MIDI ON THE ROAD

Live MIDI Part 1: Designing The Rig

Published in SOS August 2001
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Technique : Miscellaneous

Being a MIDI-based musician doesn't mean that you can't get out and play live gigs; you just need to plan more carefully than the average pub band. Grizzled live MIDI veteran David Harman explains the pitfalls and outlines some of the preparation you need to take your show on the road. This is the first article in a two-part series. Read Part 2.

If you were to wander around any medium-sized town centre on a Friday night, moving from this live music venue to that and observing the gear used by the bands, you might be forgiven for concluding that the MIDI revolution had never happened.

The technology that we all know and love has allowed us greater production flexibility and a wider sonic palette than ever before, resulting in the creation of innovative music in hundreds of darkened bedrooms and project studios around the country. However, with every piece of new hardware we add to our rigs, it seems we are less and less likely ever to venture out of the studio with that kit. Indeed, the very idea of tearing a studio MIDI rig from its comfortable moorings and shoving it in the back of a van for later reconstruction in the local village hall is enough to make some people dive behind the sofa and refuse to come out.

The positive side of live MIDI is all very well: you get to stand on stage, pumping your electronica to an adoring crowd through a gargantuan sound system. Unfortunately, for most of us this exciting thought is tempered by the nightmare vision of a sequencer stopping mid-song, resulting in a silent stage and you looking a complete herbert.

This fear of embarrassment and/or disaster is what prevents many MIDI musicians from performing live, and this is a great shame, since, with some careful preparation, many of the common pitfalls can be avoided. This article aims to identify and address some of those pitfalls, and to offer some practical hints and tips that should make the big day go as smoothly as possible. Of course, depending on your style of music, the makeup of your band and the type of gig at which you'll be performing, you may choose to ignore some or all of the ideas and suggestions in this article. Hopefully, though, the topics covered here are sufficiently generic to help you, whatever your musical preferences.

Whether you're heading out there to get noticed, explore new musical avenues or just to have a laugh, the same basic principles apply:

• Anything that can go wrong will go wrong;

• Even things that absolutely cannot go wrong will have a damn good try.

You should also take it as read that when things do go wrong, they will do so at the worst possible moment. It is extraordinary how equipment that has provided many months or years of happy service will suddenly decide to go feet-up in front of a festival crowd.

Given that this is the case, your mission in preparing a live MIDI rig is to identify in advance the possible failure points, 'design them out' of the system where possible, and prepare viable live workarounds for those failure points that cannot be avoided. Rather than stopping you from going out live, the fear of disaster should fuel your preparations.

  The Hard Way — Using Hardware Sequencers  
  Since all you require from a sequencer on the live stage is that it stores MIDI data generated in the studio and plays it back, hardware sequencers can be the ideal choice for live MIDI playback. They're physically sturdier than their computer-based counterparts, and their dedication to MIDI playback also tends to make them less susceptible to timing glitches.

You may already have a hardware sequencer in your rig, integrated into a synth workstation. Although these may not be as instantly user-friendly as some of their stand-alone counterparts, most will still do the job required of them live. The only criteria are: sufficient memory capacity to store your single most MIDI-intensive song, the ability to record and play back multiple MIDI channels simultaneously, built-in support for Program Change and Continuous Controller messages and the ability to send selected tracks from the workstation's MIDI Out, on the specified channel, to other kit in your rig.

If you do not already have a hardware sequencer, and intend to play live on a regular basis, it might be worth buying a second-hand unit. A decent dedicated multitrack hardware sequencer can be picked up for around £250. If buying for this purpose, make sure that the unit you choose can handle simultaneous multi-channel recording (ideally onto multiple tracks), or import MIDI files (ideally the multitrack Type 1 kind). If you need to send patch information via System Exclusive messages, it will also need to support that data type.

If you find that the limitation of your hardware sequencer is its maximum note capacity, consider sampling some complex parts, especially note-guzzling percussion patterns. Apart from easing the stress on the sequencer, this has the added benefit of freeing up valuable sampler polyphony for the 'ghost' track duties described in the main article.

You could also consider a MIDI data filer, which does not think in terms of MIDI sequencer 'tracks', but simply records the whole MIDI data stream for later playback. This can simplify the transfer of data into the unit, but the downside of this approach is that you have very little control over the playback of MIDI data live — the filer either plays or it doesn't, and the resulting lack of individual track muting can rule out some of the more cunning backup techniques described in the main article. Furthermore, most data filers only have a single MIDI Out, so 16 channels is their limit. If you're driving more than that, you'll need to go for a multi-port hardware or software sequencer.

