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Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

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Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Sun Aug 12, 2018 6:57 am

I would like to switch from heavy keyboards (currently Nord Stage 3 and Roland 700NX) to Midi controller and MacBook Pro running VST instruments for my live gig performances. This is partly to cut down on the weight, and partly to give me more flexibility.

I have zero experience of using laptop for live gigs, and would love to know what setup people use for this? If you use laptop and midi controller for live gigs, please could you advise on what soft and hardware to get? I already have a licensed copy of Logic Pro X (and Sibelius), if that's any use?

Thanks in advance.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby desmond » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:32 pm

Apple's Mainstage is designed for this, and is what many people use on the Mac...
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:12 pm

Thanks, Desmond. What about external audio card? Is one necessary? Or do I run directly from the laptop earphone out to the PA (which seems a bit 'Fred Carno' to me)?
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby desmond » Sun Aug 12, 2018 5:20 pm

keelbolt wrote:Thanks, Desmond. What about external audio card? Is one necessary? Or do I run directly from the laptop earphone out to the PA (which seems a bit 'Fred Carno' to me)?

Well, tests will help you figure out what your live rig needs to be, but I'd suggest yes to a proper audio interface... :thumbup:
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Rich Hanson » Sun Aug 12, 2018 8:38 pm

I'd agree with Desmond about using an audio interface, but I do have a friend who gets away with using the headphone output on his MacBook.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Guido3 » Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:18 am

I use/have used a set-up similar to what you are thinking of getting. I used a MBP running Mainstage being controlled by a variety of different MIdI controllers.

I would advise the following:-

1. Use an external Audio interface. I have used MOTU stuff in the past which proved to be bullet proof. I currently use a Focusrite Forte as I don’t need any more than 2 main outs. I did a Theatre tour a few years ago where everything was run from my MBP. Mainstage ran backing tracks, provided keyboard sounds and also sent MIDI info (clock) to the drummer and guitar player. In this instance I used 6 outputs (2 main b/track, 1 x bass, 1 x fx & 2 x main keys). I also had a Kurzweil PC8x totally separate to this for Piano and backup in case everything else failed!!!

2. Get as much memory in your Mac as you can.

3. Fit a SSD drive. I had 2 in my MBP and they never let me down. 2 reasons for this, they are quicker and also HDD have been known to skip/jump when bass gets heavy!!

Keep your rig a simple as you can. Your current setup of Nord and Roland is nearly identical to what I used to use. I now have a very powerful MBA and everything fits in a nice laptop bag. All I need extra is my keys. This is a whole different conundrum.

I have used all kind of controller and it all boils down to whether you want weighted or not. Your current keys suggest you like weighted boards. I have used: Kurzweil PC3x, Roland A90, Roland A88 and currently use an Arturia Keylab 88. The A90 was too heavy, the A88 was the best for feel but had very few controllers. The Keylab is ideal as it has good feeling keybed and also loads of mappable controllers. It also not too heavy compared to others.

It’s a minefield!!!

I am currently looking at some iConnectivity interfaces (which some here pointed me towards) as they allow integration of iOS devices into my rig and also built in redundancy (you can run 2 Macs perfectly synced together. If one fails the other picks up with no drop out). Very flash system but does add to the complexity.

That’s all I can think of for now!! Let me know if you need anything else.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Mon Aug 13, 2018 8:38 am

Guido, that's exactly the advice I was looking for. Thank you so much.

Roland 700nx has just been sold, but I'll hang on to the Nord Stage 3 for now - it's a great keyboard, but too big/heavy (Gator flight case included) for rehearsals and space limited gigging. And just a pain to keep shifting!

I've now got Mainstage, and will start working on how to use it.

And I've just realised: I have a Focsrite iTrack Solo that I use solely for voiceover work, and looking at the back discovered that it has two Din Line Outputs. I will test these out to see if they work, otherwise will get the Forte.

I wasn't especially impressed with the instruments that come with Mainstage, but they're a start. Need to find a few that I really like. Starters: a really good Grand Piano, some decent organ sounds, etc. And a few orchestral sounds that actually sound like instruments. Oh, and a Bagpipe sound for Copperhead Road!

So once again, very many thanks. Exactly the experience and advice I was looking for.

