Live P.A. stands for "Live Personal Appearance" or "Live Performing Artist" depending on who you talk to. In the context of electronic music, Live P.A. means that electronic musicians are playing a live show using electronic music gear (laptops, keyboards, synthesizers, samplers, hardware sequencers, etc.) Typically electronic musicians write and produce their tracks using sequencers before the show, and play and improvise on their gear during show.
Back to the Top ▲
A sequencer is either hardware or software that records and plays back midi notes. An explanation of MIDI is beyond the scope of this FAQ,
therefore please check out the MIDI spec at http://www.midi.com/, and
read on about the various popular sequencers below.
Back to the Top ▲
It varies from performer to performer. Some Live P.A.'s push play on a CD, DAT, or DAW (nowadays usually a laptop) - this is called using "backing tracks" and is used by musicians that don't want to take the risk of making a mistake onstage. Others take it a step further and remix that material on the fly and add live instrumentals and gear tweaking over the top. The "real" Live P.A.s take it further by recreating their studio sound live and have the expressive capability to
improvise and change the music on the fly, because all of their instruments are right there with them on-stage. Therefore, you'll see some Live P.A.'s play shows with racks of hardware gear, and others with just a laptop (as it's possible with today's powerful computers to create entire music tracks using
just a computer). Part of the beauty of the art of Live P.A. is that there is no set method. Performers use whatever means they can to produce the music.
Back to the Top ▲
No, Live P.A.s will not be replaced by
DJs because many electronic musicians want to play real live concerts, as
opposed to spinning vinyl or mixing mp3s. That's because many of us grew
up going to and playing in rock, jazz, and classical bands and concerts, where
musicians play instruments live and put on a show for the audience. Some
Live P.A.s also DJ, and some DJs also do a Live P.A., so the two performance
methods go hand-in-hand for some musicians, while other more traditional
musicians wouldn't want to be caught dead behind turntables - it all depends on
Back to the Top ▲
That depends on your objectives and values.
The advantages of musicians DJing their tracks on vinyl as opposed to using hardware
gear are: better portability, the consistency of the vinyl recording (vinyl
doesn't deviate or "screw up" unless it gets scratched or there's a problem with
the turntable), and ease of acceptance, because 99% of the clubs and events out
there already have turntables
and a DJ mixer setup. The disadvantages of DJing are that the audience
does not experience a true live concert and the musician DJ has very
little freedom to improvise (i.e. to create something musically new on-the-fly),
unless they have turntablist-level DJing skills. The simple act of
beat-matching and crossfading from one track to another does not amount to
musical improvisation, in our collective opinion. In that respect, another
disadvantage of DJing tracks is that you earn very little credibility from your
peers that put in the full effort and energy to create and play a real live
show, and even less (and likely negativity) vibes from traditional musicians who
go up on stage and perform every note and nuance of their instrument
specifically to deliver the best live show they are capable of. So those
are some of the values that other musicians have that you should consider if you
are looking to build a reputation with your musician peers. Most people
won't be jerks about it, but you can be sure it's on their mind if they have to
put more effort in than you for as much or less respect (and monetary
retribution...) from the public.
Back to the Top
Yes, now that laptops are smaller, cheaper, and significantly more powerful than just a few years ago, some DJs and Live P.A.s
(and even some keyboard players in bands) are dropping their vinyl and bulky hardware gear for a laptop. Another key advantage of the laptop is that
it's customizable with the musician's software and hardware controller of choice, and can be played at a live concert. For example, USB controllers
integrate with software to give the Live P.A. control over the live music in a very similar way that hardware electronic music gear allows. When the
musician plays the ivory keys of a USB keyboard, it sends MIDI note data through the USB cable to the laptop, which then plays audible notes (which are created
by the musician's software) through the laptop's soundcard audio output jack.
Likewise, virtual knobs and faders in software can be controlled by hardware potentiometers/knobs and faders on USB controllers and older MIDI controllers.
Also, certain professional music software programs (MAX/MSP, Reaktor, Buzz, etc.) allow modular "programming" of sound and music within the laptop so that
musicians can create and perform using their own virtual instruments (i.e. algorithms). MAX/MSP has a very loyal following in academic electronic
music circles where the entire focus of graduate study programs is on algorithmic composition and live computer music concerts, sometimes even
incorporating live acoustic instruments that are modified by the MAX/MSP algorithm to create a computerized "improvisation" on the live musician's playing.
Back to the Top ▲
The answer to this problem is that Live P.A.s need to PERFORM - that means using your musicianship during your show. Play the
keys, tweak a USB hardware controller, freak your synth, beat your drum pads, play a traditional acoustic or electronic instrument,
rock the mic, etc! A good live act has control over their music and can improvise at a moment's notice to blow the crowd's minds in
ways that a DJ cannot. If all you have at your disposal is a laptop, then at least put some effort into having fun and getting into your music, and
interact with the crowd. A mantra of live musicians across all genres of live music across the world is to fire up the audience and draw their energy and
put it back into the music, and repeat the cycle to keep the good vibes going.
