Make a small band sound like a big band

(The original version of this article was first published on the Mp3 Backing Trax website circa 2006 – 2012)

Are you looking to put a band together or would you like to reduce the costs of your existing band?

Perhaps you’re finding that venues can no longer afford to pay bands with multiple members?

Either way, here’s how you can put a small band together or down-size your existing band while still keeping a similar sound as, say, a 6-piece band with just 2 or 3 musicians.

If you are a singer who is considering working with a live band, there are a few things you may want to bear in mind before you start putting a band together. One of the main things you need to decide before recruiting musicians for your band is to consider the cost.

If you are currently a solo singer, you are probably pricing your gigs at the moment based on yourself and maybe a partner singing (plus you may also be factoring in a lighting technician and/or sound guy).

But, will the venues you are going to play in be prepared to pay extra money for the few extra bodies you’ll need to make up a 5 or 6 piece band on top of this?

Will you even be able to find musicians to form a band who can actually play the songs you sing and more importantly, will they play them well?

If, after these considerations, you decide that you still want to put a band together, then here’s a way you can do it which will make things easier and less expensive…

Use Backing Tracks AND live musicians
Did you now that we can produce backing tracks with instruments removed?

Let’s say you found, say, two gutarists to form part of your band. We could produce your backing tracks without the guitar parts so there would just be drums, brass, strings, bass, keyboards etc. Your guitarists would then play “live” along with the backing track. You’d have a full band sound and it would sound very live because the guitars really are live.

This is an ideal way to get the sound of, say, an eight piece band but with only a couple of musicians.

Here’s just one example of where we arranged this for a customer. We have a customer in the USA who sings in an 1980s music revival band (yes, that’s right, glitter suits with rolled up jacket sleeves and mullet hair-dos!). The band are a four-piece band (drums, bass, two guitars) and they buy all their backing tracks for their show from us.

We produce the tracks specially for them by keeping all the keyboard and synth parts on the tracks but leave out the bass, guitars and drums – they play those parts live themselves.

We put a click-track on the left-hand stereo channel which they route to their drummers headphones so that he can count the band in and keep time, while the right-hand channel contains all the music minus the drums, bass and guitars of course. The right-hand channel then gets piped through their PA system.

The result is the drummer, the two guitarists and the bass player sound like a much bigger band…and it sounds completely live, even though only part of it is.

So, before you start to put a band together, think about how many musicians you need (or can afford). It isn’t always necessary to have 6, 8, or 10 musicians in order to a gig “live”.

Very few live shows are totally live nowadays
You may be surprised to learn that very few modern artists play totally live nowadays. There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, most bands these days will play along with some kind of pre-recorded backing due to simple economics. It’s just plain impossible to tour with, say, a xylophone player just because there happens to be one song in the set list that has a xylophone in it.

Similarly, there may be one song in the set which needs 4 or 5 backing vocalists. You can’t be paying 5 singers at every gig just to help you sing one song – it makes no economic sense.

Next time you’re at a live concert just look at the drummer – you’ll probably see him sitting behind his drum kit wearing a pair of headphones. This is so that he can keep time with the pre-recorded parts of the show.

The drummer will have a click-track routed to his headphones so he can keep time. All the live players in the band are staying in time with the drummer who is, in turn, keeping time with the playback parts so everything remains perfectly in sync.

Secondly, with most shows today, lights and pyrotechnics etc have to be synchronised with the music as part of the “show”. This is usually done via midi so a click track is put in place to keep it all in time.

Contrary to popular belief, when your favourite superstar kicks his leg in the air during a concert and a firework explodes at exactly the same time as the leg kick, there isn’t some little guy sitting to the side of the stage pushing a button at that precise moment. That’s not how it works.

Instead, the stage show is completely computerised and the music is sequenced to it all via a click-track so that these effects can “happen” at the exact time they need to.