 

Consolidating Your Gear

The starting point for the mission is to select the gear that is going to accompany you on to the stage. Although this may seem an obvious choice — you're going to use your own stuff for a gig at the Bull & Gate, not hire Pink Floyd's PA, after all — it may not necessarily be a case of simply taking the gear that was used in the original creation of the songs. While you could just bundle your entire studio into the back of a Nissan Sunny, this is rarely a good option, for two reasons: first, the time available for setting up at the venue is usually at best a few hours, but often significantly less than that; and second, every additional element in your rig is a potential risk, and increases the probability of something going horribly wrong.

The main goal of any live MIDI rig is to achieve, in a reliable and transportable manner, the required sound with the minimum of equipment. Only once that criterion is satisfied should you move onto the much more interesting business of choosing any extra gear that either looks cool or is fun to use. The key to achieving this goal is consolidation.

First, consider your sound-generating devices. It's important to take a step back from your close involvement with the tracks, and approach this issue from the point of view of the punter in the audience — it's what they hear that's critical, not how it is created. At the same time, you have to balance this against a sense of what the minimum gear for your requirements could be. If you can consolidate your system down to a master keyboard, sequencer, sampler and a rack synth and still have your set sound good, that's great.

One obvious way to proceed down the path of consolidation is to put as many as possible of the parts which are played by multiple synths in your studio into a smaller number of multitimbral synths. When doing this, consider how many memory locations you intend to use in total. If it's possible to keep the number of patches required on the night within the RAM capacity of the unit, and store all the patches required in a single Bank, that will reduce the amount of SysEx uploading required from track to track, and make backup of the data much simpler.

If you intend to use a synth multitimbrally that normally produces just one sound in the studio, take care in selecting and building the patches for each song, as you could end up inadvertently making life very difficult for yourself. Just how difficult will depend on the synth in question.

The ideal scenario is a unit that can sit in a MIDI multitimbral mode (often called Multimode), and receive independent MIDI Program Changes on each MIDI channel (even this can be limited, though, as you are usually restricted to basic patches, rather than the more complex layered incarnations of those patches which may exist in single-sound mode). If a Multimode is not available, you may find that you have to make special Combination presets that contain the various patches you require for each song, and recall that Combination on the unit's global MIDI channel.

To avoid unfortunate problems, decide in advance which method best suits your equipment and live requirements, and stick with it for the whole set. You may find yourself sacrificing some finesse in places, but this will be compensated for by retained sanity later on.

Problems can also arise when moving parts from one synth to another. Overloading the polyphony of a synth will obviously cause note-stealing. Using too many sounds from one unit can also result in certain sounds no longer getting their original effects, since many multitimbral synths have only a limited effects capability when in multitimbral mode.

One way around these problems is to get yourself a multitimbral sampler, if you do not already own one. The workhorse of the live MIDI rig, a modern sampler enables complex sound structures to be recorded and replayed as a single note. For example, four bars of programmed percussion, complete with effects, dynamic information and continuous controller data could be recorded as a single stereo sample and retriggered as necessary with a single Note On command, saving not only a huge amount of note data, but (if the percussion sounds were originally in that same sampler) also freeing up a significant amount of valuable sampler polyphony. To take another example, a sampled vocal hook that was sent off through a cascading chain of effects in the studio can be sampled and triggered as bar- or note-long blocks, as appropriate.

There is a trade-off, of course. Every time you resample a section of a track, you lose some creative control. To take the example of the percussion, you will have general level control of the complete sample, but will no longer be able to mix the individual elements of the track against each other. Another problem is that, however carefully you sample the original sounds, you will inevitably lose some character, particularly from analogue devices or heavily filter-swept sounds. Furthermore, sampling sounds with effects and looping them can be problematic, as tails can be cut off.

Aside from the purely technical issues, there's a moral one, too: that nagging feeling that in sampling the frantic thrashing of your beloved monosynth you're 'cheating' the audience. The synthesizer purist in you knows that it will never sound quite the same, but does the success of the song really hang on the difference between the original sound and a sampled imposter? Everyone's view on this will differ; if it's a problem for you, you'll have to take more gear to reproduce the parts you consider crucial. But remember; generally speaking, the less gear you use live, the better.