This can be done easily - all you need to do is use your charisma with your audience (even if there's only 2 of them watching) and
use your limbs to your advantage (FWIW, we do not condone indecent exposure), and control the music from the laptop's ASCII keyboard to make as much of a live
performance out of it as you can. For example, in Ableton Live 4, use the preset track mute keys, trigger legato clips using other keys, and throw in some
improvisational live sample triggering, and show them you're doing it live using your body language! If you're having fun, they will too. (and it
helps to write good music, too...) :-)
Back to the Top ▲
There is no set method, so use whatever means works for you. Many people have laptops these days, so it is very simple to get
started with software like Propellerheads Reason or Image Line Fruity Loops. On the other hand, many Live P.A.s choose to
use hardware gear for tactile, immediate control over the instrumentals. Also, hardware gear provides a more
professional look than a laptop does. Some Live P.A.s have gotten into hybrid setups, where both hardware gear and laptops running software are used.
(see below) As far as instrumental sounds go, there are sounds that hardware synths
can do better than software (i.e. fat analog synth sounds), and there are some
sounds that software creates that most affordable hardware can't (i.e. real-time
granular resynthesis, ala Absynth and Reaktor ) so if you crave sounds
or effects from both hardware and software, you may want to consider a hybrid
setup. A simple example of a hybrid setup is using Ableton Live 4 to
sequence silky smooth basslines on a Studio Electronics
analog bass module. The other way around would be to use an Akai MPC1000 hardware MIDI sequencer to trigger
realistic multisampled upright bass sounds in a soft sampler like NI Kontakt or
Back to the Top ▲
For beginners to electronic music, a common recommendation is to start off simple and build from
there. If you have a laptop but no musical experience, download demos of
Fruity Loops, Acid, Reason or Live, and get the feel for them. If you
don't have a laptop, and don't have the budget for it or any expensive gear,
start off with a used Yamaha RM1x and a used E-Mu (ESI or Emulator series) or
Akai (MPC, S2000, or later S-series or any Z-series) sampler, and download
samples from the internet or get a few cheap sampling CDs. Another
approach would be to get a bunch of used Electribes, like the ER-1, ES-1, and
EA-1, and sync them all together and write and play out your tracks like that.
You can prepare and perform an entire live set using just Reason, Live, or an
RM1x + a hardware sampler if you spend enough time learning your software or
hardware gear. Read the manuals, check online FAQs, and ask questions on
forums like this one and Dancetech.com.
As you feel the need for better sounds
or more control of your tracks, your next gear acquisitions will naturally fall into place.
For example, with software you would probably want to get a few good soft synths
(checkout KVR-VST for the latest, most
popular soft synths) and a USB hardware controller. If you make a mistake
and buy gear that you didn't need or grow out of it - it's OK, it happens to all
of us. Experiment with gear, find out what works best for you, and most of
all... have fun!
and musicians that are just getting into electronic music, the above
recommendations might provide a good and inspiring starting point, but you may
want to opt for a more powerful instrument early on. For example, for a
laptop Live P.A., you could skip Fruity Loops and Acid, and go
straight for Reason or Live. Get a good VSTi analog-modeling synth like
Absynth, Albino, Sonic Synth, Tera, or Zeta+ for your basic synth leads, pads,
and basses. For bread and butter sounds, check out Sampletank and
GigaStudio, and for samplers, look at Kontakt and Halion (both of which support
many established sample library formats and hard disk streaming). If
you're getting a laptop more to mangle sounds, proceed straight to Reaktor and
check out NI's website for downloadable Reaktor instruments. For a
hardware Live P.A., checkout the Yamaha RS7000 and Roland MC-909, or for even
more power, look at the Roland MV-8000 and Akai MPC 4000. As a slightly
cheaper alternative, you could get a serious hardware sequencer like an Akai MPC
1000 or 2000XL and use it to drive a few VA and analog synths, the most popular
of which are the Access Virus and also the Clavia G2 modular and Nord Lead
series (note: the Lead 3 sounds VERY different than the Lead 1 and 2.) A
few popular analog synths currently in production (as of early 2005) are the
Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, PolyEvolver, and the Alesis Andromeda.
Other hot synths include the Kurzweil K-series, the now-deceased Waldorf Q and
Wave lines, the Yamaha AN1x, the vintage Roland Juno and Jupiter lines, the
Novation Supernova synths, and the Alesis Ion and Micron. The Korg MS2000
and Roland JP-8000 have their supporters out there, but those cats probably
never played a Virus. :-)
electronic musicians that have been making tracks for awhile, it's a different
story. The main pieces in your gear setup now should give you a good idea
of what you need to bring out live, so if for example, the Virus was your main
synth, plan on taking that out, and sequencing it using Ableton Live or an MPC.
However, if you don't want to break the physical continuity of your studio, or
risk taking out your very expensive gear investments, you might want to consider
using Ableton Live to remix your tracks on the fly, as opposed to recreating
them in their original state. If you want to avoid laptops and software
altogether, but still want to take the sounds from your studio out, there are a
few hardware devices that you could consider as alternatives. The Roland
SP-808EX stores samples directly to zip disks in a compressed format, and
bypasses RAM limitations of standard samplers, so that long phrase playback is
possible. There are a few live acts out there that use (2) SP-808s to
remix tracks on the fly at live gigs. Other hardware samplers with large
RAM capacities include the Akai Z-4, Z-8, MPC4000, and the Roland MV-8000.
