How to make backing tracks

There are various methods on how to make backing tracks. You have studio live recordings to sequencing and everything in between. The options listed in this article are only a few and will be a good starting point for any budding musician

Making backing tracks can be very time consuming and with all the backing tracks of popular songs that exist and their low prices it makes more sense to buy rather then to make however there are always situations where the backing track doesn’t exist, you’re not happy with the versions available or you just want to have some fun

The methods mentioned in this article can apply to creating backing tracks for singers and instrumentalists

It is important you understand that any song reproduction must be licensed otherwise you’ll infringe copyright laws and face possible penalties

What you’ll need to make backing tracks:

  1. Computer
  2. DAW or music creating software
  3. DAW Interface
  4. Instruments or Keyboard with Midi functionality

3, and 4 aren’t a must however  1 and 2 are

Your skill level

You don’t need to be a brilliant musician to create backing tracks however some musical knowledge will be advantageous. The listed options will range from advanced, intermediate to beginner giving you an idea of expertise required for each method

In this article I’ll use various acronyms that you may not know therefore I’ve listed some definitions

Article Definitions

MIDI: (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol designed for recording and playing back music.  Midi can be created using software or hardware devices such as keyboards or can be downloaded from numerous sites. You can also download Midi version of songs however they will sound synthetic

DAW: (Digital Audio Workstation)  a digital system designed for recording and editing digital audio some common examples are pro tools, logic, cubase etc

VST(i): Virtual studio technology (interface) is a digital interface standard that is used to connect and integrate software audio effects such as midi, synthesizers and effect plugins with recording systems and audio editors. VST is basically a software emulation of hardware synthesizers, instruments and samplers that can give the desired effect of any instrument for example a midi recording can be made to sound like a guitar, piano or drums depending on the VST(i) selected

Real Audio Sample: samples of music such as drums, guitar etc are widley available from the web, these are made by musicians using real instruments

Option 1: Making Backing Tracks Recording as Written (Advanced to Intermediate)

Requirements:

  • DAW
  • Songs official sheet music
  • Instruments
  • Real Audio samples (optional)

This backing track option will require musical knowledge.  You will need to obtain the original sheet music of the song you want to re-produce and record based on replicating the instruments required. If you are not able to play all the parts you may hire other musicians however a studio might be required if you plan to record as a complete band

You may be able to get away recording only the main parts using instruments and using other real audio samples for the other parts such as drums for example if the song only has rhythm guitar and drums you can record yourself playing the guitar part and use audio samples fort the drums. You may need to go through various samples to get the right beat but works in the end just be mindful of the tempo and time signature

I’ve been known to use band in a box for rhythmic sections (basic songs) and filling in the rest as required (using audio samples and instruments)

Work around for Intermediate musicians

In some cases you might only be able to play certain parts or perhaps none at all. What you can do is mix midi (to get the melody) with real audio (rhythmic sections) into your DAW to give it a good sound. The midi can sound synthetic so pick the right VST(i)

Option 2 Making Backing Tracks using Midi + VST(i) (Beginner to Intermediate)

Requirements:

  • Midi version of song
  • DAW with VST(i) plugin
  • Songs sheet music (optional)

If you are able to read music or have a great ear you can easily create a midi version of any song using your DAW, The easiest way to do this is to simply obtain the songs official sheet music and plug in the notes using your DAW midi interface or midi keyboard. Alternatively most popular songs are available in midi formats and can either be freely downloaded or purchased (this will be easier than plugging in yourself). In this method you’ll need to obtain the midi file, import it into your DAW and use the best VST(i) plugin option. In some cases you may be able to obtain the whole song in sections such as guitar, drums, keyboard etc and create separate channels for each one giving you the complete song.  The advantage of Midi is that you can easily add or remove notes using your keyboard giving the song your own twist

Option 3 Making Backing Tracks using Midi + VST(i)  + Real Audio (Beginner to Intermediate)

Requirements:

  • DAW
  • Midi version of song
  • Real Audio (samples)

In this option, you’ll obtain the Midi version of the song enter it into your DAW and combine the midi version with real audio samples. The audio samples that work best in this scenario are rythmic ones such as drums or rythem guitar or something that loops. The only real hard part will be finding the right audio sample

Option 4 Making Backing Tracks using Music Creating Software (Beginner)

Requirements:

  • Auto generating music software
  • Chord chart or Sheet music

There are various software packages that allow you to plug in values and create music for you. A popular software application is Band in a Box. This software will allow you to enter the chords of any song and produce all the necessary accompanying instruments depending on the style you choose. On the downside it wont be an exact copy of the song but it will be in the same key and definitely something you can sing/jam along with. In some cases this will be beneficial, as it will add a sense of uniqueness to the song. You can also select which instruments you want to use and if experienced enough combine certain section with the midi version of the song in your DAW to get as close to the real deal possible

I understand these descriptions on how to make backing tracks are at a high level and don’t go into detail on how to use the DAW etc, however hopefully you’ll now have some ideas on how to go about it. If you have any specific questions please add them to the comments below