right with a live pro
A really important thing to think about is getting your levels right in accordance with the sound-pro you are working with at the gig / on tour. The set-up can work just fine when rehearsing, then some new outside mixers and consoles are connected and things start to act out.
Get the professional insight on what might happen in each venue, with and without a crowd present. Exchange ideas on how to shape the perfect backing track session, and be open to input. The live-technicians I’ve worked with often contributed extremely valuable ideas and input to wether a live-session might be balanced or not.
A perfect live sound is a collaborative effort!
Count in extra soundcheck time
From now on, count in extra soundcheck time for setting up not only the outside levels of your backing tracks but also the monitoring.
They should be viewed as extra instruments, and handled as such. I’ve played with musicians that conduct a live-set without having one element of backing-track support on their ears. Find your own groove, especially if you’re in charge of orchestrating the tracks. If that’s the case, you’ll have to be extremely sensible and work on a solid in-ear balance to be able to control the backing tracks properly.
Try not to go overboard
Working with backing tracks can be an awesome addition to any live show. Depending on the music, you’ll have countless new options to set up a compelling soundscape and stunning moments.
With this power at hand, try not to go overboard. Rather limit yourself to the very necessities of what has to be present and active via backing-track, creating a comprehensible routine.
A tasty usage can boost your show to the next level. An excessive one can clutter your mix and completely distract from other important elements of the show! Be aware of the line of focus within your show, and how your draw your audience into the experience.
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