Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Discussion of music production, audio, equipment and any related topics, either with or without Ableton Live
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Eco_tx
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Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by Eco_tx » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:31 pm

Hi guys. I am currently working on an idea for a band but I'm hitting a wall. My idea is to have a 4 piece band with all the members using Ableton Live. We would have midi guitar and midi bass controlling Massive, Synplant, and other synths, the drummer has a midi kit to control different drum racks, and the singer with a keyboard and an apc 40 for more synths and fx.

My original idea was to have each member having a laptop, so essentially the laptops would kinda be like individual amps, like traditional bands do. But over the past few weeks, I've come to the conclusion that while more difficult, it make more sense to build some kind of mega rack that can hold all of our computers. This is how I've broken it down so far.

PROS
More power for less money
Longer life expectancy than 4 Laptops
I really get to understand how computers work

CONS
If it malfunctions we're screwed

The problem is that I am not technically savvy in an area like this. I've never built a computer before. I've never even cracked open my mac pro. What do you guys think? Is this an over ambitious idea? Should we just stick to the laptops? We already have 2Macbook pros.. but cost isn't the main thing. I'd much rather get this right than save 1000 bucks.
Last edited by Eco_tx on Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.

lapieuvre
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by lapieuvre » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:46 pm

4 computers? Why everyone should control Live?

how would you sync all the laptops?

Please give more infos
MBP 2015, 16 GB Ram, OSX 10.14.6
Live 9.7.6 Suite
Live 10.1.14 Suite
Soundcards : FF800, Apollo Twin duo

Eco_tx
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by Eco_tx » Sat Oct 06, 2012 4:58 pm

As far as hooking up all the computers together, I don't really see the point. It would be cool to have all the effects synced, but we wouldn't be running tracks. Everything will be done live. Does anyone see a reason why the computers should be connected?

The actual computers themselves don't need to be extreme workhorses. Each one only running a couple instances of some plugins, and our voices going through ableton before FOH.

You're right. Maybe the bass and the guitarist can share a laptop or a computer.

were all going to have pedal boards too

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mrMedQDLQIQ

hacktheplanet
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by hacktheplanet » Sat Oct 06, 2012 7:53 pm

From a performance standpoint, LESS IS MORE! Unless you're M83 or Kraftwerk, there really isn't a reason to have more than 1 computer on stage at a time. Bands at small venues typically get no more than 10 minutes to set up. This can be stressful and difficult especially if you've got a whole bunch of different types of data and cabling that needs to be organized, and properly routed. God forbid something goes wrong and you have to track down a bug in your live setup.

Also, live performance is all about presence and style. If someone on stage looks like they are checking their Facebook instead of playing music, the crowd will stop paying attention. Spend your money on a single uber-powerful laptop, a great audio interface, a controller, and an excellent controller or performance synth or two. Keep your eyes on the crowd, not on the display!
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lunabass
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by lunabass » Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:31 am

this sounds like an amazing project Eco_tx.

personally i wouldn't use just one laptop. 4 people inputting lots of controller and midi data as well as all of the real time use of software instruments running at low latencies opens you up to a higher possibility of a crash.

i definitely subscribe to the "less is more" approach when setting up a live performance rig but if it was me i would run 2 laptops split between the 4 performers. this is an approach used by pitchblack (i havent seen paddy on these forums for a while but go here for a taste http://www.pitchblack.co.nz/)

their approach is to have a laptop each but each laptop has a basic backing track of what the other laptop is playing. this track is muted. if one of the laptops goes down then they can un-mute that track whilst the other laptop is re-booted...it's a bit of an insurance policy.

if you have a crash then your whole show goes down. venues are some the most hostile environments for laptops, heat, humidity, liquids, vibration and dirty power, personally i'd want a backup plan...
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southsounder
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by southsounder » Sun Oct 07, 2012 7:33 pm

In a live environment rack machines with their attendant monitors and keyboards just seems to be asking for trouble unless you're at the pro touring level and everything is cased. I'd stick with laptops, they're just that much quicker to set up and teardown and they're a little less fragile.

I would have suggested a single machine as well, but lunabass raises a good point about the limitations of MIDI bandwidth and stability - especially with lots of CC data. I've never experienced any problems running multiple controllers simultaneously, but I've never tried tracking four separate sources either.

An advantage of running separate laptops for each performer is that each one doesn't need to be super powerful, which could save on costs. Old G4 Powerbooks are dirt cheap and built like tanks - hell you could have backup machines for each player! Plus no matter what machine you choose they're likely to be more stable running a single instance of whatever softsynth each player is using.

A compromise might be to run three "performance" machines feeding their audio output to a fourth "master" machine, which can apply all the tempo sync'd effects without relying on MIDI sync between the machines. Plus this allows one person to control the mix so the others can concentrate on playing, and allows you to record the performance as well.

