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The evolution of 'BACKING-TRACKS for GUITAR-PLAYERS'. 

The evolution of 'Backing-Tracks' for Guitar-Players

***NOTE: A direct link to my own personal Backing-Tracks is provided at the end of this blog (below the final video).

This blog is intended to provide information about how the production of 'Backing Tracks' for Guitar-Players has evolved since 1995. I'll also provide details about what was involved in the production of my own 'Backing Tracks' (which I'll refer to as "BTs" throughout this blog), and give you some insight regarding my personal decision about making them available to anybody for FREE!

The current availability of 'Backing Tracks' for GUITAR-PLAYERS

These days, a wide variety of high quality BT's for Guitar-Players can easily be found with a simple 'Google-Search'. In most cases, they're available for free by either providing your email or registering for a basic (free) account. I'm making you aware of this because having the luxury of easy access to high-quality BT's was not always the case, and is something that would have made my own path MUCH more simple (which I'll expand upon further below).

Not only is the library of BT's which are available today very diverse, but also, the flexibility of their format is absolutely BRILLIANT! More specifically: Today's BT's provide you with options to control a great number of variables such as, tempo, key signature, and (the option which I'm most impressed with is) the ability to isolate & control (volume /mute) specific tracks such as Guitar, Drums, Keyboards, Melody line, etc... ALL within mp3 format! WOW! Such versatility was but A DREAM back in the days when I first started programming MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface ...more on that below).

A SPECIFIC MARKET for my own personal 'BT's'

Firstly (and hopefully BEFORE you hear any of my own 'BT's' for the first time); you should understand that my BT's are intended to provide ACCOMPANIMENT specifically for GUITAR-PLAYERS / VOCALISTS. This blog provides A LOT of info for you to 'take-in', and should help you understand the purpose & value of my 'Backing-Tracks', rather than wondering: 'Why the hell would anybody want THAT crap!?'

I definitely understand that I'm targeting a very SELECT MARKET of people who might be interested in what sounds like a song which is incomplete (only partially finished, with more things (Vocals & Guitar-parts specifically) to still be added). 'DING-DING-DING'... You are absolutely correct!... and that also represents the inherent value for those select few (Guitar-Players / Vocalists) who require that EXACT thing, with "THAT" being a track which is PURPOSELY missing those bits, and leaves the proper 'space' required for them /you to simultaneously play their /your guitar along with and/or sing-along to. 
Backing-Tracks SPECIFICALLY for GUITAR!NOTE: My own self-produced BT's are NOT typical 'Karaoke tracks', because they are without more than just the Vocal track. Instead, they ALSO DO NOT INCLUDE GUITAR PARTS either. For this reason, each track was custom-created by myself, personally (long before today's high-quality BT's were available), specifically because I knew in advance that I would be (BOTH) playing Guitar AND Singing along (simultaneously/together) with each track as it would be played-back for LIVE performances.

The 'Master of my own Domain'

I first started producing my own BT's in 1995 (yes: I am THAT old ...lol), and although technology had already taken great strides forward within the Music Industry, it's continued evolution since that time has become exponential in advancement. Throughout this blog, any/all references to my own production techniques are specific to the time-period in which I was working. Many of my previous production techniques are now out-dated, but I've chosen to recount those details as examples of the way things use to be, prior to our current state of technology. A type of historical documentation only.

At the time when I first chose to start producing my own BT's, my intention was to eliminate any reliance upon an 'entire band' in order for me to perform. Instead, I recognized that (by having my own BT's) I would be able to accept gigs with the confidence of always knowing that I would forever be able to fulfill my contractual obligations without having the band ever 'fall apart' (for any number of possible different variables which are out of my own control). In essence: I made a conscious decision to hold only MYSELF ACCOUNTABLE for whether or not I could pursue a Career in Music without ever having to rely on anything other than my own ability & determination to succeed. I recognized that having my own BT's would put 'paying the bills' firmly within my own control, while doing what I truly enjoy.

