North Point Keys Rig – 2014

By popular demand….

Here’s a look at our keyboard rigs at North Point, as of Spring 2014.

Most of our guys are now using a laptop-based mobile rig as their sound source. Computers’ power, stability and abilities have come leaps and bounds in the last few years, and the universe of sound palettes available via software synths are now seemingly endless and very affordable.

Behind us are the days of having to lug a bunch of keyboards to a gig, or being at the mercy of whatever hardware board was at the church or venue at which we were playing. Searching for sounds was a total pain, and ultimately limited to each keyboards capabilities. And switching sounds in the middle of a song set was a herculean feat.

With the onset and evolution of programs like Apple’s MainStage, and its subsequent sequels (like current version 3), the ability now exists for a keyboard player to have an almost infinite world of sounds carried around in his or her backpack. Really only limited by the power of their computer and the depth of their pocketbook.

And so here we are, in early 2014, where the average cost of a decent hardware 88 note keyboard is about $3,000(+/-). And for the same price, one can acquire a brand new hefty Macbook Pro and a copy of MainStage ($30) and maybe even a few third party sound source plug-ins, and be off to the races using an old, out of date hardware board as a MIDI controller.

And you can surf the Internet and check email too. πŸ˜‰

So I can learn a set of songs and program & tweak sounds before I even arrive on stage.

And when I arrive, it doesn’t matter what building or stage or venue or part of the country it is – I only need them to provide a controller (or lug one myself), and plug into its MIDI or USB port. EVERYTHING else fits in my backpack: Laptop power cable, Audio/MIDI-to-USB interface, Akai USB pad controller, and a few appropriate USB cables).

And even if I’m playing in the East Auditorium at North Point (‘cause I work there…) where all those cables & stuff already exist, I can still program & practice using my laptop in the comfort of my office or at my keyboard at home.

OK, that said, here’s a look at our current set up:

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– Hammond B3 organ and Leslie. Yep, the real thing, circa late 1950’s. Can’t beat it. Take off the back cover and observe an amazing feat of analog electronics and spinning tone wheels. And stick your head in and take a deep breath: That’s 65 years of real wood, oil and vacuum tubes. It’s intoxicating.

She doesn’t get used quite as much any more due to evolving musical styles, but we’ll never get rid of her. The touch, the feel, the sound: It’s a love you never lose.

– Roland X8. All our campus stages bought one of these several years ago, as we liked the footprint, the internal sounds, the user-friendliness, ability to quickly switch patches via the Favorites feature, and the keyboard feel. It was also before laptop-based rigs became more popular, when folks were using the internal sounds, so having them on all stages helped eliminate as much learning curve as possible.

Now days, 99% of the time it’s being used as a MIDI controller for laptop rigs via its rear USB port.

BUT!! IMPORTANT: The X8 is also being used as the hardware backup to the laptop rig. Redundant redundancy!!!

Here’s the gist… While laptop rigs have come a long way, they are still not 100% reliable and fool proof. Trust me – I know from experience… The laptop rig, regardless of what software you use, can and will fail. Even if it’s reliable 99.99% of the time, the 0.01% time it fails will be when you need it most. Murphy’s law.

So…. we use a MOTU UltraLite Mk3 as the Audio Interface for the laptop rig, AND route the X8’s audio through it as well.

Therefore the MOTU is acting as a mixer (balancing the levels of the laptop sounds and the analog trim levels of the hardware X8), and no additional D.I.’s are needed for the X8.

Both sound sources are mixed and routed to the same Main stereo Outputs of the MOTU, and if you’re not using the internal sounds of the X8, you just keep the volume knob on the keyboard turned down. Super easy. So if the laptop freezes or dies or whatever, all you need to do is turn up the volume knob on the X8.

Or if you step on stage 30 seconds before you’re about to play the main piano part of “Faithfully” by Journey and realize that you forget to log in to your laptop and load MainStage after you restarted it after rehearsal, and the Producer is counting you down from “10, 9, 8, 7…”, all you need to do is turn up the volume on the X8 and play like nothing happened. No one will know except you and the Front of House engineer.

(Yeah, I did that. I was REEEEALLY glad I had a redundant hardware backup that day, and even a few times since.)

Obviously you don’t need a Roland X8. Any hardware keyboard with at least an internal piano sound will suffice.

