Mp3 players are so cheap – You MUST have one, even if it’s just as a backup

We all know that there are other media devices available that can play backing tracks besides an mp3 player. The main thing is that you use whatever media suits you and your act and you’re most comfortable with on stage. But make no mistake, mp3 players are cheap nowadays and can hold ALL your backing tracks, so it makes sense to have all your tracks on an mp3 player, even just as a backup in case anything happens to your Minidisc, laptop, DAT, CD player (or whatever you use onstage)…

hi kenny first all may i thank you for the interesting emails you send us musicians on varuios subjects that maybe we did not know. in my particular case i work with a girl singer as a duo and we work with mimi disc i have 2 minidiscs both on lp4 which enables me to have about 80 tracks on each disc, obviously in mono, each minidisc has a foot switch start the track and then a automatic stop. would an ipod be better taking into account although we are season pros as far as performing is concerned,  a little older than most and have difficulty seeing anything so small your advice would be very helpfull cheers

Hi Rory

There are advantages and disadvantages to using Minidisc on stage.

Using mp3 rather than Minidisc is without doubt the way to go forward, if for no other reason than the fact that Minidisc is an older format which is dying out and as time goes by Minidisc decks are getting increasingly harder to find (as are blank minidiscs).

But it also has to be said that mp3 players work slightly differently from Minidic players so the decision to move from Minidisc to mp3 could very much depend on your particular set up it and how much particular Minidisc operations are essential to your way of working.

For example, the first thing I noted from your email was you say you use a start-stop switch with your Minidisc.

If this is absolutely necessary to your way of working then that could be a bit of a problem with mp3 as most mp3 players generally don’t support start/stop footswitch operations (at the time of writing this I don’t know of any mp3 players that do, although that may change in the future).

MP3 players don’t usually auto-pause but that doesn’t necessarily need to be a problem, there are ways around that. You could put some silent songs after each song in your playlist which would act as a stop at the end of each song.

You could also buy a wireless controller to start/stop your mp3 player and could use that instead of a footswitch. Or if you have an iPod Touch, there are apps that can display a large button to start-stop the playback (and will auto-pause at the end of each song).

At the moment with your set up of two Minidiscs with 80 songs on each disc, you can have 160 songs all set up and ready to play (i.e. 80 x 2).

But with an mp3 player though you could have thousands of songs all set up and ready to play on just the one mp3 player.

As well as that, you can be cueing up the next song while another song is already playing, organize your songs in to set lists before you go on stage, make up background music to play during your breaks etc.

MP3 players can hold more music and organise all that music much better, without a doubt. If you perform very strict set lists and only need 160 songs, then maybe that wouldn’t be much of an advantage to you I suppose.

But if you do need more than 160 songs available to you at a gig, then using an mp3 player would be a definite advantage – it would certainly save you having to swap discs in and out of the Minidisc players during a gig.

As I say, it really depends on how you like to work on stage.

For example, a guitar player won’t have the same flexibility to change his playback music and cue up songs as a solo singer has because he’s restricted to having to work with a guitar around his neck.

Similarly, one solo singer may do pub/club type gigs where turning away from the audience for a couple of seconds to pop over to his backing track player at the side of the stage and select the next song isn’t a problem. But another solo singer who does theatre type venues or has a very intense visual type of act where leaving his audience for a second or two to change tracks would lose him his “connection” with the audience would find that it wouldn’t work for him at all (mind you, neither would Minidisc under those circumtances).

Last but not least is of course the size of the screen.

There’s no getting away from the fact that mp3 players were designed for personal listening so just don’t have the advantages of a big screen/readout that you get from other player formats. Many entertainers use their laptop to play backing tracks on stage though. That way they get all the advantages of being able to store, list, organise and play back thousands of mp3 backing tracks with a massive big screen readout.

MP3 players are relatively inexpensive so why not buy one and try using it on stage and see how you get along?

Even if you find you can’t work with it because it doesn’t suit your particular way of working, then at least you will have a backup of all your backing tracks with you at all times in a little machine that fits in your pocket wherever you go, and that could prove vital in getting you through a performance should your Minidisc pack up half way through a gig one night…