  Live Case Study 1 — David Harman  
  My early experiences of using MIDI gear live were undertaken with little or no regard for the risks. The first time I put a live rig together was in the early '90s, when our (then) three-man electronic group was asked to perform at a local multi-band gig. As it was our first time playing live as a band, we thought the easiest way of recreating our sound was to take our entire studio with us.

The sequencer in our Roland D20 drove its own internal sounds, plus an external sampler in my kit, and a Yamaha RX5 drum machine and Ensoniq Mirage sampler in the other half of the rig. Bizarrely, the D20's sequencer would only send MIDI data to its MIDI Out to drive external units if the appropriate sequencer track was muted, so every song began with me faffing about setting some tracks into mute and some open. Also on stage was a Roland SH101 analogue synth whose internal step sequences were being triggered by the pulse clock output of the RX5 drum machine.

Flush with the exuberance of youth, we not only had faith that the SH would chase the drum machine accurately, but also thought nothing of one of the band reprogramming the step sequences live on stage between songs, while I manually sorted the D20 on the other side of the stage.

It was utter, utter madness, but thanks to the stoicism of the poor soul programming the SH, we somehow made it through the night, and only later did we realise how daft we'd been. However, with the exception of a clarinet sound unexpectedly replacing a synth lead for a couple of bars, and our Mirage deciding to ad-lib a short sampled electric guitar note at regular intervals during one of the load times, the set worked, and we all tasted for the first time that unique thrill of playing live.

 

Live Sequencing

For most MIDI musicians going out live (ie. those of us who aren't Rick Wakeman, and won't be playing 17 synths at once by ourselves), there is a fundamental question that I haven't yet addressed: what kind of sequencer should you use to run the backing? The majority of today's studio musicians use software sequencers running on PCs or Macs. In MIDI playback terms, of course, a software sequencer will perform the required tasks for a live concert admirably, but there are other considerations...

The live environment is not computer-friendly: the gear on stage can experience extreme heat (lighting being the usual culprit), intense vibrations, dust, liquid spillages, and rough treatment. Synths and samplers are designed with these threats in mind — most computers are not. Add to that the transit risks and the ever-present possibility of a software crash, and the computer-based option sounds ever-less attractive.

And the reasons for the decline of the studio-bound hardware sequencer in favour of the software alternative are precisely the reasons why they are great for live work. They have no complex graphical editing capabilities, and so have no need for a monitor. They depend on loading songs into memory from floppy disks (although some will also spool from floppy if memory is limited) and thus do not require a hard disk. Of the few dedicated controls on the front panel, at least two are always Stop and Start, and they're usually pretty chunky — ideal for the stage. If your material allows, therefore, I would always recommend a hardware sequencer over a software alternative.

However, the sequencer in your studio may not be handling MIDI note data alone. It might also be acting as a complex, multi-channel MIDI router, for example. Moreover, you may be using the sequencer for audio recording in the studio. If so, you could consider using live vocalists (they tend not to crash so much) or think about transferring the audio to a sampler for MIDI triggering. Depending on the type and intensity of audio recording, this may prove impractical, and you may end up taking the PC after all. Using a PC is not impossible, of course: with careful flightcasing and intelligent handling, software sequencers can be fine, but it's worth considering the hardware alternative at the planning stage (for more on this, see the 'Hard Way' box elsewhere in this article).

If you do choose the software option, I would strongly recommend a UPS (uninterruptable) power supply (about £100 for a typical computer unit). These are essentially large rechargeable batteries that sit between the mains supply and your computer (or any other gear that has load or boot time, such as samplers). In the event of temporary power failure, the UPS will keep your machines alive for the few crucial moments or even minutes until power is restored. In addition, most units also offer mains filtering that helps protect against spikes and surges.

  How Live Is Live?  
  When designing your rig, consider carefully how much real-time control you might require over the elements in each of your tracks. That long filter sweep and those resonance tweaks that you performed manually when going down to DAT — do you want to 'perform' them live on the night, or could they be sequenced? For some artists, frantic live tweaking of their analogue synth arsenal is an inherent part of their live persona and stage appearance, and the challenge of getting it all there in one piece and making it work is part of the fun. Although configuring those types of rig has caused me an enormous number of headaches in the past, I have to say that they do end up looking and sounding fantastic, and ultimately reward all the effort.

Even if you shy away from this all-out approach, it's a good idea to keep at least one part live in each track; it keeps you focused on the job at hand and keeps the adrenalin flowing. Furthermore, it's amazing how just a single live part plus a live vocal can bring even a heavily sequenced or pre-recorded backing 'alive'.

