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Thread: Advice needed with live electronic set/setup

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    Advice needed with live electronic set/setup

    Hello DJF,

    I've been quite inactive lately due to many reasons but finally got my things in order for the part that I can sit down and think my next move.. I'm not sure whether this is the right place to ask (as this is a forum for DJs after all) but I'm quite sure there are people here with experience in this sort of stuff.. anyway, here's some background..

    I began putting together a small-ish laptop & MIDI-keyboard/controller-based electronic/EDM live setup somewhere around 2010 running Ableton Live, after getting a modest home studio up and running in 2007. I did some DJ-esque gigs with the live rig as well, and to further elaborate I have done some acoustic-guitar-with-singing cover gigs/busking (not to mention some 10+ years of DJing and karaoke, on a weekly basis at times) too so performing in front of an audience isn't really foreign to me I think. I took piano lessons in 2012 as well as guitar lessons in 2015 iirc.

    Now in part due to a laptop crash I switched over to a hardware setup consisting of a drum machine, bass synth and a keyboard (which is sort of the "main" instrument of the show) running to a mixer. Occasionally I've been jamming with an electric guitar or a saxophone (which I'm not that good at though) as a 2nd instrument but I feel it's uncomfortable and sort of clumsy playing like that.

    On a side note I've been asking here earlier for advice with little to no luck regarding this live thing and other stuff involved but it was rather technical, this is regarding other aspects like the setlist, stagemap and setting up the gear etc.

    Here's a stagemap of the hypotethical setup (edit : revised with gtr and stagebox/DI):

    The black box inside the rectangle with arrows denotes the drum machine, the grey one is the bass synth and the blue one is the keyboard. The reason I drew them was in part as a mental practice as well as to give an idea of how long it takes to set up the rig as it consists of several devices. For those interested I'm using an Akai Rhythm Wolf for the drums & sub-bass, a Roland TB-03 for basslines and a Novation Mininova for keys and vocoding.

    I was planning on building an all-in-one road case for all the equipment to decrease the hauling/setup time, I even bought wheels, latches and handles for it but didn't have transportation to fetch the plywood.. maybe I'll sort it out during the fall/winter months, I do have gig bags for everything but it takes a bit longer I think and is riskier although a 120x1000x500mm road case would weigh A LOT.

    I've practiced with the bass synth below the drum machine too as it was at some point but due to space issues I practice like that at home.. these are all nuances though and a matter of how you get used to playing.

    I'm quite sure there's something missing from it (like foldback/monitoring which I don't have in the first place to be honest, technically it's possible to use the other speaker as a monitor though.. there's also stuff you can't really consider in a drawing like that such as where the entrance to the stage is, where the power outlets are and so on)

    Then there's stuff like stands for sheet music (of songs I've been rehearsing and intend to play as I've been planning an electronic/dance cover show with the setup; I've copied scores from books, printed lyrics/chords and sorted them into a neat pile of paper instead of carrying the books around and going through a number of them during the gig) but they could be placed on the desk too. In my acoustic guitar gigs I used books but the paper copies look and feel much more organized and professional.

    But to continue, here's a setlist template I did the other day (edit : updated with guitar column)..

    Basically I've collected a master list of songs in one with all the information.. like:

    Funkytown | 120bpm | Cm7 | pt2 | Tr5 | preset# vocoder | n | y
    First column denotes the track title (I was doing an instrumental cover version of Lipps Inc' Funkytown actually), then there's the intended tempo and key. "Pt2" means the drum track is pattern 2 on the drum machine, "Tr5" means track 5 on the bass synth, then the "kbd" column I use for preset numbers & names on the keyboard. I also mark the vocoder here because it requires some dexterity to switch quickly from synth to vocoder on my current synthesizer.

    The column labeled "Voc" means if there are vocals or if I intend to sing the song, ie. if there is or there isn't use for a vocal mic so it can be muted for instance, this also helps planning the set outline so that you can see if there are vocals spread here and there evenly. Then there's the last column "Gtr" which denotes if there are guitar parts (I'm not very good at playing the guitar and keyboard at the same time though)

    It's also a very handy to have one if you freeze on stage I think, it's technically a cheat sheet for dialing in the correct tempo, synth presets and sequences.. in some cases I wrote down chord progressions, because I had ran out of song memory on my bass synth.

