How to Run Backing Tracks Live: A Step by Step Guide

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How to Run Click and Backing Tracks for DrummersI’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that as a band, recreating your recorded sound live is crucial.

What’s the best way to do that? Simple:

Use backing tracks.

We receive so many compliments about our live sound because we use backing tracks live.

In this post, I’m going to run through:

  • how to run backing tracks live
  • my exact setup to get both backing and click tracks for drummers
  • and why I think it’s the best way to play backing tracks live for people starting out.

Ready? Let’s get to it!

But first:

Let’s consider if you need a backing track.

Should you consider using a backing track?

Ever since The Beatles popularised multi-track recording, musicians have slowly been adding more and more layers to their recorded songs.

If you play a style of music (e.g. alt-rock, metal, pop) which makes use of a lot of different tracks to add depth and thickness to your songs, you’ll want to play to a backing track live to make it sound like the record for your fans.

If you tend to play more laid back styles of music or have the luxury of having enough members on stage to play all the additional sounds, then lucky you! You’ll probably be fine without a backing track.

The simplest backing track setup for drummers:

I’m going to show you my way of implementing the split-mono method of backing tracks.

Here’s what I love about my setup:

  • Cheap: All of the actual backing track gear can be picked for £75 or less
  • Portable: My entire setup fits within this Stagg Pedalboard
  • Foolproof: I’ve never had it fail on me in 50+ shows
  • Personal mix: The drummer can tweak the backing track, click, master and monitor volumes to create the best mix for them.
Note: Doing it this way only lets you run MONO tracks. Although that’s usually more than enough for most people starting out.

This is the setup I use:

What you'll need

Must haves:

  • Music player (I recommend a phone)
  • 4+ channel mixer
  • In-ear monitors
  • 3.5mm(⅛” jack) stereo male to 6.35mm mono L/R male splitter
  • 3.5mm female to 6.35mm male
  • Passive DI with a return/link channel.

Recommended additional items:

  • 2 x 3.5mm (⅛” jack) extension leads
  • A gooseneck clamp to hold your phone while you rock out!

What I use

Here’s the exact list of gear I use. There are a couple of additional cables I use in order to make it more plug ‘n’ play in my pedal box from the list provided above.

  1. Short patch cable
  2. Stereo (3.5mm) to MONO L/R (6.35mm)
  3. Headphone extension cables
  4. Passive DI box
  5. 3.5mm headphone to 6.35mm jack converter
  6. Angle to straight patch cable
  7. Alto ZMX52 mixer
  8. Shure SE215

What I use to run my backing tracks

And it looks like this in the board.


Preparing the tracks

To use this setup we need to create the backing track in a specific way.

I’ll do a full write up about this in another post but we basically want a stereo track:

  • Mixed, backing track
  • Click (in sync with the backing track and with a count-in for the drummer!)

I usually recommend having the backing tRack on the Right channel and cLick on the Left as it’s easier to remember if you ever need to.

Putting it together: Running backing tracks live

Here’s how you want to set up all your equipment:


Let’s break this down. I’ll number bits of gear from earlier in the post for reference.

The phone is playing stereo sound with the splitter cable[2] separating the track: click in the left channel and track in the right channel. (I use stereo headphone extenders to deal with cable length issues live [3]).

The left channel goes into the mixer (channel 2/3) and right channel goes into the input on your DI box.

The right channel goes onto the sound desk. Since it’s passing through the DI box [4], the desk is getting a clean and balanced signal.

This is the important bit that stops crosstalk or click-bleed coming through the PA!

The link from the DI goes back into the mixer (channel 4/5). This allows the drummer to mix click and track independently.

The last bit is to get a monitor line from the sound desk and put it into channel 1 on the mixer. This will mainly be mixed by the sound engineer so you can hear yourself and the other members of the band!

We use channel 1 for the monitor mix as it has an XLR input and more control over the sound of the input.

And there we have it! Let me know if you have any questions/suggestions in the comments below and I’ll add them into the article!

51 thoughts on “How to Run Backing Tracks Live: A Step by Step Guide”

  1. Perfect.

    I’m very new to this and so I was having major problems setting this up at gigs as I was getting major humming coming through my headphones AND FOH. Now I know why… I wasn’t using a DI Box. I went directly from my tablet to the mixer. Maybe I’m using the wrong cables also (mono etc).

    Thanks again.

    • Hey thejam!

      Glad this helped. Yes, the biggest breakthrough moment for me was the DI box.

      I think the cables that split 3.5mm stereo to 6.35mm mono aren’t always professional grade so you get quite a bit of static/crosstalk between them.