A certain famous techno Live P.A. uses (2) Yamaha SU700 loop samplers for
slamming multi-hour techno sets. All of the above hardware samplers are
capable of taking chunks of your studio tracks and recreating them live in a
spontaneous way with the possibilities of improvisation at hand.
Back to the Top ▲
A popular hybrid configuration is to use Ableton
Live to trigger audio and MIDI loops stored on the laptop, and connect a
hardware sequencer with its own built-in sounds like a Korg Electribe to the
laptop with a MIDI cable. In this configuration, the Electribe functions
as the MIDI master and Ableton Live as the MIDI slave. When you press "Play" on
the Electribe, the laptop running Live or Reason should playback in perfect sync
with the Electribe. You should setup a simple bass drum or high hat
pattern on both to check if there's any lag between them. If there is,
adjust the MIDI sync parameter in Live to sync Live and the Electribe up
tightly. Then, you can trigger loops ("clips" in Ableton terminology) in
Live completely independent of your patterns on the Electribe, and mix back and
forth between the two alone and both together to create one continuous flow of
music. The non-stop flow of music is important for electronic dance music
genres, but perhaps overkill for non-dance electronic music genres.
Ultimately it's up to the musician and the desired artistic effect of the show.
For all-hardware setups, the most reasonable
configuration is a hardware sequencer (like an MPC) driving a few synths and a
rack-mount sampler. The reason you would want a rack-mount sampler in
addition to the MPC is because the MPC can't play samples chromatically up and
down the keyboard. So you would use the MPC for drum samples and the
rack-mount sampler for multi-sampled instruments, and the synth obviously for
basses, leads, pads, etc. Basically, you would write your music on the MPC
or on a computer (in which case you would transfer the MIDI files to the MPC),
and play it back live using the MPC 1000 or 2000XL's "Next Sequence" feature to
create a live, spontaneous song structures. Another powerful MIDI
sequencer that's even more geared towards dance music is the now discontinued
E-Mu Command Station series, with its powerful X-Mix feature that lets you mix
and match tracks from the current and next pattern, much like the Roland MC-505
Megamix. The Yamaha RS7000 (see
Motifator.com RS7000 discussion board for discussion) or RM1x could also be
used in this configuration, but you would probably want to avoid using the
internal RM1x sounds if you're going for a professional live sound... Also, you
could look for the venerable Alesis MMT-8, which can mix and match tracks like
the Command Stations and MC-505, but since it came out nearly 20 years ago (!),
you'll have to use MIDI SYSEX dumps or analog tape to save your sequence data.
Another all-hardware setup is the multi-sequencer
setup, where multiple hardware sequencers and drum machines are MIDI synced
together, but play their own internal sounds (or even trigger external sounds on
synths or a laptop). For example, one fairly vintage combination is the
Roland TR-909 and TB-303 synced together for vintage acid house and trance
music. A simple modern example is the Electribe MX and SX, teaming the
MX's analog modeling synthesis with the SX's sampled drums and bass,
respectively. As long as your sequencers support MIDI Time Code (MTC) and
MIDI Machine Commands (MMC) (and most all of them do...), you can sync as many
as you want and create a groovebox ensemble.
Back to the Top ▲
Some titles that we've seen in action are:
Back to the Top ▲
The current favorite for electronic music is Ableton Live.
For the more experimentally inclined, check out Native Instruments' Reaktor and
Cycling '74 MAX/MSP.
Back to the Top ▲
The more power the better. You want to run the latest apps with a
comfortable amount of CPU headroom and low latency. Most Live P.A.s on
this site use Pentium 4 and M-based laptops, and most applications suggest at least 512MB RAM, with 1GB
RAM recommended. Some models we've heard good things about are IBM, Toshiba,
Sony, and Avertec. You should plan on getting an external USB2 or Firewire
hard drive to backup all of your data on a daily basis, and make it bootable so
you can take to gigs in case your main hard drive crashes. You should get
a good quality PCMCIA, Firewire, or USB2 mobile audio interface (i.e. sound
card) with several outputs and onboard MIDI i/o. RME is the best.
M-Audio makes decent cards. Roland / Edirol are known for reliable cards.
The Tascam FW-series controllers are solid, too.
But keep in mind, you can make music with ANYTHING, so don't get discouraged if you can't afford
the latest system. Use what you've got and try to maximize it's potential. On
older PCs, you can still run MIDI from a sequencer. A few good pre-VST
applications were Cakewalk, Massiva, Pure Data, FastTracker, Buzz, Fruity Loops,
etc. Some of the first standalone apps like Propellerheads Rebirth and NI Battery can run quite well on a
500MHz-ish Pentium 3 chip, assuming you have a decent audio card with ASIO drivers. If
you don't have a good audio card, try a websearch for ASIO4all, as it can
(depending on your CPU and on-board sound chip) reduce MME driver latencies down
to around 4ms.
Back to the Top ▲
You could consider an audio interface with ADAT lightpipe or mLAN, and get the compatible digital mixer from
Tascam, Roland, or Yamaha, and route tracks directly from the mixer to the
laptop and vice versa (you would use the A/D and D/A converters on the digital
mixer instead of the audio interface). I've heard of good results with RME
Digiface and a Tascam digital mixer with ADAT lightpipe in a studio situation,
and there's no doubt a proper Yammie or Roland digital mixer with ADAT lightpipe
couldn't do the same sort of job. The Yamaha digital mixers are widely
regarded as high quality, but have a distinct "digital" character to the sound,
as compared to a Mackie, so you might want to make sure you like the sound
before you jump.
