The distance in semi-tones between keys

Hi Kenny, Just saw your latest blog on “Keys”……Question! The distance in semi tones between keys…. ie if key is A…. Is it 1 semi tone down to get Ab and 1 more to get G likewise is it 1 semi tone up to get Bb… and if so is it consistantly 1 up or down over the entire range???? I was at a friends Karaoke the other night and he asked the question. I couldn’t answer!!!! 
Gordon

Hi Gordon

Yes, that’s correct – each key on a keyboard represents a semi-tone. The notes follow the alphabet from A up to G# but after G# instead of the next note being H, you repeat the notes again (i.e. A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#).

By the way, A# is exactly the same note as Bb (just as C# is the same as Db etc etc). The reason these notes are given two different names is because of the way music notation is written. If you don’t read or write music notation then don’t worry about this – just know that to flatten a note you would pick the note to the immediate left on a piano keyboard, and to sharpen a note you would pick the note to the immediate right of it.

Most of the newer modern karaoke systems do work in semi-tones so 1 down will usually mean 1 semi-tone down, but they certainly can’t be trusted to give accurate pitch changes.

Karaoke was designed for amateur singers, not professionals so sometimes when a karaoke system says it is taking a song “one down” it will often take the song more than a semi-tone down. To be fair they karaoke was never meant to be as exact as that – amateur singers who find a song too high just want it lowered, they don’t know or care how many tones or semi-tones the karaoke machine is moving the pitch…

Clicktrack and bass guitar tracks

Hi Kenny
I have read almost all off your articles, but couldnt find any about my spesific question. What I wonder is how to send the drum track to the drummers headphones amplifire and the bass track straight to the PA system. If I have to pan those tracks, how do I do that? You see we are three in the band, guitar, keyboard and drums, and need only the bass track into the PA system. What equipment and software do we need? With regards 
Mira

Hi Mira

It’s very easy to route the stereo from a backing track to two different destinations. You don’t need any special software to do this (although you will probably need some sort of headphone amplifier for your drummer if you want one of the stereo sides to go to him).

First of all, you need backing tracks which have been specially created with the drums on one side and the bass on the other side. You can create these backing tracks yourself if you have a multi-track recording studio at home or, if not, you can have a backing track company like us make you backing tracks with all the panning already done for you so they’re just ready to plug in and play.

Take your backing track with the drums on one side and the bass on the other side and using a simple stereo output cable, plug the right side of the cable in to your PA system and the left side of the cable in to your drummers headphone amplifier.

And that’s it. The drums will come through the drummers headphones and the bass will come out through your PA system.

If you don’t have a recording studio to make up these types of tracks yourself, we can do it for you – we often make these types of tracks up for customers (see http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/customtrax.htm for more info).

Usually when making up a track like you’ve described, we would normally make a click-track on the left side and the bass on the right side.

However there’s no reason why you can’t have us make the tracks up for you with the full drum track on the left and the bass on the right if your drummer prefers hearing a full drum track rather than a click-track…

Intro clicks on backing tracks

Thanks to Bill for bringing up this question about intro clicks at the beginning of backing tracks…

Kenny, I want to say “Thanks” for your response and the information provided. I am certain that it will be very useful. I started using customizable Backing Tracks exclusively for these arrangements and I really appreciate the quality and effort that is but into your company’s recordings.

For several reasons we began 3 months ago to downsize from a 5 piece band to 2 players… so, without having to burn up a lot of our time creating our own backing tracks and still cover tunes with a full sound, I was fortunate to find your company online.

Admittedly I am learning my way to make this work. The Audacity software has helped a great deal and I look forward to working with the recorder software you noted below. Intro click tracks and keys have been the biggest challange. Audacity has solved the key issue.

Some of your tracks have an intro click track while others don’t. I would love to see you have this available for ALL customizable song tracks… it would really be a benefit. 

The other piece I’m working through is mechanics; just physically manipulating the backing tracks onstage. I found some ideas and practices you put online and as a result have been working with an ipod. I am still searching for a cleaner, quicker, user friendly way to accomplish this.

Your newsletters are great, extremely informative, and of great value. Please keep them coming and as much information on “best practices” the better as far as I’m concerned.

Thanks again for your response and knowledge on intro’s. You truly have a wonderful company!

Regards

Bill

Hi Bill

Our off-the-shelf tracks are full instrumental backing tracks and are intended for solo singers – that’s why there are no count-ins on the songs. When a singer sings along to a backing track he usually doesn’t start singing until after the intro of the song, so the music guides him to where he needs to come in – he doesn’t need a count-in.