– Wait, that’s it? Well, pretty much, yes. We’ve all but eliminated a second tiered keyboard from our East Auditorium rig simply due to the incredible versatility of MainStage. The ability to layer sounds, split keyboard zones within the software removes the need for a second synth-based keyboard.

Well, one more IMPORTANT Peripheral… I would not use MainStage in a live format without an external USB controller, like the Akai LPD8. It, or a device like it, is ESSENTIAL!

There are other similar devices on the market, like the Korg nanoKontrol, or even Behringer USB flying-faders mixer, that allow the rapid changing of patches and adjusting of levels (volumes, envelope filters, tap tempo, etc.). All those physical aspects are easily assignable in MainStage.

You can see an Akai LPD8 placed on the keyboard chassis above the low octave.

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Our risers are on large casters and are moved backstage for the message. Hence the red bungee cord. I want my laptop to stay on the stand, not fall on the floor during riser transit. **Safety first, y’all….

– What’s on the Floor?

Well, lots of gack. Excuse the rats nest of power cables, audio snake, X8 audio cables, Firewire cord, USB cords & hub, 2 different laptop power supply types (new & old), mic cables & foot switch for my band leader/talkback mic, expression pedal, sustain pedal, and the MOTU.

Oh, and an anti-fatigue mat. ‘Cause a Sunday with 4 services and full rehearsals for 2 different sets of volunteer tech crew is a looooong 13 hours. And my feet were hurting. ‘Cause I stand. And you should too. ‘Cause only the drummer should be the only person sitting.

And while you’re at it, if you happen to have a real Hammond organ as part of your set up, I’d suggest building a 4” (+/-) riser for it. Having it at the right height when you stand and play makes it so much more fun to play!

– MOTU Notes:

Probably the biggest pain to set up was all the internal routing and level adjustment on the MOTU. Especially since its output is very hot when you use its balanced outputs.

We found this out when we started using an identical unit over at the drums position as an interface for our Ableton rig.

First, make sure your MainStage (or other software) is at the appropriate, unity levels. That’s kind of a no-brainer, but is worth repeating.

Now long story short, use the internal menus to do the following:

– Lower the output levels on the channels you want to use by at least 10dB. I found the easiest way was to slave all outputs (Main Outputs and any other analog outputs) to the Master level. Then you can adjust all outputs equally with just one knob. The terminology to the MOTU uses is “Monitor” on or off. On means yes.

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Now find a level of output that has your audio guy happy at FOH, with ample gain and some headroom to play around with. For us, that’s having the MOTU output down to about -10dB. That may then fluctuate a bit from player to player based on the levels of his or her laptop software.

The last thing to do is to adjust the input trim of the hardware board’s audio to match the laptop audio. Also, double check that its output channels are routed correctly.

For us, a satisfactory matching level was achieved by activating the -20dB pad and adjusting the trim up +12dB. (Basically -8dB overall).

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The reason that mixing these two sound signals at equal levels down the same set of channels is so imperative is so that if (more like WHEN) something does happen, all you need to do to correct the issue is simply turn up the volume knob on the hardware board. No frantic FOH person. No crazy levels. No accidentally muted channels. Just peace of mind.

Any questions?

GEAR SPOTLIGHT – Akai MPD18 Controller

Ableton Live 8 is great. And so are the bevy of third party external controllers available to manipulate Ableton Live’s countless features and functions.

Akai is one company that has put some concentrated effort in developing a variety of USB control surfaces to send specific MIDI signals to Ableton.

They now have an arsenal of products – just head on over to http://www.musiciansfriend.com and search “MIDI Controller”. You’ll see a ton of products, and many with an Akai label.

At North Point, we used to use a Korg padKONTROL, but as it wore out, the cons of the way we needed to use the product (footprint size, button location) caused us to search for something else to use in its place.

The piece of gear we’ve since adopted for use is the $99.00 Akai MPD18.

Akai MPD18

I recently read the biography of Steve Jobs, and one mantra of his is clear throughout his life and leadership at Apple: “Simpler is Better”.

And in this – and many cases – I agree.

Our drummers are the one who start and stop songs via Ableton Live, and the MPD18 is a simple interface that allows them to glance over and easily find the appropriate button to launch the song or clip. And its single variable slider does allow the user to control any desired item, like being able to fade the volume of a loop or click, etc.

