If you perform in a rock band or country band of any kind then you should know that using professional backing tracks will help you be one step ahead of your competition. The right tracks can add to your sound and performance enormously and help you perform songs that you may not normally be able to play live. Whether you're in a cover band, a tribute band, or an original band, tracks are going to give you that extra edge to thicken up your live sound.
Basically a backing track is a recorded piece of music. This is especially useful if you play in a four piece band that has no keyboard player for example. You wish to play a song that has a keyboard part and the backing track will play the keyboard part while the rest of the band does their usual thing. It will contain a click track for the drummer to play along to on one channel, while playing back the music on the other channel. The music and click track are separated by any number of ways, i.e. a "Y" type connector connected to the headphone output on an i-Pod to keep things easy. Simply plug a set of headphones into the click track side of the connector and run the music to the FOH (Front of House) board. The sound man will ensure the music track comes out of the mains for the audience to hear and out of the band's stage monitor system at the same time so the band knows what they're playing to. The drummer is responsible for having good enough meter to stay on the click track so the band does not lose their place in the song.
You can add parts like keyboards, horns, strings percussion etc. I've even seen people add bass lines and guitar lines. I personally am not a proponent of this. I don't mind using tracks for missing instruments but I generally think that the band should make every effort to cover the parts that they can when on stage. I realize that when you start using tracks it becomes easier to overlook this but when you put too much on your tracks then your show becomes a sort of karaoke show really.
Professional backing tracks differ from MIDI backing tracks because they either use real instruments ar high quality VST instruments. I've seen people use MIDI files as a backing track and to be honest, they sound a little like a junky little keyboard you might buy for you kid at Sears or something. Using real instruments or VST instruments is the way to go. I've tried both. I like the idea of VST instruments because you don't have to hire anybody to play the instruments for you. Simply assign the proper VST instrument to the track and you have pro sounding tracks. They usually come in an MP3 format so you can play them with an i-Pod.
Having these instruments with you on stage is going to help make your band sound more complete. Especially when you're playing in a tribute band of some sort. Having all the right parts naturally makes the song sound better. This translates into the audience hearing a better show, giving your band a better response and eventually make you stand out from the rest.
Some people think that using backing tracks is a way to cheat on stage. I agree that if you put too much on them then there is an element of karaoke, however, it takes a certain amount of skill to be able to play to tracks so that should be considered as well. Use them for the parts you need, a complex vocal harmony or two, and that's about it.
Professional backing tracks are enormously helpful in making your band sound better. Many people don't know notice that fact that you're using tracks and just realize that you sound great. This is what sets you apart from all the other bands in your circuit so consider giving them a try.