Ah, forget backing tracks... just hire a decent invisible band!
I've seen a few different people do that "solo but not solo thing", some more successfully than others. I think the key is that people will most appreciate whatever the 'performance' aspect is... meaning, the more you are performing, regardless of what is real and what is recorded, then that's still entertaining to watch (well, assuming it's a good performance). Whereas if you just press play on an MP3 player and sing against a backing track, that can come off like glorified karaoke. Now, that's what I do, in essence, but my show is very interactive with the kids... I'm very much out there with them and making myself the focus and making sure they're participating and having fun, so they don't really have the time or inclination to think, "wait, who's playing the drums and bass and keyboards I hear?" And kids aren't necessarily going to wonder that anyway, so I have it easier in that respect.
I'm not sure that you want to go too heavy on the lights and video show. I'm all for that kind of stuff and for putting on a show, but careful of making that a distraction to your performance. I think somebody singing and playing an instrument and also triggering other sounds and interacting musically with them, even though they're recorded, can be very impressive and entertaining in its own right. You should want to feature that. Then again, maybe you do want to 'distract' a little with lights and video, but I would save the best of that for when it's really needed and be sure to feature your talents and performance as often as possible.
Bottom line is, whatever is entertaining to the audience is what you want to do, and you may have to get out and try some different things to find out what works and what doesn't.
I once saw a one man act that I thought was very entertaining. He was a keyboard based performer with backing bass and drum tracks. He would coax an audience member up to trigger a key at the appropriate time during a song.
At the time, I thought the involvement of the audience facilitated the acceptance of the sequencer arrangements. Just a thought...John
I've been looking to put together a live set as well. The main problem with singing to backing tracks is that they're very static and immoveable. You have to follow them, and there's no sense of back-and-forth interaction, which is what music is all about in my opinion. In order to make it more of a living, breathing musical performance, you want backing tracks that will follow YOU, so that you can go where the music takes you.
You might want to look into Ableton Live, a software package that is designed more or less for live performance. You can set up your song sections and adjust the playback in realtime. Want to extend that solo section for a few more choruses? Just hit a button and it will loop a little more. Forgot to bring your banjo so you want to skip the bluegrass section of this piece entirely, hit a button and it will skip directly over it. You can trigger all of this with a MIDI controller, your keyboard, or probably any number of triggers. Since it's MIDI, you can probably control lights as well.
The way it's designed, you can set up MIDI/Audio loops and clips to play back in any combination. So you can start off with strings, gradually layer in brass, then percussion, etc. In a regular sequencer you have to make a firm decision as to when to when each section comes in. In Ableton you can improvise it, so if you want to delay the percussion entrance until you remember your next verse of lyrics, you can just hold off on triggering that layer until you're ready.
There are about a zillion more features of Ableton Live that would help you do what you want to do, but I'm not very familiar with them--I've mainly played around with the demo. Incidentally, Cakewalk's Project 5 has similar features.
You might also want to look into Rayzoon Jamstix. It's a drumset auto-accompaniment software that can be trained to follow your playing (MIDI or Audio) in realtime. So as you ramp up to a loud section, it ramps up with you and starts playing louder, adding more crashes, etc. As you quiet down, it follows you and starts playing simpler, with side-sticks instead of full-on snares, etc. I recently bought Jamstix and it takes some tweaking, but the end result can be pretty lifelike if you know what you're doing. You might want to ask around in the Rayzoon forum to find out if people have had good experiences using it live. By the way, Jamstix has its own audio samples, or you can use it to control another percussion library (it works well with JABB drums with a bit of tweaking).
I think the key is that people will most appreciate whatever the 'performance' aspect is... meaning, the more you are performing, regardless of what is real and what is recorded, then that's still entertaining to watch (well, assuming it's a good performance). Whereas if you just press play on an MP3 player and sing against a backing track, that can come off like glorified karaoke.
...I think somebody singing and playing an instrument and also triggering other sounds and interacting musically with them, even though they're recorded, can be very impressive and entertaining in its own right. You should want to feature that. Then again, maybe you do want to 'distract' a little with lights and video, but I would save the best of that for when it's really needed and be sure to feature your talents and performance as often as possible.
...Bottom line is, whatever is entertaining to the audience is what you want to do, and you may have to get out and try some different things to find out what works and what doesn't.
Thanks. You make some really good points that I am going to keep in mind.
I'm thinking that I will address the issue right away in the first song, where I will tell the audience what's going to happen, and why I love doing it in this powerful way...and then I'll let that first song be so amazingly effective and strong and totally entertaining that the issue will be settled with them once and for all...and have them eagerly waiting for the next song!
At least, that's how I'd like it to happen!
Now, I'll definitely try to play one part of each song. And if it's a tricky part that I am afraid I'll mess up if I am nervous, I can always turn the keyboard off and let the actual sound come through from a backing track...I have the part memorized anyway since I don't read music, so my fingers would look exactly as if they are playing that part.
