Updated: Aug 26
Using tracks are incredibly beneficial for practice and rehearsal. It can be argued that using tracks for rehearsal will improve your team’s overall musicianship and help team members show up more prepared for rehearsal and service. You may think of many different things when it comes to the word “tracks,” so it’s important to clarify. In this case, when I use the word tracks, I’m referring to separate audio files for each instrument, commonly called “stems.” Artists sometimes use these files for live performances, but you can also use them for rehearsal to help your team (or just yourself) feel more confident and prepared.
Learn Your Part
Playing along with backing tracks make it much easier to learn your part. With each instrument separated out into “stems,” you can hear your part clearly. When using tracks, especially if you’re using tracks from the original recording, you can hear the original part from the player in isolation. It’s never been easier to learn your part. This is particularly useful when your team is trying to learn parts to a song that has multiple guitar or keyboard parts. Each guitar player can be assigned a specific part, and each can listen to that stem to learn it perfectly. No “stepping on each other’s toes” or everyone trying to learn the lead part. Using tracks for practice, especially when there are songs with lots of layers/parts, can help drive people toward clarity before rehearsal and help them come prepared.
Rehearse Before Your Studio Session
Rehearsing before entering into your studio session is key for many reasons. One obvious reason is money. The more time spent in the studio trying to get your part down properly, the more money you will be spending. For example, a fundamental part of being a bass player is learning to lock into a drummer. While you can learn the bass part before your session, it’s hard to get good at playing with a drummer unless you’re actually playing with a drummer. Using tracks for rehearsal can get you as close as possible to the real thing. As a bass player, guitar player, keyboardist or even singer or rapper you can solo the drums and other individual instruments and play, or sing, along with that stem and practice locking into the accompanying instrumentation. When you start with the essential instruments to practice your part you can then slowly bring the rest of the band back in, and you can “run through” the songs multiple times before you even get to the studio.
During Your Studio Session
So far, we’ve discussed the benefits of using tracks before the recording session, but using tracks during the studio session can be incredibly beneficial. Many times we have recorded a band and wanted to get the drums laid down first. But due to certain ,imitations, having the drummer follow the entire band wasn't as feasible as it would be at, say, Abbey Road Studios or Blackbird. So the best solution was to lock in a quantized (perfectly in tempo) drum groove and have the band members - minus the drummer - record their parts first. Then with a solid performance from the guitars, bass keyboards and sometimes even vocals, the drummer can now play along without the rest of the band actually performing. I always suggest people keep every music track in their DAW session and mute what they don’t use live. That way, when a drummer is struggling to get a part, or the guitar player can’t remember how to start the song, you can solo out the part from the original record, and they can quickly get up to speed. No more holding your iPhone up to the mic and hoping they hear their part!
Once they’ve got the part, you can re-mute that track so they can play the part live.
Improve Your Tone
Tone is as important to being a musician as playing the correct part. A keyboardist has to be able to play the part well but also get it sounding great. A guitarist has to learn the right voicing but needs to be able to understand how to use effects to create the right tone as well.
Using tracks helps you not just learn the part but also identify and replicate the tone.
You can hear the parts in isolation and get a better idea of what effects are being used than if you listen to the entire mix. Once you put everything back together, you’ll get an idea of how your tone fits in the entire mix as well. Always keep in mind that the engineer is an expert when it comes to tone and will always be there to replicate what you're hearing in your head.
Where Do You Get Tracks?
Aside from creating tracks on your own, Multitracks.com is a very useful tool. This is an incredible benefit, to be able to learn the exact part from the original artist on the original recording. If you’re performing your own music, you’ll need to create your own stems. If you’re heading into the studio to record, ask the engineer to create “stems” of your content after it’s mixed and use those for rehearsal and live performance. You can even use that as an opportunity to add in “extra” sounds, like keys and synths, that you may not normally have.
But what if you can’t head into the studio and don’t have someone who can create tracks for you?
Bust out the phone! At your next rehearsal, place your phone or computer in a section of the room that can capture as much of the entire performance as possible. There are many different free apps that will afford you this possibility. Once you record rehearsal, you can create tracks to use as you practice. Your team will improve as they listen to themselves in the recording, and you’ll quickly build up quite a catalog of content. You can then use those tracks to rehearse and prepare and bring to the studio for reference. Again, while tracks are an incredibly useful tool for live performance, you’ll find that using them as a resource for practice and rehearsal will help your team arrive feeling more confident and prepared. Please feel free to contact us for any assistance in preparing for recording!