Music tracks meant for mixing come in various forms.
- Karaoke – for singers. All the music is there, just the singer’s voice is absent – to be supplied by the karaoke singer. The display of lyrics, synced with the music, is crucial. MIDI and audio formats prevail for Karaoke. They help singers practice and perform songs. When MIDI-based tracks are used, they can be tuned by increasing and decreasing the volume of individual instruments in the mix.
- Musicians’ song-based practice backing tracks. These are song-based tracks, like Karaoke, that target musicians rather than singers. They help musicians learn tunes and improvise over them. They are usually stereo audio, but sometimes mono. Often a chord chart or lead sheet accompanies the audio, so musicians can easily match the harmony. Rhythm-only backing tracks have less need for these charts. Below, we give our survey of some vendors of these. The NetTracks Mac and IOS app is an ideal player for these tracks.
- Musicians audio mix-ins. These are intended to be used in creating new, original audio tracks by musicians, independently or in groups. It comes as drumming grooves, baselines, and harmony, often separated into stems – individual per-instrument audio tracks for the arranger to tune. Sometimes they are song-based, but often not.
Musician’s Play-along Music Collections
Some song-based play-along collections we dig.
Jamey Aebersold pretty much made the creation of high-quality Jazz and Blues play-alongs his life’s work, and these albums have been widely appreciated and still, decades later, are much revered. The JazzTimes has a good article on his work. The hour-long video is worth the watch. These play-alongs can be purchased through a number of channels, including the traditional booklet, complete with CD, from musical instrument stores, and the audio separately, per track, on iTunes. They are stereo tracks with instruments well isolated to the right or left channel, allowing users to select the mix by changing the stereo balance. The collection started in the 1970s and now comprises about 120 separate albums, each with a booklet. These can be considered collaborations between Jamey Aebersold and top musicians, with Jamey managing the entire exercise and creating comprehensive, high-quality booklets of lead sheets and scales. These are the gold standard.
Hal Leonard’s Real Book
When Hal Leonard legitimised the then-Berkely fake books into their Real Books, they took the opportunity to supply backing tracks that match the lead sheets in their Real Books. Pure Genius. You can buy these backing tracks separately in the format of USB sticks if you already have the books. Well worth getting.
Hal Leonard has diversified its retailing channels to include online sales.
Hal Leonard also supplies many other play-along books for specific artists or genres, including their multi-track products.
Ralph Patt, now deceased, generously created practice backing tracks that he released into the public domain in a guitar user group for the aid of all musicians. These, like those of Jamey Aebersold, are stereo with instruments isolated to either the left or right channel. They generally have fast tempos. Ralph was a good musician; we will always be thankful for his legacy. These tracks do not benefit from the same team of musicians behind them that Jamey Aebersold’s did, but for a sole contributor, they are a real achievement and well worth trying. They do not come with lead sheets, but the tempos are shown. Ralph also published the ‘Vanilla Book’, a book of chord charts for many Jazz and Blues standards. Many of his backing tracks are covered in his Vanilla Book.
Real Book Software
Real Book Software tracks are also based on Real Books and come from an independent supplier, focusing on their complete software product. You can purchase the Jazz Play-Along backing tracks separately from the software product. These tracks are an inexpensive option and worth considering for the added variety they provide. The musical key is shown, and every song generally comes in multiple renditions, such as with and without piano comping, and other variations, such as tempo, repeats and key. We do not have any experience with Real Book Software, software product, which has had mixed reviews, but we have tried the stand-alone backing track collection and enjoyed it.
Bobby’s Backing Tracks
Bobby’s are quality tracks by dedicated musicians. Direct, online sales from their website are the only option. They deal with stems and supply minus-one mixes (no bass, no drums or no keys). They serve the gigging community as much as the practising one. You will listen carefully to the track to figure out its arrangement. They suit more those who learn their tracks through listening critically rather than expecting everything to be supplied upfront, as you would get from educators such as Jamey Aebersold. What you do get, though, is quality backing, easily acquired through their online store. It is not cheap, but a good option to consider, particularly if you want to perform with the tracks.
JazzBacks are based in the UK and use a similar business model to Bobby’s – High-quality tracks using modern equipment for practice or performance direct from their website. JazzBacks proudly do not include fade endings or verbal count-ins and provide copious supporting materials. Their downloads are ZIPs which include the audio file, and multiple chord charts (per instrument type, so C, Eb and Bb), so you know which chords to use and the arrangement, such as,
“Black Orpheus; Key – A minor; Intro- 4 bars; Head; Solo – 1 chorus; Head; Ending – Dm/ Am / Dm/ Am/ Dm/ Em/ Am”.
“Stella By Starlight Key Bb (concert); 2 Bars drums; Straight into the head; Solo- 2 Choruses; Head; Repeat last line twice; End”.
It is great to know this arrangement information up-front, so you can quickly play along knowing what to expect. These professional tracks are very approachable and easier to use than most. They are purchased per track (with bundles available) and can be used in performance.
Song Rhythm Tracks
Alive Drumming’s Song Rhythm Tracks are play-along backing tracks specialising in drums and/or percussion. They use high-quality audio from talented drummers with many different genres represented. Drumming is arranged around the song’s form, and arrangments may include introduction and outro sections. Some tracks include stops (aka holds). Arrangements are always visible. It may seem that less is less, but less can be more. Players of harmony instruments, such as guitar or keys, can enjoy playing along to superb drumming without any bass track. Give it a go. Song Rhythm Tracks are accessible within the NetTracks app.
Musical Genres other than Jazz, Blues
The vendors above tend to specialise in the genres of Jazz and Blues, often adding Funk, Bossa and other associated styles. These styles of music, with their usually constant pulse and simple forms, lend themselves to highly approachable covers and artists’ improvisations. That’s often the attraction of this music. In turn, these songs can often be well supported by lead sheets and associated backing tracks, making the songs even more approachable for beginning students and experienced musicians.
NetTracks adds to the backing track experience by making tracks more accessible and providing the industry’s best setlist and backing track player. We hope more and more students and experienced players find acquiring and using backing tracks a real pleasure.