And I will of course sing.
Truth be told, this can be done with a keyboard, a little laptop computer on a stand, and a sound system.
But that's too sparse, I fear. A couple of mobile racks with a lot of my old midi gear being driven just to make their level LEDS dance would add to the "entertainment value".
You might want to look into Ableton Live, a software package that is designed more or less for live performance....
You might also want to look into Rayzoon Jamstix. It's a drumset auto-accompaniment software that can be trained to follow your playing (MIDI or Audio) in realtime... chris.
I am going to look into that! I am open to learning about anything and everything that can make this work.
I am convinced that "live" shows are going to be a prime way to make money as a flood of easily downloaded MP3s drives the price down... down...down for recorded CDs and MP3s.
People will want to have an experience. So I think live shows are going to be more and more popular... and will be more essential to earning a living as a musician. Of course there is also licensing of your music for movies, commercials and such.
But I suspect the cost of ALL music will be going down, due to simple increased supply.
Depending on the nature of the music, and the venue, different approaches can be quite effective.
I wouldn't rule out simple backing tracks, which can be quite successful, assuming that you perform the lead.
I've seen this be immensely successful. For example, when done by a friend of mine (Malcolm, 'the barefoot violinist') who performed live on violin, wearing a white tuxedo, barefoot on a carpet - his playing was extraordinary, and so was his dancing and leaping about. It did not detract at all that he used a CD player through a PA system to back his playing.
I think there's got to be a strong 'leadership' element exhibited by the performer, the obvious form would be strong, live playing....
I use a software based arranger system for my auto accompaniment and it works great:
Forte Ensemble - Host
Kontakt (top of the line virtual acoustic instruments GPO, JABB, Colossus, etc.)
Live - Styler to play Yamaha styles
Vocal Harmony (Antares & DecaBuddy)
Roland A-37 controller keyboard.
Works for me .... looks good ..... sounds good ...... & reliable.
JFTR, my Mirage Rack still sits in the rack, and even gets used from time to time, mostly cause I can't get more than a couple of bucks for it on eBay<G>...
To answer your question though...
I've played around with a couple of software tools that are supposed to be able to follow along, and Jamstix is actually pretty darned cool, but at least for me not quite what I need for gigging.
I've set up a couple of one-man band rigs over the years, in two cases the performer was a guitarist, in a third case he was mostly a keyboard player. Some observations:
The most successful acts I've seen didn't try to replace the entire band, but rather tried to give the effect of replacing the entire band. This starts with, and ends with the arrangment, but I think it is important to keep in mind when figuring out how to do it technologically.
If you are a keyboard player I think you have a bit of an edge, there are MIDI based tools out there that can track tempo, which is probably the most important thing to track. Jamstix, mentioned elsewhere in this thread, does a great job of "listening", but it is limited to the drum kit.
I had great success with the Kahler and Stewart clock devices. Both devices have an audio input that you can use as the source for the master clock.
Any rig you put together will require a lot of practice, which is probably obvious, but some of my former clients did not see it coming, so I mention it anyway. It's like learning a new instrument<G>!
I'd keep as much of the material in MIDI land as possible. There are plugins that will timestretch more than adequately, and transparently, for a live performance backup, but controlling them is still a challenge.
Vocals is the one exception to that suggestion, keep it live, the Digitech Harmonizer series had at least two models that were specifically targeted at live performers, and they work really well, but again, practice and sparse arrangements are key to making the illusion work.
And above all else, it is about the illusion. I was having dinner one night and heard a band in the bar. My date and I agreed that they were pretty good, the covers weren't remarkable, but they were tight. After dinner we wandered over to the bar, and there was one guy! Now granted, once I saw that it was one guy the illusion suffered a little, but not that much. He played guitar and keyboard, and had sequenced bass, drums, and the ocassional horn or string part. He also used a sequence to drive his vocal harmonies, which I think is a little riskier than letting the box do all the work, but it provides for a whole nother level of complexity.
He made an interesting choice to put all the tempo changes and the like into the sequences, and then he just memorized his arrangements... brute force, but I'll tell you, it worked!
I prefer the "Human Clock" approach myself, but after seeing this act I'd have to reconsider!
I'm reading up on this on the web. Seeing what people do; what they've heard people do.
Heck, people are putting all their backing on an iPod and using MP3 as the format!
By the way, I'll be doing all original material, and original backing tracks. It'll ALL be me playing.
Tentative thoughts here:
1. It's ultimately all about whether the audience is deeply entertained and moved to joy, thought, sadness or wildly tapping along.
2. Since I sing and am a veteran at talking to the audience and between song "patter", they'll see it as "me", not karaoke.
3. I won't be playing bar/cover song gigs with this. People will becoming to see me and hear my music...so that helps with maintaining the illusion of a band. They won't be hearing Crosby Stills and Nash, yet only be seeing 1 person on the stage!