How to Create Backing Tracks for Guitar Players: Complete Guide

By Jason Stallworth

June 30, 2020


It all starts when you have that awesome metal guitar riff in your head. Or maybe it’s a lead guitar melody you have roaming around in that nogging of yours.

You don’t want to just play it alone in your room. But there’s a problem…you don’t have a full band to play behind you.

That’s when you need to create your own backing tracks. And I’m going to show you each step of the process is this blog post.

I’ll also show you everything you need as far as studio gear. And I’ll include budget-friendly options, too.

Why You Need Backing Tracks

Here’s the thing. No one wants to see or hear you just play guitar by yourself. No matter how good you are, that gets boring after…hmmm…about 30 seconds.

Your audience wants that full experience. And if you don’t have a band, playing your guitar along with backing tracks is the next best thing to delivering that experience.

But there are many other reasons to create your own backing tracks. And I’ll go over those below…

  • If you want to do a solo act, playing along with a backing track is a great way to enhance that experience for your audience
  • For the same reason as above, this would also work if you want to give your audience a live virtual performance
  • You want to make original backing tracks for your YouTube or social media videos
  • Backing tracks are great to practice to, helping you enhance your accuracy and timing
  • Playing along with backing tracks can help you come up with new ideas and melodies
  • The process is essentially the beginning of writing and recording your own music
  • You’ll get more studio experience and learn best recording practices along the way

So whether you’re a pro musician and playing live, or spend most of your time in the studio writing original music, or just a hobbyist who simply loves playing and practicing guitar, creating your own backing tracks is extremely helpful.

Recording Gear You Need

metal guitar home studio

Before we move forward, I’m going to give you a list of gear that you need to record your music. This is mainly for beginners, so if you already have everything, feel free to scroll down to the next section of this post.

Here are some notes about the gear I’m listing below…

  • You’ll see some items duplicated as I’m giving you different options, which you’ll see dollar signs to represent the price range (this is kind of like what you see when you Google restaurants!)
  • Everything listed is either what I currently use or have used at some point – I’m not going to recommend anything that I have not personally used
  • I do use ‘fake’ drums for most backing tracks (most of us can’t justify hiring a real drummer for these types of tracks – I personally save that for albums and professional releases)
Gear TypeProduct
Recording Software ($$)Presonus Studio One
Free Recording SoftwareReaper or Garage Band
Beginner Audio Interface ($)Presonus AudioBox
Advanced Audio Interface ($$$)Presonus Quantum
Studio Monitors ($$$)KRK G5 Rokit
Headphones ($)KRK 6400
Drum Program ($$)Toontrack EZDrummer

***You can find all of this gear on my Amazon Influencer Store here (click the button below):

As an Amazon Influencer, I do get rewarded with a small commission when you purchase through my links.

So if you decide to do that, you’re also supporting me as an independent musician, and I appreciate your support!

Complete Process to Creating Your Own Backing Tracks

home recording studio

Alright, let’s get to the good stuff! Let’s learn how to record your backing tracks!

I’m going to you through each step of the process. The cool thing is this is the exact process that I use for creating my own backing tracks.
*But I’ll skip the preliminary stuff like ‘open your DAW,’ ‘add a track,’ etc.

Here are the 8 steps to what you’ll learn:

  1. Setting the tempo for your track
  2. Creating your initial drum track
  3. Recording the first rhythm guitar track
  4. Polish your drum track
  5. Record 2nd rhythm guitar track
  6. Record bass guitar track
  7. Other instruments
  8. Final mix

1 – Setting Your Tempo/BPM

The first thing you need to do is determine the tempo of your song or riff. Here are the steps I recommend taking:

  • Create 2 tracks in your DAW (one for your guitar and one for the drum software or loops)
  • Set the tempo in your DAW on what you think it should be
  • Play one of the drum loops and start playing your riff along with it
  • Continue modifying the tempo (BPM) until you find something that works with your riff

*At this point, you’re not recording anything yet. You’re just establishing what the track tempo will be.

The more you do this, the better you be at it. And soon you’ll be able to guess your BPM as soon as you write the riff. But be patient during this process because it’s the heart of the song.

PRO TIP: Make sure you change the BPM in your DAW, not your drum program. Of course, your drum program should be in sync with what your DAW is set at.

2 – Initial Beat/Drum Track

ez drummer

This is a quick and easy step. Once you establish the tempo (BPM), start going through more drum loops in your program.

We’ll come back to this, but here’s what you do for now:

  • Just choose one loop (one that fits your riff the best)
  • Drag that loop into the track for drums in your DAW
  • Once it’s there, duplicate that loop in that track several times, extending it out for as long as you feel like your song will be

This is going to be your ‘metronome‘ when you record your initial guitar track. It’s much easier and more motivating to record your guitar to an actual drum beat instead of that ‘tick, tick, tick…’

3 – Recording Your First Rhythm Guitar Track

Now for the fun part! It’s time to lay down your first guitar track. In most cases, this will be your primary rhythm track.

