Backing tracks are audio recordings or computer generated music files that bands/singers play/sing along to. They may also be known as playbacks, jam tracks, instrumental practice or rehearsal tracks.
Performers may often use backing tracks to add extra vocals or instrumentation to enhance their sound during a live performance. For example a vocalist may use a backing track in their performance to provide extra backing vocals that they couldn’t produce by themselves, or a band may use a backing track to replicate a more difficult or complex instrumentation that couldn’t be done in a live performance.
The easy of use and availability of backing tracks have changed the industry a lot over recent years. Auditions that used to require you bringing your ‘dots’ (sheet music) for their accompanist to play for you during your audition, are being replaced with bring your backing tracks. Television companies are also insisting on backing tracks as it is easier for them to just concentrate on getting the sound right on the vocals. Club entertainment has changed too. Visiting entertainers used to be accompanied by the resident drummer and organist, but due to many premises having to apply for an expensive Entertainment License if they have more than 2 people performing, there has been a noticeable decline in resident musicians, and the artists becoming ‘self-contained’ carrying their own PA gear and armed with a load of backing tracks.
Midi Files – are purely instrumental computer files, either created by a computer or a keyboard. The resulting sound then depends on the sound quality of your equipment that you play back. The good thing about midi files is that they are often found free on the internet, and if you have a computer programme, they are easily key-changed or you can change the instruments. The downside is that they don’t always sound good.
Karaoke Tracks – these are very popular with amateur singers, but they don’t always have the sound quality needed for a more professional sound. The discs are known as CD+G which, when plugged into a CD+G player will display the lyrics on a TV screen in time with the music.
Audio Tracks – these tracks are usually a better quality sound recording, often using real instruments and recorded in stereo. They often have a performance end, in that they don’t fade at the end of the track. These tracks are not easily key-changed or have instruments changed, but there are many studios offering these services in addition to the backing tracks they produce.