Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

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npfrs
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Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by npfrs » Sun Aug 17, 2014 1:26 pm

Hi all,

I've been slowly selling off some amps and other gear to invest a bit more in recording/live gear for a laptop-based setup. The brain of the whole thing is a Macbook Pro (Mavericks) with 16GB ram, a 250GB SSD, and a 1TB HD replacing the CD drive.

The audio interface is a MOTU Ultralite MK3 Hybrid. I also have an iConnect iConnectivityMIDI4+ with an iPad Mini with Retina hooked up to the 1 port. There's a 4-port USB hub hooked up to the back/hub input and it has an Akai MPD18, Akai LPK25, Korg nanoKONTROL2, and a Keith McMillan SoftStep hooked up to it.

I'm currently running a trial version of Ableton Live 9 to see if it's the proper program for me. Also considering Reason and Mainstage.

Outboard gear includes a TC Helicon Voicelive 2 and MIDI-capable guitar pedalboard. Future considerations include an Korg KP3+, Elektron Analog RYTM and Moog Minitaur.

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I sat down last night and spent several hours working out connections but as somebody coming from a guitar-centric, analog-based world (guitar/pedals/amps) it's quite a learning curve. What I would like to eventually achieve is to start/stop loops with the SoftStep (including setting tempo), some internal, some playing external gear, with each loop changing my pedalboard and also sending clock to multiple devices.

For those of you that have been down this road, or a similar one, before, what do I have in store for me? Any tips? Is there light at the end of this tunnel?

Help me internet forum - you're my only hope. :P

Tarekith
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by Tarekith » Sun Aug 17, 2014 2:15 pm

Just be careful adding too much gear for the live set up. In addition to making set up more difficult, sometimes having too much on stage to play with backfires. It can be a lot to manage, and doesn't always give you time to interact with the crowd.

Otherwise, a pretty darn powerful set up you have going :)
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sounddevisor
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by sounddevisor » Sun Aug 17, 2014 4:00 pm

A couple of suggestions:

- To modify what Tarekith said, be careful adding too much gear all at once. You have a good selection of controllers, but you'll probably work your way up the learning curve more quickly if you focus on just one or two of them, get very familiar with how they work (or how they can be programmed to work) and then build out from there.

- Along the same lines - you list a number of controllers, but in terms of actual sound-generating equipment, it seems like you're using the laptop for that, but you haven't decided which DAW(s) to work with. That's fine, but one thing you'll find is that how you want/need to interact with the various DAWs, and how your controllers can interact with them, is going to vary quite a lot. For instance - you might have your SoftStep set up to trigger loops or fire off clips in Ableton Live, whereas in Reason you might just be using it to play notes from a synth module, or send program changes to a drum machine.

So - you're coming from a guitar-centric world; you have an assortment of controllers including keyboards, pads, foot-pedals, and totally-configurable iPad; and in the heart of your setup (the laptop) you have several different primary sound-generating applications you can chose from. That does sound like quite a lot to digest, doesn't it?

It sounds as though you do have some idea of your ultimate goal. i would suggest that you focus on that, on figuring out which software suits your work-style or goal the best, and then worry about adding in the various controllers as needed.

To answer your question, "Is there light at the end of the tunnel?" - yes, there is light there! However, it tends to move away from you as fast as you move towards it - I have been following that tunnel for 25+ years, and I'm not sure I have gotten any closer to the light. I will say, it has been a very fun and rewarding journey - but it doesn't look like I'll be at teh end of it any time soon!

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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by Buleriachk » Sun Aug 17, 2014 5:36 pm

If you're considering Live, I certainly would recommend one of the new Akai controllers (since you have a keyboard, the APC Key 25 would probably be best at complementing your setup; it provides very nice Live integration with most of the live performance capabilities you'll need.) If you need an 8x8 matrix later, you can add a Launchpad Mini or an APC Mini at a later time.

I purchased all three of these new Live interfaces (the APC Min, the APC40 Mk2, and the APC Key 25, and am profoundly delighted with all three of them, for different uses, even if there is a bit of redundancy)...

Although if you need the drum pads with touch sensitivity, you may want to keep your MPC until you can afford a maschine (even the Mikro has a very useable 4x4 pad, and you get a lot of very nice software - and a surface control template for Live as well, although the Maschine Mk2 is better).

npfrs
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by npfrs » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:10 pm

Thanks for all the good advice thus far. It's helping me to start forming a game plan. I went away after posting this and managed to figure out a few more things in Ableton, making me 90% sure it's the program for me. A little bit more about my background might explain why I'm moving in this direction.

I spent close to 4 years touring the country and Europe as a folk singer-songwriter, got to tour with some big names, play some great festivals, but performed solo 98% of the time. However my albums had full bands, orchestras, choirs, etc. So the live show and albums were 2 very different things. This never really bothered me until recently when I started enjoying the solo folk thing less and less. So now I'm looking at creating music that sounds similar both recorded and live. Of course, I'd like some flexibility for the live show, being able to extend certain parts, loop others, etc, and Ableton seems to be the most suggested program for that.