The countless hours it has taken me to produce my own BT's (which I've chosen to make available for you to now simply download), have played a MAJOR ROLE in liberating me towards the freedom & independence I've enjoyed for so many years as a Professional Musical Entertainer. I would be honoured to help you make any strides (or any degree of progress at all) towards the accomplishment of whatever personal goals, wishes or dreams you may aspire to (including the option to just enjoy yourself having fun in private - jammin' and/or rehearsing on your own). It is just such reasoning which helped me to conclude that making my BT's available to you is well worth it.

'Playing at my own Funeral'

Playing at my own FuneralI did indeed struggle with the decision about whether or not I should even make my BT's available to the general public. The above title ('PLAYING AT MY OWN FUNERAL') is an 'old saying' which is well-known among many Musicians, referring to anything that puts our /your own Career in jeopardy; such as recording and releasing your own music, thus creating a situation where anybody can simply playback your own recording rather than hiring you to perform it live, and (in general) the use of technology (drum machines, audio 'samples', 'backing-tracks', Karaoke machines, etc) to substitute for and/or replace actual Musicians.

Although offering my BT's for sale creates & promotes my own competition for available Gigs, I'm happy to 'pass the torch' onto the next generation of Entertainers, because I've already been fortunate enough to have enjoyed a long & relatively successful career within the Music Industry. I'm delighted to be of assistance to ANYBODY who has the determination & work ethic required to pursue such a Career. Having possession of my BT's is only one (1) piece (albeit a VERY LARGE piece) of the puzzle, while having the perceverance to succeed is 'a different kettle of fish' altogether! I volunteer my ultimate respect & admiration for anybody who gives ANYTHING their best effort: I offer my FULL SUPPORT TO EVERYBODY who pursues their dreams, whatever their own personal dreams may be.

Especially as I grow older however, I feel much LESS threatened by such worries as I become more selective about the gigs I choose to accept. The benefit of experience now provides me with some 'word-of-mouth' advertising from people who have already seen me perform live, plus the luxury of also having established many of my own personal contacts for private Gigs without having to rely upon 'Booking-Agents' (who do their best to control 'the market').

Music & Technology

The evolution of technology within the music industry eventually presented me (an 'old-school Guitar-Player') with a conscious decision to 'make friends' (decades ago) with the use of computers, as it very clearly became an issue which was never going to simply disappear. At the time when I first started programming my 'Backing-Tracks', the Macintosh 'Windows' operating system was still early in it's development, and IBM was still (at the time) a viable competitor. As an IBM user, I used the language of MS-DOS to command my MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) equipment, but in hindsight, would have made my life so much easier & more efficient if only I had chosen to start my programming journey by using 'Windows'. Oh well: Such is life. 'Live & learn'.

At that time, the majority of programming issues involved with getting various equipment to 'talk' with each other when writing code in MS-DOS was caused by how easy it is to make any number of syntax errors. Aaaarrrg!!! Not fun! Not quick & easy! No 'point & click'!

Initially, I started programming MIDI by using software installed on an old IBM-286 computer (YIKES!... I know). The software program I used was called 'Sequencer PLUS', which was originally made by a Company called 'Voyetra', who were 'bought-out' by 'Turtle-Beach', and then eventually made obsolete by the ever-growing popularity of (at the time) 'Cakewalk' programming software. The end result of my work was a .SNG ('Song') file, which was an early & specific type of MIDI (.MID) file. Both .sng & .mid files are also commonly referred to (by programmers) as "Sequences" (as in: programming a 'Sequence of Events').

Originally, I use to 'back-up' my work onto actual/TRUE "FLOPPY" (5.25 inch) disks (YIKES again!), but changed to 3.5" disks a couple years later, after I started using an IBM 'ThinkPad' laptop computer which was more advanced than the tired old '286' which I'd been using.

