Looking for backing tracks to help your students prepare for auditions or belt out their favourite tunes? Alexa Terry reviews seven platforms that provide backing tracks for singers.
As singing teachers do we need to be accomplished instrumentalists to be good at our job? In a word: no. However, it’s essential that we have some fundamental music literacy; for example, an understanding of basic music theory and the ability to play a selection of scales as training exercises for the singer.
Additionally, understanding how to follow simple chords means we can provide accompaniment for the singer and the opportunity to rehearse sections of songs without fumbling with the track cursor.
But we don’t have to be Beethoven or able to sight-read Sondheim; there are many reliable services that produce quality backing tracks as alternative accompaniment. Let’s take a look at what’s on offer.
1 Piano Trax
Founded by US pianist and accompanist Tom Griep, Piano Trax provides an extensive catalogue of mainly musical theatre piano instrumentals. (Artists such as Sutton Foster and Katey Sagal are fans). Piano Trax regularly offers discounts. Users can currently save 30% with the discount code WELCOME.
The tracks: Both note-bash guides and instrumental versions are available, as are a variety of keys. Tracks will remain on your account, with further multiple downloads available without extra charge.
Price: Tracks are usually priced between $3.98 and $5.98, depending on whether the song is a full or cut version. These prices translate to between £2.90 and £4.96 per track.
Other services: If you can’t find a particular song in the Piano Trax catalogue, there is a custom recording service priced from $15. The platform also offers a notation and transposition service that costs $30 per page. Piano Trax publishes a blog of ‘Top Ten Tips’ discussing topics aimed at the MT performer.
The brainchild of Lindsay Ashworth (singer) and Alan Fraser (singer and arranger), onlineMD is aimed at the musical theatre performer who requires a track to rehearse audition or performance material. Unfortunately, these tracks are only licensed for UK users.
The tracks: Full orchestration is stripped away for these piano-based tracks. Ready-made instrumentals are available, as well as individual custom requests.
Price: Ready-made tracks are £1 each.
Other: onlineMD has a menu of services, from custom track recordings priced at £12 to fully orchestrated backing tracks costing £85. Like Piano Trax, it offers transposition and transcription services starting from £30.
Karaoke Version claims to be the leading online provider of backing tracks with around 58,000 instrumental tracks across all musical genres and custom karaoke tracks with video lyric reels.
The tracks: A host of tracks are available with a preferred instrumental backing, including guitar, bass, drums and piano. You can also get custom adjustments where backing and lead vocals, click tracks, and instruments can be deleted (or lowered in volume). Tracks are available for download immediately after purchase.
Price: Original instrumentals without custom adjustments are around £1.50 each. Further alterations increase the price to about £1.99. Keys can be changed at no extra cost but be mindful that chipmunks or robots may support you if you want to keep the backing vocals, as these will be somewhat distorted.
Sing Broadway Now
Sing Broadway Now is a small company that provides musical theatre instrumentals.
The tracks: The Sing Broadway Now catalogue isn’t as extensive as some of its competitors, and only the original keys are available. However, tracks are fully orchestrated, and you can purchase a full show bundle. Sing Broadway Now does not dabble in performance licensing.
Price: Individual tracks are $5 to $10 (£3.96 to £7.29), and bundles (although sometimes discounted) range from $50 to $110 (£36.47 to £80.24), depending on the show.
Other: Custom tracks are available; the charge is between $50 to $60 for each song minute.
Sing2Music produces stripped back, acoustic tracks designed to highlight the singer’s vocals.
The tracks: Both piano and guitar instrumentals are available (Sing2Piano and Sing2Guitar) in various keys. Tracks can be played on Spotify and YouTube or purchased and downloaded from iTunes for approximately 79p. Sing2Music offers performance licensing. Contact them for a quote via their website.
Other: If you can’t find the song you’re looking for, you can contact Sing2Music, who will produce the track if it is a popular request. The Sing2Music website also has some helpful resources, including collaborations with vocal coach Jono McNeil who offers vocal tips. (Read our interview with Jono McNeil here.)
6 iReal Pro
The iReal Pro app is part of the ‘Technimo’ umbrella founded in 2009 by bassist Massimo Biolcati.
The tracks: iReal Pro is a fun app that allows you to change the style of songs, from disco and funk to reggae and soul. Chords are provided as well as a backing accompaniment. It’s a great tool to help introduce style, rhythm and interpretation to students.
Price: Available on the Apple and Android app store for about £14.99.
Popular online platforms such as Spotify and YouTube provide easy access to free instrumentals (check out Sing King and Sing2Music).
The tracks: Often, musicians or backing track services record and upload tracks themselves (sometimes with added speech or advertising, so you don’t naughtily download or use it for a performance). However, be prepared for at least 30 seconds of adverts before you get to the content. Spotify offers subscription packages (between £4.99-£14.99) meaning you don’t have to endure the vibe-ruining adverts between songs.
Want to learn how to help your students navigate different genres? Listen to the Singing Teachers Talk podcast on cross-genre singing training.
Share your favourite backing track providers in the BAST Trainers Facebook group.