KC asks a question about running loops and programming:
Well KC, thanks for the question, and I hope the rest of the Sunshine Band is doing well.
(Sorry – had to… 😉
Theoretically, playing and recording at the same time out of one system is possible. Desirable? No. Possible, yeah. I’ll explain how at the end of this post. But first, let me give you a look at what we do…
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We’ve got 2 separate Pro Tools rigs, both with entirely different tasks.
One is the STAGE LAPTOP, the other is the Front of House VENUE system.
Let me talk about the (Digidesign) Venue console and Pro Tools system first, since it’s not necessarily the answer to your question. Digidesign makes a Front of House (FOH) mixing console that is completely digital, complete with plug-ins for all your desired effects, compressors, EQ’s, delays, etc. that you desire at FOH.
If you choose (and why wouldn’t you!), you can add the functionality of a Pro Tools recording system to the tracks you’re receiving at FOH. The purpose is to RECORD the dry, unaffected tracks of a rehearsal or performance, and then, after the band’s done, PLAY BACK those tracks from Pro Tools. The dry band tracks are fed into the Venue, and you can tweak your FOH mix until your ears fall off without the band present.
For us, that means recording rehearsal on Wednesday night and getting a decent start on a mix, and then during the day on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, our Audio guys and/or volunteers can spend as much time as they want working on their mix.
And like most digital consoles, the Venue also adds the functionality of scenes and snapshots, which – with the touch of 1 button – can instantly change all the desired levels and effects from one song to another, including delay tempos, EQ’s, etc…
For more FOH talk, check out http://goingto11.com/
OK, now the STAGE LAPTOP…
There are lots and lots of ways to run and/or trigger tracks and loops for a performance. But what has, and continues to work best for the North Point campuses, is a Laptop on stage running some form of Digital Audio Workstation software.
A lot of that comes down to personal preference.
For example, here at North Point in both the East and West Auditoriums, we have an Apple Mac laptop running Pro Tools 8 LE (their latest version) through a Digi 002R (a rack-mounted unit with 8 separate outputs).
During the week, I’ll program any new (non-existing) loops and/or programming on my laptop using Pro Tools 8 LE, usually using a bunch of plug-ins (some of them are included with Pro Tools 8, and some of them are third party, such as Stylus RMX). I’ll then bounce those individual loops and/or tracks to basic stereo Wav files.
I then create a “master” Pro Tools session each week and import all the needed files for the entire day (set list). I also create a Click Track using a mono audio track and the included “Click” plug in.
Next, I insert song markers, tempo changes, meter changes, and click subdivisions in chronological order of the set.
After that, it’s just a matter of lining up each Wav file to the appropriate song marker.
Lastly, it’s a matter of assigning the files a desired output:
Output 1 & 2 – Stereo (percussion/drum based) loops
Output 3 – mono click & count-off (note – you need to record and create your own verbal count-offs when/where needed)
Output 4 – specialty mono track, such as an extra acoustic or electric guitar
Output 5 & 6 – Stereo Tracks, such as strings or synth programming
Output 7 & 8 – whatever is yet to find a home 🙂
Now we do use click every week, and almost always have a loop or two (or three). However, channels 4 – 8 are not used nearly as frequently.
Here’s a screenshot of a pretty normal week. There’s a click track routed to output 3, two songs have loops, and I included the original recording (“DEMO”) of one of songs for reference (to be soloed as needed).
Songs can be selected by clicking on them in the Memory Locations window. Advanced users may choose to click on the Markers timeline and tab between markers (option-tab for going back).
And at North Point, we’ve found the most success having the drummer control the laptop – that way they know when the song is starting, and there’s room on their risers for the rack with the 002R and the laptop on top.
At Buckhead Church, they have the same gear, but with the capability of the laptop being on the keyboard riser, giving the keyboardist the start / stop task. So that’s a nice, added flexibility that we don’t have at NP.
And at Browns Bridge, it’s a whole different ball game. They’ll create whatever needed files ahead of time and then trigger them (start/stop) via a laptop beside the drummer using Ableton Live software and an M-Audio Trigger Finger. Great gear and a powerful piece of software. However, in my opinion, there’s a much higher learning curve with Live and the Trigger Finger. But that’s OK, because it works great for them since there’s only 2 or 3 drummers that play at that campus on a regular basis.
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So, KC, hopefully that answers some of your questions….
Also, if you’re still using Reason, I’d strongly suggest the following for your live performances, assuming you’re using your laptop’s stereo output:
Create a “song” that is 6 minutes of nothing but your loop panned all the way to the right and a click track (quarter or 8th note cowbell pattern) panned all the way to the left.
Then bounce out the song and play it using Quicktime or iTunes. Simply start/stop with your spacebar, then double click on the next song when you’re ready for it.
The outputs from your laptop then need to go through a simple stereo 1/8″ to L and R 1/4″ splitter cable (under $10 at your local Radio Shack). Those 1/4″ ends simply each go into a direct box and are treated as two separate channels. Feed the loop channel (right) to FOH, and both channels (loop and click) to the band.
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OK, so here’s my theoretical solution to playing tracks and recording a stereo track of the band at the same time.
First off, you’d need a DAW (like Pro Tools) that has an audio interface with multiple inputs, such as a 002R or the newer 003R.
#1 – Set up a session like I showed above, with click, tracks, loop, etc – but leave at least one stereo output pair open (so nothing out of, let’s say, 7 & 8).
#2 – Plug in a stereo pair of inputs that are coming from the Front of House mix. How you do that is up to you, such as a Tape Out of the master mix, or an aux out or send out from the FOH. Something like that – it all depends on you FOH console and your ability / creativity. 🙂
#3 – Record enable those inputs from FOH – but make sure you route their outputs to the unused outputs, like 7 & 8. You don’t want to hear the FOH mix of what you’re recording while you’re playing – that’d mess up your brain, big time!
#4 – Instead of pressing PLAY, press RECORD and play along. The tracks and click should play back through the desired outputs, fed to the band and FOH, while the FOH mix gets recorded to the record enabled tracks and are routed to a different, unused output.
#5 – See if it worked! Route the recorded FOH tracks to a used output (1 & 2) and give a listen. You can then splice the FOH stereo track into individual songs (cmd-E) and export the regions as tracks. Drag those into iTunes, burn a CD, listen on the way home, sleep well… 🙂
Now that’s just a theory – I have no idea if it will truly work as you desire – but it’s a good guess! I would not, however, even think of doing that during a live performance with a real crowd. You never know what can go wrong. CPU’s love to override at the most inconvenient times…