Although MIDI (.MID) files were starting to become wore widely available online at that time, even if you were lucky enough to find whatever specific song you were looking for, then the quality was rarely good enough to simply use as it was. Usually, any pre-existing MIDI file required either reprogramming and/or remixing to the degree that it was (most often) more efficient for me to just start from scratch & produce my own version. 

As explained above, I was using computer-based software to control my MIDI equipment*, which included external ('periphery') MIDI devices (three (3) different sound-modules, a drum machine & piano /keyboard) to provide sounds for the various musical instruments I would program. Therefore, my computer (BOTH my '286' AND my 'ThinkPad') needed some type of MIDI Interface /Converter in order to 'communicate' with (control) my external devices. After a bit of research, I chose a 'Music Quest 2port/SE MIDI Engine' for my MIDI Interface /Converter.
*NOTE: More details about the specific MIDI & audio equipment I used can be found further below in the section titled: "The MIDI equipment I used".

Countless hours of MIDI programming

Now... I'll expand upon the ridiculous number of hours I've invested in MIDI programming (Drums/Percussion, Bass, Keyboards /Piano /Synthesizer, Horns (Brass), Woodwinds, Orchestral Strings, etc: WHATEVER unique instrumentation might happen to be required on each individual track) in order to achieve my final results. NOTE: Refer to ‘MIDI Production Flow-Chart’.

It took me approximately two (2) years of programming (plus rehearsal & preparing my equipment) because I only had evenings & weekends available while I was still working my 'day-job' (at the time). I finally made my debut performance as a 'One-Man Band' SOLO act for a private gig in 1997.

I would estimate that any song with a 'run-time' of anywhere between 3 to 5 minutes in length, might take me (on AVERAGE; ...depending on the complexity of instrumentation), anywhere between 15 & 25 HOURS (?) to completely finish programming.

While some specific 'tracks' required less time for me to complete (for songs with minimal instrumentation), there are other songs (with more complex instrumentation) which demanded MUCH MORE time for me to finish. Then; my result was a completed MIDI (.MID) track, which (unfortunately) is not a very practical format for playback (without the proper equipment which is required ...ie) Sound-Modules, Drum-Machines, MIDI Keyboards, etc).

So (and only because of the impracticality of the MIDI format), the final step of my 'production' ALWAYS involved doing a 'Final Mix'* in order to ensure that the precise volume level of EACH individual Instrument was correct (relative to all other instruments included in the 'track') BEFORE I could finally convert each 'track' into a different (more 'user-friendly') format. I playback the 'WAV' versions of these same tracks for my own LIVE performances, but have chosen to offer them to you in 'MP3' format because it's less 'bulky', requires much less storage space, and is very user-friendly for playback.

*It was CRITICAL that my 'Final Mix' was of the best possible quality, because AFTER each MIDI file is converted to either an .MP3 and/or .WAV file, then (back at the time when I first started programming) there was absolutely no way to change the volume level of each individual musical instrument which is included in that finished 'MIX'. Total commitment! The only way to adjust the volume levels for each individual instrument (back in the 1990's) was via the original MIDI file.
NOTE: Refer to "Format Conversion Flow-Chart" further down on this page.

My 'Final Mix' of each MIDI file is what I've made available for you to download from the 'BACKING TRACKS' page on my website: A neatly summarized list which is the by-product of my MANY YEARS of work continually adding more music into my repertoire.

The MIDI equipment I used
...(Details for all you 'Gear Hounds')...

There are many MIDI devices & Instruments available which are self-contained, and don't need to communicate with any other external devices. In those cases, those devices & Instruments are their own 'Controllers' themselves. However, when you have more than one MIDI device (stand-alone sound-modules, drum machines, other musical instruments, etc) which you need to link together so that they can 'talk' (exchange information) with each other in order to operate together in unison as a 'System', you then have a situation where your 'Controller' becomes the 'Master' (which sends commands), while any external (periphery) device/s act/s as the 'Slave', which receives & follows all commands from the 'Master'.

