iPod tips and tricks

When using an iPod to play backing tracks, it’s not as simple as just loading songs on the machine and pressing play. This is because, as a singer, you need to have your song list (ie your set list) in a specific order and you will need the iPod to play the music in a particular way to suit a live music environment.

Making set lists in the iPod is easy and you shouldn’t find too many problems doing this. If you think about it, a play list (if configured properly), is in effect a set list.

But the biggest problem I hear from singers who have bought an iPod is that the iPod doesn’t have an auto pause function. Many singers are used to using the old minidisc format to play their backing tracks and most minidisc decks have an auto pause so it’s understandable why singers get pretty uncomfortable if they have to do a gig using an iPod with no auto-pause function. You can be forgiven for thinking then that because the iPod doesn’t have an auto pause you can’t stop it going on to the next song whenever the previous song is finished. But you’d be wrong. You can auto pause an iPod, even if it doesn’y have an auto pause.

There are one or two really good work-arounds which can make an iPod function as if it had an auto pause. Read my article on CLICK HERE“>iPod tips and tricks and find out exactly how to do it.

Backing tracks on the iPod

When MP3 was first invented, it didn’t take singers long to realise that they could buy backing tracks online and download them to their computer. This meant that they didn’t have to wait for days for the postman to deliver their backing tracks – they could get them instantly. MP3 Backing Trax Ltd were the first backing track company to embrace this new technology all those years ago and to this day are still the biggest supplier in the world of downloadable backing tracks.

Now, what the singers did with these mp3 backing tracks as soon as they’d downloaded them is another interesting story. Many customers burned their mp3 backing tracks on to a CD and took the CD to gigs, while other “played” the mp3 backing tracks and recorded them to a minidisc and took the minidisc to gigs (some brave souls even tried to carry a Windows powered desktop PC to gigs and found it crashing more times than a woman driver adjusting her makeup in the rear-view mirror)!

However, these days, the smart singers use an iPod. The iPod is small, compact and has massive storage facility to hold thousands of backing tracks and background music.

But, before you start to use an iPod for backing tracks, there are some tips and tricks you should know first so that you can get the best from your iPod. Pay particular attention to the computer requirements you’ll need and the iPod model you choose and be careful if you are thinking of buying a used (second-hand) iPod.

If you are a singer, I strongly recommend that you buy an iPod (even if it’s just for backup of your backing tracks or in case your midifile or minidisc player fails onstage one night). But don’t rush out and buy an iPod and load it up with your backing tracks till you’ve read my article on CLICK HERE“>Backing tracks on the iPod. It lists all the pros and cons of using an iPod for backing tracks and has some great tips to make on stage use easier.

MP3 bit rates explained

If you have used mp3 for a while you will probably be aware that there are different bit-rates available for encoding an audio file to mp3. Newbies to mp3 could be forgiven for thinking that bit rates don’t really matter much, after all mp3 is mp3…but those of you who have used mp3 for some time will be aware that bit-rates are an important consideration when encoding. This is because the higher the bit-rate, the better the quality, right?

Well yes…and no!

Technically, the higher the bit rate, the better quality of the file (for example, you’d expect a song encoded at 320Kb/s to be better quality than 128Kb/s). But, this is only correct on paper – in practice this argument is fundamentally flawed. And it’s all to do with the way our ears perceive sound and the way computers and mp3 players play mp3 files.

If I were to say to you that a backing track encoded at 128Kb/s was far superior to a backing track encoded at 320Kb/s would you disagree? If so then you’re in for a shock because it is!

Don’t encode another backing track or buy another backing track until you’ve read my article on CLICK HERE“>choosing a bit rate for backing tracks which explains fully why you should NEVER encode a backing track any higher than 128Kb/s.

Choosing an mp3 player

There are many factors you need to consider when choosing an mp3 player. These factors become much more important when you are choosing an mp3 player to play backing tracks in an onstage “live” environment.

Whatever you do, don’t just buy the first mp3 player you see and don’t be fooled with the extra features or even hard disk size. Remember that most singers only have a repertoire of 400 or 500 songs (many have less) so in todays world of 20, 30 and 60 Gb hard drives, space isn’t really a problem.

More importantly is the type of screen and the size of the screen (for dimly lit stages) and how easy the machine can be used on stage – theres no use in buying a player that takes a few seconds to find and cue up the next song or can’t save playlists (set lists) etc.

I’ve found two main contenders for the title of “Best MP3 Player for backing tracks” and you can read my article which looks at these machines and gives an unbiased review of them at CLICK HERE“>choosing an mp3 player.

Editing backing tracks

The backing track subject that is the least understood by singers is editing backing tracks. Even singers with years of experience using backing tracks are totally lost when it comes to editing them.

This isn’t surprising considering there are very many types of backing track formats (cassette, DAT, midifile, MP3, CD. Minidisc, Cubase Arrangements, Cakewalk etc) and each have to be edited in different ways. To make matters worse, some have very limited editing capabilities and as if that wasn’t enough to contend with, the better the quality of backing track, usually the less editing capabilities the backing track has.

To understand how backing tracks can be edited, you really need to understand how a backing track is recorded. Most audio files which have gone through a mix-down or stereo mastering process should sound great – however this type of recording of the backing track means that it is quite rigid and changes to the track can’t be made so easily.

Before you endeavour to edit a backing track, the first thing you should do is read my CLICK HERE“>article about editing backing tracks. Oh, and don’t forget, before you start messing about with your tracks, make sure you’ve made a backup!