Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
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krautrock
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Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 11:21 pm

Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Sat Jan 14, 2012 4:19 pm

Ok ... I could really use some advice here guys from anyone doing similar.

I play in a synthy-duo kind of set up here in the UK. We've vocals, guitar, laptop, synth. I'd ideally like to get our live set up as follows :

1. vocals
2. synth
3. midi keyboard
4. guitar
5-12. 6-8 tracks sent out from Ableton. These would be percussion, beats, some ambient stuff, etc


So, what exactly do we need in terms of equipment between us and the venue's sound engineer? I'd like the FOH to have the ability to control volume levels of each of the 8 outputs from the laptop (track 1 being separated kicks, for example), as well as of course the rest of what we're doing. I don't want to control any of these onstage as I just won't have the hands available! :)

Hope I've explained this clearly enough, so please ask away!

krautrock
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Sun Jan 15, 2012 9:00 pm

bump!

fcarroll
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by fcarroll » Mon Jan 16, 2012 12:29 am

Just to address your laptop question, I use a Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 and I'm very happy with it. The preamps are great and you would have the 8 outputs you need, ant other instruments you would be using outside of the laptop should be handled be the FOH via d.i. boxes.

Hope this answers some of your questions.
iMac, MacBook Pro, Ableton Live 8 Suite,Ableton PUSH Komplete 8, Logic Studio,Launchpad x 2, iPad (Lemur), M-Audio Keystudio, Akai MPD18, ...

pre55ure
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by pre55ure » Mon Jan 16, 2012 2:19 am

I think the answer to the questions depends alot on the type of music you will be playing, the type of venues you will be playing in and the type of shows you will be playing...

I have alot of experience touring with a laptop/keyboard/band type setup so I'll give you whatever advice I can- but we played mostly small to mid size venues and generally played with punk bands. So obviously my experiences and advice might not be aplicable to your situation. The reason the venue/engineer/type of show makes a big difference is because this will make a major impact on how long you have to setup and do soundcheck (if you even get one) and the soundguy (or girl)'s experience and attitude. Obviously at the most basic level you need to have a soundcard with the appropriate number of outputs. If you plan on doing any touring or playing out regularly, I would highly suggest something that can be rackmounted. In my experience, it is also very rare to find a venue or soundguy who has 8 di boxes available (and alot of sondguys will stare blankly at you if you attempt to hand them a 1/4 inch jack), so I would make sure to bring your own (di boxes), or to get a soundcard with xlr outputs. When you do setup your tracks that you are going to be sending out to the FOH, I would make sure to set up a premixed stereo output pair as well, because you absolutely need something to fall back on when you don't get a soundcheck, or when the soundguy is bad and can't seem to get the mix right.
Another thing to think about is how you are going to be monitoring things. Assuming all the beats are coming from the laptop this is essential in order to keep time with your songs- some venues have very bad monitoring situations (they expect you to be hearing the drummer behind you). And are really only designed to blast the vocals back into the singers face.

Anyway, I can go on and on, but before I get totally rambly- I did 5 or 6 fairly long tours and after constant tinkering with our setup- the thing that worked best was- 1 Rack with a soundcard, poweramp and small mackie mixer, 2 PA speakers to be used as monitors onstage, and whatever laptop keyboard setup you want. We would then mix everything ourselves through the onstage mixer and just send a stereo feed to the FOH. If the soundguy wanted more of anything in particular there are per channel outputs on the back of the mackie, and this way we could make sure that everyone (in the band) could hear what was necessary on stage (through the PA) and the soundguy could do more with it if he wanted (and we trusted him). It also only took a few minutes to setup on stage, which was very important at the shows we played. In my opinion, trying to get 8 outputs to FOH and mixed nicely is probably pointless unless you are headlining and can show up 5 hours ahead of time to do a soundcheck.

Hope this helps, If you have any more questions I'll do my best to answer.

kanuck
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by kanuck » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:09 am

to add to the above. never assume what the venue will have in terms of gear and PA. always ask beforehand. Made that mistake once. will never do that again.

JuanSOLO
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by JuanSOLO » Mon Jan 16, 2012 7:25 am

In my band we bring our own PA and set it up on stage and do our own monitoring. The sound guy gets 2 left and right cables from us for most of the music. As sated already, we get a lot of weird looks from sound guys for that. The guitar AMP is usually mic'd and if there is no possibility to soundcheck that I will gladly walk out into the audience while the show is happening and before the next song begins, I will make the adjustments OR inform the band about who needs to turn up or down.

