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Continuing from the last post here, I figured I would get into the session itself, and to how a playback session SHOULD be built.  Obviously this is all my opinion, but I feel that I’ve seen enough at this point, that these suggestions are based on the best aspects of the successful playback systems I’ve encountered.

Playback in it’s entirety is about compromising, it’s best to have as few tracks playing as possible, to minimize the CPU usage, and thus ease up the workload on the computer.  In order to do that you’ll need to sub mix the sessions that you have into stems.  So by having fewer tracks playing in your session you’re easing up on the computer, but at the same time losing the ability to change that mix, or edit things within that stem.

Generally I’ll stem things out into Percussion, Instruments, Background Vocals, Sub Content, Click, and Count In.  They’re all pretty self explanatory, but the sub content and click/count in.  If you’re not carrying PA, or even if you are, Subwoofer response is pretty seriously affected by the room in which you’re doing the show.  As a result, it’s very helpful to have subwoofer content from playback tracks on a separate channel.  This way you can compress, or EQ separately if you need to, or even adjust the sub send on that channel itself.

Regarding the click and count in being separate channels, it makes a lot of sense for the musicians that don’t want to hear a lot of click, but need to know when the songs start.  Any of the players that will be playing the intro to the song will need count in to start on time, but they don’t necessarily need the click, as they may be following the drummer.  Having a separate channel for that, is then perfect for your monitor guy to feed just count in to some players, and both to others.

Percussion tracks tend to include everything from electronic kicks and snares to shakers, and tambourines, simply, everything percussion.  Be aware of what your drummer may be playing when you’re building percussion tracks, as it’s best NOT to overlap low end content, and also be careful about overlapping snares, as they may sound sloppy if they’re flamming against the live drums.  What I tend to do is cut out the samples from the electronic drums, save them onto a USB stick, and load them into my drummer’s SPDSx.  This allows my drummer to play the samples himself, so that tonally we end up with the same sounds, but if we decide to have live drums on it also, the samples will trigger at the exact same time as the drum itself, and if set up properly, there is no possibility of flamming. In the stems, I tend to mix the shakers and tambourines a little louder than one would expect, as often they need a bit of extra oomph to cut through the live band.

It’s similarly very important to be aware of what your musicians are playing, when building Instrument tracks.  Some people believe that overlapping playback and live performance makes the show sound ‘fatter,’  to me it just sounds sloppier.  I always go through the playback tracks figure out the parts and sounds, and get my keys players to load similar sounds, and play the parts, and the same for all other instruments.  In the end you have playback tracks that are pretty light, and a live band that can play a killer set without playback if needed…

In terms of the session itself, once all of the edits are done, I always consolidate the tracks for each song so that they all start at the same time and end at the same time, such that if you need to change something, it’s easy to know where the starts line up.  If it’s not already done you should rename each audio file to the name of the song and the part.  After doing that, you can go to the region bin and remove all of the extra audio files that you’re no longer using, and then ‘save copy in’ to a new folder, and make sure to copy the audio files.  That new folder is the new consolidated final session that you should use, and it should have NO extra files.

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One thought on “The Backing Track Playback Session

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