However, mLAN is a different story, because it requires the installation of an
mLAN MIDI + Audio driver on your laptop, in order to stream all that MIDI and
Audio data through the IEEE-1394 cable. With mLAN, be prepared to take a
significant hit on your laptop's CPU resources (20% or so on a Pentium M
1.4GHz...). I personally would wait a few years before diving into mLAN
until Yamaha can optimize the drivers, and by that time, CPUs will get
incrementally faster due to expected fabrication process improvements, and at
that point laptops will be better able to handle the bandwidth requirements of
mLAN along with a bunch of VST and VSTi plug-ins.
Back to the Top ▲
Please remember, the art of playing live is about being cool-headed when things
don't go the way you expect it. Try to take everything in stride, and for god's
sake, never panic.
The most hard-won piece of advice that I have right after you perform DO NOT
CRITICIZE YOUR SET IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE. If you must, save the
self-deprecation for another day and only for your closest friends.
First of all, most of the "mistakes" made while performing will only be noticed
by you. If someone thinks that you played fine, and then you start telling them
about all of the fuckups, it can change their perception of your performance in
a negative way. Your confidence and self-assurance plays an important role in
how your music will be received.
The truth is, there will always be things going wrong - e.g. gear fuckups, bad
cables, bad sound, audio glitches, police, people trying to talk you or hit on
you, etc... live performance is about Having the confidence to overcome such
difficulties and play your music as best as you can.
Although it may look impressive to haul a lot of gear, what really matters is
what you do with it. Having more gear means having more things to go wrong. So
think twice about bringing your whole studio for your next life gig.
Studios are like laboratories - they're usually safe and controlled environment
that you're familiar with. The minute you drag your equipment somewhere else,
you introduce all sorts of weird variables including
-strange sound system setups with weird cabling
-intoxicated/obnoxious/distracting party goers
-lots of bass to rattle wires, connections and hard drives
As such, I prefer taking less gear rather than more. It also helps to really
know your equipment inside and out.
Live PA Checklist
- (this list has been compiled thanks to helpful suggestions from those on the
livepa.org, EM411.com, and the now-defunct Moving-Parts & Topica livePA mailing
- Ask beforehand about the setup if possible and don't forget to make your
needs very clear. I highly recommend printing out a simple rider that spells out
exactly what you require - some promoters might forget that you need power
connectors, table space, an audio input into the sound system, etc. (Note: to
prevent power issues and line noise, avoid going on the same electrical circuit
as the discolights/fogmachine/etc.)
- Make an equipment checklist and use it before every show. It's so easy to
forget one little thing that will prevent you from playing. Having your own
power bar is essential if you need more than one outlet and always bring duct
- Don't be afraid of writing down a listing of all the tracks you have - that
way, if you're doing any kind of spontaneous transitions, you can quickly choose
what you might want to play next. (and NO, I don't necessarily mean a
pre-planned set list). Also consider making notes for patch numbers and changes,
volume levels, or anything else that’s essential to your live workflow.
- Know ALL your cable connections inside and out. Check your cables beforehand
and make sure they're all working... even midi cables go bad, and when they do
it can be very frustrating because you might not think to check the cable when
midi data isn't being transmitted properly.
- Mark your cables with coloured tape or label-tiewraps (so you know what goes
where). Don’t forget the duct tape!
- Bring a flashlight - lighting conditions can vary and chances are you will
- Bring many different types of *extra* connectors because you never know what
kind of audio inputs/cables the venue will have. If you’re using a laptop, you
might want to also bring a power connector that removes the ground (aka a ground
lift) - this can help get rid of grounding problems (50/60Hz hum).
- Consider putting a compressor/limiter on your final mix (see section below on
for more info)- it comes in handy for sounds that get a little out of
control. Remember, records have gone through a whole mastering process and will
generally deliver a consistent volume range, whereas live sound can have some
pretty crazy dynamics (but try not to squash your mix if you limit/compress it).
Some cheap compressor/limiters: DBX 166, Behringer Multicom Pro, SYMETRIX 501,
YAMAHA- GC2020B, ASHLY Model CG85E, ASHLY Model CG85E, DBX 266, ALESIS: CLX-440,
3630, ALTO CLE2.0, etc.
- A monitor is necessary, or at least headphones. You will find that listening
to both will help give you a better idea of what's being heard on the
dancefloor. Nevertheless, what you hear from the monitor speakers is NOT what
the people hear on the dancefloor.
- Soundcheck! If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to setup
your equipment before the event starts, take some time to LISTEN TO YOUR SET ON
THE DANCEFLOOR! This is essential, even if you don't get a soundcheck, run out
onto the dancefloor when you first start playing so you can get an idea of how
everything sounds. Resources on soundchecking and live sound:
- If the room sounds bad, a 10, 20 or 30 band eq will allow you to compensate
for it. every room has a resonant frequency that may detract from your sound -
Not to mention, all sound systems are eq'd differently.
