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KB Backing Tracks--Fix the Mix


ProfD

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A few days ago, I heard a cruise ship band which consisted of guitarist/vocalist, drummer, female vocalist and a laptop triggering backing tracks.

 

They covered a variety of Pop songs. Well enough to satisfy the party crowd.

 

As a muso onboard, of course I would notice things not readily apparent to the naked ears and eyes of intoxicated passengers. :laugh:

 

The drummer used an e-kit. Been a while since he last updated the module soundset. Kick and snare came straight from the electronic factory. Acoustic samples would have been better.

 

To the subject at hand, near and dear to KB players...the backing tracks.

 

Based on the personnel listed above, you can imagine which parts the backing tracks contained.

 

Anybody can pull standard MIDI files off the net and load them into a sequencer. Otherwise, it takes a great deal of effort to make backing tracks sound professional.

 

The telltale sign of immature backing tracks is general MIDI sounds and a cluttered mix. Nowadays, there is no reason for either.

 

Real drum loops and fills are available. Bass and lead guitar, brass, woodwind and string players can be brought into the studio to play those parts which can be converted to .wav files.

 

Reducing an Earth, Wind and Fire horn section to General MIDI patch #62 is a travesty.

 

Multiple outputs for the backing tracks would provide more control over the mix. That would also provide a better blend with musos playing and singing on top of them.

 

I'm not a muso who listens with folded arms. However, it is hard to overlook the obvious. Of course, my observations didn't keep the crowd from dancing.

 

In fact, I sat there holding her purse during the obligatory line dance. :D:cool:

 

 

 

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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No X Stands, Pour Some Sugar On Me, or backing tracks for me. PERIOD. (That may cost me my gig with the "Jump" crew, as they claim "sugar" is a huge crowdpleaser for them, and they want me to trigger the samples; I've told them it will only trigger uncontrollable vomiting from the keyboard player.)
Hitting "Play" does NOT constitute live performance. -Me.
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Reducing an Earth, Wind and Fire horn section to General MIDI patch #62 is a travesty.

 

 

YOU SAID IT MY FRIEND!

 

I play in 2 projects with backing tracks. Prior to that my attitude was like Tony's: Never, ever, play with sequences or backing tracks. Use my feet if I have to, but cover the parts somehow or leave some of them out.

 

Now that I've done a quite a few gigs with backing tracks (not the whole set, just a few songs) my feelings are mixed. Groove and feel often is lacking because of obligation to the click, but some songs just sound empty without them. I've gotten good at only programming tracks that complement what I'm already playing instead of substituting entire parts.

 

Either way, General Midi is inexcusable today with the power of hardware and soft synths.

Ian Benhamou

Keyboards/Guitar/Vocals

 

[url:https://www.facebook.com/OfficialTheMusicalBox/]The Musical Box[/url]

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All these responses and not one person has asked the pressing question:

 

How was the cruise? :love::blush::laugh:

 

I would never ask such a personal question - but those other guys wanted to know. :rolleyes:

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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So are midi files obsolete?

 

Or course not. You don't have to trigger General Midi sounds with midi files. Just open them up into your DAW and send different Program changes, edit the timing of some parts, add modulation, etc.

 

I often use general midi files I find on the net to work out parts of certain covers. Not because I can't do it on my own, but because it often gives me a good starting point. Some files are horribly programed, but some are actually quite good.

 

Ian Benhamou

Keyboards/Guitar/Vocals

 

[url:https://www.facebook.com/OfficialTheMusicalBox/]The Musical Box[/url]

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I've gotten good at only programming tracks that complement what I'm already playing instead of substituting entire parts.

That is one of the secrets to making them pop. :thu:

 

National acts have the benefit of lifting audio tracks straight from the masters. Still, their MDs have enough sense to only pull up parts that cannot be covered by the band.

 

The real head scratcher is cheesy backing tracks for songs that were produced using a sequencer. I've heard awful versions of "In Da Club". :laugh:

 

ITGITC?, the water was a little choppy at times but the cruise was nice overall. ;):cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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The real head scratcher is cheesy backing tracks for songs that were produced using a sequencer. I've heard awful versions of "In Da Club". :laugh::cool:

 

Celine Dion's rendition of that little ditty is FANTASTIC! :thu:

 

50 Cent should be so proud.

 

http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site36/2009/0225/20090225__CelineDionPepsi~p1_300.jpg

"Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent." - Victor Hugo
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No, the pressing question is: how much was the cruise band being paid? I know that some people think that paying $25/man for a band is better than using backing tracks but not all of us do.

 

Just like there are different quality keyboard players, there are different quality background track creators. If these guys got the gig then imagine the quality of the backing of the ones that didn't.

 

I went on a cruise a few years ago and in the space of a week I saw a dozen different bands, all based around the keyboard player who was using an arranger keyboard. It was brilliant: the keyboard player could hire as many side man as he could afford and as would show up, but he always had a band to cover the gig.

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No, the pressing question is: how much was the cruise band being paid?

That is a very valid question. Follow the money. :)

 

In their defense, this particular band did not have a KB player. ;):cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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I went on a cruise a few years ago and in the space of a week I saw a dozen different bands, all based around the keyboard player who was using an arranger keyboard. It was brilliant: the keyboard player could hire as many side man as he could afford and as would show up, but he always had a band to cover the gig.