Latency might become an issue with the additional DA & AD conversion, but depending on the hardware you're using it might be acceptable. Digital connections would eliminate this problem.

The three "performance" machines could also run muted prerecorded versions as backups similar to pitchblack's method that lunabass described.

lunabass
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by lunabass » Mon Oct 08, 2012 12:35 am

there is one other problem i can see in a one laptop approach, i'm not sure if it applies to your situation though. how do any of the 4 members practice by them selves if the whole setup is on one laptop?

normally in a band situation the artists look after their own gear and can practice by themselves. practise can also include learning the best ways of changing instrument presets etc ...
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Eco_tx
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by Eco_tx » Mon Oct 08, 2012 3:24 pm

Thanks guys for all the info. I really feel like I'm getting closer to the right path. I don't see the reason to sync all the computers up.. it just seems like a headache just to get our delays perfect... less is more right?

There's not gonna be any tracks, so nothing is gonna be muted. Basically, I'm thinking of Ableton like a guitar amp, and all my plugins are like pedals. Same thing for drums and bass. I know that this is a really primitive way to treat the software, but we just want to try and keep everything as live as possible.

We want to Jam on massive with an 808 kit while the singer records her lyrics and then chops, screws, and warps with them live.

I think having 4 laptops make the most sense right now.. so if one crashes we can always have someone move to the other. Yeah that and everyone can take their instrument home and work on their parts. I'd lve to record our shows and all the benefits that come with having one powerful computer sounds great.. but I don't think we're their yet. We haven't even played out first show!

McQ714
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by McQ714 » Tue Oct 09, 2012 4:34 am

so there's this guy over on gearslutz asking the same thing..
maybe you should ask him what he decided to do?!?!

Eco_tx
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by Eco_tx » Wed Oct 10, 2012 2:33 pm

Well McQ714, that's actually me too...

McQ714
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by McQ714 » Thu Oct 11, 2012 1:43 am

No kidding? Well that would explain why the first post was word for word... 8)

vgermani
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by vgermani » Mon Oct 15, 2012 5:54 pm

Sounds like you're already inundated with a ton of info but thought I would put my opinions out there based on my experience. I use a hybrid approach with several HW synths as well as a few SW synths running in Live. One big reason to at least connect all of the laptops is to set up the next song. Our drummer actually triggers a new scene and starts the click for every song. Each new scene changes all of the patches on my HW and SW synths (note that not all SW synths respond to patch changes). You can set something like this up quite easily with a private wireless network between all computers, or just midi everything together.

I subscribe to the not all eggs in 1 basket. There have been 2 occasions so far where I go to play a part on the USB controller and no sound comes out. It's pretty hard troubleshooting computer issues with 1 hand on the trackpad and the other playing a part. Expect that you will have outages! I try to have some backup sounds mapped on a HW synth just in case.

KEEP IT SIMPLE, from a hw perspective, even if every member has their own laptop, do what you can to have as few devices and connections into each laptop. I use a MBP which only has 2 USB ports but I have a midi controller, midi interface, and one of those usb/midi foot controllers you mentioned in use. I have to use an external USB hub. Whell, as Murphy would have it, I forgot to plug the external power into the hub for 1 gig and got very inconsistent results. K.I.S. as much as possible.

I have been in the IT industry for 20 years and primarily worked on UNIX and other enterprise class operating systems where stability was first priority. I have used and built numerous windows machines (which BTW, you will need to learn while doing because after you plug everything in, good luck getting all of the drivers working flawlessly together). I use Mac on stage. I trust it much more than windows. Don't want to start a holy war but that's just my opinion and experience...though I've had glitches with both.

Lastly, invest in a UPS for all electronic gear. Try to get something with good electronic noise and surge suppression. You can get a power strip version for ~<$100 US. Although the laptops have batteries, things like the midi controllers and foot pedals don't all run on USB power. If you drop power to one of those in the middle of a performance it might take some tweaking or even restarts to get things communicating together.

It sounds like an interesting project. Keep us informed when something comes out of it!

awesomesauce
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by awesomesauce » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:07 pm

lapieuvre wrote:4 computers? Why everyone should control Live?

how would you sync all the laptops?

Please give more infos
just beat match the computers as if you were using CDs!

heres what my partner and I do

-set the BPM/Clip quant the same on both computers
-trigger the metronome on comp A
-count off and trigger metronome on comp B on Downbeat
-use nudge -/+ comp B to beatmatch the metronomes
-leave metronomes on and turn your cue to 0
-proceed to annihilate

If you have the possibility of running one your outs to another comp recording the input signal DO IT! this is a sick way to develop/demo ideas spawned in an Electronic jam type scenario

awesomesauce
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Re: Questions On Building A Computer For Live Shows

Post by awesomesauce » Tue Oct 16, 2012 4:15 pm

Eco_tx wrote:T while the singer records her lyrics and then chops, screws, and warps with them live.

check out the mouth, that program is absurd

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