Record an album on a tight budget

So, picture the scene, you’ve bought all the stage clothes, sound equipment and backing tracks and now you’re getting yourself a few gigs and earning some money aren’t you? (if you’re not, have a look at the Sensational Artists website and get yourself listed for free).

If you are getting gigs, then that means people like you singing – that makes sense doesn’t it? So, if people like you singing, they’ll probably want to hear more of you. Why not let your audience “take you home” with them by offering them a CD. You can make a lot of extra money by selling CD’s of yourself at a gig. And don’t just think that people don’t really want to listen to you on their car stereo or home hi-fi when they can listen to Frank Sinatra or Madonna etc. You’d be surprised why many people buy CD’s of an artists they’ve seen at a gig. For one, out of town visitors might buy your CD as a memory of the time that they spent at that venue or that town. It makes sound financial sense to have a CD on sale at every gig you do (and CD sales can substantially increase your earnings on the night).

So how do you make a CD without having to spend lots of money hiring a recording studio and a band etc. Well I’ve found a very inexpensive way to record a fantastic studio quality CD at only a fraction of the cost you’d spend at a recording studio. And I can even show you how to claw some of that small initial outlay back so that you can record as many CD’s as you want and they’ll cost you next to nothing. My article on CLICK HERE“>recording an album on a tight budget will point you in the right direction.

Getting a good sound

If you’re new to singing you probably think that all you need to do when setting up your equipment for a gig is to put a couple of speakers up on a stand, connect them to a mixer / amplifier, plug in your microphone and backing track player and you’re ready to go. If you think like this, you’re in for a nasty shock!

There are many things which seperate the amateurs from the real professionals and one of them is their sound. You have to have good ears to be able to get a good sound (it’s no coincidence that the best singers usually have the best “ear” for music) and you have to know your equipment well. I’ve been to too many gigs where I’ve heard really good singers have their performance ruined by something which could be easily rectified such as a poor sound. Worse than that, if you don’t sound good you probably won’t get asked back to that venue so you are risking future bookings by not taking care of this fundamental and essential part of your performance.

Karaoke presenters are generally reknowned for having the worst sound I’ve ever  heard. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that karaoke presenters are rarely professional singers so, to be fair, just don’t have an ear for a good sound. Secondly, they usually buy cheap sound equipment – usually 2 speakers with a 12″ and horn in each, driven by an underpowered amplifier that distorts (not to mention that awful repeating echo on the microphone they usually use – even when they talk). The results are just horrendous.

So how do you seperate yourself from these karaoke kings and queens and all the amateur singers out there and make yourself sound like a real professional? Well, read my article on CLICK HERE“>getting a good sound. It takes you through the process of setting up your equipment, where to situate your speakers for the best sound, and how to set the volumes etc to make your backing tracks (and you) sound as good as possible

Using backing tracks with a band

Normally you would expect backing tracks to be used instead of a band, but that’s not always the case. As the line up in bands tends to change from time to time, many groups I deal with tell me that they just don’t bother replacing band members who leave – they simply replace the instrument/parts they played with a backing track.

When you think about it, it’s a logical progression. As times change and the live music scene evolves, more and more venues can’t afford to pay, say a 4 or 5 piece band, so many bands are splitting up and re-forming as duos or trios (and using backing tracks to play the parts of the now absent band members). It’s not difficult or expensive to have these types of backing tracks produced. All that is required is you order custom backing tracks and request that we remove the instrument parts that you are going to play live. Even your band splits in to, say a duo, which comprises of a drummer and a guitar player, you can still sound like a full band – all you need to do is order the backing tracks with the drums and guitar taken out and a click-track placed on one side so that the drummer can keep time with the backing track.

Any combination of instruments can be removed to suit your exact requirements. For more info about using backing tracks with a live band, CLICK HERE“>click here.

Connecting an mp3 player to your PA

Many of our customers, like me, now use an mp3 player to play their backing tracks on stage. The old days are long gone where we had to use reel to reel or cassette tapes and indeed the nineties when we all used minidisc are gone too. MP3 is the new format for backing tracks.

However, although mp3 is by far the best backing track format available, there is one slight little problem you need to address if you are to use an iPod or other mp3 player live on stage for playing backing tracks. The problem with mp3 players is that, at the time of writing this, mp3 players like the iPod and the Creative jukebox were not dedicated professional hardware mp3 players, but rather little personal stereo type players which are meant to fit in your pocket.

Despute the fact that they were not designed to be pro mp3 players, you can still use an iPod on stage without any problems. It just takes a little bit of setting up through your PA system and a little bit of tweaking. My article on CLICK HERE“>connecting an mp3 player to your PA gives step by step instructions.

mp3 to minidisc

Although mp3 has completely revolutionized the backing track world, there are still singers who like to use minidisc on stage rather than an mp3 player. You could be forgiven for thinking that these singers are just dinosaurs who don’t want to change with the times (and you can’t deny that mp3 beats minidisc hands down when it comes to using backing tracks on stage). But, humans are creatures of habit and if you are one of those people who feel more “comfortable” when using minidisc on stage than any other format, then I say “Carry on!”. It makes sense that if using minidisc on stage makes you more comfortable on stage, then you’ll probably give a better performance.

