iPod backing track questions answered

Gary, one of our customers, is thinking of buying an iPod and using it to play his backing tracks. First though, he has a few questions…

Hi,
I’ve just read your article on recommending the ipod as your preferred MP3 choice when it comes to us musicians:) I have a few questions of my own and I hope you can answer them.

1. How do I attach my ipod to my microphone stand?
2. Is the screen big enough to view the lyrics?
3. I sing and play guitar at my gigs. Is scrolling time consuming?
4. Is it easy to see when you scroll from one song to the next?
5. Does the back light stay lit?

I realise that you are a company offering mp3 backing tracks (I use midis at the moment and playback using mini disc) but I’ve been thinking about changing to mp3 for a while and I would really appreciate some help. The net is very limited when it comes to MP3 players for musicians and info relating to us. I thought your article was by far and away the most useful I found. Great work and thanks!
Gazza

Hi Gazza

Hopefully I can help answer some of your questions:

1. How do I attach my ipod to my microphone stand?
The easiest way of attaching an iPod to a mic stand is to buy one of those small metal music sheet holders – the type I’m referring to is NOT the full music sheet stand that stands about 4 feet tall and is completely self-standing though. I mean the smaller type of music stand which is basically just the music sheet holder itself – a metal plate with an adjustable clamp which attaches to your mic stand. Use something like double sided velcro to keep the iPod held to the music stand. The other way to attach an iPod to a microphone stand is to ask your local drum store to sell you (or make you) a stand that will specifically fit your model of iPod. It’s very common for drummers to have all sorts of sizes and shapes of stands and clamps for their drums, and as drum accessories are designed to be hit really hard by the drummer while he plays, that means they’re usually pretty robust. A good drummers clamp or stand is unlikely to fall over easily and damage your iPod so they are well worth considering.

2. Is the screen big enough to view the lyrics?
This is really down to your particular eyesight. I personally don’t have any problems reading the song list or lyrics from my iPod, but I do know other singers who don’t have very good eyesight and it is a problem for them. The easiest way to test this is to borrow a friends iPod and take it to a gig with you. You don’t need to actually use the iPod at the gig – just switch it on during your gig and you’ll immediately get an idea whether the text and screen is going to be big enough for you to see and use.

3. I sing and play guitar at my gigs. Is scrolling time consuming?
The beauty of the iPod is that scrolling is really fast compared to other mp3 players. The iPod has a neat little feature whereby when it detects you are scrolling very quickly, it changes to an “alphabetical” mode and skips forward at even greater speed than normal. For example, I have over 2,000 backing tracks in my iPod which would normally be quite a lot of songs to scroll through, especially if I finish singing “All night long” and want to sing “Young girl” next! Fortunately the iPod will recognize that I’m scrolling quite quickly from A, so it automatically begins to scroll through B, C, D, E etc rather than the individual songs until it gets to Y. I stop it at Y, then scroll through the Y’s until I reach Young girl. It takes seconds. In effect, rather than scrolling through almost 2,000 songs, what the ipod is doing is only taking the same time it would normally take to scroll through just 25 songs (i.e. 25 is the amount of letters in the alphabet from A to Y). Hope that makes sense!

4. Is it easy to see when you scroll from one song to the next?
In a word, yes. But again, this depends on your particular eyesight.

5. Does the back light stay lit?
Yes, the iPod settings give you various backlight timer options. You can set it to keep the backlight on all the time, or for a set it to a number of minutes if you prefer.

You mentioned that you currently use midifiles which have been recorded on to minidisc so in that case you don’t even need to buy any backing tracks from us or anyone else to get yourself “down the mp3 route”. All you need to do is play your minidisc in to your PC and record the resultant music to mp3.

I wrote an article that explains ways of doing this which you may find useful:

CLICK HERE

When you’ve got all your backing tracks in mp3 format, then you can add them to your iPod by simply dragging them in to iTunes.

iTunes will then add them automatically to your iPod. It’s a fairly simple process.

