Regardless of what instrument you play or what software you use to record and compose, it’s never been easier to access massive libraries of synth and sample sounds, guitar and bass amp emulations, vintage-derived effects and so on. While all of this power and flexibility has been a boon for the home recordist, bringing these same software-derived sounds to the stage continues to vex many. The good news is that today’s multicore laptops have more than enough horsepower to handle the needs of most keyboardists, guitarists and experimental-leaning vocalists, as well as multi-instrumentalists who may need to jump between several instruments during a set. By choosing the correct software and hardware, as well as doing some critical housekeeping and asset-management chores, you can easily bring your best software instruments and effects to that stage and consolidate your hardware needs down to a few roadworthy essentials.
The host with the most
First and foremost, all of your software instruments and effects need to live somewhere. While it’s completely feasible for a keyboardist or guitarist to work solely within a workstation-style product such as Propellerhead Reason or Native Instruments GuitarRig, if you really want to take advantage of your plug-in collection or jump between instruments, you need to employ a more open-ended option. Two products that are built expressly for this purpose are Apple MainStage — part of the Apple Logic Studio bundle (; www.apple.com/logicstudio) — and Native Instruments Kore 2, which is now available in a software-only edition , as well as the software/hardware package (www.native-instruments.com). Both programs do many of the same things: 1. They allow you to access, organize, edit, combine and recall the majority of the third-party plug-ins on your machine. 2. Both allow you to play software instruments and process live audio sources (guitar, bass, vocals and even feedback loops). 3. By largely removing the traditional elements of a DAW, both of these apps allow more CPU resources to be used for instruments and effects, thus keeping latency in check.
Choosing a host performance application will depend largely on what software you already own. Logic Studio users have a clear advantage in this department because all channel strips and saved plug-in settings are immediately available in MainStage; in other words, what you did in the studio shows up in MainStage. Kore, however, requires a little more prep work in the beginning (users will need to batch-convert their third-party plug-in sounds over to the KoreSound format), but it offers support for a wider range of plug-in formats as well as Windows PCs.
Time to organise..
The second major task in prepping your sounds for performance is figuring out exactly what you need and exactly what you don’t. If your goal is to replicate the sounds you used in your recordings, a recent demo or what have you, then that is the obvious place to start. Open up the original sessions, isolate the plug-ins that you need to use live and give each preset a specific name before saving them to a new folder. Of course, you can skip that step if you want to dive in and start playing. Either way, once you start to have a firmer grasp on what you’re going to need in a live show or rehearsal situation, that’s the time to start creating a performance library.
MainStage and Kore have different ways of creating that library. With MainStage, you’ll need to create a new Concert. A Concert can comprise any number of live audio and instrument channels, and the Performance pane can be customized to include a wide array of assignable controllers (which you can then easily map to your hardware), meters and patch selectors. You can load instruments and live signal processors in a row and select them interchangeably like presets on a piece of hardware. A single preset can comprise both audio and instrument plug-ins, and a Concert can include any number of presets. When you load a new Concert, all the associated instruments and samples are loaded in the background, and nothing really nails the CPU until a preset is selected. The load time between presets is generally very minimal.
The no hassle, buy nothing keyboard workstation
If you’re a budget-conscious keyboardist and you want a simple and reliant way to access an array of keyboard sounds that requires practically zero mousing around and almost no MIDI assignment editing, here it is.
Load up an empty 16-track session in your DAW of choice. Starting with the first track in the session, load up your first instrument sound and set this track to receive only MIDI channel 1. Repeat the process as needed (track 2 to MIDI channel 2, etc.) until you’ve loaded up all of the sounds you need or you’re out of MIDI channels. Changing MIDI channels on most portable MIDI keyboards (M-Audio Oxygen 8 V2, Axiom 49, etc.) is a simple one- or two-button process. With this setup, you only have to load one session into your DAW, and switching between sounds is as simple as changing the MIDI channel on your controller.