Now if you’re looking for more bells and whistles to manipulate more stuff during live performance, then Akai has some other controllers that may take your fancy, like the MPD26, and MPD32.

And if you dare, the APC Series… Can you say “overkill”?

Actually, the APC Series is meant for folks using Ableton Live in a far different fashion than we are. If anything, the APC Series beckons the spirit of Ableton Live’s original program intent – that of DJ’ing and song creation, and not that of single clips and scenes launching different songs like we do.

   

Now one obstacle to this (and any external controller) is placement.

While you may be blessed with a large spacial footprint to put a laptop stand, music stand and controller stand (and stick stand, beverage stand, etc…), we are not. We have a 8’x6′ riser on which to cram an entire drum set, audio snake, computer and audio interface, etc. So the small footprint of the MPD18 becomes ideal in our world.

We’ve made a pretty decent stand for it using a snare stand and small, cut piece of wood. (Yep, had to get out the power tools!). The wood was then covered by a miracle called “The Two Minute Matte Paint Job”.

Aka black Gaff Tape. πŸ™‚

The finishing touch was to get out the labeler and make a “1”, “2”, “3” and “4”, just to help the drummer’s eye. For the vast majority of our services, these four buttons suffice.

On a recent more elaborate service (Night of Worship), the drummer wrote out the 10 or 12 song titles on sticky notes and stuck them to the buttons. Simple, (tacky), and effective! πŸ™‚

MPD18 with drums

Also, as with many external controllers, the MPD18 is powered via the USB cable, so no need for another wall wart!

There you go!

What controller(s) do you use? Do you like ’em?

North Point iBand Apps

Well, we did the “North Point iBand” for an Opener on Sunday, December 5th, 2010.

If you haven’t seen it…. CLICK HERE

 

 

First off, big props to Jared Hamilton for spearheading the effort from our end.

Jared arranged “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Feliz Navidad” using the apps, and creating a demo by multitracking them in Apple’s Logic software (though any Digital Audio Workstation would do the trick).

Jared, Eddie Kirkland and I arranged the first song, “Carol of the Bells“. It’s amazing what you come up with when you sit in a room, hook 3 iPhones up to some speakers, and get adventurous!

Well, many of you have asked, so here are the Apps used:

(NOTE: You’re going to have to looking for them on iTunes yourself. C’mon, you’ve gotta do SOME legwork yourself!)

Carol of the Bells:

Eddie Kirkland, SoundGrid

Reid Greven, NLogFree

Jared Hamilton, Melody Bell

Danny Grady, Guitarist (Nylon String)

Antwane McMullin, drums – iGog (MoreVox Acoustic 1 sound)

Rick Meeder, bass – Bassist

Steve Marcia, Guitarist (Electric)

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

Antwane McMullin, drums – iGog

Rick Meeder, bass – Bassist

Danny Grady, electric guitar on intro & fills – Guitarist

Steve Marcia, acoustic guitar on main melody – Guitarist

Jared Hamilton, B3 – Pocket Organ

Reid Greven, sax solo – Saxophone Musicofx

Eddie Kirkland, Percussions (Tambourine)

Feliz Navidad

Joe Lee, guiro – Percussions

Antwane McMullin, drums – iGog (Rock Kit 1 sound)

Rick Meeder, bass – Bassist

Danny Grady, nylon string guitar – Guitarist

Ben Snider, clave – Percussions

Steve Marcia, maracas & tambourine – Percussions

Jared Hamilton, melody solo & percussion fills – Bebot, Percussions

Eddie Kirkland, congas & bongos – Percussions

Reid Greven, piano – Pianist

Seth Condrey, vocals – T-Pain

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

An Encouragement and Challenge for Musicians

This idea hit me yesterday, so I wrote it down and shared this last night with our musicians at rehearsal. I hope it comes as an encouragement to you as to where you have come from, and a challenge as to where you will go…


“HOPEFULLY IT DOES, AND YET DOES NOT…”

Years ago, probably in your childhood or school years, you discovered a fondness and liking for music.

Perhaps you had a parent that, although not very musical themselves, loved to listen to music because of what it did for their attitude, and thus yours.

Maybe your parent was musical, and so you saw it take tactile shape in their lives.

You probably also discovered that while others endured your required music class in Elementary School, you actually looked forward to it. There was something about it that came easy to you, and that you excelled in – thus your desire and interest in it grew.