The only time consuming part to any of this is the actual converting of your minidisc backing tracks to mp3. For example, if you have 100 backing tracks on minidisc that are each 4 minutes long, it’s going to take you 400 minutes (almost 7 hours) to record them to mp3.

Fortunately once you DO have all your backing tracks in mp3 format, they are then much easier to work with and manipulate. It’s also easy to backup mp3 backing tracks too – just write them to a blank CD-R and put them away somewhere safe.

Regards

Kenny

A silk purse from a sows ear?

A customer called Glen asked me to create a backing track from a recording of a TV show theme he had. The recording he sent me sounded like it was recorded from the TV using a cassette recorder sitting in the middle of the room (yikes)!

So, is it possible to create a backing track from such poor quality reference material?

Is it possible to make a silk purse from a sows ear?

Hi Kenny
Yes, sorry me again ūüôā I’ve managed to find a higher quality version of the one I want, but it’s still covered with applause. I’ll send this to you just on the off chance that its workable but honestly Im not expecting miracles so do just say if its not possible
Cheers
Glen

Hi Glen

Unfortunately the quality is still too poor to use for reference.

The problem is that we have to be able to be able to hear every single instrument that’s playing and be able to pick out all the notes so that we can replicate them all in the backing track.

If the quality of the recording isn’t good, then the instruments and notes all become a bit mushy and there’s just not enough detail in the sounds for us to pick out exactly what’s being played in the arrangement.

We could, theoretically, create a backing track to be similar.

But there’s no guarantee it would be what you want because we can only create what we hear and it’s really difficult to hear what’s going on in that arrangement because of the quality of the recording.

Obviously any backing track we created would be high quality, even though the reference material is poor quality – that’s not the problem.

The problem is that we may not use the right instruments or the correct notes or chords when we make the backing track because we can’t really hear what’s supposed to be there…

Sorry….I don’t seem to be much help(!) but if you do manage to find a better quality version of the song send it through to me and I’ll then be able to do it for you no problem…

Regards

Kenny

Is the iPhone good for backing tracks?

Thanks to Gavin for this question about using the iPhone for backing tracks…

Hi,
 
Please can you help? I am looking to buy a mp3 player to play backing tracks through a pa system. I have looked at both the apple ipod and iphone and I am leaning towards the iphone (as i need a new phone) as well so i thought it would be a good idea to combine both if possible.

Have you heard or know of any problems using the iphone as an mp3 player instead of the ipod?

Thanks very much

Kind regards

Gavin

Hi Gavin

Basically what everyone seems to agree on is that the quality of sound appears to be comparable no matter which you choose so that’s good news.

It really comes down to ease of use and how much you will be using it on stage Рevery singer or musician will use their backing tracks in a different way and this can make a difference to your choice.

For example, I play keyboards at most of my gigs (I play live piano on top of the backing tracks) and while 10% or so of my set is purely live keyboards, 90% of my set is using backing tracks plus live piano. That means that I need quick and efficient access to the backing tracks on the device because I’m using it 90% of the gig.

But a friend of mine with a similar set up to me plays at gigs where 75% of the time he’s playing live keyboards so¬†only uses backing tracks 25% of the gig.

So, for me, the iPod would be my choice because it is more dedicated to what I do 90% of my time at a gig (which is use backing tracks).

But for my friend, the¬†iPhone would be his choice¬†because he only uses backing tracks for 25% of his gig so the little extra awkwardness of using the iPhone to play his backing tracks isn’t so important to him – finding the odd backing track now and again on his iPhone is no big deal to him but would be if he was using backing tracks a lot more at his gig like I do.

So it’s probably down to how much you use backing tracks at your gig.

If the majority of your set is with backing tracks, I would always suggest you buy a device that’s been specially designed for that purpose and the iPod is the obvious choice –¬†it¬†has been designed from the ground up specially to play music.

You should also¬†take in to account where you intend to place your iPhone or iPod on stage to make sure the position of the jack socket is in a convenient place fore you…

Kenny

Bose L1 Compact full review

OK, now I’ve had the chance to fully test and review the Bose L1 Compact I can report my findings.

