I've been playing for over 25 years but the new band I just joined wants me to play to a MIDI track. What's the best way to have a MIDI track at the front of the house with a click track in my headphones??
I've done a lot of this, weather it's midi or playing to a click track or pre-recorded backing track (ie: DAT audio, CD Player, etc).
First off, your personal monitoring.
I've found that using monitors, wedges, etc. doesn't really work well. Unless your band is always doing its own sound, which in a lot of places isn't allowed anyway, you won't have the control you need to make them work. Having headphones is the best way to follow the track. Find yourself a cheap mixer on ebay or something so you can set a control next to you for volume. You can find super long extension cords for the headphones at radio shack.
I don't recommend full-over the ear headphones either, since you really do want to hear the other band members playing, and including yourself! Those things will drown everything out almost. FInd something "light" like earbuds or in-the-ear discs that do not cover the ear whole completely. You can get the sound loud enough without hurting your hearing, and still get the ambient sound from everyone. Plus, wearing huge ass headphones does look f'n stupid in a band.
Headphones are easier to carry than a speaker or wedge, that's helps! You can get a used road case for a rack-mount mixer also off of ebay or something to cut costs down. Just make sure you do some rehersal equipment setups with the band, and bring extra cords, power cords, etc. for all this shit.
Since most house mixes are mono, you can easily have a CD player splitting the parts. One channel has the house mix, the other has your click track included. You can ommit the click-track altogether and just listen to the backing track. Just make sure you can hear the track very well while playing in a live setting! You'll be surprised at how your perfect setup goes to shit once your in a venue with a LOT of ambient noise.
Getting a bit more detailed in the click track itself, if you have control over it, think about having the volume of it way above the backing track, and having a different sound for the start of a measure, start of the chorus, every 16 bars, etc. These "intimate" hints will help you keep track of the song also while not concentrating 100% on the click track and relaxing some while playing. That's nice, that doesn't make you looking distant behind the set with the rest of the band, you can scope out chicks in the crowd, make faces, and enjoy playing. It's very easy to disappear and float away with the headphones on & playing to the track back there.
A few notes on the device playing the backing track. My experiences have had DAT tape decks, mp3 players & CD players all doing the playing of the backing track. Always bring a backup! Everything will fail at some point on you, and since the backing may be very important to your show, depending on one device is not a good idea!
An MP3 player is the bet solution, since they are very portable, compact, and have no moving parts if you get a flash or non-HD device. Don't get an iPod, look for devices in the DJ equipment world. They have specialized units that make it easy to start & stop tracks, break between songs, etc. Also look in the DJ world for CD player based mixers. These look like fake mini-turntables usually with a scratching wheel on them and big start & stop buttons. Again, these make it easy to cue up the tracks, stop at the end of each song, go to the next song, etc... with a very easy interface, and the right kind of channel outputs you need.
It's always a good idea to keep a few copied CD's and a cheap CD player on hand for backup emergencies! Just make sure you have all the cords & adapters necessary to get it to the house mix & your own setup.