Years past, and at some key point in your life, you made a bold, conscious move to immerse yourself in your musical interests, and to develop your natural mustard-seed talents into actual abilities. Some of you did it voluntarily, sometimes even against the desires of your parents. Others did it with the constant prodding, and even hounding from a parent that saw more in us than we saw in ourselves at the time.

More years past, and behind you now are a lifetime of experiences – some great successes and some miserable failures. Some of them are direct results of your own single and series of decisions, and so you are the only one to praise, or to fault. Others have been placed in your path as a test or a trial – to challenge your heart and allow you to either grow or be broken. Either way, you will learn something. All these experiences have paved the way to get you to where you are today. You may see that favorably in some of your life’s situations, and with frustration for other circumstances.

One of the places that your path has lead you is to here. Right here. Right now. With these people, in this building, performing a specific task in a specific role.

The question is: Does that satisfy you?

Hopefully it does, and yet does not.

Hopefully it does, in that you are able to look back at your journey with great understanding, and know that God has you in this place in your life for some very specific reasons. You are here to give back what has been given to you. And the more that has been given to you, whether someone else’s time or talents from God, the more you are now being called to give back to Him.

And be entirely satisfied to know that decades of hard work, grueling experiences, sweat and tears are now paying dividends for the glory of God. Know that both He and your peers are proud of you for putting in the time and effort to be great at what you do, and that you are doing great things when you use the talents He placed in you from your inception.

And, at the same time, hopefully your satisfaction does not turn into arrogance, pride, assumption or apathy. Hopefully you see that there is always room for improvement from your end. Your skills are an evolving and growing entity, and to allowing them to stagnate is a disservice to your Creator.

Are you in doubt? All you need to do is look in your own rear-view mirror! Look at how your skills, along with your personal and spiritual maturity were matched with the situations you were in. Look at each phase of your life, and know that there will be a point, far in the future, that this current time and situation will be just another step in your journey.

The next question is: What decisions, steps and actions will you take today so that years from now, you are able to look back at this time with favorable eyes?

Proverbs 22:29

NIV:

29 Do you see a man skilled in his work?

   He will serve before kings;

   he will not serve before obscure men.

The Message:

29 Observe people who are good at their workβ€”

   skilled workers are always in demand and admired;

   they don’t take a backseat to anyone.

Ableton Live – Worship, Subdividing the Click

Alrighty Kids, here’s some info about our journey switching from Pro Tools to Ableton Live for running click, loops and tracks for live performance, specifically in our worship services.

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Up until a few weeks ago, we used Pro Tools as our on-stage software to create and run loops, sequenced programming and a click track. I do most of my music creation via Pro Tools – whether a simple loop for a worship song, or a full, complex video score. So using Pro Tools to play some or all of those audio elements in conjunction with a live band was totally natural. ESPECIALLY since you can create a click track using the “Click” plug-in and route it to a specific audio output, apart from, say, a stereo loop track.

Pro Tools also allows “Markers”, which we would use as the start of the next song. You can tab to them, or select them with the mouse in a special Markers Window. There is also the powerful ability to input tempo changes, time signature changes, and click subdivision changes at those markers, or anywhere in a song’s timeline.

If you’d like more info on running loops via Pro Tools in a live performance situation, check out: Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

So Pro Tools is very powerful in many cases – but not all…

While I see myself using PT as a main Digital Audio Workstation for song creation, video scoring, and audio recording, it still falls short in many areas that we need, specifically our live performance / worship services.

Enter Ableton LIVE…

While I was not unfamiliar with Live and its concepts from years past, there were still some things that fell short for me. But many of those have been addressed/changed/tweaked and generally improved over the last few versions.

However, the biggest dislike I had – and still have – of Live is its internal click.

I mean, it’s horrible.

First, the click tone is obnoxious, and cannot be changed without highjacking the root library in your computer’s Operating System (NOT advisable for the faint of heart). And second, you cannot subdivide the click PROPERLY.

Sure, other sites or videos show someone manipulating the song’s tempo and/or time signature, but that’s not the way it should be. I SHOULD be able to enter the proper tempo and time signature of a song, and have the ability to choose a click tone and subdivide it.

Why do I want to subdivide a click? Because if you’re playing a song at anything less than about 110 bpm, your ability as a singer or instrumentalist to “lock into the groove” of a song is GREATLY increased when you can hear/feel the subdivisions of a measure (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).

