How to choose a backing track for your choir

The issue of whether a choir can effectively sing to backing tracks is a controversial one. We use them with our contemporary choir because we want a big rock and pop sound, and it's simply not possible for us to have live musicians playing with us all the time. It works for us.

I was asked this week by one of our readers about how I choose backing tracks for my contemporary choir and I thought this would be a helpful subject for a blog post.  There are lots of backing tracks available to buy online and if you've never purchased one before it can be a bit daunting. After five years of using them I've learnt a thing or two that might be useful to you.

I get my backing tracks from two main sources. The first is iTunes, which often offers multiple tracks for the same song, produced by several different companies.  To get a backing track from iTunes you first need to go to the iTunes Store where, if you haven't got one already, you will need to sign up for an account.  Once you have an account, search the song you need and type the word "karaoke" after the title (I know that we're not doing karaoke, but most of the backing tracks are tagged as such).  If it's available, iTunes will come up with a list of different versions for you. Don't just buy the first one on the list. It's well worth previewing a few of the tracks because they can vary widely in quality and suitability for your choir. For example, some may be just piano, while others have a fuller rock sound. Be careful that the track you select is "instrumental only" as many tracks will feature backing vocals and in some cases even a lead vocal. You can preview a song by clicking the small circle to the left of the title. Once you decide on the track just click to buy and away you go. These tracks are very cost effective at between 79 and 99 pence.

The second source I use and highly recommend is Karaoke Version.  There are both  .co.uk and .com versions of the site depending on where you are.  Karaoke Version has a wide range of tracks available and they come in different forms according to your needs.  As with iTunes you will need to set up an account to purchase tracks but this is a simple and quick process. The great thing about using Karaoke Version regularly is that you get occasional voucher codes entitling you to a free download which is always a good bonus.  The tracks on Karaoke Version are slightly more expensive than iTunes but the tracks offer you more options.  There are MP3 backing tracks, custom tracks, guitar tracks, bass tracks and drum tracks. There are almost always "instrumental only" versions. If your song is available in custom format, you to see each instrument in the track and mute those you don't want.  If you're buying a custom track, you will automatically get a preview of a section of the song when you click on it.  You will need to mute the lead vocal and any backing vocals but you can also mute any of the instrumental lines which may not suit you.  There is a button to the right hand side of each line for muting.  Another great feature of this site is that you can alter the key two semitones up or down, although do have a listen before purchase as sometimes this can make certain tracks sound a little distorted. Once you are happy with your arrangement and click purchase, you can download it and any alterations in key and instrumentation you made will remain.  If at a later date you decide you need to change the track again, for example the key, you can go back into your account, click on "my files", select the song in question, make the changes and download it again for no extra charge.  This is a really flexible system and despite being slightly more expensive than iTunes, it's still very cost effective at around £1.50/£1.99 a track.

I hope that this is helpful for those of you thinking about using backing tracks. If you have any questions do let me know or similarly if you use backing tracks and have any tops tips or great sites to buy them from.

 
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4 comments

Victoria Hopkins Staff

We like Karaoke Version for tracks, but I don't know if anyone (except us!) who provide lyric sheets.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Stephen. It really depends on what sort of backing tracks you're looking for. For rock and pop, Karaoke Version is very good. I don't know about more traditional choral repertoire.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Lorraine. Forgive my ignorance but I don't know what you mean by 'CZ'. Most jurisdications require you to pay some sort of performance licence fee, whether that's handled by the venue or the performers. There is almost certainly a licensing body in your country that will be able to advise you. Best of luck.
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Victoria Hopkins Staff

Hi Brand. I think you'll struggle to find sheet music and accompanying backing tracks. There are some pop arrangements on musicroom.com. I think they're called 'showtrax' and they come with a CD or download. Most of the choirs we know either use backing tracks and teach by ear, or scores and have a piano accompaniment or sing a cappella. Best of luck to you.
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