How to: Run a backing track & click track for drummers

how to run backing and click tracksAs music production techniques become more advanced, we tend to add many more subtleties to our music.

Recreating this sound live is really important to give the audience the best experience possible.

This is why more and more bands are playing with backing tracks live.

Finding an easyaffordable and foolproof way to do this turns out to be the tricky part.

Luckily, that’s what this guide is for. Before we start, 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 with VEXXES:

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:

How to run a backing track live

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!

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  • 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!

  • 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!

  • 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!

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