• James Guido

What Is Playback And Why Is It Important?

Playback is a crucial part of most live performances in contemporary music. It consists of playing a backing track to which performers on stage can play over to create the sonic richness of the recording without the logistical nightmare of dragging 20+ musicians on tour. In most instances a playback system can fit in a backpack, there are several amazing features of these systems which not only allow you to play backing tracks but also sync lighting systems, send patch changes to midi instruments on stage and even more recently, redundancy.

A Basic Playback rig used for a small show last month.

More often than not playback systems use computers which are notorious for failing when we need them most. While the reliability of computing systems has dramatically increased over the years it’s great having the peace of mind of a redundant playback system. Redundancy is crucial to a professional stage show. It means there are fail over measures in place which keep the show moving and the system running given computer failures. In most instances it is impossible for the audience to even realise a failure has occurred, and the Music Director or playback engineer can resolve this while the show continues, it’s really a beautiful thing to witness.

A professional playback engineer will provide a multi-out redundant system. This means the backing track can still be mixed by the Front of House Audio Engineer during the performance to achieve the pristine sound expected of a professional performing act. In most cases they will be able to run playback, control monitor mixes and/or may even provide wireless solutions for your project. Some playback engineers may even double as a Music Director and in some cases also play in the band on stage.

A good music director in 2019 will build the show software and technology, coordinate the musicians, make sure each band member knows their parts and plays the correct part and that the show and backing tracks run smoothly.

For example, for the Obseen artist show, I pieced together all of the backing tracks, directed the musicians on stage and built/created all of the show tech, playback systems and monitoring whilst also being the front man for the show. All of this is possible but is dependant on the schedule and budget for the live project.

While most people would assume playback is purely for Pop music, which is completely understandable, this is not always true. There has been an increase in rock bands who have been implementing playback systems whilst on tour allowing them to make use of synth sounds or effects from the record, guitar doubles or harmonies and even richer vocal harmonies and doubles. This all yields rich and professional results maintaining the sonic quality seen by big time artists such as Ariana Grande, Demi Lovato and Lauv.

If you have any questions about Playback and if it can benefit your project feel free to shoot them over in an email.

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