- Be friendly to whoever is doing sound because they can make or break your
set through carelessness or malice. A good sound engineer will let you know if
you’re running a signal that’s too high or too low, and will also be on duty to
make sure that the sound system levels are staying consistent. A lazy or
unfriendly sound engineer won’t give a damn if your set sounds like crap because
your output is clipping and the limiters are squashing your set. If people are
running away from the dancefloor, then you better check and see if you’re
killing them with unfriendly mid-high frequencies, clipping or distortion.
- If there isn’t a sound engineer, you can try to find someone who’s sober
enough to let you know if any of your levels are going astray or if there are
problems with the sound system.
- Consider using at least 2 sequencers/laptops (or at least an extra drum
machine). If one of them crashes, you'll at least have a backup. If everything
fails or the power goes out, start clapping to the sound comes back on or break
out your emergency acoustic instrument. Or try beatboxing. I'm not kidding.
(e-trinity once performed this successfully to a screaming crowd when his laptop
crashed minutes before the end of his set at a big party in Sweden). Cheap
sequencers to use as a second sequencer: Alesis MMT-8, Yamaha QY-70, QY-100,
etc. (Plus: see Drum Machine section below for
cheap drum machines that can be used as a sequencer.)
- Bring backup disks (or cdr's, flash memory cards, hard drives) for
everything... this sounds ridiculous, but redundancy is the key here. Consider
what you would do in a situation where your synth loses all it's patches or if
your hard drive crashes. If you have a laptop, could you make a bootable cdr?
Also, if you have a laptop, you could keep sysex dumps handy for external gear.
The same goes for sampler data. External scsi cdrom drives are cheap. For about
$50 or less, you can buy a cdrom drive and do a dump of your sampler's hard
drive to a cdr. Not to mention, external Firewire/USB2 hard-drive enclosures are
ridiculously cheap and don't weight that much.
- Hard drives can be susceptible to low frequency vibrations which can cause misreads, or even head
crashes (this is Bad ThingTM). So please be careful when you’re choosing a space
to place your laptop. Consider placing it on foam, or even a t-shirt and at all
costs avoid putting your computer on a bassbin!
- Have some kind of backup plan in case your gear crashes, even if it’s
something cheap and simple like a minidisk. This will give you some breathing
time if you have to suddenly reload anything. If you're using a laptop, consider
having it automatically boot into your music software and automatically play a
track (in case of a reboot) - remember to scandisk and defrag your machine
- During your set, take a moment to occasionally look at the audience and see
how they're reacting to what you're doing. If people start to leave the
dancefloor, then perhaps you should try something different ;)
- Practice! I know it's obvious, but it will help you overcome unpleasant
situations where things fuck up. If you think you know your gear well, you may
find out differently when it's dark and in a completely different environment.
- Be prepared to politely shoe people away if they ask you to play their
favorite song, or "what all those buttons do", or make out with you during your
set (heheh). And for God’s sake, don’t let anyone put their drinks next to your
gear, and be extra vigilant when drink-wielding patrons are hovering around you.
- I strongly recommend to not get fucked up on whatever substance. It's rude
and disrespectful to not perform your best - you will not play any better if
you're seriously intoxicated. Save the "partying" for after you've finished your
set and packed up your equipment and it's in a safe place.
- Don't be afraid to take chances and improvise whenever you feel comfortable
in doing so - a perfectly pre-rehearsed gig can end up being too rigid. You have
to be able to create some kind of repor or feedback with your audience,
- Record your set and listen to it. You may end up getting some great
material, or at the very least be able to figure out where you need improvement.
- Try to have someone trustworthy watching your gear when you're not around
and pack up your gear as soon as possible!!!!! This will significantly reduce
your chances of anything bad happening including theft and accidents.
- “never never never never never never never never never act bashful during
your set. It's not cute and it's embarrassing for everyone.” (credit djugel at
- If you make a mistake, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just keep on
playing. Most of the time it will only be you who notices or remembers it.
- If you're not afraid to crack open your equipment, don't forget to bring a
screwdriver in case you need to open up your gear right before or during your
set in order to carry out some crazy emergency repairs.
- If you're traveling with your gear, make sure to pack it very well. A lot of
smaller equipment fits nicely in those cheap hardware-store metal toolkit cases.
Nice pieces of thick foam don't cost too much and just a few minutes with a
knife and scissors will allow you to customize the shape to fit your equipment
nicely. Please remember that baggage handlers and roadies can be cruel bastards
- Believe it or not, you *can* make a living doing live performance. It
certainly takes determination, experience, perseverance and a little obsession.
Many musicians from all walks of life have come to realize that there is
typically more money to be made from performing as opposed to releasing
recordings. As such, don't underestimate your value as an entertainer - there
should come a time when you will want to charge for your efforts. Although the
amount of time and effort put into a live set is usually never offset by the
income from performing, don't doubt for a second that what you're doing is worth
being paid for.
- Oh yeah, the most important thing is to have fun!
NB: as you get more experience, you eventually get less and less nervous before
performing - but there should always be some excitement and sense of
anticipation. Otherwise why bother?
Label EVERYTHING. Most wall-warts power supplies are black - get
a white marker and write your name and email address on the back, and write what
device it is for (SH-101, FX pedals, etc) on all five visible sides in big
letters - that way you can find them in the dark. Label every single cable
- a really good way to do this is to buy 1/2" heatshrink tubing from an
electronics supply shop, then print off bits of paper with your name and email
address on them and use the shrink-wrap tubing to hold them on securely. If you
don't have your name on everything, you *will* lose cables!