Lastly, I always prefer to run vocals outside of the laptop. There is too much latency and room for error/feedback. You can always process vocal FX through your laptop if you wish, but the monitoring or front of house needs to be direct monitoring. That said, hardware vocal FX processing is your best bet.

krautrock
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Wed Jan 18, 2012 10:09 pm

pre55ure wrote: ... 1 Rack with a soundcard, poweramp and small mackie mixer, 2 PA speakers to be used as monitors onstage, and whatever laptop keyboard setup you want. We would then mix everything ourselves through the onstage mixer and just send a stereo feed to the FOH. If the soundguy wanted more of anything in particular there are per channel outputs on the back of the mackie, and this way we could make sure that everyone (in the band) could hear what was necessary on stage (through the PA) and the soundguy could do more with it if he wanted (and we trusted him). It also only took a few minutes to setup on stage, which was very important at the shows we played. In my opinion, trying to get 8 outputs to FOH and mixed nicely is probably pointless unless you are headlining and can show up 5 hours ahead of time to do a soundcheck.

Hope this helps, If you have any more questions I'll do my best to answer.
Really appreciate this, thanks! We're playing smaller venues, so hopefully some of these issues might not apply yet.
What Mackie mixer do you use, specifically? How many inputs would it allow for?

Did you have your own dedicated sound engineer that you were bringing to the shows? We'd not have that luxury yet unfortunately, so if that's the case, I'd be wary about mixing from stage.
It would mean a mix for the FOH, and one for stage... seems a lot of work if you're performing too! :(

What was the poweramp for specifically?

Cheers!

pre55ure
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Joined: Sat Dec 04, 2010 9:56 pm

Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by pre55ure » Thu Jan 19, 2012 7:19 am

We used the Mackie 1402. It was nice and rack mountable (which was important for touring) 14 inputs I believe. You probably wouldn't need all of it's features though, we used it mostly because it allowed us to route a separate feed for our drummers click track straight to his headphones without that channel going out the main L/R feed.

We never had a dedicated sound engineer, it's not really expected until your playing much much larger venues (like 1000+). Also- Some of the soundguys you run into are weirdly possessive of doing the sound and get "unpleasant" if you or your engineer (or friend) make suggestions about how things should sound. (Not all of them of course, there are some very very nice and totally pro soundguys out there as well that do a great job).

As far as seperate stage/FOH mixes.... Our lineup consisted of 2 guitars, bass, drums, synth, and beats/electronics from a laptop. The drummer had a click coming from the laptop, and everything else ran into it's own channel on the Mixer (we even had POD's for the guitars and Bass, so they went into the mixer as well). We had all the levels marked off on the mixer before hand, so we'd already have a pretty good rough mix as soon as we were plugged in. From here we'd give the engineer the R/L mix, If they wanted more of anything there are insert points for the channels on the mackie, so they could just plug a cable in to the mixer and they would have that channel coming in to their mixer and could boost or cut the level as they wanted. We also ran the R/L out to our own power amp and then to our PA speakers on stage. I guess that might seem complex, but in reality it was a lot easier and faster than 2 guitarists setting up halfstacks and the bass player setting up their rig. However since we didn't have actual amps for anything, we needed the PA sytem in order to make sure that at the very least we could hear ourselves onstage. We had a pretty static setup and didn't do any improvising onstage or anything so we had it all figured out ahead of time, (and we practiced alot!) so it was just a matter of making sure that everyone could hear their parts and making it sound as good as possible.
Here's a video of us performing-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYhD6BfX ... re=related

You cant see too much of the setup- but you can see our keyboard player and the computer, and the big rack behind her has the poweramp, mixer, and synth in it. So all we had to do was show up plug into the mixer, set up the PA speakers and keyboard, give the soundguy our R/L outputs and play.
Hope I havent written/talked your ear off!

krautrock
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Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 11:21 pm

Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Thu Jan 19, 2012 3:07 pm

pre55ure wrote:

You cant see too much of the setup- but you can see our keyboard player and the computer, and the big rack behind her has the poweramp, mixer, and synth in it. So all we had to do was show up plug into the mixer, set up the PA speakers and keyboard, give the soundguy our R/L outputs and play.
Hope I havent written/talked your ear off!
This is all genuinely like gold to me, seriously appreciate it!! You basically had the set up I want, except for the drummer... (though I'd be looking to have drum pads/drum machine, so it is basically the same thing).
I'm going to check out the mackie 1402 online and get my head around it a bit. It seems well-priced second hand, I have to say. Is there any particular reason you decided to have your own mixer onstage with L/R out, rather than just send everything to a stage box for the FOH guy to deal with?

