Why Do Bands Use Backing Tracks During Live Performances?

If you have ever been to a live show, you probably have noticed some artists use pre-recorded background tracks. Your first thought may draw yourself to how lazy that is. But not all of us want to see 30 members of a band on stage at once.

That brings us to the question of the day.

Why do bands use background tracks during live performances? Backtracks enhance the band’s sound at live shows. Backing tracks are an alternative to hiring additional musicians for a small part of a single song. Additionally, some of these parts are too complex to play during live performances.

Below, we will get into the details behind why it is common to see multiple tracks.

What are Backing Tracks?

Backing tracks are pre-recorded parts used in place of live music. We will list out the reasons you may use them below.

Band Member is Not Available

Suppose you have a band member who is out sick with the flu with no one else able to play their part. You may replace them with a pre-recorded song. Bands are also just as likely to cancel the show in this case.

Nobody Can Play The Instrument

If you have ever been to a live dubstep show, they use a large number of pre-recorded tracks spliced over. In this case, this is because the one-man-band doesn’t have the skill to play the instrument. Although they do have to be talented enough in music to know what tracks best go together.

Budgetary Limitations

Good help is hard to find these days. That is especially true when you have to think about hiring another guitarist or vocalist. As a result, recorded backing tracks are a lot more inexpensive than a whole other person.

Creating a Unique Sound

If you hear the vocalist somehow split themselves into three different ranges at once, you are likely not listening to a musical chimera. Instead, the lead vocal may record their voice at multiple pitches to create a unique sound.

You can hear this typically during studio recordings, which is why live music and recorded music are so different. These are known as recorded backing vocals and work well to add interesting flairs to your music.

Backing tracks are not cheating. Provided that you use them to enhance your musical performance, the entire thing is a show regardless. These cannot replace talented musicians, only improve them.

What are the Drawbacks to Use a Backing Tape during Your Live Show?

When using a recorded track, there are some additional headaches for your sound engineer. We will list those headaches below.

Get Used To Click Tracks

A click track is the in-ear metronome you are going to need to ensure everything is on the same beat. While some musicians have a “good feeling” for how their timing is, it is pretty common to see a click track in use.

Without a click track, you can expect your music to sound a bit off. So get used to having one set up, at least during the early days.

A Heavier Amount of Pre-Show Setup

Using pre-recorded material means that you will have to ensure that this material is ready to go before the show. That means you will have to hook in the extra equipment, check the sound files to be sure they haven’t corrupted, and check your backups just in case they stop working. There is a lot more prep work that goes into setting up a show, even before handling pre-recorded vocals.

Expect Technical Difficulties

All live concerts run into issues eventually. Be prepared for a higher potential of those when you add computer programs to this. It is doubly true if you purchased used technology for this, which is common among smaller bands.

Be prepared to perform a version without the backup vocals or guitar should something go wrong. It is not something we are hoping for, but a good sound engineer always has a backup strategy.

Do Backing Tracks Take Work Away From Musicians?

Whether you do or you don’t use backing tracks, you have probably heard of this discussion at some point. Why would a bar who has a limited musician budget pay for a four-person band at $500 when they could get a one-person “band” at a quarter of the price? It’s a fair question and one that is hard to answer.

It is especially disturbing a world where producers own the right to much musical talent. This practice leaves a dwindling field of live music venues as the only place musicians can get hired, and those are having to compete with pre-recorded individuals.

Many owners of bars and venues have considered this, and some of them prefer to hire actual musicians. Good people will appreciate the real talent that can be performed live over a recording.

However, don’t take away from what studio producers can do. They can produce some fantastic content that many enjoy. Some people in the business may have different opinions.

What Do Famous Musicians Think About Pre-Recorded Tracks?

In an interview with BlabberMouth, Scott Ian From Anthrax shares his frustration with those who overdo it. He goes as far as to state that musicians who have too many recorded backings should have it printed on their ticket. Granted, he believes it can be done well through bands like Rob Zombie and Pink Floyd.

Phil Collen from Def Leopard believes that there are specific allowances for that. For example, “Rocket” is a song by them that uses a drum loop that would be impossible to play live. However, they state that they do their vocals live, which is a classic feat when compared to some other bands.

What Are Some Examples of Recorded Tracks Working?

When it comes to live performances with huge dance numbers, it would be virtually impossible to do both at the same time. Take a look at Beyoncé at the 2013 Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Beyoncé has a lot of talent. But if she were to perform these elaborate dance maneuvers while also hiring a separate musician for each track used here, it would not have come together at this level of quality.

In this case, it is more of an example of a live tv show with performing arts, so you may not expect this level of performance at your local dive bar. Where they play doesn’t mean they are not talented.

How Do You Set Up A Pre-Recorded Track System?

If you would like to take advantage of setting up your live track playback, we will give you a short guide on how to get started. Let’s say you are the opening act for some big local band, and you want to blow the audience away with the quality. Below are the steps you could take.

Have an Ample Amount of Setup Time

Given all of the extra steps, you will have to take, be sure that you have enough setup time before the show. Let the venue owners know about this, as they will appreciate the information ahead of schedule. It is especially true if it is your first time combining recorded music and live performance.

Make Sure You Have Your Equipment

A short guide on drummingreview.com  suggests using an iPod, a small mixer, and your computer for your playback system. However, you could feasibly limit this to your computer and a mixing program. Just make sure you have the right audio cable that will work with the local speaker system.

You will also want to invest in an audio interface so you can feasibly mix tracks seamlessly into whats going on. Combine that with a good set of headphones, and the click track can go through your ears so you can ensure everything is balanced correctly.

Pick the Right Software

There is a wide variety of software one can choose to assist them. Many people in this industry have suggested Ableton Live, as they make it for this sort of thing. You can also feasibly use other music applications that have live functions. These include GarageBand and Fruity Loops.

Try some trials on for size, and you can decide on your favorite interface. If it isn’t comfortable for you, you aren’t going to be seamless as a sound engineer.

Test it Before The Show

Well, before the show begins, you are going to want to test all of these features to be sure they sink. Even if you don’t use recorded backing tracks and a playback system, can you imagine picking your set list five minutes before your show?

While this may be cliche, pick out a spot where you can practice live performances. Whether it be a basement or a garage, either will do as long as you have the space for it. As long as everything works there, most of it should work at the show.

Have A Backup Plan

In the worst-case scenario, everything can fail before your eyes. It will happen to the most experienced musicians. But the best in the business always has a backup plan.

If all of your laptops short and someone got excited and kicked over your table, it is always good to be ready to play like your standard musician.


Backing tracks receive a bad rap, but only if you use it as a replacement for something in your band can do. If your lead guitarist says they would prefer drinking a soda instead of playing their solo today, your group probably is not destined for success.

On the other hand, many bands and musicians have proven that they can use this to enhance their play. In many cases, they will improve other people’s performances by adding them to their own. There are many tastes in music. You don’t have to like it, someone else probably does.

Eli Smith

I'm the managing editor for this website. I like being a dad, writing, and listening to angry music. Thanks for visiting.

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