When first introduced to backing tracks, I have to admit, I thought it was a terrible idea. I mean, why would you use recorded tracks when you have a live band?
Time passed, I became more open to the idea, and decided to give them a shot for a Christmas service... It was amazing.
We did Kim Walker’s version of Silent Night and having all the strings, bells and other tidbits really made it feel like Christmas in the room.
After that service, we started adding backing tracks one song at a time. And now, we use them with every song.
The biggest challenge is finding the balance between backing tracks and live musicians. I’m going to help you with that in this video.
Backing tracks can take your sound to the next level. But they can also destroy your sound. So let me give you a few simple tips.
Let me start by giving you a visual of how backing tracks should fit into your mix using a container and different sizes of rocks.
First, you put in your big rocks - your bass guitar and kick drum.
Then, mix in your guitars, keyboards and vocals.
So, the container is now full, but there is still space around all the rocks. This is the space you want to fill with backing tracks.
It’s common to make the mistake of adding too much to your backing tracks. And I get it, there’s a lot of cool sounding stuff you can add in, but less is more.
At my church, the band consists of a drummer, bass guitar, keyboard, and electric guitar. They do a great job creating a full and punchy sound. But we are often lacking in the high end.
I’m talking about those things that kind of sparkle and sizzle. You can do without them, but your mix will always sound a bit dull.
Finding things that fill up the high end of the frequency spectrum adds a nice shine to your mix.
So, that’s the first thing I look for in backing tracks. I go through all the options and find the things that are hanging out in the high frequency range.
These sounds don't sound very good on their own, but add them to the rest of your mix and you are going to be surprised at the difference it makes.
The next thing I look for are repeated patterns. Live musicians don’t find it very fun to play the same thing over and over through the entire song, so let the backing tracks handle this.
Finally, if the song needs an ambient pad, instead of having your keyboard player hold down two keys through the entire song, let the backing tracks handle it.
And that’s pretty much it! Look for things that will add some shine to your mix and then look for things that add texture to your mix with repeated patterns and ambient pads.
The most important thing to keep in mind is, don’t duplicate something your live musicians are already doing. This will just make your mix sound muddy and will also make your musicians feel like they don’t have a purpose.
If you have a musician unable to make it to church one Sunday, by all means, use the backing tracks to fill the void. But don’t forget to turn it off when they come back.