      Let me know how you get on with the DI box as that should fix at least FOH sound!

    • Haven’t used the DI box yet, haven’t had issues as of yet but, one of your post mentions “we” receive the click of read that correctly . How do you get the click into more than the drummers ear? Would love my guitarists to have a click too so they can time intro w backing tracks .

      • Hi John

        I’ve not tried this, but I think the best thing to do is give the click to the FOH using another DI box.

        So you’d get the left channel, split it using a mono splitter (, send one to your mixer and one to the FOH.

        This way the FOH has a raw click line that can be mixed and sent to whoever wants it. It will obviously need to go in their in-ears as you don’t want the click coming through the stage wedge monitors!

  2. Hi!

    I have everything you list in the article EXCEPT for a DI box, however I dont think thats my issue.

    When I output everything to headphones for the drummer, the click is only played in the left ear. Is this normal/how do I fix it?

    • Hey Paul

      The DI box is mainly to eliminate click-bleed for the front of house by balancing the signal, so I think you’re right as I purely go from the left channel > mixer > drummer headphones.

      Are you using a STEREO to MONO splitter (item 2) and a stereo 3.5mm extension cable (item 3)?

      Share a pic of your setup if you can and I’ll try guide you best I can!

  3. Hey man!

    Thanks a lot for this article. I already had the gear before reading, but I tested and I think everything’s right. I’ll explain what I have anyway: a Y cable going from my iPhone (3.5 mm) to 2 mono 6.3 mm. From here, I can either connect both to my mixer (Xenyx 502) to get both the click and track in my in-ears, and then send only the track out from one of the main outputs, or connect the click jack to the mixer and the other cable to the audio guy (PA).
    The problem I’m faced is the lack of a D.I., which will cause audio problems. Seeing that the audio comes from an iPhone, which D.I. would you recommend?

    Thanks again!

  4. This is a great setup! My band has had issues over the years as far click bleed, but we tried the DI box tonight at rehearsal and it solved it. It was the missing link! My only question is this. Is there any downfall to having the tablet control the tracks volume to foh as opposed to having the tracks and click go through the mixer first to mix them independently? I may be wrong but if the foh wants us to turn down our volume of the tracks, won’t we also lose volume on our click going to our IEM since the tablet is the master? We’ve struggled with trying to get the perfect setup for a long time and the DI box solved pretty much everything! Just wanted to ask before everything gets Velcroed and zip tied hahaha. Thanks for sharing this, you helped us out of a major headache!

    • Hey Ronnie

      Thanks for reading and the feedback! Glad this article helped!

      The tablet does actually control the volume we send to FOH. FOH get a clean line of the track through the DI box without any mixer involvement.

      We then send a line of the track back into the mixer (short blue cable in my pics above) so we can create a click/track mix in our ears.

      If you turn down the volume on the tablet it will affect the click volume in your ears… but it’s never been an issue for us, and I don’t think it will be an issue for you.

      In my experience FOH want the loudest, clean signal you can send them. For me, my phone is always turned up to max with my click volume adjusted in the mixer.

      The FOH engineer will then mix the track to wherever sounds best in the mix.

      If for some reason, the signal you’re sending the FOH is too loud, you can turn that down and then turn up the click on the mixer… that’s the beauty of including the mixer, you get to create the mix that’s right for you.

      Hope that helps! Let me know how you get on with the setup!

    • Yeah, I don’t think it’ll be an issue as the click goes straight to the mixer so you can adjust the level of the click in your ears using the mixer without affecting the level you send to the FOH.

  5. Hi Shree!What about singer who wants to run backing tracks live, and performs alone?I am quite limitted with the budget, so I would use free backing tracks, but probably of lower quality. Have no idea what should I do with them to leverage the quality and avoid big differences between tracks. I am afraid of not messing up the performance for the lack of technical support, so I understand that I should learn to prepare everything as much as possible on my own. Thank you. At the moment I only have Alesis USB 4 channel mixer, Schure SM58.

    • Hi Edna

      Thanks for bearing with me. This guide is really geared towards drummers in bands to help everyone keep in time.

      But, from what you describe I don’t think you need anything as complicated as this guide.

      If you’re wanting to hear the backing track in your ears while you play, I would just plug your playback device (iPod/phone etc.) into your mixer. Send the output to the the PA speakers and plug your headphones into the headphone port.

      I may have have misunderstood your question so feel free to contact me using the form on the site and we can start emailing to figure this out for you!

  6. Hello. The link to the Stereo (3.5mm) to MONO L/R (6.35mm) seems to be the same as the link to the extension cables. Is that errata, or are they the same thing? They don’t seem like the same thing… Thanks!