First up, the good news. The L1 still puts out¬†that same superb high quality of sound we’ve come to expect from Bose L1 speaker systems so there has been no compromise on sound quality.

But the bad news is the volume/output power of the L1 Compact is extremely disappointing.

Before I did my review, it had been suggested to me that the L1 Compact puts out about half the volume of the old L1 models.

But in my tests this is NOT the case.

I wasn’t allowed to¬†open up the Bose L1 Compact I¬†was given to¬†test but I have been reliably informed that the power amplifier inside the Bose L1 Compact is¬†only 70 watts (not 250 watts as most people¬†had previously assumed).

So when you compare the L1 Compact 70w with the 750w original Bose L1 and the 500w Bose L1 model 2 and you can see that the L1 Compact is severly lacking in the power department.

The original Bose L1 has more than 10 times the power¬†and the L1 model 2 has¬†more than 7 times the power than the L1 Compact so it’ll come as no surprise that in my tests¬†the L1 Compact could not achieve¬†anywhere near half the volume of the other L1’s as has been¬†claimed.

When I did¬†an A/B test of the different¬†L1 systems side by side,¬†I immediately realised¬†that the¬†L1 Compact doesn’t come even close to putting out the volume of it’s bigger brothers.

Sadly I can’t think of any¬†venues I gig in where I could use the¬†L1 Compact – it’s just too small to cope with¬†even the smallest live music gig venue.

What a pity.

So who’s going to buy¬†the¬†Bose L1 Compact?

Well, the Bose L1 Compact would be great as a voice only PA system for churches and corporate type people who conduct¬†seminars where they speak in small/medium conference rooms. In¬†a “quiet” church type environment it may¬†even be just loud enough for a gospel guitar player to plug his guitar in to AND sing through, but that’s about it.

I can also see school kids who play an electric instrument like a guitar or keyboards pestering their (rich?) parents to buy them a Bose L1 Compact so they can use it as a high quality portable practice amp Рit may also be fine for a single instrument in a school play performed in the schools assembly hall (you get the idea).

The L1 Compact would certainly be better quality and more portable than lugging around a heavy keyboard practice amp or guitar combo practice amp.

Where I DON’T see the Bose L1 Compact being used is in any professional live music gigging environment. Sorry.

It just doesn’t put out enough volume to¬†be heard loudly enough in¬†even a small venue with a small crowd.

The only professionals I can think of who may be interested in this system would be session musicians or those musicians who want a good practice system for their home studio.

I can definitely see home musicians and professional session players¬†loving the L1 Compact.¬†Walk in to any recording studio with the L1 Compact as¬†part of your kit¬†and the studio engineer will love you…

Selling CD’s at your gig

Want to sell your CD’s to fans at the gig? It’s not just as simple as recording yourself singing on to a CD and running off a few hundred copies on your home PC…but here at MP3 Backing Trax we DO try to make it as easy as possible for you…

Hello. I am the manager of 2 female singers. Can I buy backing tracks from you and let them use them for their stage shows. Also could we then use them for any CD’s that we might produce?
THANK YOU

Hi Mick

You cannot re-sell backing tracks you purchase from us, but you CAN use them for personal use (which includes live performance) so there’s no problem with the girls using our backing tracks for their live stage show.

If you would also like to use the backing tracks as the backing music for an album the girls are recording, we would also be happy to grant you permission.

It would be on the strict understanding that our company name MP3 Backing Trax Ltd and our web address www.mp3backingtrax.com are both credited on the artwork (CD cover) as having supplied the music for the album.

That pretty much covers the permissions for you to use the backing tracks live and on the girls album…

Just remember though that there is a further permission needed if you want to then sell the CD’s at gigs.

You will need to get that particular licence from the MCPS (Mechanical Copyright Protection Society) and unlike us who are happy to give you permission for free, the MCPS WILL charge you a fee for their licence.