If you are buying and downloading your backing tracks online though, the one problem you will face is how to transfer them from mp3 to minidisc. Don’t panic – it’s a simple process and with the right software and cables, it’s easy. Here’s a link to a full article with step by step instructions for CLICK HERE“>converting mp3 to minidisc.

MP3 to CD
Some singers prefer to convert their mp3 backing tracks to CD and then put the tracks from the CD on to minidisc. At first you would think that there is no advantage of going from mp3 to CD to minidisc…why not just cut out the middleman and go straight from mp3 to minidisc I hear you ask?

Well, there are advantages of using a three step process of going from mp3 to CD to minidisc. For a start, if you are not too technically minded, the connections and volume setting etc you need to get right in order to make a successful mp3 to minidisc recording can be bypassed by simply “burning” your tracks to a CD and then recording them straight on to your minidisc as you are probably used to doing. Another “hidden” advantage is that you end up (albeit inadvertantly) with a backup of your backing tracks on CD. I get emails from customers from time to time who have had a computer crash and lost all their backing tracks that were stored on their hard disk. If they had converted their mp3 backing tracks to CD then they would have had a bunch of CD’s kicking around their house with a backup of all their tracks! if you want to protect yourself and backup your backing tracks, see my article on CLICK HERE“>converting mp3 to CD.

Sheet music

Don’t think for one minute that the whole world are using backing tracks nowadays and “live” music is dead. Not so!

If you are a professional singer, you will, from time to time, find yourself booked to sing in a venue which provides a house band (or you may be booked to do theatre work or cruise ship gigs etc). For these types of gigs you’ll need sheet music.

It can’t be denied that acts who use backing tracks (often called self-contained acts) are more popular with venues than acts who require a backing band because of cost. It makes sense that if one person with a good selection of quality backing tracks can put on as good a show and sound as good as a full band, then there’s only one person to pay so money is saved.

But, live music has a magic all of it’s own and for this reason, there are still plenty venues who provide a live band for backing. When you come across situations like this, ideally you should have sheet music for every song you sing, so that no matter where you are booked to appear, you have the ability to be flexible and use your sheet music whenever called upon to do so. This is the real mark of a professional singer. Using sheet music with a band is something you really need to learn how to do. It’s not a simple case of walking in to the venue, handing the sheet music to the band leader and expecting all to be well. You need to talk them through your arrangements beforehand and make sure that they are as comfortable with reading your sheet music as you are that they will play it correctly. 

See my article on using CLICK HERE“>sheet music for a more in-depth look at sheet music and using sheet music with a band.

What is MP3?

MP3 is a computer file format which compresses music to “shrink” it to a fraction of it’s original size. The idea is to compress the music in such a way so that quality is still kept intact. MP3 does this by throwing away parts of the music your ears can’t hear anyway (audio frequencies that are outwith the range of human hearing). It also throws away very quiet pieces of the music which can’t be heard because of the louder parts drowning them out. After it has performed some other tricks to the audio, you are left with an audio file which sounds exactly the same as the original, but is up to one tenth of the size. For a more detailed explanation, see my article on CLICK HERE“>mp3 encoding and what it is.

Using backing tracks on stage

Before going anywhere near a stage and entertaining an audience, the first thing you should have decided is which format you want to use for your backing tracks. Over the years, I’ve used every single format there is for backing tracks and have come to some conclusions that may help you decide.

CD’s skip if you get finger marks on them, cassette tapes are too hissy, DAT is unreliable because they sometimes don’t read on hot sticky live stage environments and minidisc, while good, only hold 15 – 20 songs. That leaves only one format to consider and it’s the best…MP3.

You don’t need to lug your computer around with you either – you can play mp3’s from a small hard disk based player like the apple ipod or creative jukebox. And…don’t forget to use a good PA system and pump up the volume! More in depth info on this subject can be found in my article at the CLICK HERE“>MP3 Backing Trax website

Backing track licensing and prices

If you buy backing tracks regularly, you’ll know that prices can vary hugely. Generally, companies who operate illegally or do not pay the proper licences to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society can offer the lowest prices (so beware).

But did you know that large companies like MP3 Backing Trax can be competitive? This is because large companies like ours enjoy economies of scale which means we can offer fully licenced backing tracks while keeping prices down because of the sheer volume of backing tracks we sell.

You or the venue you sing at could be fined heavily if you are caught using illegal backing tracks so always ensure you are buying from a reputable source. My CLICK HERE“>article at our main website gives more details.

Types of backing tracks

I’m sure by now you know what a backing track is – simply put, it is music that you can sing along to. However things get a bit confusing when you try to decide which type of backing track to buy and use. There are many different formats and it’s important that you choose a format that suits you.

Most singers opt for audio type backing tracks which usually are the least work and give the best sound quality. Audio types of backing track to consider are CD, minidisc, mp3, Cassett or DAT. Midifiles and Karaoke tracks should be avoided because there are more poor sounding midis around than good ones and midifiles really need the skills of a professional musician to tweak them in to sounding half decent. Karaoke files should be avoided because they simply scream “unprofessional” and the backing vocals on them usually drown out your voice so are not recommended.

For more information, see my CLICK HERE“>article on this subject at our main website.