What do I need as a live gigging musician?


Friends at the forum,

I’ve no real experience in playing live, none that counts in the context to which I’m about to ask my question. Consider me an absolute noob, ignorant and naive but with eyes tinkling with expectation and a belief that the world is a good place and war is reserved for the wicked.

Lately, however, I’ve been getting requests to come and play at parties and events, and I’m thinking what the hell. Time to leave the closet.

But I have absolutely no idea what kind of gear I need, if any, beyond my instruments. I know that any club, event or party can have little to no to awesome gear already in place, but for those of you who do this regularly, what’s expected from a gigging musician in terms of bringing their own gear? I got my Octatrack and my Analog Rytm and that’s what I’ll bring. I’ve realised that even though shit sounds great on all the monitors and speakers I’ve played my stuff on, it can still sound awful in a situation I never could’ve predicted. I just have no idea what’s expected from my end to resolve this. For example.

What else is mandatory and what else is left to assumption that I can expect at least this, although quality and shape might vary?

Assume that these gigs are pro to semi pro, there are no vocals involved (sound source is only Octa and ARytm), as in the arranger that books me hosts parties in one form or another on a regular basis. Assume these parties are of (very) shifting quality, but that it’s still in public places like clubs, offices, bars and so on.

Thanks for the advise.


Regarding sound: It’s important to do soundcheck on the equipment in the place of the gig before the gig. Walking around in the room in front of the main speakers listening. Setting the levels, eq and so on. Use your time on this.
When you’re happy, and if others are going to perform before you, take a photo of all settings, knobs, connections etc. And make sure you use the photoghaphed settings when you play.
Use monitors, because on stage, standing behind or on the sides of the main speakers, feeds your ears bad sound and can make you turn your levels to hell. Bring your headphones if needed.

Regarding equipment: Bring enough cables for any connections. Jacks, xlr, combinations, rca, minijack, various cable plug adapters… The connection solution varies from place to place.

You could also bring your own mixer to keep with you on stage, but you won’t die if you don’t.


…first rule…keep it simple.
…second rule…be prepared.

gear wise you don’t need anything…you got it all…an ot alone can let u play a whole gig with no problem…a rytm on top is candy…

to keep it simple…rytm is batched to the ot…ot is master…main out’s of the ot lead to the dj mixer of the house…so u got only one channel on the dj mixer…makes it way easier to control and react with the sum behaviour on the fly…
soundcheck is good…but once you really start to play and the place is packed, erverything might. vary a lot again…therefor you need easy access to your overall sum signal at any time…

all u still need is your own powersupply options (asking for more powerjacks on semi locations is a pita) and a really good cable to sum out to the dj mixer…jacks on chinch…not longer than 3 meters…and not much shorter…

you’ll need to prepare your set…and to practice…

play for sure with the master channel option…you’ll need some master compression on track 8 in all parts!!! to squeeze and glue all your single signals…

the rytm channel on the ot should have a dj eq…so you can tame the rytm at any time with no fuzz…

kik and bass tend to be too much in an open session that is not nailed down properly…
especially on bigger pa systems…
so keep in mind, that you need fast eq access here…so if the rytm is having that job, you’ll be fine with that dj eq in an ot fx slot…if the ot is doing it, you’ll need more of that dj eq’s on those tracks…


i´d like to add some thoughts to mikkel zens words.
stereo monitors with a sub and the possibiliy to control volume
from your place would be perfect.
in very small locations that don´t have such equipment make sure
that you have at least a good place in the center of the speakers.
also make sure you´ve got a “safe” place and a good table to place
your equipment.
i played many gigs with my band in very small bars or cafes
and the fun ends when the place gets too crowded and drunken people
start to place their drinks near or even on your equipment or dance
on your cables … make sure to keep everything safe.
clarify in advance what equipment the location provides.
if you don´t know the location don´t let you fob off with a simple: no problem,
we´ve got everything here - that can end up with bad surprises.
everything should be easy in locations where guys like you play on
a regular basis.
more professional clubs normally have an own tech guy, what is perfect.
be prepared to have a “technical rider” because some of that people get
nervous when you don´t have that, even when you just need a stereo in.
when you never played live before take some extra time for soundcheck.
(first time i played a very short electronic set i had no soundcheck at all and
that was one of the most embarrasing things i experienced in my life. everything
sounded fine at home on my ns-10s but in that place they had a good PA and
the bass frequencies killed everything - lol)


Yeah, this is vital. It’s also why it bothers me that many posters here seem to think that to get around the midi inadequacies of the Keys/A4 sequencer you just use another sequencer/computer as well… no, no, no. Less is best - less complications, less things to go wrong, less gear to lug around and less you have to quickly set up/break down under minimal lighting.