    So I have like 10-12 cover songs ready and rehearsed somewhat.. I'm still kind of unsure of the whole singing thing since I have little to no chances of practicing the vocals (I tried it a couple of times the other day though, I have never before sung while playing the keyboard on stage) but the instrumental (=melody, chorus) parts I could play quite easily from the top of my head while I was filling some gaps I had in the setlist (there are sheets copied directly from books, some of the lyrics/chords are from the internet, the rest I learned to play by ear.. most of the accompaniment during the verses is improvised)

    I won't go in depth what songs are actually in the program but there's a couple of disco songs, a couple of hits from the 90's and some newer stuff.. I'm not quite sure what people usually expect from a one man cover band (if they even want to see one) but I think the setlist I'm working on looks quite promising from what I learned while DJing (mood/tempo-wise etc, it's another thing how it turns out in a live setting..)

    Actually this whole thing started out as a live house/techno thing (where I could jam the same sequence excessively long for a live setting) but I picked up some cover songs along the way while I was practicing because I thought it would appeal to the audience.. the newest addition is the use of vocals which I haven't really even practiced yet if the vocoder doesn't count but I'll probably start looking more into it, although an instrumental gig could be better as a start..

    So, I think these are the main issues to tackle;

    1. Monitoring (and the FOH & lighting in general, I've been practicing in my headphones but it looks funny and sort of unprofessional imo, and very uncomfortable with a guitar)
    2. Hauling, transport & setting up (not a problem if there's no real hurry although I don't have a car)
    3. Practicing (esp. the vocal parts properly, if it's a cover set and timing the set and songs so it won't go overtime)
    4. Freezing on stage (or being too drunk etc)
    5. Whether to get a new laptop (I kind of miss using samples but it could clutter things up even more, and many people don't consider laptop an instrument)
    6. Communicating with the audience (announcements, thank you's, toasting, stories, jokes etc..)
    7. The legal & copyright stuff and other things like how much should I ask for a gig like this (or do a local school dance/private event first where such things are less important, I think the paycheck is average if you see it in double)
    8. Misc. technical stuff like reverb on the mic, recording the set etc.. (I think recording is a great idea because it can be a tough industry to break in and a live recording for promotional use/press kit might give an edge once the first gig is done)
    9. Whether to ask for warm-up DJs (in case of a cover gig ask them not to play the originals) or use a mixtape (DJ & other artists'/booking agency/the venue/tech crew contact information, schedule, technical rider, backstage/dressing room needs, guest list and so on)
    10. Dropping a pick, breaking a string etc (I need to bring spares, but I can't change a guitar string during a gig should it break.. I did a makeshift pick holder from a flat marker cap.. I've also been thinking of incorporating a looper into the setup to use with guitar, I've tried it a couple of times with sax using Live)
    11. If I did get a gig I'd need to practice more songs in case I get booked again (I think no one wants to hear the same set twice)
    12. Do I need a stage backdrop? (to use in promo pics and DJ gigs too)
    13. Audio triggers.. basically a mic/switch with a control voltage output to a sampler/drum machine (as you can see there isn't much I do with my feet, kick/hh pedals are mad expensive though as are the sound modules.. at one point I was thinking a foot pedalboard like a Hammond or MIDI to play notes from a synth)
    14. Whether to get a pedal tuner with mute (for tuning the guitar in the middle of the set)
    15. ..and/or a portable recorder (like Zoom or a Tascam, smartphones record in mono afaik)

    Another thing I'm worried about is whether people consider using pre-programmed rhythm/bass sequences, arpeggios etc and setlists & sheets with tempo markings, extra notations and so on cheating.. I can change the patterns unlike if it was a pre-recorded tape and program/alter them on the fly though.

    I'd like to hear your opinions as well as am open to suggestions.

    Sorry for the long post and thanks in advance,


    EDIT : another thing is whether to use a larger mixing desk and place it on the side of the stage (on a separate desk or chair etc) which would allow the use of reverb and a separate monitor mix (I have an Allen&Heath Zed10FX but due to space constraints can't practice with it, also a bit complex for one man to handle live)

    EDIT 2 : placing the mixing desk in the audience is the final solution but requires DI's and/or a multicore stagebox (DIY?) depending whether it's active or passive with monitor/FOH returns.. but at that point I'd need to hire a sound engineer (doubling as a roadie, maybe doing lights which would call for DMX and a light desk though or get a dedicated person for that) and I have no idea how much to pay one.. then it would in return require rehearsing etc. I've been a live sound guy on few occasions myself though but I'm not probably the right person to evaluate/judge or put a price on sound/light tech' performance.. I've been a roadie/driver for free once too and helping bands during DJ gigs as well so I know what it's like, great experience and makes for a good party talk but there's rarely much money involved.