Although I could have used a MIDI 'keyboard' (actual 'piano-style') as my 'Master /Controller', I had chosen to use a computer-based software program instead. The reason I chose to ALSO include an actual (piano-style) 'keyboard' in my 'system' was specifically because it gave me the option to 'play' the parts for each of the individual Musical Instruments which I needed to program, rather than using my computer software to 'trigger' those same parts. In other words; sometimes, it's much more efficient for me to just 'play' the parts on a piano rather than to 'program' them via computer.

I used 3 different sound modules for all Musical Instruments (plus also for generating various other 'sounds'): All ROLAND / EDIROL 'SOUND CANVAS' Models 'SC-55MkII'an 'SC-88 Pro', & an 'SC-88 VL'. The ROLAND A-300 Pro32 keyboard was my MIDI controller, with an ALESIS SR16 as my main drum machine (although I started using more drum 'patches' (sounds) from each of the 'SOUND CANVAS' modules as my programming skills evolved & improved).

When it comes to MIDI equipment; there's a wide selection of products available from MANY different manufacturers. I don't get paid for mentioning any specific items, and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' choices; so after doing your own research, then whatever best suits your needs & budget is the way to go. 

I mixed everything through a MACKIE 1402-VLZ, which I also for blending-in my guitar & vocals during live performances, or as a sub-mixer to feed the main P.A. system at larger gigs. It's a GREAT little Mixer with such a low 'noise-floor' that it never fails to give a transparent mix! Although MACKIE also has a good selection of larger consoles, the 1402 has always been more than enough to suit my needs.

I had spent a lot of time & effort putting together a custom road-case (complete with a sliding drawer for my SR16) so that transporting my equipment from one gig to another would be as easy as possible, but even still, all that gear was bulky & awkward! In hindsight now; I shudder just thinking about all those years of 'humping' all that MIDI equipment.


Thankfully though, the introduction of the 'iPod' changed all of that for me! However, before I could stop hauling my MIDI gear around, I first needed to convert all of my MIDI files into a format which was compatible with the iPod.
This process is what I have previously described above as my 'Final Mix', in the previous section above titled "Countless hours of MIDI programming", & is also represented by the 'Format Conversion Flow-Chart' below.

Although I could have settled for using .MP3 files, I initially chose to convert my MIDI files into .WAV format because they are of higher quality by virtue of being less 'compressed' than .MP3. The 'trade-off' with that decision however, is that a .WAV file is approximately 10 times larger (on average) than it's equivalent .MP3 file, and therefore, commands much more storage space. Although the audible difference is imperceivable to the human ear when played back side-by-side, I always choose to be as thorough as possible when first creating a 'Master Copy' of any format conversion. Besides which; it was easy enough for me to then simply add just one extra step in order to also convert my original MIDI files into .MP3 as well, resulting in me having a copy of each song in BOTH .wav AND .mp3 formats.

NOTE: Up until the iPod was introduced, my 'Sequences' always remained as .SNG & .MID files which required bulky MIDI equipment in order to playback each of my BT's. However, my choice to start using an iPod for the playback of my BT's meant that I would need to add an extra step of production in order to convert my .SNG & .MID file formats into either/both .wav and/or .mp3 format/s. ...AGAIN: Represented by the ‘Format conversion Flow-Chart’.

At the time, I was 'blown-away' by the very first generation of iPod, and how it offered up to 16GB of storage! This was enough for me to carry my entire 'show' around in the palm of my hand, and was truly unbelievable for me, at that time. Keeping in mind this was also at a time (EARLY 2000's, just barely past the turn of the century) when mobile phones had not yet made the 'giant leaps' forward which has turned them into the very powerful devices we use today, you might understand (if you're old enough) how the initial introduction of the iPod was a REAL 'GAME-CHANGER' for me, and quickly made my life easier, gig-options more diverse, and travelling MUCH more nimble. 