Back to the main point: My end goal, or how I picture it now, is to still perform with my guitar and the looping pedalboard (which features a Boomerang III, a guitar looper that syncs to MIDI clock) and use the laptop to flesh out the sound with drum machines, some faux synth/brass, and also to send a MIDI track to the Voicelive 2 to create harmonies. So as far as the controllers go, the MPD and LPK25 are for loop creation, not necessarily during performance, while the nanoKONTROL2 is for fading out loops (but allowing them to still keep playing) for some creative mixing during live performance, and the SoftStep is what I want to use to set tap tempo, switch between clips, and add/take away an effect or two.

Will I want to do more once I find out how to do the above? Definately, but until then I'm trying to figure out how to do the above and will be quite happy when I can transfer some of my folk songs into this new setup.

sounddevisor
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by sounddevisor » Sun Aug 17, 2014 9:53 pm

Ableton is ideally suited to what you are describing.

One tip for getting deeper into Ableton is to download and try out other people's templates - you can learn a tremendous amount from doing that. There are tons of resources, including (of course) this forum.

One more tip - since you're currently using a Boomerang, you might want to look into Ableton's Looper device. I think you mentioned you're using a trial version of Ableton, in which case that device might not be available to you - I'm not sure. But it's their built-in looping device which might, depending on how you use your Boomerang, be a good replacement for it - built right in. If you don't atually have the device, you can search on this forum and find many threads where people describe various ways they use it.

npfrs
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by npfrs » Sun Aug 17, 2014 10:52 pm

sounddevisor wrote:Ableton is ideally suited to what you are describing.

One tip for getting deeper into Ableton is to download and try out other people's templates - you can learn a tremendous amount from doing that. There are tons of resources, including (of course) this forum.

One more tip - since you're currently using a Boomerang, you might want to look into Ableton's Looper device. I think you mentioned you're using a trial version of Ableton, in which case that device might not be available to you - I'm not sure. But it's their built-in looping device which might, depending on how you use your Boomerang, be a good replacement for it - built right in. If you don't atually have the device, you can search on this forum and find many threads where people describe various ways they use it.
Thanks, I'll look into some templates over the coming weeks.

I haven't looked into the Ableton looper yet, although I'm very aware of how powerful it is, but I plan on keeping the Boomerang in my set-up as I still want a computer independent guitar pedalboard that can act as a backup, main rig if necessary, or just for songs that really don't require anything extra. I do plan on using a true bypass looper to route my guitar through Ableton (or any other computer/iPad based program I want) but only when I choose, not all the time.

Part of the reason I'm considering the Elektron Analog RYTM and Moog Minitaur is that I like having hands-on noisemakers - the 'Rang/guitar pedalboard is an extension of that.

JoshG567
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by JoshG567 » Mon Aug 18, 2014 5:23 am

I use 7 MIDI controllers in my setup, and in working it out realized it's important to ensure there's no interference between controllers.

That is, make sure they're configured themselves to send only unique CCs/notes on channels that no other does.

If you have a controller that isn't configurable, like my Alphatrack, you need to find out which signals it uses and configure your other controllers not to use those. Once I set my other controllers not to use Ch 1 I got rid of Alphatrack conflicts.

The best tool I've created is a spreadsheet to track my configurations, controllers, and assignments in my Live templates. There's 4,096 possible assignments in Live - more than enough CCs and notes across 16 channels to spread things out and avoid conflicts.

I've got 3 Softsteps in my setup. They're great but you can only run 1 in hosted mode. I got the other 2 in standalone. All the controllers go into a single USB hub with power switches so I don't have to plug/unplug them all the time.

boboter
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by boboter » Mon Aug 18, 2014 10:10 am

I'd also look into the Ableton's looper. Granted, I never used the Boomerang but usually loopers tend not to stay in perfect sync when the tempo changes too often.

Besides that, maybe it would simplify your whole setup if you would try to play more pre-recorded audio-loops with Ableton instead of sending too much midi to other gear. Then a simplified controller like a launchpad comes in really handy.

For example, when you're using drum computers and are syncing them with midi to Ableton, they will always have a jitter in tempo. That's just how midi works in computers. You could of course use something like an innerclock sync lock to keep them in perfect timing but that's even more to carry and think about. So a few pre-recorded drumloops will go a long way and you can still mangle them with your midi controllers.
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npfrs
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Re: Putting together a new laptop-based studio/live setup

Post by npfrs » Sat Aug 23, 2014 3:28 am

Just a quick update...

I bought a Nord Drum 2 the other day. Since I already have an iPad, it seemed like a good choice. I can make use of the Nord Beat app (which is incredibly easy to use and adjust to) and I like the expandability (either with a Nord Pad or by adding individual triggers in the future to create an e-drum kit with the ND2 as the brain).

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Anyways...

Experiencing the inspiring workflow of the iPad/ND2 setup has really opened my eyes to what I enjoy when creating music. I still like the tactile feel of hardware and not having to constantly look at a computer screen or move a mouse for every little change feels so good.

Where does this leave the little studio I'm building? I'm returning the Akai and Korg controllers and I'm looking at a more robust solution in a single controller, such as Push, Maschine, or an Octatrack.

Side-note: Can the SoftStep be customized easily with Ableton? *Ponders*

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