So for me, even now, Ableton Live is a great program, we WANT to use it for all that it can bring to a live performance (MIDI mapping to external pads/triggers, easy song tempo change without messing up other songs later down a “timeline”, etc.), but it still has this one giant FLAW – the click.

It’s kind of like dating the best person in the world – but they smoke.

PROBLEM = SOLUTION

So this was my Everest. I wouldn’t switch to Ableton until we could figure a way around this click issue.

Well, after lots of research and brainstorming – and a few trials, errors, and less-than-satisfactory solutions, Jared Hamilton and I came up with a winner.

Or at least the winner until something better comes along or Ableton gets their act together…

IMPULSE + SAMPLE = WINNER

If you’ve used Redrum in Reason or Boom in Pro Tools 8, or any pattern-based drum machine, you’re already ahead of the game….

Basically, we created an instance of Impulse, Live’s drum pattern sequencer, imported a desired click tone, and created MIDI notes in the sequencer to trigger the sample as desired (quarters for fast songs, quarters and 8ths for slower songs). We even increased the velocity (thus volume) of the downbeats to help define where the “1” is…

Then we saved the instance of Impulse (with the desired sample and MIDI data) as a clip to the clip library. That way, in the future you can just drag that Click clip into an audio column in about 2 seconds – never having to create a click clip from scratch again!

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STEP-BY-STEP:

OK, here’s are the steps…

#1 – TURN OFF the horrible internal click of death.

From this:

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To This:

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Ahhh, much better…

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STEP #2 – Create an instance of IMPULSE:

Impulse can easily be found by clicking on the Live Device Browser (yellow icon on LEFT underneath the arrow). Click on Impulse and drag it into a MIDI track or “Clip/Device Drop Area” (big grey area that says “Drop Files and Devices Here”.

So that’s totally easy. πŸ™‚

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STEP #3 – IMPORT DESIRED CLICK TONE (Audio File)

For us, we love using the MPC click tone from the Pro Tools click plug-in. We’ve used it for years now, and all our players are fans. It’s distinct enough to establish tempo, but subtle enough to not drive you crazy or interfere with the sound you’re trying to create as a band.

But that’s just us – you can use a cowbell, woodblock, or car horn for all I care πŸ™‚

So now drag that sample (audio file) into the first “audio sample slot” in Impulse. Below, you can see my MPC Click sample in the far left sqare. It’s greyed-out to show that an audio file has now been assigned to that slot.

NOTE: You may wish to change the DECAY or other parameters to suit your taste.

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STEP #4 – ENTER MIDI DATA in Impulse’s Sequencer Window

Just double click on the grid where you want the click sample to activate.

Here’s an example of a sub-divided click (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &):

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And here’s a simple quarter-note pattern:

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Note the VELOCITY increase for the downbeat of the bar (lower half of the window). You can play around with this until you get what tones / volumes you desire for the downbeats.

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STEP #5 – RENAME and SAVE CLIP(S) for future use

OK, now the hard part’s done. And by saving this clip, you can then easily drag and drop desired Click Clips into a session as you desire.

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STEP #6 – SETTING TEMPOS for Songs

If you’re already using Ableton for a multi-song set, you’re probably familiar with how tempos are set for the different songs using the Master Scenes.

Using the Rename feature (click on a box and type z-R), you can then type the name of the song, its TEMPO (be sure to add “bpm” after the tempo), and its time signature. (Press RETURN when you’re done!)

Now, when you click on that Master Scene box in the future, the click (and any other audio files/loops/programming, etc.) that you’ve imported along that horizontal scene will start at the exact tempo you’ve typed in.

Here’s an example of a recent Ableton Live set used for a live worship service performance.

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All of those scenes had Click clips, while only some of those scenes also had count-offs, loops, and programmed tracks as needed.

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While you can manually activate the scenes by clicking them, you can also map them to either keys on your computer or – more effectively – by MIDI-mapping them to an external controller. Products like M-Audio’s Trigger Finger and Novation Launchpad are widely used, while we currently use the Akai Professional LPD8 due to its smaller footprint.

But that’s a different story…

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There you go, kids! Have fun – and here’s a special treat: A download of the Click Clips and MPC Audio sample!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/596672/CLICKS.zip

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