  7. Hey Phil!

    Thanks for spotting this, it was an error. I’ve updated the links now.

    The product you linked is what you need, or you can check out this one (it’s on offer at the moment and has the best ratings!)

    • Yeah I figured it out and got a version of that; the one I linked to. But same thing, really. I got it all in the mail and it’s working. I get to try it with the band tomorrow! 🙂 Thanks for this article!

  8. Hi, just a beginners question: if you are sending the right channel (tracks) to the sound desk (and it’s a mono signal) how can you make it sound for both channels (L+R) of the PA speakers? It is something that the sound engineer must do or is the DI box who does the trick? thanks!

    • Hey Felipe

      The sound engineer will sort this for you. They usually ask if your tracks are mono or stereo (mono in our case) and adjust their setup accordingly.

      In my experience, they prefer mono tracks as it’s easier for them to setup!

      The DI box is balance the signal from the phone so you don’t get ‘click bleed’. This is when you can slightly hear the click through the PA which is a big NO NO!

  9. I have been able to get this to work and it sounds great. I have been doing the playback with Adobe Audition and I am able to get the click track to play only in the headphones as intended, the backing tracks come through the headphones and through the PA as intended.

    I don’t really want to use my laptop for the playback live if at all possible though. Every time I export the click and backing tracks together as mono or stereo files, in wav, mp3, etc., the click and backtracks come through the PA and headphones. I have tried panning on the mixing board etc to no avail. You noted that you were going to post a session on how to mix and export the tracks. …Coming soon? Or can you at least tell me how to export the files properly?

  10. …Is it possible that because I have been playing the mp3 and wav files from my computer through itunes, etc to test it out? Is it because itunes does not have the panning capabilities?

    I will try to export the files to my phone or to a mp3 player tonight.

    • Hi Bryan

      How did you get on? What I found when creating the tracks is that Garageband at least, didn’t completely plan the tracks – what I call a ‘hard pan’.

      What I suggest is getting the click and backing all lined up in the same project.

      Then mute all backing and export ONLY THE CLICK as a mono track.

      Then do the opposite, mute the click and export ONLY THE BACKING as a mono track.

      Then I used Audacity to put the click on the left track and the track on the right.

      I do this just so it’s easier to remember: cLick and tRack.

      Then the stereo WAV export should be hard panned left and right and everything should be good to go!

      Hope that helps.

  11. Greart article and “easy” solution! For Live band that need also to manage evething on stage (Clicks, Miditempo,MTC, Scrolling text, backtracks) i suggest Livetraker , very light in size, super-stable. Check it for free! Mac/Win free trial at

  12. Currently getting all the things needed to build my own rig for a click track for my drummer – just with the angle to straight patch cable – I’m a little confused on the end connectors (what do I ask for at the shops essentially?)

    • Hi Jeffrey

      You want to ask for a guitar extension lead essentially. It’s just a 1/4″ male to female mono cable.

      You can get them on Amazon ( but they’re quite pricey. If you have any place that can make cables for you, you might be able to get it cheaper.

      I only use it so I can keep my rig ready to go in the case as the angled cable means I can close the lid!

      Let me know how you get on.

  13. Hi!

    Great Guide! Im just curious, would the same thing be possible with just a 1/4 ” stereo male to two ‘1/4 ” mono female’? If the right channel of the stereo track had the backing and the left had BOTH backing+ click. Right going straight to FOH via instrument cable and left to ears with a 1/4″ to 3.5mm adapter?

    I understand that I’d forego control of the click level as well as the monitor mix to ears. But for a super budget solution, would this work?

    • As a super budget option, I feel this would work. Like you mention, you have less control over levels but you could do it!

      I’d be interested to hear how you get on, let me know.

  14. Hi!

    This seems to be a great way to get our drummer playing to a click and having backing tracks. However i have some questions in order for this to be fully optimal for my settings.

    If only my drummer has the click in his ears, what do you seggest we do when its the guitarist starting the song so the tempo lines up with the drummers click and backing track?

    The optimal solution is to have another pair of headphones or an in ear system. But that can get very expensive very fast.

    Any way to can get around that using your system?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Hi Paulo

      You’re right, getting another set of in-ears and wireless system is likely the most complete solution but it gets expensive very fast.

      We used a very basic method of counting in.

      If the guitarist was starting the next song, I would press play, and there would be a voice on the backing track (which we added) that would count 1,2,3,4… then I would hit my hi-hat for a 4-count, then the guitarist would start.