Details of the licence and permissions you’ll need from the is at:

http://www.mcps.co.uk

Regards

Kenny

Backing tracks with matching sheet music

An enquiry came in from a customer who wanted a backing track PLUS the sheet music for a B flat brass instrument specially written to match the backing track – and all for ¬£3.99…

I play a Bb brass instrument. If I purchase backing tracks will I also get the printed music to go with it? As an instrumentalist there is no point downloading a track without being able to see the music.
Thanks

Hi Richard

The supply of backing tracks and sheet music fall under different copyright licences.

That’s why most backing track companies only supply backing track music (and sheet music companies only supply sheet music).

There are some backing track companies who carry a stock of sheet music (and some sheet music companies who carry a stock of backing tracks), but very there are very few companies who supply backing tracks with sheet music to EXACTLY match the backing track.

You will find it impossible to find any backing track company anywhere out there who will provide you with backing tracks AND the exact sheet music to match for only a few pounds or a few dollars per track.

If you want such a specialized service you will need to go to someone who provides this type of service. Obviously they will charge a premium for this type of service, so expect to pay much more than you would normally pay for an off-the-shelf backing track or off-the-shelf music sheet.

If price is an issue for you, then there is another, less expensive option open to you…

You could buy a backing track (from http://www.mp3backingtrax.com), then go to the Music Notes website and buy the music sheet for that same song.

The sheet music parts won’t exactly match the backing track, but the cost will be much less than having backing tracks and sheet music created specially for you…

Regards

Kenny

Bose L1 Compact

The new Bose L1 compact seems to have caused quite a stir among musicians and I’ve had three people this week ask me about it.

Bose L1 Compact

The feature that seems to be capturing everyone’s imagination is its sheer portability.

As usual, Bose won’t release any RMS power output ratings so until we can open one up¬†to see exactly what Bose have put inside it,¬†we’re pretty much guessing at the moment.¬† Of course taking a screwdriver to the L1 and opening it up¬†would¬†immediately void the guarantee, so¬†rather unsurprisingly no-one thus¬†far has offered us up their¬†L1 Compact to butcher yet!

However, initial information coming in from those who are currently using the system is that the L1 Compact has around HALF the power output of the previous L1 model.

So this¬†suggests to me that¬†it may¬†only have one power amplifier inside it – and that’s most likely to be the Bose¬†standard¬†250w RMS amp (although this can’t be confirmed as yet).
 
If true, that would be fine for a single instrument like a solo sax player or solo guitar player in a small venue, but would be nowhere near powerful enough for anyone who is a Vocals/Backing Tracks or Guitar/Vocals/Backing Tracks type of entertainer (unless the gig venue is not much bigger than the size of your living room)!

You may remember that some time ago I reported my findings after having tried¬†out 2 x 500w L1 systems with 4 bass subs (ie 1000w in total). I found that particular setup severely lacking in power. The 2 x 500w systems struggled¬†in a relatively small venue when it was busy with people. It just couldn’t “punch” out above the general burble of a lively crowd and limited especially when anyone sang falsetto.

So this suggests that¬†even if you bought FOUR of the new L1 Compacts, they may still struggle to fill a busy small¬†venue. That’s not so good news, and carrying around FOUR systems that are still not loud enough to do the¬†job hardly makes this¬†system what¬†you could call¬†“portable” (4 systems¬†would¬†be rather expensive too)!

Come on Bose Рif you disagree, prove us wrong. We asked you a couple of years ago to accompany us to a gig one night and see the trouble we were having with two Bose 500w L1 limiting at relatively low volume levels and struggling to fill a lively small venue. You refused.

So here’s our next challenge.¬†Come out with us to a gig. Let us take you to¬†a small venue with one¬†of your new L1 Compacts and/or to a medium venue with two of your L1 Compact systems and see how they perform. You do say it should handle these sizes of venues and these¬†are the typical environments your customers are aiming to use these systems in. We’ll play a¬†“live” gig and lets see how your system performs. Can’t be fairer than that can we?

