LIVE FEEDBACK: We can no longer count the number of artists who cite the live experience as the culmination of their career.
While the process of music creation is deeply rewarding, its magic palms when contrasted with the euphoric effects of playing your tracks in front of a crowd of enthusiastic and grateful spectators.
However, with the past year and a bit spent mostly locked behind closed doors and the heart-wrenching shutdown of venues around the world, the magic of the concert sphere has been incredibly out of reach.
As we see the restrictions lifted, it’s understandable that many artists are eager to return, and even more aspiring artists are gearing up for their very first shows.
The pandemic aside, going from bedroom producer to captivating live artist has long been a daunting endeavor. But it is not necessary.
In this feature, we’ll walk you through the main considerations you need to take into account, without over-prescribing “what” to do. Our goal is to help you make the right calls and avoid potential mishaps, feel confident and get the most out of life.
Live and let live
OK, so let’s start by summing things up to four basic factors. We can broadly categorize our live concerns under the following overall quarters – Equipment, Performance, Gigs and Audience. Let’s start with the first one.
For the lion’s share of modern electronic musicians, live performances will orbit a mainframe, typically running a bespoke DAW such as Ableton Live, FL Studio, or Studio One, although compact synth and sequencer setups are also quite common.
If this is your first foray into the live world (or if you are returning after a considerable absence), it is best not to overcomplicate your rig at the start, and to prioritize comfort with how everything works, where it is. find your shortcuts, and make sure you are very familiar with the ebb and flow of your set.
For many, having the convenience of a digital timeline-like environment keeps things in logical order, so you’re never stuck with your proverbial pants down.
Ableton Live is the granddaddy of performance workstations, its extremely intuitive session display lets you break down your dense arrangements into single, triggerable elements (or even banks of tracks) that can be activated at will.
It also sports performance-enhancing effects automation and crowd-pleasing transition effects. It’s a mainstay of electronic music, designed to not only serve as a flexible DAW for in-camera music creation, but also as an all-in-one hub for all your live sets.
With Live, you can keep everything in sync with the tempo, play along to a backing track, or incorporate as much improvisation and musical performance as you want.
Live is popular, but it’s certainly not the only option, with the aforementioned FL Studio, Studio One, Reason, and even GarageBand now similarly optimized for the live domain.
Relying on a computer in a live environment can be off-putting to some, and therefore a decent MIDI controller is paramount for both triggering and playing your tracks.
MIDI controllers come in many variations, although the most common for Live setups are usually grid-based surfaces, best exemplified by Novation’s Launchpad, packed with large, colorful pads to zone into your clip by triggering more expressively, while parameter scaling control knobs to change factors such as volume or modulation.
Ableton’s bespoke Push control surface is also pad-based and is specifically aligned to control its sister software. Keyboard controllers, such as those used in a home studio setting, can also be used on stage.
The show must continue
So having a fluid home for your playing elements and a MIDI controller to navigate in is (generally speaking) the simple basics. However, spontaneity and sonic flair are essential to a thrilling live performance.
Besides the mountains of software effects, synths, and instruments that can be used in your DAW itself, boosting your gear with additional elements can also help. Hardware synths, effects units (eg physical effects units, such as pedals), or live instruments (such as a guitar) can add more character and create more engaging performance moments. It’s all a matter of personal choice – and practicality.
Many will choose to align all external instruments to your track’s BPM, but if you intend to use a larger assortment of gear, it is advisable to choose an external time-setting device, such as than the E-RM Multiclock, which will solve many timing headaches.
Listen to me now
Beyond your music creation kit itself, it’s also essential to consider the impact of essential equipment that channels and amplifies your sound to the ears of the audience.
First of all, of course, you’ll need an audio interface – and we’re not necessarily talking about the same one you use in your home studio. You will need one with the lowest latency possible and capable of accommodating your mainframe, as well as any other instrument. If you plan on releasing a larger rig, a larger live mixer may be needed, although the venue will likely handle this internally.
Microphones are, understandably, essential for vocals, but they tend to be less important for electronic musicians than for live rock / jazz bands (which may require multiple amps and mics in kit form).
For your primary microphone, you’ll want to prioritize durability and ideally flat response, so any software voice processing you want to apply isn’t already pre-colored. Ideally, you’ll also want to buy a dynamic mic rather than a cardioid, which will be more resistant to changes in vocal intensity that come your way.
Eyes in front
So, for computer musicians, your live tech base should be: a bespoke DAW, a MIDI controller keyboard / launchpad, a low latency audio interface, and a durable dynamic microphone. This is the typical setup recommended as a comfortable hub, although, of course, we warmly encourage you to expand your gear with stereo effects, additional synths, and more as you grow in confidence live.
Being happy with both the setup of your gear and the sound of your ensemble is essential to putting on a good show. You’ll be less paranoid of pitfalls and can focus firmly on audience satisfaction.
You want to feel stable enough that, during your shows, you can connect with the vibe of the room – taking mental notes about which tracks your audience responds well to and which elements of your set elicit the most positivity. Not to mention enjoying the experience yourself.
Many artists of a certain stature have accompanying visuals for their performance, while VJs such as the peerless DJ Yoda, merge perfectly synchronized video footage with their tracks for compelling multisensory experiences. In-ear monitors are useful, delivering the same audio stream you send from your mixer to your ears
While adding video can cause additional headaches, it can be an easy way to elevate your ensemble of people in the room playing music to an unforgettable night.
Beyond simply viewing video, software such as Resolume and VDMX offer a simple, tactile way to trigger video that interacts with your ensemble in a rhythmic and intelligent manner, and allows you to perform visuals manually. as part of your show.
Beyond the realm of video, a more regularly overlooked aspect of a live performance is lighting. The rooms will generally be equipped with their own stage lighting; in large part, this will consist of a prior wash of lights placed on the performer (s).
Backlighting can work in tandem with this to create more distinct stage sensations for different songs, while controllable effect lighting such as strobes, blinders, and mist can accentuate the energy of your tracks. Of course, you’ll need to speak instead in advance if you want to incorporate your own lighting, and you might need someone else to control it. But it is certainly worth considering.
As a rule of thumb, most rooms have a sound system suited to the room, with your audio inputs being taken from the many speakers around the room. Your audio is typically routed and mixed on a mixing console by an in-house sound engineer. More established artists bring in their own facade engineers, who know their artists’ sounds intimately and know how to best adapt to the acoustics of a place.
The most immediate concern is making sure that you are in control of your sound with precision on stage. In-ear monitors are useful, delivering the same audio stream that you send from your mixer to your ears so you can clearly hear your sounds, as opposed to often too loud stage monitors.
The only downside is that you’ll miss out on the crowd reaction noise, so sometimes it’s best to pull one out when less detailed listening is needed. The benefits of in-ear monitoring are innumerable – there is greater precision that can enable faster decision making live, they decrease the potentially dangerous volume levels of a live performance, and, with systems without wire, allow you to move around the stage wirelessly.