Some additions from the rest of LivePA.org:
- When travelling internationally, expect that customs will open and search
your equipment, and will not likely take the same amount of care to repack it
afterwards - you are not allowed to be present at these searches. If your
equipment is in locked cases, they *will* break the locks. Make sure your
equipment is packed in a way that is obvious for repackers, and possibly even
include a note or diagram explaining that the equipment is very delicate and
must be repacked properly.
- Assume that the house mixer
will require you to plug in using 1/4", XLR, or RCA - and make sure you've got
the appropriate adapters to plug into any of those connections! A good rule of
thumb: for anything that you will need to connect your rig to the soundsystem,
do not trust anyone but yourself to provide the appropriate connectors.
- If you've got gear that uses wall-wart type adapters, buy and bring a
decent-quality multiadapter with reversible polarity and many different types of
tips - label it "Spare" and don't depend on it. Sooner or later, all wallwarts
will go flaky, and having a spare might just save your show.
- If you've got a bunch of wall-warts and don't want to carry around 10 power
bars to plug them all into, consider buying three or four cheap 6-foot extension
cords, chopping the ends off with three inches of cable each, and splicing the
ends together to make a single six-inch extension cord. You can usually plug
two wallwarts into a single plug on a powerbar this way. Hint: if you get 25'
extension cords instead of 6', that leaves you with 24' of nice thick cable that
makes for *excellent* home stereo speaker wire!
- MIDI cables can and do die. When you discover that you have a MIDI cable
that is definitely flaky (i.e., it works if you bend it one way, but doesn't
work if you bend it the other way), EXECUTE IT IMMEDIATELY WITH EXTREME
PREJUDICE!! Thou shalt not suffer a sketchy cable to live! Sketchy cables have
a sneaky habit of finding their way back into use later on... immediately
destroy the cable by cutting it in half, so that it can never bite you. If the
ends are non-molded, you can salvage them for later use - but most MIDI cables
these days have molded ends.
- If you're handy with a soldering iron, it is cheaper and better in the long
run to build your own high-quality patch cables rather than to buy them.
"Molded end" cables (ie. Hosa, etc, where the 1/4" plug is plastic and cannot
be taken apart) are fine for short-term use, or use in things like patchbays
where they will rarely be moved. For live-pa use where cables will be plugged
and unplugged, coiled and uncoiled a lot, it is better to spend the extra dollar
or three up-front, so that if/when a cable dies in a couple of years, you can
repair it rather than throw it away. You can also tailor your cables to your
live rig this way, and if later you change your setup, you can just keep the
ends and rebuild new cables. I recommend Neutrik or Switchcraft plug
components, and Mogami, Canare, or Sommer cabling. It's not cheap; instead of
buying a ready-made 20' 1/4" patchcord for $14 at the music store, you end up
paying $18 for parts (Neutrik 1/4" connectors are $4 *each*!) but you end up
with a cable worth $50 at the same music store!
- You can greatly improve the lifespan of your cables by never, ever bending
or folding them at sharp angles - for 1/4" patch cables, store them in 1' loops.
Add extra strain relief anywhere that cables have their weight supported by the
jack or cuff of the cable - velcro tie-strap strips work excellently for this,
and can be attached to flightcases or mixers without trouble. One good
method for packing cables - sew a drawstring into a small pillowcase, and store
coiled cables in there. Cables stored in this way are much less likely to
become entangled in travel - I use a mesh "stuff sack" that I got for $3 at an
army surplus store.
- Always bring either a bunch of demo CDs of your stuff, or at the very least
proper business cards with your contact info and website. People have very
short attention spans these days, and if you want someone to remember you, you
have to give them something physical that they can take home with them! The
more professional you come off, the more likely people are to recommend your act
for other events.
- Learn how to take a compliment graciously. When someone comes up after your
set and starts gushing about how you're their new God, shake their hand, look
them in the eye, smile and say something like "Thanks, man, I'm really glad you
enjoyed it!", or "Thanks, that means a lot to me!". Be a full-on rockstar on
stage, but be a regular, down-to-earth person afterwards - if someone is
impressed with your music, they'll be even more impressed to find out that
you're a regular, approachable guy. This leads directly to more gigs!
- UPS - Uninterruptible Power
Supply: get a small cheap Belkin UPS from Office Depot or Office Max. It
has a battery back-up that will save your fanny and gear if the power goes down
as you're playing. There's one model that's
the same size as a power strip but has the UPS inside, it's $30USD. Also,
they just recently came out with sub-$100 UPSs with built-in Voltage Regulation
(!) intended for home office use, but they are also compact enough for our
purpose of taking them live out on gigs to deal with places with dodgy power
- Instead of just a
screwdriver, get a multi-tool, like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army Knife. More useful, and sometimes
the problems you may have to fix are not even your own.
Back to the Specific Topics
- Evolution UC-33 - map faders to volume, three knobs to aux sends, keys QWERTYUI to toggle clips on/off, ZXC to low/mid/high kill on the master out EQ.