Regular readers of this blog and my articles on the MP3 Backing Trax website will know that I personally use 2 of the older 750w systems with 4 subs (1500w total). On Saturday night I played at an engagement party in a medium-large hall which was three quarters full with about 150 people. There¬†were 2 vocalists, 1 keyboard, plus backing tracks and the volume the two Bose systems put out was JUST loud enough and no more.¬† If the venue had been any bigger or there had been 200 people in the venue, my 2 x 750w systems would¬†have struggled a bit by the end of the night when the volume was pumping out, the crowd were all up dancing and they’re in that “end of the night noisy party” mood.

So the new Bose L1 Compact looks like it may be only powerful enough for a single instrument in a small venue.

I’d probably NOT recommend the L1 Compact to¬†a self-contained vocal act out there using backing tracks unless¬†you are¬†gigging in a¬†small, quiet¬†venue –¬†perhaps as live music in a resaurant or a quiet little piano bar or something similar.

That would probably be the perfect setting¬†for the L1 Compact…

Kenny

Understanding backing track keys

I received two emails this week, both from different customers, both asking about two different backing tracks, but both bringing up the same subject Рthe subject of keys.

Understanding the key of a backing track is a subject that can be very confusing to non musicians and to musicians alike.

In fact there are many musicians out there who are very talented players but they¬†don’t understand keys. This is because keys are based on¬†music theory and most musicians¬†haven’t studied music theory. Ask 100 musicians¬†if they studied music theory and 90 or more of them will say no. Probably the most famous of them all is Paul McCartney. Great musician, excellent song writer, but he freely admits he can’t read¬†music.

And there’s millions of musicians out there just like him. You’d be amazed how many guitar players out there think that if the first chord of a song is,¬†say,¬†G then the song must be in¬†the key of G. It’s not¬†(but just to confuse things, in some cases it could be – more of that later)!

Similary many musicians think that if the main chord in the verse of a song¬†is an¬†Am then that song is in the key of¬†A – it’s not (although to confuse things again, in some cases it could be). In most cases, if the song has an¬†Am¬†verse it will¬†probably be in the¬†key of C.

So why all the confusion?

It’s all about how music is written –¬†not how it’s played, and not how you listen to it.

To understand about¬†keys fully, you really need an in-depth knowledge of all the¬†little dots and lines that make up a songs arrangement¬†on the music sheet, but without getting in to that too deeply, here’s a short¬†explanation about keys and what deciding factors determine what key a song is in.

It’s by no means definitive guide because you must remember that music students study this type of thing for YEARS so there’s no way it¬†can be completely covered and properly explained in a few lines!

But¬†I’ll atempt to explain because it’s a good question, it’s an interesting subject which is rarely understood,¬†and is well worth going in to in a little bit of detail.

Even if you end up more confused about keys than you were before reading this, at least it will give you some idea of the complexities involved and at least you’ll¬†be aware of it from now on.

So, here goes.

One of the questions I was asked was about the song Heartbeat by Scouting For Girls. The customer asked us to create this backing track¬†for him without guitar (he’s a guitar player and wants to play the guitar part “live” over the backing track). He asked us to produce it for him in “the original key of A”.

Right away I spotted a problem Рthe original key for Scouting For Girls Heartbeat is D, not A.

Fortunately I immediately¬†realised¬†the mistake he’d made and why he made it. If you’re a guitarist and you’re familiar with this song, then you’ll know that the¬†first guitar CHORD you play in the first verse is the chord of A. So that’s why the customer wrongly thought the song was in the key of A.

It’s not, it’s in D.

Think of the chords you play in the chorus of this song (and the verse for that matter). They are all related to D. Mind you, the chord of D is also related to A too, so you can understand his confusion.

The next customer had a similar problem¬†with the backing track of the Michael Jackson song Billie Jean. The original key for¬†Billie Jean is¬†A. What’s confusing about Billie Jean is that the chord of A is nowhere in the song at all, yet the backing track is¬†written in the key of A. So to save confusion we listed it in our catalogue as “original key Gbm”.

That caused another customer to ask if¬†Gbm (G flat minor) is the same as¬†Gb (G flat) and if not, what’s the difference?

