Tips and Tricks for Playing Live to Backing Tracks

Written by Morgan Doctor
Diagram by JJ Jones

If you’ve never played live to backing (pre-recorded) tracks, it can feel like a daunting task. Here are a few helpful tips and tricks to make the transition from analog to digital a bit easier.

  1. It is super important that you are comfortable playing to a click (metronome) BEFORE starting to play to backing tracks. If you don’t already practice with a click, then start NOW!
  2. Make sure you have headphones, buds or in-ears so when you are running the backing tracks live, so you have a direct source to the tracks and/or click.
  3. Know what you need to be the most comfortable playing on stage. You might want to hear only click in your headphones and have the backing tracks in your wedge/monitor, or you might feel more comfortable with both track and click in your headphones, or just track. When I play live to backing tracks, I like to have click in my ears (70%) and track in my wedge (30%). I’ve also had great success running both click and track thru a mixer placed next to me, so I can control each level in my headphones quickly and easily.
  4. There are a variety of ways to set up a live backing track situation. My advice is to set it up so you, as the drummer, are at the controls: you start and stop the tracks, and you can adjust your levels in your in-ears on the fly if need be. Also, it’s really important that you have a click sound that works for you (cowbell, wood block, etc).
  5. Know your gear and how you have everything wired and running. When you’re at a gig with backing tracks, your job is now more than a drummer, you’re also a gear tech. You have moved from analog to digital, so know what might be the cause of any audio problems when playing the tracks live.

Possible backing track configurations:

iPod/CD-player split output (make sure track and click are panned): L= backing track → DIBOX → front of house → wedge. R = click → drummer headphones.

Computer → audio interface → pan channels: L= track → DIBOX → front of house → wedge.  R= click to drummer headphones. (See diagram below.)

DTX-Multi or Roland Octapad → tracks stereo out → drummer headphones only, no click. 

Computer → audio interface → mixer: channel 1+2 are track and click respectively for drummer headphones, channel 3+4  → Stereo DIBOX → front of house → wedge.

backing-track-configuration-diagramMorgan Doctor is a Juno and Dora award-nominated drummer and educator based in Toronto. She has performed with The Cliks, Sandra Bernhard, Ron Sexsmith, and Feist, among many others, appeared on numerous national TV shows like MTV Live and David Letterman, and played over a thousand dates throughout the US, Canada and Europe. Morgan has three solo records out on Aporia Records.

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