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…

Not every piece of music suits a backing track

Any piece of music can be produced as a backing track. ANY. However, there are some pieces of music that, although they can be produced as a backing track, playing along or singing along with that backing track afterwards could be nigh impossible.

One such case was a customer who is a violin player who asked us to produce a backing track of a classical piece so that she could then play her violin ‘live’ on top of the backing track. We’ve produced many tracks for this particular customer but this time we had to decline. Yes, the backing track would have been relatively easy for us to produce for her, but I knew she would have had an absolute nightmare trying to play along to it.

Here’s my reply to her with the bad news that we couldn’t do this particular work for her:

Hi

Unfortunately we are unable to do the track for you so I contacted another arranger friend I used to work with many years ago who has arranged for many orchestras in the West End.

He just got back to me yesterday to say that unfortunately he can’t do it either.

The problem that we all seem to have with this piece is that it is without tempo and no-one (myself included) can find a way to make it work with any sort of tempo.

In the original you sent through you’ll notice that the violin player is playing very much to his own timing and the orchestra is following him (i.e. the orchestra constantly speeds up and slows down depending on how the violin player is phrasing the passages he’s playing). In other places, the opposite is happening and the violin player is taking some cues from the orchestras lead.

With a backing track this is not possible because a backing track is pre-recorded so its timing is “set in stone” and won’t change with you as you play.

This means that the violin player (i.e. you) would need to keep time with the backing track…and if there is no tempo on the backing track to guide you this would be almost impossible to do.

Even if you did practice and practice to play in time with the backing track, you’d still lose all the feeling in your playing by being restricted to the timing the backing track dictates.

In some pieces of music you can get away with having a few little out-of-tempo parts (as long as there aren’t too many and they’re not too long). You would just learn the timing of these parts to make sure you keep up with the backing track.

But in a piece of music like this one where the whole song has no strict tempo anywhere in it at all, there is no guide for you and it would be nothing short of a nightmare to play along to.

If you do manage to find anyone who says they can produce this backing track for you, just be careful. Make sure they are willing to do as many remixes for you as you need because I suspect that you’ll be sending it back and forward to them for remixes quite a bit to change the timing of certain passages that have ended up too quick or too slow in places. It may be easy enough to produce a abcking track for this song but it’ll be a nightmare to get right.

The problem is that the whole song depends on the violin player and the orchestra both playing together and working together.

With any backing track that’s just not possible to achieve…

USA and UK confusion over cable sizes

Gallons and litres, centimetres and yards. It’s all Europes fault!

In one of your articles, “If you don’t connect your iPod to your mixing desk with the right cable, you’ll lose half your sound!”, you talk about buying a 3.5mm Stereo Jack Plug to 2 x 6.3mm Jack Plugs to get both sides of sound on my P.A. system. The thing is, I live in the United States in Austin, Texas and I can’t find this cable anywhere online except on U.K. websites! They do not ship to the U.S. So do you know anywhere or anyway I can buy one of these cables?
Nick

Hi Nick

The cable I describe in the article is a standard cable that you can buy in any good electronics shop or music shop and is used worldwide, including the USA.

In the USA they still use the old imperial measuring system (gallons instead of litres and centimetres instead of inches etc).

So Americans call a 6.3mm jackplug a 1/4″ jackplug and a 3.5mm jackplug a 1/8″ jackplug.

The 3.5mm (1/8″) jack is sometimes called a mini-jack but shouldn’t be confused with another types of mini-jacks that some mobile phones use for their headphone outputs which are a little bit smaller at 2.5mm (3/32″).

Ah, I do love a challenge!

Okay Steve, you’ve thrown down the gauntlet, let the challenge begin LOL!

Hi, 
Under Backing Track Articles you say MP3 is the best format for live. So how do you get round venues,loads of people,carpet. Large hall,no people no carpet and so on.Once you’ve mixed down that’s it you have no control,you can’t change anything.I would love to go out with just an MP3 player.If you can prove that MP3 is better than MIDI with total control over bass,drums,keyboards I’ll change now.
Steve

Hi Steve

Different size venues with different acoustics and varying numbers of audience members only cause global changes to your sound – individual instruments on a backing track are not affected by any of these factors in any way.

If you are in a small venue with only a small number of people, then the master volume should be turned down. Conversely if you are in a larger venue with lots of people you would turn your master volume up .

If you are in a venue where the acoustics in that venue make your sound very boomy, then you would EQ your master output to decrease the amount of bass. If the room is boomy then every single instrument (even your microphone too) will all suffer from the same boomy acoustics of the venue so everything needs the bass cut, not just one instrument.

I spoke to one of the sound engineers who worked on one of the Kylie Minogue tours and guess where the sound was balanced and set for the tour? The sound for the tour was set in a recording studio in Los Angeles! After that, the sound settings for each band members instruments did not get touched for the whole of that world tour.

All they did at each venue on the tour was change the master graphic equalizer connected to the output of the desk to suit the acoustics of each venue.

The settings for the individual band members instruments, drums, bass, guitar, keyboards etc were NEVER touched.

If one night they were in a concert hall that was a bit boomy they took some bottom end off the master EQ.

If, the next night, they were in a venue with lots of obstacles that were deadening the sound they boosted the top end on the master EQ.

Nothing else was touched.

Even though artistes like you and I may be a little further down the ladder than Kylie, Michael Buble, U2 or Madonna etc, we can still be as professional as they are and still achieve the same quality of sound at our gigs as they do. All we need to do is exactly the same as they do – have our sound perfectly set, perfectly balanced, and then don’t touch it ever again.

The only thing that we should ever be changing at each gig is the master EQ and master volume.

If at different gigs you feel you have to change particular instruments on a backing track which are not cutting through during a performance, then it’s because your backing track was badly balanced in the first place.

That’s why good quality well mixed backing tracks are a must if you have a proper professional approach to your act.

Unfortunately the acts who won’t be able to achieve this quality of sound are the ones who don’t use proper professional backing tracks.

Sadly there are many acts out there who, because they only ‘sing a bit’ at the weekend in the pubs and clubs to make a bit of extra money, don’t bother to use properly produced and professionally balanced backing tracks. Instead they usually use a mixture of different backing tracks from different places they’ve collected over the years.

I even saw one girl singer who just used a bunch of sunfly karaoke songs as her “backing tracks” – one punter put it perfectly when he remarked that the she was “just karaoke without the telly” (she definitely didn’t do herself or her act any favours)!

There’s an old saying which says “Rubbish in, rubbish out” so acts that use a mixture of tired old backing tracks which are all different quality, different levels, and different instrument balances within each track will never be able to achieve a proper professional sound so there’s really no point in them even trying.

The only way to achieve a perfect sound every time is to use good quality tracks and do what the professionals do. Set up all your gear in an acoustically treated room (a recording studio is ideal for this) and mix your sound till you’ve got it perfect. Then, don’t touch your settings on your mixing desk ever again (except to change your master volume and your master EQ at each venue).

But if your backing tracks are just use a mixture of tracks you’ve bought from different companies, karaoke tracks, stuff you’ve downloaded from the internet, derived from midifiles, swapped and shared with friends etc, then you can pretty much forget about everything I’ve said above! Unfortunately you’ll always be tweaking your bass and treble and fiddling with your volume every 5 minutes!

There’s not much you can do to get a good sound when the original material you’re using is poor in the first place. Sadly this is why so many excellent singers who really do have the talent and ability to do better than just the pubs and clubs never achieve anything better than playing pubs and clubs.

But if you do things right and professional you’ll sound fantastic, every time, in every venue.