Of course, your rhythm will probably not stay the same even though the drum loop you just duplicated several times is the same. But don’t worry. You’re going to go back and refine your drums in the next step.

PRO TIP: You can create an additional rhythm guitar track if you want and record the rhythm parts piece by piece. This comes in handy when you’re writing as you’re recording, which is what I do half the time!

Here’s an example:

– Record the first part of your rhythm in track 1
– Record the next part of that rhythm in track 2

This way you’re not ‘punching in’ to your initial track when it comes to that next part. Doing this will allow you to listen to that entire first part before recording the next part (this helps will timing and such).

You can merge the parts together into one track afterward; in fact, it’s important to do that because this should be just one track.

Or, once you have it down you can just go back and re-record the entire track in one shot and then delete the other guitar parts. Hopefully, this makes sense!

4 – Refining The Drums

Sometimes you may be recording a very simple or short backing track where you can get away with using the same drum beat all the way through.

But more than often that’s not the case. And even if your backing tracks is going to be simple, I still recommend that you revisit the drum parts and ‘church them up’ a bit.

Here’s a method you can follow:

  • Treat each section of the song as it’s own
  • Spend time listening to different loops in your drum program and test them out with each part of the song
  • Don’t forget to add fills between the musical transitions; this helps add more life to the song
  • Don’t forget to add that last ending kick with a splash or cymbal; many loops and fills do not have that – they end right at that phrase and your final guitar note will often be one ‘chop’ right after that.

PRO TIP: This is the exact method I use to give my drummer an idea of what I’m looking for on my pro albums and releases. It’s a great reference point for drummers.

5 – Record Your Next Guitar Track

recording metal music

It may be okay to just use the rhythm guitar track you recorded earlier. But I’m going to show you how I record my metal guitar rhythms and how it can help your backing track sound 100 times more awesome:

  • Take the first guitar track you recorded and pan it all the way to the left
  • Add a new track for your 2nd rhythm guitar, and pan it all the way right
  • Record that 2nd rhythm track

Again, this is my personal recording method for guitars, especially for metal music. It gives your song so much more liveliness and a true, organic feel.

PRO TIP: You can play harmonies in certain parts of the song that might call for that, with that 2nd rhythm track.

6 – Record Bass Guitar

As a guitarist, there may be cases where you don’t feel that your backing track requires a bass. This could be true if you’re just using that backing track for practice or to share an idea.

But if it’s for anything more than that, I strongly urge you to record a bass guitar track. Your song will sound extremely amateur if you don’t.

PRO TIP: If you do not play or have a bass guitar, you can probably find a friend who plays and would be happy to record a short bass run for your backing track.

If you’re doing this for something professional, then not having a bass is not an option. Hire a bass player if you can’t play it yourself.

On that note, I would also recommend hiring a real drummer as well, for something professional.

7 – Other Instruments

I won’t spend a lot of time on this section. At this point, you can add in any other instruments if your backing track calls for that.

One example is adding a keyboard. Or there may be some ambient guitar sounds you want.

You could add your guitar solos at this point as well. Although I assume you may be creating this backing track to that you can play your guitar solos to it. If that’s the case, there’s no need to record any leads.

PRO TIP: You could record the lead guitar track so that you remember it. And when you render the song to an MP3, just mute that lead track so that you only have the rhythm section that you’ll be playing to.

8 – Final Mix

The best piece of advice I can give you here is to mix along the way. If something sounds too soft or loud while you’re recording, then fix it right then.

This way, when you’re done recording all of your instruments, the final mix will require very little effort.

Once your mix is where you want it, render it down to an MP3. Then play it on multiple sources to make sure it sounds good in all of those sources (your car, headphones, home sound system, etc.).

YouTube Video on How to Create Backing Tracks

More ‘Notes’ on Studio Gear and Budget

Let’s circle back around to studio gear because it’s so easy to get caught up in the ‘best this’ or ‘best that.’ And I know how overwhelming that can be.

Here’s the thing…

You don’t necessarily need expensive gear to do this. It really just depends on what else you plan to do with your music.

If it’s just you, you probably do not need the latest and greatest in studio gear. A simple interface with a computer that’s powerful enough to run your recording software will work just fine.

And you can more than likely get by with just headphones for now and get studio monitors later if your budget is tight. There are some pretty decent headphones from about $100.

Now, if you plan to expand your studio to record more people, artists, or bands, then you don’t want to go the cheap route. This will actually cost you more in the long run. So if that’s you, then do your research and get the right equipment.

*I also have another blog post on setting up your home studio here: Complete Home Studio Guide for Metal Guitarists

I really hope that you found this guide to recording your own backing tracks helpful. If so, please consider sharing this post!

Keep it Metal,

Jason

***Don’t forget to check our my gear page here.

Jason Stallworth

About the author

Jason is a hard rock and heavy metal recording artist, songwriter, and published author. Primarily a guitarist, he's known for his melodic style and positivity. He also enjoys helping other guitarists and musicians excel. When he's not writing music or filming YouTube videos, he's helping others build muscle and get in shape on themuscleprogram.com.

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