    EDIT 3 : but, hiring a sound engineer poses a new set of problems; the drum machine doesn't have multichannel outputs (bd, sn, perc, crash/hh) which leaves the desk only a stereo mix of the drums so it'd require a very careful setting of volumes in soundcheck, ie. the sound guy has to EQ it out or use a compressor to squash it all together (I'm afraid a monitor mix isn't accurate enough to give an idea of the FOH, in-ear talkback could save me here but a wireless one costs a fortune, ie. to use with electric guitar/sax.. chances are the show could be epic though but I'm broke af so I might as well forget it for now).. or buy a drum machine that does but afaik there aren't many on the market, the Roland TR-08 has via USB iirc but it'd require a laptop with multichannel audio interface (and a larger mixing desk & more DI's).

    EDIT 4 : I did some research, estimated prices and I could get away with :
    -a floor monitor (~300e)
    -10-15m 8/10+4 stagebox&snake (~150-250e)
    -cables/DI-stagebox mults (~50-100e)
    -a sound guy

    Which gives a total sum of 600-700ish minimum (plus the sound guy) to bring the show ready for a small/medium venue, minus the lights and PA (many larger venues have those in-house though I think, if they don't I'd need a techical crew too in that case) which is when we're talking much larger sums (I was looking at dB Technologies FlexSys FM10 for monitoring and a Behringer DI800 Ultra-DI v2 or 2 dBx Di4's as DI, the Behringer is cheaper but needs a rack, I have a Presonus Firepod 10 without a hp amp or FW but it needs rack too and mults)

    Renting a monitor & stagebox and DI's could be one solution but I have no experience with that and how much it costs (I'm a bit concerned how to deal with phantom power as in the A&H it's global and could damage the instruments.. idk whether to use phantom block or female XLR-6,3mm TRS plug adapter as the feed most likely isn't present in instrument inputs or a single 48V DI for the mic and leave the mixer phantom alone?)

    Or upgrade the drum machine to one with separate outputs (it'd radically change my sound, or lug around the Akai for what it has) and get a larger desk but I'd still need a stagebox & more DI's and the floor monitor (plus the sound guy and lights&PA).. and transportation.

    EDIT 5 : I'm fascinated by the sound engineer & monitoring/stagebox/DI thing as it makes it look much less of a road-warrior setup.. I must admit I went a bit overboard with the whole in-ear talkback/arena thing but it would've been epic for sure unless I didn't have this strange stage fright I've always had (and an empty wallet) although some people would probably pay to play a gig like that.. also a fun fact is that I get nervous even when recording at home.

    EDIT 6 : using the Presonus FP10 as DI (I used to multitrack with it in studio) I could get away without the stagebox but I'd need a 10-15m 8+4 snake with 6,3mm TRS stage and XLRm mixer end for the Allen&Heath Zed10FX, and XLR/6,3mm returns or use adapter.. I'd rather use 3-5m mults from the DI to stagebox for future needs (the Presonus has 48v phantom in groups of 4, 8 inputs) and rack bag it.. I reckon depending on the person in question there are many approaches how to organize the mixer end (I'd do dr. comp ch1, sub ch2, gtr ch3, voc ch4, b.synth ch5/6 and kbd ch7/8.. the first 4 channels in the A&H are mono/mic with 3-4 hi Z input and 5/6..7/8 are stereo btw)

    EDIT 7 : further upping the game I think I'd need to split the inputs into two at the desk (or at the stagebox, depending on whether the monitor mixer is on stage or not) to get a separate monitor mix, this in turn requires a larger mixing console (and a signal splitter) or a desk that does that, ie. input matrix or two desks (for recording I'd need to split in 3 but it's kind of overkill).. also using the phantom would feed the mics twice the +48V, possibly harming it (lift the other phantom?) or use a separate DI..

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