I want to perform my solo music project live
September 22, 2006 5:54 AM   Subscribe

I want to perform my solo music project live and I'd like suggestions on how to do it. My music involves a keyboard, guitar, drum loops, multiple vocal tracks and random sound effects.

My equipment: a Macbook Pro, a Tascam audio and MIDI interface, an SM58 mic, Ableton Live, a guitar, a microKORG.

My recording setup is to have the guitar, mic and keyboard plugged into the Tascam which plugs into my MBP and transfers the sound to Live. The sound output from Live goes via phono jack to my stereo amp.

The problems:

a) Some songs have guitar and keyboard at the same time - I can't play both simultaneously.
b) Some songs have multi-tracked vocals.
c) When I perform live I want it to seem more like a live band and less like some girl with her computer.

My idea is to make special versions of my songs where some parts are provided by recordings stored in Ableton Live and others are left blank to be performed by me.

So, I take all my gear to a gig, put the phono jack output from the Tascam into the engineer's desk and thus put all the sound through the PA. Is this possible? Will it sound terrible? I could put my guitar through an amp and thus at least keep that out of the PA. The problem there is getting the volume right for different songs.

I'd love to hear critiques of the solution I have proposed, suggestions for improvements or entirely different solutions. Also, any anecdotes from people in a similar situation about how they solved these problems (and others) would be very useful.

[For reference, the music is mostly pretty, indie stuff with a few bits of brutal screaming.]
posted by pollystark to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could go the Howie Day route where using looping pedals you record the measure on each instrument on at a time (live) then layer the recorded loops on top of each other for a really thick live sound. I'm not a fan of his recorded stuff all that much, but had to take my sister to see his show and was actually fairly impressed.

From wikipedia:
During this tour, Howie began using the sampler and effects pedals which were to become a trademark of his live show. These pieces of equipment allow Howie to record his playing on-the-fly and loop the resulting sounds whilst building on them with his guitars, often giving an effect similar to the sound of a whole band. Day frequently uses this technology not only to back himself, but to construct long and often unique extensions to his songs.
posted by visual mechanic at 6:20 AM on September 22, 2006

Sounds like you're just using the Tascam as a mixer, right? So you should feed the output from Live (i.e. from the MacBook) to the sound board. That way, you'd control the individual levels via Live, since everything is going into that.

I would suspect you'd want some sort of MIDI foot controller to handle changing scenes in Live while you're doing vocals/guitars. If you can also arm tracks and start recording via the foot controller, you'd be able to use Live as a looping tool. You could, of course, use some sort of hardware looper, but keeping it in Live will make it more flexible.

Using some one-the-fly looping will make it more, well, improvised and, thus, less like someone just playing along to backing tracks.
posted by wheat at 6:49 AM on September 22, 2006

There are a few people doing the live looping thing with keyboards, guitars, puters, decks, all sorts. You may want to go trawling the nets for their setups and equipment. Unfortunately I can't think of any who use both guitars and keyboards simultaneously. Check out Jamie Lidell for a real masterclass in live solo vocal and keyboard sampling.

As for how to actually do it live, I'd be very interested in what you eventually work out, since it's something I've pondered too. I've idly speculated that the easiest and most "entertaining" (i.e. not looking like "some girl with a computer") setup would be simply to have it all pre-recorded apart from one guitar and vocals, which you perform live. Not the most exciting solution, I'll grant you. However! You can spice this up with Ableton. In Live 4, select "Lesson 7: Hands-on Control" from the Help menu. This will show you how to arrange "clips", which are basically arrangement "chunks". You can then trigger each clip using an external control device. You'd probably want some sort of stomp-box, since your hands would be busy.

This arrangement would require:
1. Computer.
2. Stomp-box.
3. Ableton full of pre-arranged "backing" tracks.
4. You plus guitar plus mike (SM58 is ok but could be improved).
5. Some sort of mixing.

You would achieve:
1. "Live solo artist" kinda look :-)
2. Ability to improvise by triggering backing tracks - and sections thereof - live.
3. You could also have your keyboard hooked up too. Playing guitar and keyboard together would be tricky, but slinging your guitar over your shoulder to play the keyboard would be pretty cool.

I appreciate that you could also use Live to handle some sort of looping, but I'd point out that this takes a helluva lot of practise to get right, unless you're doing droney monotonous-type music (which is also fine by me).

All that remains now is for you to tell us where you'll be gigging, because I'd love to check it out.
posted by ajp at 6:55 AM on September 22, 2006

In terms of what you send to the sound desk you would need to take the stereo out from ableton into a stereo DI box to send into two channels on the sound desk. The engineer (or company you hire the PA from) should have it as it's a fairly standard piece of kit.

Looping and pre-recording tracks are definitely the way to go with the setup you've described! I've seen a lot of interesting stuff done this way (looped sounds from vocals, guitars, trumpets,cellos and even bicycles on stage - you could definitely have a lot of fun with this setup.)
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2006

Another good looping pedals guy is Andrew Bird. Listen here.

Of course, the traditional way to get around the difficulty of playing keyboard and guitar at the same time is to hire musicians to play one of those instruments. But I'm thinking that you already thought of that.
posted by desuetude at 8:12 AM on September 22, 2006

Would it be out of the question to have a friend playing the keyboard or guitar, freeing you up to play the other and/or keyboard? Or is this a solo project only?
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 2:31 PM on September 24, 2006

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. I really like the control-Live-via-a-stompbox idea - sounds like it will work very nicely.

I did consider getting other musicians, but rejected the idea beause of a) the simplicity of the individual parts would make them fairly uninteresting to play and b) some half-assed political notion of keeping it real by doing everything myself.

To ajp, I live in Leeds, so keep an eye out for We're Not The Cool Kids gigs...
posted by pollystark at 3:41 AM on September 25, 2006

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