  15. Hey! I’m using Bluetooth in ears. Will I be able to connect my in ears to the mixer or does the mixer only work with headphones?

    • Hmmm, not too sure with this one. Are your BT in-ears part of a set that comes with a transmitter? You’d basically need a way to transmit from the mixer to your in-ears.

      I’d worry bluetooth might be a bit too unreliable – you might want to check some proper wireless systems instead.

  16. Just wanted to say a massive thank you for this article. Followed everything to the letter and managed to go from having zero knowledge of running backing tracks to a perfectly running system at first rehearsal without even testing it. Anyone who’s worked in music knows that never happens!! So thanks again, really helpful!

  17. Hey I’m curious if you can run backing tracks without having in ears. Essentially we’d have the drummer on click and the band would follow with the drummer and the tracks would be mixed in. Is this possible?

    • That essentially what this does. The drummer needs to have in-ears so they and only they can hear the click.

      The tracks would then go to FOH – the rest of the band can follow the drummer’s lead.

  18. It’s driving us nuts!!!
    We have (a duo) our B/T’s prepared, split L/R click/music.
    It works.

    BUT – we feed it as ‘music’ to the main mixer amp, and ‘click’ to a separate radio ear system, with the music track also fed in via a link from the mixer/monitor output into the other input on the radio system.

    Our idea is to hear the click count in, and then the full track via one mono earphone.
    It doesn’t work.
    The click is so quiet you can barely hear it.

    • Interesting setup. Sounds simple but I’d check that the click is in the right channel, since you’re using a mono earphone. And then I’d check the volume levels on the mixer as well as on actual track.

  19. Hi Shree, thank you for your informative post. I am a violinist and play at dinners and events. I want to create a backing track to play over, when I am performing. My question is how to set up the sound? I need an in-ear monitor, listening to the backing-track myself (so I hear what is going on…) as well as obviously having the backing track which will be playing out of the mixer-through the bands or halls speakers. How do I set this up? that the mp3 or ipod, or whatever is playing the music to be connected both to my in-ear monitor, as well as to the bands speakers? Thanks for your help, and have a great day.

    • Hi Joseph, if I understand correctly it seems the issue you’re running into is setting up the source MP3 files. They need to split left/right so the click is on one channel and the track is on the other.

      Then everything will work as above as shown in the image.

  20. Hi Rick,

    You’re absolutely right. The DI will only help if your sporadic (yes intermittent) click bleed occurs @ mixer stage. Your issue is that we need to find where in the signal chain the bleed is taking place. Is it by the phone’s headphone output? In the cables themselves (where two hots might be running in a signel shield)? Or somewhere in the mixer? For now I can only implement a proper passive DI and a cable where the two hots split as early as possible. If some bleed still is occuring it has to do with the circuits closer to the phone. The tracks themlselves are hard panned and stellar. Click bleed occurs maybe 1/10 times.

  21. A couple of things to consider are:

    1. If you choose to send click to FOH, you’re probably better off with 2 mono DI boxes as opposed to a single stereo DI. Some cheaper stereo DI’s still use a single transformer and crosstalk may still occur.

    2. If you use a passive DI to send to send click to FOH it will attenuate (lower the volume) of the click somewhat, so the FOH engineer may have to boost the gain significantly to get enough click track to the performers, which may introduce some unwanted noise. Make sure when preparing your tracks and click channels to make them as loud as possible without distortion, and don’t worry about the balance of the sound between L/R. You’ll be controlling the balance later.

  22. I had a question, hopefully you can get back to me on this? I’m thinking of using this setup; what do I do if the sound booth is very far away from the stage? I can’t see using lots of headphone extenders to reach the drummer.

    • This setup should be near the drummer. The FOH engineer should have a ‘snake’ that connects the stage to sound booth. They should provide an XLR that will plug into your setup, you shouldn’t have to change to help them (I never had to and I’ve played a lot of venues both big and small).

  23. I need your help.

    I came across this site, reading through, I think you may be able to assist me.

    We are doing a fundraising event and the kids (15-18 years olds) would like to form a choir to sing two songs. We would like to use backing tracks and it would be a live performance. I am unsure what I would need to let this work. I have looked at various sites selling backing tracks. What would I need to buy to set this up and how would I set it up.

  24. Hey!
    How would a solo artist go about setting up something similar to this? This article seems to be driven towards drummers/bands, but how would back tracks work for artists who are just dealing with an easier setup such as a vocal mic and acoustic guitar? Thanks in advance for any advice. I’m very new to this and I don’t know where to begin. I’d rather get this right the first time instead go through failed trial & errors phases. Thanks again 🙂


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