No, Gbm¬†is not the same as¬†Gb. And here’s the difference:

Gbm has the 3rd note in the scale flattened whereas Gb has the 3rd note in the scale as a natural note.

Remember I said earlier that keys are directly related to the way a piece of music is written, not how the notes are played?

Well, if we take the example Billie Jean, in the original Michael Jackson key this piece of music uses mostly minor chords and can be written in two ways.

It can be written in Gbm, or it can be written in A.

To the listener, both versions will sound exactly the same.

To the musician playing the song, he’s playing exactly the same notes no matter whether it has been written in Gbm or A.

But the notes on the music sheet which the musician is reading from will be named differently depending on which key the arranger has written the song in.

So the key of a song depends on how the person writing the musical arrangement of that song wants the musician to SEE those notes. This is often done because some keys are easier for some instruments than others.

The best way to describe this to a non musician would be to think of a piano keyboard.

The note to the right of middle C is C# (C sharp).

But that note is also Db (D flat).

They are exactly the same note but have two different names.

Why give the same note two different names I hear you ask?

Well, if this note was being written in a piece of music for a song which was being written in the key of A, the arranger would write this note on the music sheet as a C#.

If he was writing it in a piece of music in the key of Gb he would write that note on the music sheet as a Db.

It all depends on how the music is being written and often who it is being written for.

For example usually brass players find it easier to read a Db than a C#.

Guitar players usually find it easier to read a C# than a Db.

Getting back to the Billie Jean backing track, to match the original Michael Jackson key, we¬†wrote the backing track in the key of¬†A, and¬†the sixth minor key of A is Gbm. That’s where the Gbm you see listed in our catalogue comes from.

The problem we would have as a backing track company¬†labelling Billie Jean¬†as “original key of A” is that the whole song mainly uses minor chords¬†and¬†the chord of A does not appear anywhere in the song. So¬†the non musicians who don’t understand music theory and the musicians who don’t understand music theory (which is 99% of customers) may think that if it is listed as A, that must mean Am.

It’s not.¬†

Am means Am.

A means A.

Am is also the sixth minor to C, so as you can see there would immediately be all sorts of confusion.

– By labelling the song¬†as Gbm, the musician who DOES understand music theory gets it. He knows that¬†the minor key we have listed¬†is the sixth minor to the key of A. He¬†understands that non musicians struggle with keys so understand what we’ve done, so there’s no problem there.

– The musician who can play really well but doesn’t understand music theory gets it too. He knows that when he plays this song, the main chord he plays most of the time is¬†a Gbm chord so it sounds right to him. He is blissfully unaware that the key of Gbm¬†isn’t actually how we wrote out the arrangement, so there’s no problem there.

– The non musician/singer who knows nothing about keys or music theory just sees it listed in the catalogue as Gbm “original key” (he doesn’t even look at the key Gbm because it means nothing to him) so he knows that if he can sing along with the original recording then he can singalong with the backing track in the original key, so there’s no problem there.

By listing it in this way, everybody gets it and everybody understands it.

At the end of the day, you¬†only need to know¬†how to¬†put fuel in a car –¬†you don’t need to know how the engine works.

So if you are a musician who understands music theory and¬†you¬†see¬†a few sixth minor keys in our catalogue beside the key for a song which you know should really be¬†listed in its¬†major key, we’ve done it¬†simply because there are more non musicians and musicians out there who don’t understand music theory than there are who do. It’s to help them.

Anyway, if you¬†DO know music theory well you won’t¬†be¬†confused in any way –¬†you’ll¬†recognize immediately¬†what we’ve done and know why we’ve done it.

Billie Jean is a perfect example of this. The original key is A, but there is no A chord anywhere in the whole song. How confusing is that!

Now you can see why it makes sense to list the keys in a way that customers can understand and keep everybody happy. Welcome to the confusing world of music theory!

If this all sounds like gobbledegook to you, don’t worry too much. Just remember that students of music study this type of thing for many YEARS so although I’ve done my best to shine some light on the subject here, unfortunately it’s not a thing that’s easily explained in a few short paragraphs.

I just hope I’ve helped a little!

Kenny