The only people who need count-ins are musicians who are intending to play along with the backing track and we produce custom tracks for them, made-to-measure to their specifications.

Depending on which instrument the musician plays, he may need to start playing on the very first note of the song, so he will need a custom track with a count-in. He tells us what instrument he wants to play live with the backing track and we create a custom track for him with his chosen instrument(s) removed and add a count-in.

Ideally there should be NO count-ins at all on any of our fully instrumental backing tracks because, not only do singers not require a count-in, the audience can usually hear the 2 bars of “ticks” in the count-in and it just doesn’t sound very professional at all. If you listen to an album of original recordings by any artist you’ll never hear a count-in before the song starts. Even on live recordings and in theatres, the musicians usually do their very best to disguise the count-in (or at least to make it as quiet as possible so that the audience can’t hear it).

With some backing tracks, the vocal comes in straight away so in cases such as these it’s necessary for the singer to have a bell note or chord to pitch himself and a count-in so that he can come straight in with the vocal. Unfortunately there’s no way around this as the singer is singing without a band so there’s nobody there on stage with him to count him in discreetly. So that’s why some of our backing tracks unfortunately need to have count-ins (there’s no other way around this problem).

However, rest assured we only put the count-in on the track if it’s really, really necessary. The last thing we want is a solo singer performing with one of our backing tracks to look amateurish. It looks really bad when an audience are looking at one single solitary singer alone on the stage with no band while hearing a “non-existant drummer” going click-click, click,click,click,click before every song starts.

If you listen to the off-the-shelf backing tracks we have which have count-ins at the beginning, you’ll notice that they are all songs where the vocal starts right away.

All our “without guitar” backing tracks have count-ins though because they have been created for guitar/vocalists…

Will a full iPod charge last a gig?

There are no silly questions in this world – only questions you haven’t heard answered yet. It was a pleasure to help out our customer Paul with his transition from Minidisc to iPod…

 i am a solo singer, until now i have used minidisc backing tracks, i want to move forward and use ipod to mixer board. i have just found your website and it is an extremely valuable source of information, it has helped me tremendously particularly the helpful hints regarding hook up, volume settings and silent tracks for pausing etc, however, i can’t find an answer to my question, i am not familiar with ipod, i am yet to buy one, i’m not familiar with an ipods physical connection layout and i do not know how long the a fully charged ipod would last. QUESTION, “is it necessary and would it be possible to place the ipod in a charger dock with a wall plug and playback through the pa at the same time thus ensuring that the ipod power will not drain during a performance”. thanks,
Paul

Hi Paul

Yes, you could sit the iPod in a docking station which would certainly keep it charged up at all times. Then a cable from the docking station to your PA would carry the music signal.

Similarly, you could plug a simple iPod mains charger in to the bottom of the iPod too and that would do the same thing. In other words, the mains power connects to the large connector at the bottom of the iPod and the music goes to your PA via a stereo cable from the iPods headphone socket…

iPods have a pretty good battery life so you should get more than enough battery power from it to easily do a full gig. It’s video that really drains their battery life, audio is much less.

However it would be a brave man who attempted to perform live at a gig relying purely on battery power alone to get him through his full gig.

You see the rechargeable battery in the iPod won’t last forever so the 5 or 6 hour battery life you get when you first buy your new iPod will drop to 2 or 3 hours battery life as the iPod gets older and the battery gets older.

I strongly recommend you always work from an iPod which is connected to mains power at all times, just to be on the safe side…

Buying exclusive rights to a song

A good customer of ours asked me about something that’s very different to exclusive rights to using a backing track – he asked about obtaining sole rights to the use of a song from the original songwriter/author (i.e. so that no-one else can sing or perform that particular song). The process of doing this is a minefield and incredibly expensive and that’s if you can get a songwriter to sign away his rights to his song in the first place – getting a songwriter to sign away his songs is like asking him for his firstborn LOL…!

Hi Kenny,
after you have pointed out all the pitfalls I think we are going to have to make up our own songs. It is so expensive to get the rights! However I would like you to make the backing track. 
Thanks 
Kola

Hi Kola

No problem, we can make the backing track of the song for you and give you exclusive rights to use the backing track.

Regarding getting exclusive rights to the actual song itself, yes, obtaining exclusive copyrights to a song can be VERY expensive.

Music licensing is big business and a songwriter isn’t going to sell his song for pennies if it’s making him thousands in royalties.

Even a song which is not universally popular, doesn’t currently earn much in royalties, or wasn’t originally a particularly big seller when it was first written won’t come cheap. This is because it’s not uncommon for a song to become a big money spinner for the songwriter many, many years after he originally wrote the song.

