Loops and tracks
AN INTRODUCTION TO
WRITTEN BY KRIS SINGH
Backing tracks are an amazingly effective and helpful tool when executed well and used in the proper context. They can add instrumentation or sounds to any sized group to fill out the sound of your worship team, or by a soloist who wants to add another layer to their music. Our use of technology should always be in service to a specific goal. Simplicity saves you stress and keeps your eyes focused on the real goal - to engage people in a time of corporate worship. Backing tracks can help us do this well, but choosing the right application and solution is essential!
Here are four ways you can implement backing tracks into your situation, starting with the least complex.
Drone pads are a great tool for smaller settings or solo musicians. These usually come as pre-recorded ambient synthesizer or guitar audio files. Drone pads are usually based around the first and the fifth scale degree of a given key. This gives the pad enough harmonic information to support another instrument playing over that key while staying in the background.
Playing over a drone pad works really well for a solo instrument or with a smaller group. The extra ambience can add thickness and musical complexity to your sound and can also help craft a great atmosphere to smaller worship settings.
Split tracks are stereo audio files that contain click track/guide information on one side and musical information on the other. Split tracks are an efficient way to transition a full band towards playing to a click.
Just give your drummer an audio feed with the click (a headphone output from an audio interface will work) and give the sound desk the audio feed containing music. Doing this will mean that your drummer is the only one who will hear the click and can keep the band in time with the rest of the tracks that are being heard through the FOH (Front Of House) speakers and monitors.
I’d recommend split tracks for scenarios when the song’s arrangement is static, time sensitive (synth arpeggios, delays etc) or for extra musical texture or depth (this works great for bigger upbeat songs).
with Separate Click, Guide or MD feed
A step up from split tracks is sending full stereo backing tracks and individual click/guide tracks to your FOH (Front Of House) and monitors. A stereo track will contain much more musical information; panning and effects will have much more width and presence.
Your playback needs at this point will change - you’ll need software that can route and move audio from your software to the outputs of your audio interface. You’ll also need an audio interface that can send at least four outputs: two for your stereo backing track and one each for click and guides.
In-ear monitoring will probably be needed here as your listening requirements start to get more complex. However, moving to this stage allows you to utilize more musically complex backing tracks, particularly with dynamic ebbs and flows that the whole band can follow.
The most complex track setup we use is a multiple output setup. By using an audio interface with multiple outputs, we are able to route the individual stem files of our backing tracks to wherever they’re needed. There are many advantages to this method. Each part of the backing track can be treated and mixed like a live instrument by FOH. Broadcast can use any element of the backing track to craft a livestream mix. Monitor mixes can contain any combination of instruments from the track.
We use this type of backing track setup for larger events, and this is best for when a large degree of flexibility, adaptability and individual control is needed by multiple people at once.
Each of these methods has a lot of depth that can’t be covered in a short article, so I recommend using this article as a starting point for your own research. Remember to be solution focused - never try to overcompensate for a small problem if an appropriately-sized solution exists! Your backing track needs should only ever be in service of an engaging time of worship!
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