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

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 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:

 

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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10 Comments

  • 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!

  • 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.

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