Solo Performers: Use Recorded Backing TracksJune 5, 2009 6:00 am Live Sound
I don’t suppose anyone reading this remembers The Perry Como Show, a musical variety program that ran in various forms on NBC-TV during the 50s and early 60s. Perry Como was a Bing Crosby-like crooner who enjoyed immense worldwide popularity in those years. I remember watching his show from time to time back when I was about 9 or 10 years old.
At the beginning of each show I saw, Como would sit in what looked like an ordinary living room and perform an opening song. Now, here’s why I’m telling you all this. Before he started singing, he would turn and lift the tone arm of a phonograph on the table next to him and then drop the needle on the opening grooves of a record. Music would swell, and Perry would croon. That’s right, he sang along with a record, karaoke style!
At the time, I couldn’t figure out why he did this, but later I realized that it was a clever artifice to gloss over the fact that Como’s singing was accompanied by lush orchestration despite the lack of any actual musicians visible on the set. (Earlier versions of show had featured a live orchestra, but by the time I was watching it they were apparently down to just a record player.)
If Perry Can Do It, You Can Do It
Here’s the thing. If you are a solo performer who goes out on stage with just a guitar, or who sits alone at a piano and sings, maybe you could benefit from using some form of the Perry Como technique. Because let’s face it - no matter how musical and charismatic you are, a dozen songs in a row of just you singing and playing acoustic guitar is bound to seem a bit, well, monochromatic to the audience.
These days, there’s no need to bring your record player to the gig! Here are three suggestions for spicing up your solo shows with backing tracks. The first two involve running a CD player through your PA, while in the third approach the CD player is replaced with a multitrack recorder.
1. Use the “karaoke plus” approach.
If you get up on stage and start up a CD player, and then all you do is stand there and sing along with the music, well, that’s just karaoke, or one of those “musical” video games. At least that’s what your audience will be thinking! But, if you play an instrument and sing over backing tracks on CD, the perception is transformed. Now it’s the backing tracks that are playing along with you!
There are many sources for backing tracks intended for use at karaoke parties and the like. Although these backing tracks feature full bands, you can play along on your acoustic (or keyboard) to put your own stamp on the arrangement.
2. Record your own backing CDs.
This takes the previous suggestion a step further. If you are a home recording hobbyist with a multitrack recorder, why not make your own backing tracks? You can play the parts yourself, or have someone else help out. Then make a stage-ready mix of the song and burn it onto a CD to play onstage. This DIY method may strike you as more valid (and therefore less “cheaty”) than the near-karaoke approach above, in which only one voice and a single instrument is actually you.
3. Use a multitrack recorder.
This is the fanciest, and most flexible, approach of them all. Also, this is the way to go if you have other musicians who sometimes, but not always, appear with you at your gigs. Here, you record your own backing tracks as in the previous suggestion, but instead of mixing them down and burning a CD to play at the gig, you bring the multitrack recorder itself, all set up with the mix you want to play along with.
You will want to have one instrument or one vocal on each track, so if you have “big” arrangements you will probably need to use an eight-track recorder rather than a four-tracker. (These units are available at relatively low cost as used equipment, if you don’t already have one on hand.)
This approach pays off when your buddy who plays bass offers to sit in with you at tonight’s gig. But you use backing parts on some songs that include bass. No problem! Just turn the fader on the “bass” channel all the way down and let him play instead. If your buddy sings too, you can also turn down the “bass player backup vocal” fader, otherwise leave it up. In other words, use only the backing instruments and vocals that you need to fill out your ensemble for a particular performance. (If everyone shows up, you can just turn off the recorder and play!)Tags: equipment, music technology, solo performers -->