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Using Tracks Live

June 5, 2013

TracksThere is a huge difference between lip-syncing and using pre-recorded tracks live. One is faking a performance, the other is adding in more instruments than you have hands to play. Let’s face it, your overdubbing abilities in the studio are limitless. You can put whatever crazy amounts of instruments/percussion on the album that can’t do live.

However, while it is not necessary to do songs in a concert exactly like the album, there are some parts that absolutely make the song that are either impossible or hard to do live with your current set up or personnel. Look at two of rock legends The Who’s most popular songs, Baba O’ Riley, and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Both have programmed keyboard parts that play prerecorded during concerts, and they’ve been doing since the 70’s (before it was cool, for you hipsters).

Enough arguing in favor of tracks, I can’t make anyone use tracks. Most of the time, its just not needed. But for those of you who are already thinking of songs that need it, here’s a couple of different steps you can take to start implementing tracks into your live show.

1. The Track (and Click Track)

First of all, before you can find a way to play the tracks on stage, you obviously need to have the tracks. So first thing’s first, make the track, whether it means exporting a version of the song with only certain parts solo’d, or recording the parts from scratch. Whatever it is, in order to successfully use tracks live you are going to need to play to a click track. Now a lot of may cringe at the thought, but playing to a click is a skill to very beneficial to being a musician. In this situation, the click is necessary to keep time to a pre-recorded track that can’t adjust its timing to fit your band speeding up or down. The click makes sure the band and the track are on the same page.

2. Splitting

You will need to hear the click track, but the audience doesn’t, so what do you do? The most common way is to use a stereo splitter. On your track, you will need to pan the click hard left, and the pre-recorded instruments hard right (or vice-versa). That way, you can use a stereo splitter to separate the left and right, and thus isolating the click track. Then you can send the instruments to the audience and the clicks to the monitors. The drummers needs to hear the click more than anybody, and it is not uncommon for the drummer to wear headphones, earbuds, or in-ears to hear the click effectively.

3. The source

What do you play the tracks on? You have several options. It’s fairly common to play the tracks off of a laptop. Just have a folder with WAVs or MP3s ready. Another option is to use an Ipod or MP3 player with all the tracks on a playlist. If you really wanna go old school, you can use a CD player, just be wary of skipping (investing in something to absorb shock/vibrations would be great). Often, it’s good to put the drummer in charge of the source, so that he/she can start it when he/she is ready to hear the click.

These are just some ways and suggestions. As with most things in music, there is no single “right way” to do this. If it works, it works. Some people have been pretty creative with their setups. Do you have a different to use tracks? Post in it comments, I’d love to hear what your using live.


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  1. 3 Reasons To Learn To Use a Click | Bandology

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