How to use backing tracks on stage ?

When the question of using sound effects or tracks on stage arises, several needs may occur, which may require very different equipment or organization depending on the case.

Four essential parameters must be taken into consideration:

We will start from typical needs, and then describe for each of them the most adapted solutions according to the other parameters

Need number 1: Execute punctual sound effects (Theater, Music)

In this scenario, you need to be able to trigger sound effects or music at specific moments of your show.

Who will trigger the sounds?

One person from the backstage

This person must be the same for all the performances and must have enough time to invest during the rehearsals. It is also important to make sure that this person can systematically "see" the scene and be available to trigger the sounds at the right moment.

If this is the case, and if you have a computer configuration dedicated to audio (Computer + professional sound card) it is probably interesting to consider computer programs such as Ableton Live, or even programs such as Livetraker which will not only cover the audio aspect, but also other aspects of stage effects that can be controlled such as video, texts, etc.

Pads could simplify the triggering of sound effects by providing dedicated hardware interfaces. This one for example is pre-configured for Ableton: AKAI Apc-Mini

For budget and mobility reasons, it can be interesting to look for solutions on a tablet or phone such as :

The drummer/percussionist.

The equipment should be triggerable via drumsticks or MIDI capable to be connected to a drum pad, it's better to look for dedicated hardware solutions.

Any type of drumpad will work as a trigger, as long as it has MIDI connections. Be careful though, the more elements you add to the chain, the more complex the configuration phase will be and the more equipment you will need to carry!

The ideal is therefore to turn to all-in-one solutions such as the Roland SPD-SX.

This type of material exists in more affordable and modest models such as the Roland SPD ONE WAV PAD as long as you stick to a maximum of 12 different sounds (or buy several!). Note that the configuration of pads for a drummer not really found of technology can be a challenge... And even the Roland mini pad is not that user-friendly, because you will have to edit a text file on a computer after having dragged your audio files.

The keyboardist.

Like the drummer, he is often assigned to this type of task. Often more used to the synth configurations, he could be the right profile to work on the preparation of backing tracks and launch them on stage.

But beware: Launching sounds from your keyboard implies having at least one machine with sample capabilities and enough keyboards and/or keyboard splitting management to make sure you can trigger the sounds.

In my experience this is often a false idea and a real headache for the keyboardist unless the sample playback solution is completely separate from his music kit.

If the musician has a sampler and a keyboard to "sacrifice" for the need, they will be efficient to answer the requirement.

If this is not the case, it is better to look for dedicated hardware, preferring the compact aspect of pads. At the time of writing this article, the following devices seem interesting to consider:

Of course, we can bring out the heavy artillery with PC / MAC + software like Ableton Live + interface like AKAI Apc-Mini. It's all about budget... But you'd better have a LOT of sounds to trigger...

For budget and mobility reasons, the best solution could be a tablet or a phone with applications such as : SoundCue on IPad/Iphone ($around $15 on the App Store.) Stage Player on Android (Free on Google Play)

Another person on stage: actor, musician, or singer

It is then necessary to turn to discrete, mobile solutions, and potentially provide several launching points.

Hardwares solutions such as Roland SPD ONE WAV PAD can be suitable, but for budget reasons, applications on tablets or phones such as SoundCue on IPad/Iphone or Stage Player on Android are to be preferred.

Stage Player offers an account creation feature that allows to save configurations on the cloud, and then dispatch them identically on multiple devices.

Need number 2: Play and/or sing on backing tracks that include the rhythm section.

We are talking about backing tracks that will contain the drum track. This is essential, because if not, you will need to have a click, and you don't want the audience to hear it! So the configuration would be totally different.

If we're talking about an audio track with a rhythm, this means that you're not playing with a drummer, and that you can therefore automatically take out all the solutions with drums pads (unless you're an enthusiastic fan of drumsticks...)

Also, if you don't even have a drummer, you probably don't have a person in the backstage to trigger your songs!

We advise you not to opt for a computer arsenal with PC/Mac + sound card etc... This will save you the inconvenience of waiting 10 minutes for your setup to reboot because you accidentally let your laptop shut down.

Two types of solutions may be appropriate: The first is to get dedicated audio hardware. Generic samplers will be too complex to use, so we recommend portable solutions such as :

The second is to opt for applications on tablets or phones such as SoundCue on IPad/Iphone or Stage Player on Android.

This is the ideal solution for micro-bands or mobile training such as street musicians

Little advice: try to avoid switching between other applications if you also intend to use your tablet to display your lyrics. It is best to dedicate the device you are using to audio playback.

Need number 3 : Complete an arrangement with a backing track

This is the most complex case: you want to complement your orchestration with the help of backing tracks.

In this case three points are to be taken into account:

Even if it is possible to trigger this type of backing track from the console, we strongly advise you to assign this task to the drummer.

You should therefore prefer drum pad type solutions such as the Roland SPD-SX or more modest hardware such as the Roland SPD ONE WAV PAD. Even on such small machines, you can use a "layer" concept that allows you to overlay a click on the song and route it to a dedicated audio output.

However, we recommend that you choose drum pads with good MIDI connectivity and configuration capabilities, as you will probably have to look for a more complex/complete solution including PC/Mac, sound card and DAW software such as Cubase, Ableton, etc.