Having said this, if you intend to play stuff live, it is recommended also to sequence the parts you intend to play on a muted track on your sequencer, so that you can free yourself up in case of problems.

From a rig-design point of view, then, decide early how much live input you wish to have, and the form that input is to take. Will you play some synths directly as and when necessary, or will you just be playing notes from a single master keyboard, and repatch or rezone that unit from song to song?

If so, do you need to move around the stage during the performance? If you do, it's worth considering a remote strap-on MIDI keyboard. Whether these look seriously cool or utterly ridiculous is a matter of personal opinion, and depends in part on how they are used, but they do at least offer some freedom.

 

Covering Load Times & Emergencies

Those of you lucky enough to own a sampler stuffed with RAM may be able to load your entire set into memory and never need to load again. For those with more modest samplers or single-song sequencers, there will be loading time during the set. Although this may only be a minute or so, every dead second on stage feels like an eternity. To counteract this, it's a good idea to have some filler material ready to cover these gaps.

If you have a second, less-capable sampler in your studio, one way to fill the gaps on stage is to load a small group of looped samples into that unit at the start of the evening, and trigger them manually on stage by holding a key as required. Your choice of filler material will depend on the style of your music — you could use an ambient swirl, some distorted half-speed dialogue, or perhaps a slow, grooving drum break. With a little creativity, what starts as a covering exercise can become a distinctive part of your set. As long as something is coming through the speakers, you've got a good chance of holding the crowd.

If you have a vocalist, then they should also be able to help fill the gaps. If they've only worked with you in the studio before, make sure they know exactly how long your loading time is expected to be, so they don't keep turning round to you with a weary expression and asking whether you're ready yet.

A related issue is what preparations to make to guard against emergencies. I have found that if you have critical sounds in a track being generated by analogue synths, then (providing your sampler polyphony and memory allows this) it's worth sampling these elements into spare sampler channels. You can then create 'ghost' MIDI tracks in the sequencer that play exactly the same data as the main analogue synth track but are muted when the sequence loads.

This covers you in the event of one of the analogues refusing to perform — you just unmute the ghost sampler tracks on the sequencer and carry on. Sure, what emerges may not have quite the character of your original song, but it certainly beats having to assemble an acoustic guitar version of your stomping dance classic on the spot.

This is a neat trick for safeguarding against the loss of individual units, but (moving up the scale of disasters a notch) what if the sequencer or any critical item should fail to load or run as expected, or indeed fail completely? Firstly, you're going to need some time to address the problem. How long you can keep the crowd happy in these situations depends upon the ad-libbing and/or street-entertainer skills of your vocalist (if you have one), or on the effectiveness of your load-time fillers.

To cover this eventuality, it is a good idea to carry an audio duplicate of your rig's output on DAT or CD. Note that this should contain the rig output only, not your whole set, since if you have a vocalist on stage, they should still be up and running even if the sequencer's died.

However, even if you carry such a life-saver, you're still going to need some time to recognise and deal with the problem — in this case, by noticing your ailing sequencer, scooting to the appropriate backing track on your CD and hitting Play. If you are on stage with others, agree on a subtle hand signal that you can give them to make them aware you have a problem, and on a course of action to take in those circumstances. Potentially, if it's been pre-agreed amongst you, the vocalist can then continue the set with the backing CD while you investigate the problem, and the audience may never even realise (although they might spot the problem when you smash the sequencer to the floor and jump up and down on it). Whether you feel that this is 'cheating' is entirely up to you. If it's the kind of gig that can be stopped, and you would rather do so, then go ahead — the above is a workaround only for those gigs that have to happen there and then.

The playback device (CD or DAT) could also be employed for playback of an appropriate intro piece. If you want a minute or so on stage to check stuff or prepare your playing position, an intro track can be a useful way of keeping the crowd happy and setting them up for your musical style.

  Live Case Study 2 — SOS Assistant Editor Tom Flint  
  I was in a two-man group, The Afterthought, which performed a sort of indie rock, with me supplying live electric guitar, my friend Colin Williams on vocals, and the rest of the backing made up of programmed drums, bass keyboards, piano and sound effects.

We had always intended to take our music out live, but didn't have the money to buy separate studio and live gear, so all of our recording equipment was chosen with the intention of using it in both situations. A lot of our material was sequenced to make up for our lack of band members, so we made sure we could use the same sequenced material live that had been programmed for recording our demos.