 

This is how I have run my salsa band for awhile now. If an agent calls me with a low budget, I can do a small band and all the parts are covered. Yeah, I rather bring a 10 piece band but when the client can only spend $600, I won't bring a large group.

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By ian Benhamou:

 

I often use general midi files I find on the net to work out parts of certain covers. Not because I can't do it on my own, but because it often gives me a good starting point. Some files are horribly programed, but some are actually quite good.

 

There's more garbage MIDI files on the internet these days than there ever was. Many sites were shut down because they were in violation of copywrite laws. But other countries don't pay any attention to US copy write laws, so people put up a web site and have at it.

 

The main reason to use a standard or General Midi freebie on the internet is to save time as far as I'm concerned. Often times when I take a file off the internet and look over the tracks, the timing is terrible, there are generic drum fills, and the song isn't usable. In many cases I find it is better to erase bad tracks and just record them myself than try to fix them. Like anything else, there are good and bad renditions available. But even "pay" sites don't sell top-notch Midi files. Many individual programmers of their files aren't all that accurate either.

 

All that said, any band that plugs in Midi files and plays them without giving them a going over is just plain lazy. :bor:

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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By Ian Benmanou:

 

I believe this was my original point.

 

Yep, for sure.

 

Cheers,

 

 

Mike T.

Yamaha Motif ES8, Alesis Ion, Prophet 5 Rev 3.2, 1979 Rhodes Mark 1 Suitcase 73 Piano, Arp Odyssey Md III, Roland R-70 Drum Machine, Digitech Vocalist Live Pro. Roland Boss Chorus Ensemble CE-1.

 

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Back in the '80's I did a bunch of tracks for the band. At first w/QX1 and then later I used the on board stuff with the Korg T series and the O1 stuff. The music then really needed to be seq'd.It lacked without it. We were covering The System, Go West, Mr. Mister, MJ, etc. I dug it. Can't believe I'm still sitting at home doing tracks and makin' a buck with it.
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and wouldn't it be best to mix down to a wav or mp3 and play that back verses a midi file?

Sure, if you mean .wav files as individual audio tracks versus a mono or stereo mp3 of the entire song.

 

I really don't have a problem with MIDI files. It is usually the patch selection that kills them.

 

Unless a single KB or VI has very good sounds across the board (no pun intended), MIDI file parts definitely benefit from tracking multiple sound sources.

 

Of course, those MIDI parts could be converted to audio reducing the need to cart more KBs.

 

Either way, audio or MIDI files, separate tracks provide more control over the arrangement and mix. :cool:

PD

 

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return."--E. Ahbez "Nature Boy"

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I can't imagine going back to a ROMpler for my backing tracks! Although I might make an exception for the Kurzweil PC3x strings. :-)

 

I spend WAY more time producing these than I used to in the ROMpler days, for sure, but the results are stunning, and we breathe plenty of life into these songs in spite of their locked tempo. Many of them have floating sounds (e.g. Duran Duran arps) that give some wiggle room for the live playing anyway.

 

Audiences do not react any differently to songs that we do well, whether or not backing tracks are involved. About 1/3 of our songs may have backing tracks at any given gig; but usually closer to 1/4. I NEVER put drums, bass, or guitar in there -- that would be cheesy for sure. Usually pads, special effects, complex arpeggio patterns, and orchestral and ethnic instruments.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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I used to play in a Duo with a Guitar player where we sequenced the bass, drums, and some supplemental parts. He used to download SMF's thinking he was saving me time, but most of the time it took more time to rework the stuff he downloaded than to just do it from scratch. So anything we need a sequence for I do completely from scratch. And yes I use a sequence triggering internal sounds - sampled or VA. Sounds great and I can use midi events to handle all my patch changes which is nice when you're busy trying to cover a lot of parts. In fact some of my sequences do nothing more than automate patch and FX changes and maybe have a couple claps, cowbells, sound FX, etc.

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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I have rarely downloaded an SMF that had any useful tracks in it. It may accelerate the early stages of creating a backing track, but there are so many problems with most web sequences that I often feel it would take less time to literally start from scratch and not even use them as an initial reference.

 

Most of them have zero dynamics, and primarily address guitar, bass and drums -- which we don't need. Note lengths and note velocities are wrong and/or inappropriate for the target sound (I have created a Best Practices document for synth drums and sampled natural drums, as well as some very involved library-specific notes on dealing with woodwinds, brasswinds, strings, etc.). There are also often many karaoke doubling parts.

 

So I should emphasize that using a ROMpler as the sound source is less critical than doing a good job of making the backing track. It's just than when a purely keyboard-driven note entry from a ROMpler with poor note velocity and aftertouch implementation is used to create the MIDI sequence and it isn't edited afterwards, the results usually stink.

Eugenio Upright, 60th P-Bass, Geddy Lee J-Bass, Hofner HCT-500/7, Yamaha BBP35, Viking Bari

Select Strat, Select Tele, Am Pro JM, LP 57 Gold, G5422DC-12, T486, ES295, PM2, EXL1

XK1c, Voyager, Prophet XL

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