KB
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Guido3 » Mon Aug 13, 2018 9:59 am

For piano I use Pianoteq. Fantastic for live use as it has tiny file sizes but sounds fantastic. (Piano modelling rather than samples). Try the free trial. You’ll love it.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:28 am

Oh WOW! Just dl Pianoteq stage. Love it! Awesome sound. Thanks.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Dave B » Mon Aug 13, 2018 10:46 am

I've looked into this before and it's always worth giving a different view on this. I did completely rebuild my rig and then abandoned the changeover. It was very useful, but I had the following concerns :

1. Stands. You have to safely keep everything in the right place and I realised that my stand count was going up and the dedicated laptop stand I had was a funny shape that was hard to package neatly. And the extra stands cut into the set up / tear down time.

2. 'Saving weight'. I tried using a cool dual-manual Hammond as the controller and found that it was great for organ, but a bit restricting otherwise. So I looked at getting better keys. And a weighted keyboard pretty much weighs the same regardless of whether it makes a sound.

3. Redundancy. If it all goes pete tong, you need to be able to make noise. So you need some sound generating keys. Or a spare laptop / ipad. And the irony here is that any half decent usb equiped board has insane power anyway, so I felt that I wasn't really being very efficient.

4. The Sound. A great live board has sounds that work well with not much tweaking live. A studio plugin wants to sound awesome. I found that I spent a fair amount of time re-building sounds that I'd collected over the years on my Kurzweils. And, bluntly, I preferred the sounds on the Kurzweils. And I could tweak things faster.

I'm about to have another bash at a simplified rig for one of the bands I play in - just a Kronos with a decent USB controller as a second (unweighted synth action) keyboard. I think that I can get that setup to a fairly lightweight and simple rig. I _could_ try again with the Mac. But again, I think that it would be faster to do things on the Kronos.

It's frustrating, but I just can't seem to find a rig that makes me 100% happy - there's always something wrong. My main rig is brilliant but heavy. This b-rig will be great, but risky (and have a silly startup time). I loved the idea of the mac system, but it just didn't work for me as well as I wanted.

I'm not trying to put you off, just putting another viewpoint. Many, many people would disagree with me. But I'm not convinced it's as cut and dried as people think.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Dave Rowles » Mon Aug 13, 2018 5:54 pm

As with a lot of these things, if you don't already use it, and have keyboards that that you know and love using, changing to a laptop solution takes time to get right. Lots of tweaking to the sounds, lots of fiddling with the set-up, and lots of re-works before you get it right. The Kronos is a powerful beast and it's actually tough to get a laptop solution to get the same sounds as quickly has you can on a Kronos.

I've worked with a keyboard player who uses one a lot on tours, and he can hire one in any country and with a simple midi dump he can have the Kronos set up exactly as he has it at home.

The advantage with using a laptop is the access to any plugin. If you do a studio recording with a particular softsynth, then bam...you've instantly got access to that exact sound live without any hassle or problems. You can also chain things together and layer up sounds in whatever way you want, even if that way would be totally off the wall and esoteric.

If you are prepared to put in the time to sort it all out though, it can be the route to a very flexible and rewarding way of playing. I'm not convinced that it will ever save you weight if you want weighted keys though.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Tue Aug 14, 2018 7:45 pm

Thanks, Dave, for the insight. The Nord Stage 3 and flight case is a lot lighter than the Roland 700NX plus case, but even so, it's a beast to carry around.

Weighted keys? I'm off to try out some midi controllers tomorrow. Let's see how I get on with semi-weighted....
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby Guido3 » Tue Aug 14, 2018 9:54 pm

keelbolt wrote:Weighted keys? I'm off to try out some midi controllers tomorrow. Let's see how I get on with semi-weighted....

I would be interested to see what you think regarding semi-weighted keys. The Roland A800 Pro gets some plaudits here but my OCD can’t look past the sockets etc.... being on the left hand side of the unit!!!

I would look at the S/H market and track down a Novation SL61 Mk2. Still made of plastic like everything else, but the keyboard action is streets ahead of everything else and it has some nice LEDs around the encoders. Automap is a waste of time but as you would be using it in Mainstage you would simply plug it in to your Mac and the mapping is done in Mainstage. Just use it as a generic midi controller.
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Thu Aug 16, 2018 1:25 pm

Hmmm... tried out some low budget controllers. M-Audio was favourite before test. But the action is like a toy! In the end, went for a Behringer UMX610 to do the job for now. Will keep the Nord Stage 3 for now, because it's just so lovely to play! And when linked with the Pianoteq sound, ... awesome ...
Thanks for help
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Re: Using Macbook for Live Keyboard - help please?

Postby keelbolt » Fri Aug 17, 2018 5:06 pm

Edit: The Behringer has been returned. Dreadful variance on the velocity sensitivity, resulting in some notes hardly sounding and others booming out. Not sure if it's a fault on that single machine, or a general design catch.
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