And it's this model, right? :

http://www.mackie.com/products/1402vlz3/

Maybe I'd have to see the outputs and everything in person, but was wondering if you could explain where you said you ran the R/L out to your own power amp... is that the SAME L/R as went to FOH, but on a splitter or something, or are there extra L/R outs?
I'd ask you a ton more questions, but don't want to seem like I'm hassling you with newbie stuff! :lol:

pre55ure
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Joined: Sat Dec 04, 2010 9:56 pm

Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by pre55ure » Fri Jan 20, 2012 3:06 am

Thats the right model mackie. We had an older one though.
Is there any particular reason you decided to have your own mixer onstage with L/R out, rather than just send everything to a stage box for the FOH guy to deal with?
Let me know if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing your wondering why we didn't just send each channel (seperatley) from the mixer out to the soundguy?

A couple reasons-
1. We didn't always trust the soundguy to mix our stuff properly. We played mostly with punk bands and a lot of soundguys are not too keen on the synth/electronics/laptop thing, (or just didn't understand the sound we were going for) and would try to mix us like a traditional band (so basically all the synth/electronics/beats etc... would disappear). By doing our own mix and sending it out as just a L/R feed, we could make sure that those elements got mixed at the proper levels. And to be honest- If the sound at a venue is good, then your mix is going to come across sounding good, and if the sound is bad, then it really doesn't matter what you send the FOH. It's still going to sound bad.

2. Time. It was very important to make sure that we could set up and tear down as quickly as the bands that would play before and after us, so we needed to try to keep it simple for both us and the sound guy.

3. Simplicity. Things never seem to work right when playing live, and having extra cables and inputs just meant alot of extra opportunity for stuff to go wrong. Also having more cables to plug into a stage box would usually mean that they (soundguy) would have to unplug a bunch of other mic's that were already setup etc... and that would not have made us any friends. Some venues are just not really set up to handle anything other than guitar, bass, drums, vocals. So just by showing up with a computer and synth your already kind of out on a limb. We played at some venues who's sound was in Mono!? (so we sent a L feed) and also at some where the soundguy refused to take our R/L feed because he was afraid it would damage his equipment.

In the end, I just don't think that whatever you would gain in sound quality (by sending separate channels) is justified by the headache that it would be.

And yes it was the same L/R feed that went to our power amp and the FOH. Our power amp (a mackie 2500i, I think) was built with a sort of splitter in it- you could daisy chain them together so it basically had an extra set of xlr outputs that mirrored the input signal.

Anyway- I'm certainly not telling you that this is the way it HAS to be done. Just that in my experience this is what turned out to be the best sound vs headache ratio for us. Also, if your not planning on touring or playing live that often, then it might be easier to show up early and talk to the sound guy about it etc... We often didn't have that option, so we just had to go with what we knew would work.
I'd ask you a ton more questions, but don't want to seem like I'm hassling you with newbie stuff!
Feel free, I dont mind answering questions. 8)

lolalola
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by lolalola » Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:04 pm

.... vote 1 for the Mackie

krautrock
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:05 pm

pre55ure wrote:Thats the right model mackie. We had an older one though.
Is there any particular reason you decided to have your own mixer onstage with L/R out, rather than just send everything to a stage box for the FOH guy to deal with?
Let me know if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing your wondering why we didn't just send each channel (seperatley) from the mixer out to the soundguy?

A couple reasons-
1. We didn't always trust the soundguy to mix our stuff properly. We played mostly with punk bands and a lot of soundguys are not too keen on the synth/electronics/laptop thing, (or just didn't understand the sound we were going for) and would try to mix us like a traditional band (so basically all the synth/electronics/beats etc... would disappear). By doing our own mix and sending it out as just a L/R feed, we could make sure that those elements got mixed at the proper levels. And to be honest- If the sound at a venue is good, then your mix is going to come across sounding good, and if the sound is bad, then it really doesn't matter what you send the FOH. It's still going to sound bad.

2. Time. It was very important to make sure that we could set up and tear down as quickly as the bands that would play before and after us, so we needed to try to keep it simple for both us and the sound guy.

3. Simplicity. Things never seem to work right when playing live, and having extra cables and inputs just meant alot of extra opportunity for stuff to go wrong. Also having more cables to plug into a stage box would usually mean that they (soundguy) would have to unplug a bunch of other mic's that were already setup etc... and that would not have made us any friends. Some venues are just not really set up to handle anything other than guitar, bass, drums, vocals. So just by showing up with a computer and synth your already kind of out on a limb. We played at some venues who's sound was in Mono!? (so we sent a L feed) and also at some where the soundguy refused to take our R/L feed because he was afraid it would damage his equipment.

In the end, I just don't think that whatever you would gain in sound quality (by sending separate channels) is justified by the headache that it would be.

And yes it was the same L/R feed that went to our power amp and the FOH. Our power amp (a mackie 2500i, I think) was built with a sort of splitter in it- you could daisy chain them together so it basically had an extra set of xlr outputs that mirrored the input signal.

