Backing tracks with click track for the drummer

Thankyou to Aaron for this question about using backing tracks with a band…

I’m in a band and we want to start using back tracks
from an ipod in our live show. Our drummer wants
to listen to a metronome and have the ability to
adjust the back tracks himself. We make all of
our own back tracks (synth, shakers, back up
vocals, tambs.. etc ) on Garageband ( Mac ) but
don’t really know how to make the track so that
only the drummer can hear the metronome and
the audience only hears the back track with our
band. Do we have to pan both tracks (metronome
and back tracks ) opposite from each other? Can
we use an ipod ? We just bought a mixer, do we
also need an audiio interface? any advice would
be appreciated! Thank you!

Hi Aaron

Yes, you are quite correct. If you want the drummer to be able to keep time by listening to a metronome (i.e a click track) through his headphones, then you need to pan your click track completely to one side of the stereo spectrum. The music should then be panned to the opposite side and routed through your mixing desk, sending it your PA system.

Making up the backing tracks in this way shouldn’t be a problem and Garage Band is a decent enough program to do it all in – just pan all the instruments to one side and the click track to the other.

However, once you’ve done this you then have to look at how you are going to send the stereo output to the two different places (your PA and your drummers headphones)…

There are many different ways to do this, but the simplest way is to buy a small headphone amplifier for your drummer and send the click track to it. The other side can go straight in to your PA system.

You say you want to use an iPod. This is also no problem. Just make sure you use a cable which has a mini jack at one end (which connects to the headphone out on the iPod) and two jacks at the other end (left and right audio) which will go to your PA and drummers headphone amp respectively.

You can either have your local music store make up a special cable for you or you can buy a ready made cable off-the-shelf from any good electronics store. The off-the-shelf cables usually have a mini jack at one end and two rca jacks at the other. Depending on the type of jack inputs your mixing desk and the drummers headphone amplifier accept, you may have to also purchase a couple of jack adaptors.

Generally the biggest hurdle bands face when they use click tracks is the ability of the drummer to actually hear the click track over and above the noise of the onstage music booming out of the PA. Noise cancelling headphones help to a small extent but the high volume that the drummers headphones have to be at can often be detrimental to the drummers ears. Persistant loud music through headphones for even short lengths of time is not really recommended – the human ear is very sensitive and prolonged periods of high volumes directly in to the ear can cause deafness so please beware.

Over the years I have worked with many bands using backing tracks with many different musician line-ups, and so far EVERY drummer I have worked with has preferred to have a little powered monitor speaker piping the click track to him rather than having to hear it through headphones.

I even worked with one drummer who didn’t like a click track at all because he said it “grated” on his ears even when the click track was playing to him through an onstage monitor. He preferred to have a recorded bass drum and snare playing through his monitor instead of actual clicks. He reckoned he was able to keep time to that with much more ease.

There are many ways to use click tracks when playing live and I guess that the “best” method is always going to be whichever method that your drummer is most comfortable with…