As we all know; the power & versatility of our user-friendly mobile phones went on to eventually make the iPod irrelevant within about a decade after it's original introduction. For me though, I choose to still own & use (at the time of writing this blog in 2021) my ol' iPod Classic (while always having a second/duplicate for backup) because it's still MUCH easier & faster (with the 'flywheel') for me to find & 'que-up' a song than any mobile phone I know of. This is of utmost importance at those times when I'm right in the middle of playing a song while people are shouting their song-requests at me, and flowing quickly from one song into the next is the only way to keep the momentum going & 'the room energy' up. I can also testify over all my years of using it, that the iPod Classic has always been very stable, reliable & robust.

Rehearsing for my 'SOLO ACT'Now, I was perfectly aware (at the time) that the 'trade-off' for using an iPod to playback my B.T.'s at gigs meant that I would be sacrificing the flexibility/option for me to do various different things while on-site performing live, such as change tempo and/or key-signatures of any particular song, and/or re-mix each/all of the individual instruments which I had originally programmed as a part of each song. The loss of flexibility which I'm referring to usually became an issue only at times whenever I'd have a 'guest' vocalist who might prefer any particular song to be either played at a different tempo, and/or in a different key-signature. However, by that point in my career I had enough experience performing live to understand how rare it was that I would ever need/use any of those options, so it was a 'trade-off' which I was happy to make. Swapping road-cases of MIDI gear for something that fit into the palm of my hand was an easy decision for me to make, despite the hours I would need to invest converting the format of my 'Sequences'.


So, the by-product of countless hours labour, plus all the specialized knowledge & equipment required to produce my own BACKING-TRACKS for Guitar are now ALL available to you for FREE!!!
All I ask is that you please either sign-up (for FREE) as a ChuckBrown.ca 'MEMBER', or 'SUBSCRIBE' to my website.
'click' HERE to see Membership & Subscription DETAILS

Surely (in light of my detailed explanation above), you can see that although my BT's are of absolutely no market value today, they have already played an INVALUABLE role in providing me with a long career doing what I enjoy ...& for that: I will always be very grateful. I believe that you being required to either become a ChuckBrown.ca 'MEMBER' for FREE, or 'SUBSCRIBE' to my website in order to download my BT's for FREE is a very fair deal. Although I'm happy offering them to you for FREE, any amount you might choose to donate would be GREATLY APPRECIATED, and if so, I THANK YOU for your kindness & generosity.


I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to my 'Brother from another Mother' back in Canada:
THANK YOU Dave! I am eternally grateful to you.

Dave was the first & only person to teach me anything about MIDI programming, and always made himself available for any questions I had along my 'learning-curve'. I always did my best to NOT pester him too often or regularly, and between our chats, I would keep myself a 'running list' of questions which I'd accumulated to ask him the next time we would speak again. Even then, I would always hold-off contacting him until I had reached the point where I'd 'ran into a wall' & could go absolutely no further without his invaluable input. He has a great way of getting straight to the point by offering clear & concise responses. It's one of the many things I've always respected about him.

At the time when Dave started passing his knowledge about MIDI programming onto me, he was also kind enough to even provide me with many of his own completed MIDI tracks which he had already programmed himself. All credit due to Dave for his MIDI programming is noted on those specific 'Backing-Tracks' in my list, and in the 'FULL Production Credits' if/when purchasing any of my music. It was also Dave ('Casanna Multimedia') who produced many of the videos which are posted on my YouTube Channel.

Here's a video of Dave & I performing together using one of my own self-produced BACKING-TRACKS:
This particular video was NOT produced by Dave, but kindly donated by another good friend: Chris Barrett - THANK YOU Chris!



'click' HERE to visit my 'BACKING TRACKS'
Image LINKED TO Charles Belhumeur's 'BACKING-TRACKS' for Guitar-Players.

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All Copyrights Charles Belhumeur.

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