An example of this is the song “Hey baby” written by Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel. It was written in 1961 but it was 40 years later before it really became a worldwide smash hit and unexpectedly sold millions when it was covered by an Austrian singer called DJ Otzi (it was used in the closing credits of the 2001 movie “Kangaroo Jack”).

Just imagine if Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel had sold the rights to that song in, say, the eighties, believing that 20 years after they’d wrote it it would probably never generate any revenue again – they’d be kicking themselves! Who would have thought that the song “Hey baby” would have sat around for 40 years doing very little and then in 2001 all of a sudden rocket to popularity again and make the songwriters millions.

That’s why songwriters are very unwilling to give away the rights to their songs.

It also lays bare one of the biggest secrets of the music business – the big money in music is in song writing. You may want to have a look at this link regarding writing your own songs:

http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/go/ssw.htm

replacing a damaged soundcard

HI,I,M A CUSTOMER OF YOURS AND WONDER COULD YOU ADVISE ME….i HAVE A ACER LAPTOP AND I PLAY MY BACKING TRACKS THROUGH IT,MY SOUND CARD HAS BEEN DAMAGED AND HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT AN EXTERNAL SOUND CARD WOULD BE MORE SUPERIOR.cOULD YOU RECOMMEND ONE KEEPING IN MIND THAT IT IS ONLY USED FOR MY BACKING TRACKS….HOPE YOU CAN HELP….THANKS
JOHN

Hi John

Yes, I used a laptop for my backing tracks for many years before moving on to the iPod and I very soon discovered that an external soundcard gave much better results.

It’s a bit confusing that they call these things external “soundcards” because they’re not an actual card at all – external soundcards are little boxes which sit at the side of your PC or laptop and connect to it via a USB cable.

There are many makes and models of external soundcards available (see http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/soundcard.htm) but if you are only intending using it for singing with your backing tracks in live music venues then you certainly don’t need to go spend fortunes. You’ll only really hear the extra benefits of a high quality external soundcard if you’re using it in a recording studio environment.

I personally used a Creative soundblaster external soundcard for my backing tracks with my old laptop at live music gigs for years. In fact I still have it and it still works perfectly so I would highly recommend a Creative soundblaster external soundcard.

You can find the newest version of their external soundcard at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003RRY3WE/mp3backingtra-21

Low volume problem after transferring Minidisc to mp3

Hi team, i just wanted to know if you could help, i am a singer and i use mini disc, however my method of transfering songs from cd to md is becoming more difficult because my hi fi system is about 10 years old and won’t read many cd’s that i burn from my pc, i just wonderd if you know if you can link a minidisc up to the computer directly , i would use my Ipod to play my backing tracks but you cant alter the sound level so if its a low backing track then i have to have my equipment turned up to the max… if you have any ideas or solutions to my problem then i would very much appreciate it many thanks
Darren

Hi Darren

I wrote an article a while back which you may find useful on how to make mp3 files from Minidisc:

http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/article14.htm

Regarding volume levels, the iPod doesn’t make a volume control available to you until a song is playing. This often confuses iPod users in to thinking it doesn’t have a volume control. It does.

You can change the volume level when you play backing tracks on your iPod Classic by simply turning the click wheel WHILE THE SONG IS PLAYING and it’ll alter the volume.

A good tip to save you having to constantly change the volume of every track you play on your iPod is to record it to mp3 at the correct volume when you make the initial conversion from Minidisc to mp3.

You can do this by changing the volume of the Minidisc output while you’re recording each song in to your computer.

Most of the modern portable Minidisc players have a volume output level, but if you happen to have one of the older Minidisc deck types of Minidisc players which doesn’t have a volume control, then you can use the headphone output on the Minidisc deck. Most Minidisc decks have a headphone output with a volume control – use this output to connect to your computer instead of the two rca plugs at the back.

Just make sure if you’re doing this that you keep the headphone volume level quite low as a headphone output is a powered output which is designed to power little headphone speakers. If it’s up too loud it may create too high an input volume for your computers soundcard to handle and distort. At worst it could even blow your soundcard, so just be careful if you’re doing this.

How to changing the key of a backing track

There’s a right way and a wrong way to change the key of a backing track. Before you do it (or pay any company out there to do it for you) make sure you know they’re doing it right because if they cut corners and do it the cheap/wrong way, you’ve wasted your money (you could have done it just as well yourself for free)…

Hi, Is there any way I can alter the key to your tracks. Normally I use Midifles and Cakewalk or Van Basco. Thanks 
Derek

Hi Derek

The most inexpensive way to change the key of audio tracks is to use a karaoke player (hardware or software) to pitch-shift the song to a different key.