At the heart of the setup was a Roland MC50 hardware MIDI sequencer, which drove the drums and all the keyboards. For drum sounds, we used the rhythm sounds in a Roland D110 sound module. Although not perfect, the rhythm programming section on the MC50 (a cut-down version of the pattern-based rhythm-programming interface from Roland's R8 drum machine) provided enough control for our needs, so we did without a separate drum machine. The bass, organ, synth sounds and most other mid-range MIDI parts were from a Roland D5 keyboard (originally, we did most of our sequenced work exclusively on the D5, but getting the D110 and assigning the drums to that freed up more D5 polyphony). Piano and harpsichord came from a Roland P55 piano module, and a Korg NS5R handled additional sounds. We also used a Casio HT700 home keyboard, which has just one MIDI channel, but some useful sound-editing facilities. Our modules and sequencer were fixed into a portable rack which also contained a Studiomaster Vision 8 eight-channel powered mixer.

In our home studio, all of the keyboards and modules, plus vocals, backing vocals and my guitar were routed through the powered mixer and then to speakers, which enabled us to practise and record live demos. Having just eight mixer channels on the Vision 8 mixer (six mono and two stereo) to cope with stereo outputs from the HT700, D5, NS5R, P55 and D110, we had no choice but to sum left and right keyboard channels to just one mixer channel for the majority of the keyboards, so we built a small submixer ourselves to do this. When playing live, our vocals went straight into the venue PA and the guitar cab was miked straight to the desk, so there were three spare channels which could have been used for keyboard stereo pairs, but we decided to keep our routing the same as in the studio to cut down on the possibility of making mistakes. In addition to the home-made submixer, we also had a small Phillip Rees MIDI port expander hidden in the back of the rack to serve the sound modules. All of the rest of the leads were tidied away permanently inside the rack along with plug banks and power supplies. Thankfully, the rack had a back-access hatch, removable lid and front panel and wheels. At gigs, it was just a matter of wheeling the rack in, removing the panels and then plugging in a few leads.

However, neither the Roland D5 nor the Casio HT700 would fit in the rack, and their power supplies and MIDI leads were always a physical liability when gigging. The only way to extract the Casio from the setup would have been to sample its sounds, but that would have meant buying a sampler... In the end, we built a wooden cradle to hold both the D5 and HT700 and all their power supplies. Setting up was then just a case of finding a wall plug and taking audio leads across to our powered mixer inputs.

When preparing our sequenced material for live gigs, we found that subtle programming of the drums didn't work very well live; reductions in the level of drum parts, which we had carefully programmed to introduce dynamics, simply sounded like dropouts. Nor did the smoother drum samples from the Korg NS5R, which we tried to use at one point, cut through the mass of guitars and vocals. The best effect was achieved by increasing all the snares and kicks to maximum MIDI volume and using miscellaneous snare beats, rolls and other hi-hat and percussion parts to add rhythmic colour, rather than dynamic changes.

As the D5 was our main multitimbral keyboard, but had just a single stereo output, we had to balance all of the relative volumes of its sounds within the keyboard itself. Despite its 32-note polyphony, we also had to exercise caution. Each Partial in a D5 sound uses up one note of polyphony, but some of our more complex sounds used the maximum of four Partials, which meant that note-stealing was a concern. We used the D5's Partial Reserve feature to ensure that each multitimbral Part had enough polyphony to cope with the note data being sent to it, but even so we had to be careful with our arrangements, so as not to exceed our polyphony limits. Typically, we reserved eight partials for one Part and ran all the most complex, Partial-hungry sounds on that Part.

All sound setup information for each song, along with panning and volume settings, was stored in the MC50 as MIDI SysEx dumps in the intro bars to each song. All the songs were ordered with the MC50's performance function and could be cued using a remote footswitch which Colin operated.

The D5 and the rest of the keyboards were given an EQ balance, pan position and volume level with the Vision 8 mixer. Once set, these levels only needed minor adjustments for each venue. The Casio was again a little problematic here, as we couldn't control its volume via MIDI. Fortunately all of its sounds were very evenly matched in volume, so it was just a case of finding a master volume setting on the keyboard, marking it off with tape and then balancing the output with the other sound sources through the mixer. The main left and right outs from the Vision 8 were handed to the front-of-house engineer, who was therefore only responsible for balancing the vocals and guitar with the pre-mixed stereo pair containing all of our sequenced backing.