- Behringer BCR-2000 (rotary encoders): 20 buttons, 32 rotary encoders with circular LED displays, USB connectivity, 1 MIDI in, 2 MIDI outs, 2 footswitch.
- Behringer BCF-2000 (motorized faders): same as BCR except has 8 motorized faders instead of the 24 additional rotaries.
- Kenton Control Freaks and Spin Doctor. Highly customizable. http://www.kentonuk.com
- Peavey PC-1600 and PC-1600X: the industry-standard 16-fader (non-motorized) + 16 button MIDI control surface.
- Akai MPD-16 is nuts (as a controller for Live). Very cool to use as a switch for whatever functions you want to assign it to. (transport,
mute/solo, clip launch etc.)
- Faderfox boxes - made for Ableton Live, look quite dope in our collective opinion (although nobody has one yet): http://www.faderfox.de
- A DM2 ($30 off eBay) with the DM2 to MIDI hack at: http://www.pdoom.ch/dm2/
- Multiple controllers at once ( i.e. Akai MPD16, Ensoniq ESQ-1, and an Oxygen8) works just fine for Live.
- If your controller has an infinite knob, in Live you can assign it to scroll through all your clips on an individual track. Then
you can assign another button to play the clip. You could assign a button to play the next clip in the list. You'd have to organize your clips in such a
way that they would be in a certain order, however.
Back to the Specific Topics ▲
- One option is to use
Scenes in Live's Session View as the 'main structure' of each song with of
loops, effects, and samples, but tweak synths (running a hardware synth or
Reason through a Live audio track) in real-time, because it can be tough to
sequence a good breakdown using only Tracks and Scenes.
- Another option is to use
Scenes as sections of your songs, i.e. Verse, Chorus, Breakdown, Build, and just
launch the Scene for that section of your arrangement.
- To spontaneously make your tracks
change at the press of a button and for launching immediate drum fills,
experiment with Live 4's Follow Actions + Legato Mode + Clip Launch
Quantization settings. Check out this very nice little tutorial
- Scene selection can be
controlled via MIDI Program Changes. This way, you can keep Live and
connected hardware devices on the same page.
- One approach is using a
top-down approach, to assemble the clips with similar musical contexts near each
other and color code each region going downwards.
- Insert blank Scenes between
"songs" (assuming each song is a group of Scenes) to write notes to yourself.
- Possibly use Scenes between songs
as "segue" areas which can involve pads, vocal samples, etc.
Back to the Specific Topics ▲
Sequencers that break the mold:
- Karma - takes MIDI
input and generates complex musical phrases.
- Doepfer MAQ 16/3 and
Schaltwerk - analog step sequencer using 48 rotary encoders. Outputs CV
and MIDI. http://www.doepfer. com
- Evolver - 16 x 4 sequencer with an awe-inspiring list of
destinations and variable lengths.
Revolution - Circular sequencer with Remixing (256 variations for each
pattern/song) and the ability to reverse the sequence.
- P3 - User-configurable
step sequencer which takes cues from analog and drum machine sequencers and has
track mute keys.
Midibox - you
can use the mod wheel to fade between 2 sequences and blend them together.
- Notron - performance
- MAX/MSP - Program your
own algorithmic sounds and MIDI sequences and/or effect audio input. (PC or Mac)
- Native Instruments
Reaktor - object-oriented sound creation tool capable of performance sequencing.
(PC or Mac)
Numerology 123 - a modular
analog-style MIDI sequencer designed for streamlined live performance.
- Artwonk -
object-oriented MIDI sequencer with an Ultra Arpeggiator, as well as graphics
- X-Phraze - 32 x 4 wave
sequencer with "X-Mix" live remixing function with multi-sample import
capabilities. (PC or Mac)
Back to the Specific Topics ▲
Back to the Specific Topics ▲
Circuit Bending is not
recommended for people without prior electronics or soldering experience.
Back to the Specific Topics ▲
- Mackie VLZ Pro series 1202, 1402, 1604. Highly
recommended new when made in the USA (before 2004).
- Allen & Heath Mixwizard series.
Check out the WZ20S.
- Soundcraft Spirit series. Check out the ES
- Soundcraft Compact 10
- Behringer RX1602
- Behringer UB2222, UB1832 or UB1622.
- Allen & Heath Xone series
(DJ mixer) - has analog filters on both sides of the crossfader.
- Pioneer DJM series (DJ mixer) - the de-facto DJ mixers with DSP effects and BPM counters.
Back to the Specific Topics
Hardware Drum Machines
Machinedrum - 16-part modeling drum machine that does vintage, real drums, and
sounds far beyond.
- Jomox XBase09 - modern-day
analog drum machine. Check out the MBase01 for the Jomox analog kick drum.
- Roland TR-909 and TR-808 -
909 is the classic dance music drum machine, while the 808 provides the kick
drum underpinning many hip-hop tracks.
- Akai MPC - the definitive
sampler and sequencer developed by Roger Linn. ASQ-10 is the sequencer
only. Most recent is the MPC1000 which has USB.
- Command Stations, although discontinued,
are very powerful. The PX-7 comes standard with the highly-regarded Protean
- Roger Linn AdrenaLinn II -
guitar/bass preamp, drum machine, and MIDI clock beat-synchronized effects
in one box.