Anyway- I'm certainly not telling you that this is the way it HAS to be done. Just that in my experience this is what turned out to be the best sound vs headache ratio for us. Also, if your not planning on touring or playing live that often, then it might be easier to show up early and talk to the sound guy about it etc... We often didn't have that option, so we just had to go with what we knew would work.
I'd ask you a ton more questions, but don't want to seem like I'm hassling you with newbie stuff!
Feel free, I dont mind answering questions. 8)

Hmm... I suppose I have to weigh up whether I should be mixing the 8 tracks that come from Ableton within Live, rather than at a mixer? D'you not think it would be the same difference (forgetting the other instruments for a minute) - if the 8 tracks in Live were mixed in Live?

Would you ever tweak the mixes at/during the gig? Or did you just leave it alone once it was set? Would you mark particular settings on the Mackie and just leave it at that? Ideally it'd be handy for me to have programmable settings (so that I could eq the vocals differently from song to song, etc), but I suppose I can do all that stuff on the Boss VE20 vocal pedal before sending into the Mackie.

Oh, what did you use the poweramp for, specifically?

The Mackie isn't programmable I take it?

pre55ure
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Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by pre55ure » Fri Jan 20, 2012 7:34 pm

Hmm... I suppose I have to weigh up whether I should be mixing the 8 tracks that come from Ableton within Live, rather than at a mixer? D'you not think it would be the same difference (forgetting the other instruments for a minute) - if the 8 tracks in Live were mixed in Live?
Yeah, I think you'd be fine mixing it in live if you don't have other instruments you need to mix as well. In fact it would probably be easier since you could probably automate the levels in Live for each individual song.

We didn't really tweak mixes during shows, Volume levels yes occasionaly- but only to try and fix something that wasn't working (like if you couldn't hear the bass or something) not for creativity's sake. And yes we basically just marked eveything on the mackie with a lot of tape and sharpie pen.
Ideally it'd be handy for me to have programmable settings (so that I could eq the vocals differently from song to song, etc), but I suppose I can do all that stuff on the Boss VE20 vocal pedal before sending into the Mackie.
I would definitely do the vocals separate from the electronics/computer/beats whatever. Almost every venue will want the the ability to adjust the vocal volume relative to the music, and this is one thing that will be much easier for the soundguy to do from offstage, so yeah, a vocal pedal is probably a better way to go. And I would actually just go straight from the pedal to the stage box (rather than your own computer or mixer), as vocals are the one thing that venues are pretty good about both amplifying and having decent monitoring for.
Oh, what did you use the poweramp for, specifically?
The poweramp was used to power our PA speakers/monitors that we brought on stage with us.

krautrock
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Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2011 11:21 pm

Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by krautrock » Fri Jan 20, 2012 8:02 pm

pre55ure wrote:
Hmm... I suppose I have to weigh up whether I should be mixing the 8 tracks that come from Ableton within Live, rather than at a mixer? D'you not think it would be the same difference (forgetting the other instruments for a minute) - if the 8 tracks in Live were mixed in Live?
Yeah, I think you'd be fine mixing it in live if you don't have other instruments you need to mix as well. In fact it would probably be easier since you could probably automate the levels in Live for each individual song.

We didn't really tweak mixes during shows, Volume levels yes occasionaly- but only to try and fix something that wasn't working (like if you couldn't hear the bass or something) not for creativity's sake. And yes we basically just marked eveything on the mackie with a lot of tape and sharpie pen.
Ideally it'd be handy for me to have programmable settings (so that I could eq the vocals differently from song to song, etc), but I suppose I can do all that stuff on the Boss VE20 vocal pedal before sending into the Mackie.
I would definitely do the vocals separate from the electronics/computer/beats whatever. Almost every venue will want the the ability to adjust the vocal volume relative to the music, and this is one thing that will be much easier for the soundguy to do from offstage, so yeah, a vocal pedal is probably a better way to go. And I would actually just go straight from the pedal to the stage box (rather than your own computer or mixer), as vocals are the one thing that venues are pretty good about both amplifying and having decent monitoring for.
Oh, what did you use the poweramp for, specifically?
The poweramp was used to power our PA speakers/monitors that we brought on stage with us.

So you didn't send the vocals into the Mackie, just instruments? How many channels were you sending in to it?

pre55ure
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Joined: Sat Dec 04, 2010 9:56 pm

Re: Playing live with a laptop - constructive advice/suggestions

Post by pre55ure » Mon Jan 23, 2012 1:58 am

Nope. We always used whatever the venue had for vocals. But we also never had any kind of effects on vocals. Drums also went with whatever the venue usually did for drums. (actually we did use triggers for one tour, but it was a disaster- so we went back to acoustic drums) Sometimes that was miking the kick, sometimes everything and sometimes nothing. Other than that everything else went into the mackie. (synth, laptop, 2 guitars and bass). And from there out to our PA speakers on stage and also to the L/R feed to the soundguy.

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