I'm pleased to say our setup worked extremely well live. The only problems we ever had were down to human error, like forgetting to plug the Casio into the mixer! Tom Flint

 

Mixing Issues

At some point, all your signals are obviously going to have to be mixed together. If it's a gig of reasonable size, there may be a front-of-house sound engineer (more about this next month) with their own mixing console, but since most of their work will be for more conventional bands, their console will usually have space only for a single stereo keyboard pair, or if you're very lucky, two stereo pairs. They will be none too chuffed if you appear at the console explaining that you'd like them to mix down your 32-channel synth extravaganza.

The general rule here is to presume that you are handling all music submixing unless specifically invited to do otherwise. Although it means more equipment, this is ultimately a good thing, as you retain complete control over your music mix at all times. You will therefore need to include in the rig a mixer with sufficient input capability to handle all of your sources and mix them down to a single stereo pair.

When choosing which outputs to use on a device, go for balanced connections where possible, and look for a mixer with balanced inputs. Briefly, balanced audio connections offer better rejection of interference fields such as lighting and mains, which might otherwise cause hums and buzzes in the system. Although your gear might be beautifully quiet in the studio, the live environment is electronically hostile, and unbalanced connections can pick up all sorts of unwanted noise. Fully balanced links require a three-pin connection at both ends (usually a quarter-inch TRS jack or XLR connector), although unbalanced gear can be connected to balanced kit.

Since you'll probably be re-orchestrating your songs anyway, try where possible to bring the same type of sounds onto the same mixer channels from song to song. So, on multi-output devices, choose certain outputs for pads, others for drums, and so on. This serves two purposes: first, if an element of a track is missing or too quiet, it's much quicker to locate the problem (since you should always know where, for example, the bass will appear on the mixer). Second, for users of analogue consoles, this makes it very easy to make general EQ adjustments on the fly, such as taking a little bottom end out of all the pads without affecting the percussion. This level of control can be invaluable in cleaning up a live mix.

Those lucky enough to own a digital mixer with snapshot capabilities will find mixing even easier. Just add a snapshot for each song, put an appropriate program change into the sequencer to set the desk, and savour the situation as all the levels automatically set themselves before each song.

Digital mixers can offer another advantage; certainly most of the recent wave of compact digital desks allow their audio faders to be switched to operate as programmable MIDI Continuous Controller faders. With some careful planning, this feature can be used to transform the audio mixer from an annoying necessity to an exciting control platform for sound modulation.

If, on the other hand, you're using an analogue desk, you can achieve a similar effect to digital snapshots by placing appropriate MIDI volume and panning messages at the front of each song (this process will be described in more detail next month). Don't presume that you will remember to make all the necessary level, panning or switching adjustments to the mixer yourself in the pressured live environment — you'll have plenty of other things to worry about on the night.

Vocals & Effects

Although this series is primarily concentrating on MIDI system issues, if you are using a vocalist, there is a major system design point to consider: do you need to run the vocal through your mixer on stage, or can you let the sound engineer take it direct? It is generally best to leave the house vocal mix to the sound engineer, but this may not be simple if you have specific effects planned that are run locally in your rig (such as MIDI-controlled pitch-tracking or -shifting, or doubling, harmonising, or vocoding).

This might sound obvious, but bear in mind that if the front-of-house engineer takes the vocalist's mic straight to their desk, you'll never even get any of the signal to process in the first place unless you can persuade them to run you a dry, line-level copy of the mic output back to your rig.

With this in mind, you might be tempted to mix the entire vocal yourself along with the music, but be warned that even with a good pair of monitor wedges, it is very hard to mix vocals sympathetically from on stage, against loud music. However, if you are processing heavily, or there is no sound engineer and you have time to rehearse with the vocalist, you can program effects levels and process balances in advance, insert a compressor/limiter, feed the vocalist a clean monitor mix and leave the faders pretty much where they are. Be ready to fight feedback, though....

Until Next Time...

Hopefully, the above considerations will have helped you select an appropriate range of equipment for use on stage. If you are intending to play live frequently, you may find over time that your live rig becomes your studio rig, with more esoteric kit patched in when you're at home. If you're like SOS's Tom Flint, you may even plan your studio gear to be suitable for stage use from the start (see the 'Case Study 2' box elsewhere in this article). This approach has the added benefit of making the gear transportable between studios, should you ever work with other artists.

Next month, we'll be looking at the physical assembly of the rig, and some of the practical ways in which the equipment can be prepared for use in the dark. So bring your torch...

This is the first article in a two-part series. Read Part 2.
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