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Backing Tracks: Be on the right track

Date: Friday, August 26, 2005 3:26:29 PM

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Creating a good backing track is an art. Nowadays it's very easy to download a MIDI file from the Internet and create your own backing tracks. Many do so, but the quality is at best amateurish. I have seen many artists who will eagerly invest thousands in a top quality PA system, but skimp when it comes to backing tracks!

Grabbing an audience's attention is vital when performing with backing tracks, as there is usually little to captivate the audience visually. A good backing track is essential for grabbing the audienceís attention.

OK, how do I know itís a good backing track?
Here are some key elements to listen for on a good backing track:

  • For starters, the instrumentation on the track should be clear. A guitar should sound like a guitar and not like your grandma snoring in the next room.

  • The musical arrangement of the backing track must be clear and logical. You must be able to distinguish your key points or you will start at the wrong place and make a fool of yourself. Even a complex arrangement should be easy to follow.

    The track must have a definite beginning and ending. Avoid fade-ins and fade-outs.

    The mixing on the backing track should be done expertly. A good mix will result in a clear-sounding backing track without excess bass and shrill highs. On the topic of mixing, the panorama (or PAN) on the backing track should be wide enough to park a stretch limo. This is important. If the panning of the track is too narrow, your voice wouldnít be able to come across clearly, and it is your voice thatís the main attraction, isnít it

  • Can you get it in the key you want it in? It should be possible for your chosen company to provide the backing track in a key suitable to your voice. With the technology we have at our disposal these days we can make Matthys Roets sound like Michael Jackson, so there is no excuse for tracks in the wrong key.

  • The track should not be flooded with reverb. A lot of reverb can conceal small errors made in the mix or arrangement and worst of all, you must sing with it! More on reverb: if the track has a heck of a lot of reverb on it, how long do you think you should make the reverb on your vocals to compensate for the reverb on the track? And what do you think your audience is going to think?

  • Try to buy all your backing tracks from the same company. Backing tracks differ greatly in quality and style, so if you find a good company that caters for your needs, try to stick with them.

  • © Lothar Woehler BAMus(Hons)

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