Akai: ASQ-10 (MPC sequencer only), MPC60, 1000,
2000, 3000 (drum samplers), 4000 (full multi-sampler), Remix 16 and S20
(32kHz phrase samplers with non-MIDI sequencing)
- Alesis: HR16B, SR16
- Boss: DR-202, DR550, DR660, DR670, DR770, DR880, DR-3, DR-5, JS-5 (phrase
- Ensoniq: ASR-X, ASR-X Pro (samplers)
- Korg: EA-1, EM-1, ES-1 (32kHz drum sampler), ER-1, EMX-1, ESX-1 (44.1kHz
drum and phrase sampler), DDD-1 (digital, MIDI) KPR-77 (analog, similar to
TR-606, DIN sync - no MIDI) Music and More (MAM): ADX-1 (analog)
- Roland: D2, MC-09 (phrase sampler), MC-303 307 505 909 (sampler), MV-8000 (full
sampler), R-8mkII, R-70, TR-505 606 707 727 808 909, SP-303 505 606 808EX
(phrase samplers), SPD-S
Vermona: DRM1 mkII (analog)
- Yamaha: RY9, RY10, RX17, DD-55, SU200 (phrase sampler), SU700 (phrase sampler)
- Zoom: MRT-3, RT-123, Sampletrak (32kHz sampler)
Hardware Drum Modules
- Jomox AirBase99
and JaZBase03 - modern-day analog drums. Check out the MBase01 for the Jomox
analog kick drum. http://www.jomox.de
Drumstation - highly regarded 909 modeling drum synth.
- Alesis DM-4,
DM-5, DM-Pro (sample import) - PCM drum modules with drum triggers, highly
popular in hip-hop circles.
Software Drum Modules
Instruments Battery (can run very efficiently on slower PCs) and Battery2
(added filters, envelopes, multi-sampling, compression on each cell).
- Linplug RM IV
- Waldorf Attack
- FXpansion DR-008
- Steinberg LM-4
- Sonic Charge
- Image-Line Fruity
Rebirth RB-338 (TR-808, TR-909, TB-303 emulator)
- Stomper Hyperion
Back to the Specific Topics
Compression increases the average
loudness of your mix by reducing your mix's dynamic range. The compressor
increases the volume of quieter sounds and decreases the level of the louder
sounds to increase the average (RMS) perceived volume level of your final mix.
If you don't want to learn how all this works, but need compression / limiting,
get a digital hardware
compressor with presets (VST compressor
plug-ins also have presets.)
Basic compression concepts
- Threshold is the dB level the compression
starts at. Typically, this will be the bass drum and any sounds "riding"
- Ratio is how much the sounds over the
Threshold will be decreased (compressed). The higher the Ratio, the more
the compressor will "limit" those sounds from exceeding the Threshold.
When the Ratio is set very high (for example, 25:1), this is considered
"Limiting" because the compressor will not allow loud sounds to ever go past the
- Hard / Soft Knee
determines if the compressor will either compress sounds over the threshold Hard
(useful for drums and other fast transient sounds) or Soft (useful for softer
acoustic instrumentals and voices where you do not want to hear the compression
- Attack sets how
fast the compression occurs.
- Release sets how
fast the compressed sounds return to a non-compressed level. Higher
settings help avoid "pumping".
- Gain is the
compressor's volume output versus its
input. Once you've set the threshold to apply a few dBs of compression to
your input, you can increase the Gain by a few dBs, and thereby raise RMS level
of your mix.
- Bypass - If your compressor has a Bypass switch, you can do a quick A/B comparison to check
your original uncompressed mix at the compressor's input versus the compressed
mix at the compressor's output. Useful to see how much your quieter sounds
have been raised, and to spot undesirable artifacts like pumping.
- Gate (where applicable) allows you to filter out all the sounds below the Gate Threshold
level. Useful when working with microphones because a Gate can filter out
breathing and other ambient noises below the vocalist or instrument's loudness
- Software Compressors / Limiters
- Hardware Compressors / Limiters
- FMR RNC
- TC Finalizer
- Waves Ultramaximizer
- Aphex Dominator
- Portable hard disc recorders. For example, the Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 has USB.
Live Recording Resources
- Tape-Op Forum (?)
- Yahoo Nomad Jukebox 3 Mailing list - the "LivePA.org" of live concert Tapers.
Some advice from LivePA.org:
- Learn how to screen print, and do T-Shirts and other merchandise yourself. MUCH cheaper in the long run than going to a graphics company, although more pricy upfront.
- Hold off on the merchandise until you know you can sell half of it. Come up with designs that people are going to totally love wearing, even if they aren't super into your music, give a few away to get folks wanting them, then sell a decent run.
- Iron-on kits are cheap
- As for CDs, DON'T go with the cheapest. Instead of getting them duped, get them REPLICATED. This means using a glass master. Duped ones can skip, and if you're trying to get a gig, or selling them at a decent price, people deserve a CD that doesn't skip. Remember, that is a representation of you. It's your product, and if your product is half-ass and skips...you ain't gonna do anything but lose money, cuz nobody will book you, and everyone will ask for their money back when buying CDs.
- Stickers are some of the best promo you can possibly give out!
- Other methods of self-promotion: Tabloids, flyers, business cards, word of mouth, Internet, college radio, play free shows, etc.