While doing it this way costs you nothing, the downside is that pitch-shifting affects the quality of the audio so is ok for karaoke but far from acceptable for a professional act.

The proper way to do it is have the key changed from the master arrangement and re-recorded in to the key you want it in from scratch. This way is much more professional and keeps the full quality of the track (because you are, in effect, having a brand new track created in that particular key).

There’s more info at http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/customtrax.htm

Changing the volume of the bass in a backing track

Derek asked a question about changing the volume of the bass guitar in a backing track. I replied asking him if he meant the bass in general (as in the eq) or whether he meant the volume of the bass guitar sound in a track? 

Hi Kenny,
Thanks for the reply. At least you are interested–not like Ameritz. I would like to reduce either. On a midifile when using Cakewake I can lower the EQ / Volume of the bass guitar. I am struggling to find a programme that lets me do this on MP3s. I like to try and keep most of the tracks at the same level to save keep on altering the desk during numbers. By the way I am recording your MP3s onto minidisc
Regards
Derek

Hi Derek

The way to reduce the bass frequencies on an entire song is to apply EQ to the song (i.e reduce the the low frequencies). So then when you play the mp3 while recording it to minidisc, the Minidisc will be recording the song as it hears it (i.e. with the reduced bass frequencies).

It’s not possible to alter the volumes or EQ of individual instruments like the bass guitar or any other instrument on a stereo audio track.

This is because all the instruments in the stereo audio file have already been mixed together on to just two tracks (left and right). You can’t separate the instruments once they have been mixed together.

Music manufacturers and audio software engineers have tried for years to produce software which remove an instrument or a vocal from a stereo audio track but none have succeeded yet. If you’ve ever tried to use a vocal removal machine you’ll know what I mean (these machines still leave traces of the vocal and can’t completely remove them).

Midifiles are different though. You can separate individual instruments on a midifile because midifiles have each instrument on a different track. Standard midifiles will usually have 16 stereo tracks with a different instrument on each track so it’s easy to open up a midifile and change the volume or EQ of an individual instrument.

But to change the level or EQ of a single instrument on an audio song you would need access to the multi-track master arrangement of the song which the studio used to create the backing track. There’s not many studios will let you have their multi-track master arrangements though (I know we don’t supply these and I don’t know any other backing track company who does)…

Backing tracks created with a live band

A customer asked us about producing backing tracks using a live band…

hi-kenny if kenny when you remove the guitar sound from a backing track and some of the other sounds are sounding a bit mechanical could you ajust for me please so gives a live sound
many thanks for your work kenny..life saver..
cheers
shaun

Hi Shaun

Yes, the mechanical nature of a backing track is one of the downsides of using backing tracks instead of a live band.

With a band everything is nice and loose as the different players each keep time with the singer. The “live feel” comes about because the band members are playing the song and following the singer but they are each using their own timing. These small, sometimes even just milliseconds variations in the individual timing of each player in a band is what gives a song that “live feel”.

But with a backing track, it’s the other way around. The backing track is pre-recorded, it’s not live, so it can’t keep time with the singer – the singer has to keep time with the backing track.

All the individual instruments that make up our off-the-shelf backing tracks are synced together, not just to keep all the instruments in time with each other so the singer can keep time to the tracks, but to also make the backing tracks easier and cheaper for you when you need us to edit them etc.

For example, we can edit backing tracks really quickly for customers and we don’t charge them much for this service (see http://www.mp3backingtrax.com/customtrax.htm).  The reason we can do work like this so cheaply is because all the instrument parts that make up our backing tracks have been carefully produced and synced together so editing them is a quick job for us to do and therefore cheaper for you, the customer.

But if the instruments in a track were out of time and coming in to different bars at different times (just as live musicians would play), it would take us longer to make edits and changes to a backing track so the customer would have to pay much more for our editing service.

So keeping things synced together reduces costs to you, the customer, and in an internet world where you are only a click away from your competitors pricing is important to the majority of customers.

If money is no object though, that’s a different story. Then we can do anything at all you want.

And the best way to get a real live feel on a backing track is to get a bunch of musicians in to the studio and get them to play your song while recording it live so that it has that live feel that you want. We can do this for you in our studio.

Of course it will take a good few hours of studio time to record all the instrument parts again live and in real time and there’s the expense of the live musicians on top of that too. Your track would probably take a full day in the studio plus the musicians wages so you’re probably looking to around £160 for the studio time and £150 each per session for the musicians. The total I would expect to be around £800 or thereabouts.

Let me know if you’re interested in this kind of live recording and I can certainly give you exact quotes for any songs you’re interested in…