Start small. Like, really small. Go to a friends home that doesn’t any gear. You are responsible for everything except electricity. With the least amount of gear possible, bring whatever you need to make sound come out of your instrument(s). Play your instruments. Rock the house, or at least the kitchen. Something might go wrong. But that’s ok, you’re with friends. Do it again, maybe at someone else’s home. Remember what you forgot to bring with you the last time. Remember what you brought with you last time but was unnecessary. Remember what you enjoyed most about the last time. Repeat.


Thanks for the advise, guys. I very much appreciate it. I feel like I’ve got the Elektronauts with me when I’ll start gigging, in spirit.

So here’s a couple of things I’ll do now, based on what I’m hearing here:
The Octatrack goes. I’ll use the Rytm only as my live piece of gear. I can make my music work on any instrument as long as it plays back samples and has at least eight tracks.

I’ll buy a small four channel live mixer, to gain control over especially the lower frequencies. They seem to be the biggest show-wreckers in terms of audio unpredictability. Probably something from Mackie.

I don’t want to bring a set of monitors, though. I wonder if a pair of cans will do instead?

I’ll buy lots and lots of cords, short and high quality.

And I’ll do my first gigs on my small portable Bose speaker, in the kitchen with a few friends.

Thanks again.


Kinda obvious, but do print out your setlist with each track bpm if you have long samples syncronised with the rest of the Rhytm.


many good points said here. my suggestions is to bring your own little head lamp. I played in a lot clubs, where the dj is spot on and me was left in the dark on the stage, hard seeing anything.

You should also have quick access the volume knob of the monitors (or even a tech guy who can adjust the volume for you during the set). It´s not fun for you ear to play 1 houre less than 1m away from the monitors and having the RINNNGGG in one of your ears, even normally you (me) will raise the volume over the set … and the peak filters of the A4 can do a killer job for your ears.

At the end it´s up to you how much gear you would like to bring. I like it very much to have a lot of knobs to tweak and drum sounds to program … that´s why I left ableton in the studio.

If you need a mixer for your set, ask the promoter. This is very common.


If you have any gear with wall wart external power supplies (powered FX pedals, mixer, etc.), I highly suggestion small 1 foot extension cables, or wall wart removers.
They’re cheap, and definitely help when you’re hard up for outlets inside a dj booth or on a stage. The last thing you need is some big wall wart covering 2+ outlets.


there’s electronic musicians that travel with a usb stick and there’s elektronic musicians that travel with truckloads of gear. the question is how big and complex do you need your setup to be and what type venues do you play. there’s no general answer to the question "what do i need?”.

i’d recommend getting a case where as much as possible is ready hooked up and good to go. when you are in a dark, smoky, crowded venue the last thing you want to do is set up your rig from ground up. and when you’re done you better pack up fast before the stage hands come and tear your stuff apart, so you better get a case.

finding a proper table is a big problem in most small places. you can improvise one with a keystand and a wooden shelf on top that you bring along. duct tape it to the floor for maximum stability.

tech riders are nice and fine but they are ignored in most cases anyway. so communicate with the venue well in advance and very clearly about what you bring and what you need.

it can be helpful to actually get a rehearsal space. find one you can share with a band that has a halfway decent pa WITH A SUB. you can test run your live setup and see how your tracks work on a proper system. it helps you figure out if your bass is too boomy or too thin for the stage, which is something that often goes unnoticed when programming a track on headphones or home hifi systems.


As well as lots of practice, write yourself some sort of cue card - that way if your mind goes blank with nerves you’ll have something to get back on track. Even if you don’t use them it’s comforting to know that you have them (kinda like public speaking).

You’ll also need this tactical goat.


Some good points… Bring a flashlight… Dont drink too much… Bring an mp3 player in the event of equip failure… Never show stress of a fuck up…

For full on details.c ourtesy of livepa.org

This thread is for updating the livepa.org faq. We can collaboratively work on the faq at this google doc:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ydU … zyaxU/edit

and use this thread for discussing the faq. Here is the old faq:

What is a “Live P.A.”?

Live P.A. stands for “Live Personal Appearance” or “Live Performing Artist” depending on who you talk to. In the context of electronic music, Live P.A. means that electronic musicians are playing a live show using electronic music gear (laptops, keyboards, synthesizers, samplers, hardware sequencers, etc.) Typically electronic musicians write and produce their tracks using sequencers before the show, and play and improvise on their gear during show.

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What is a sequencer?

A sequencer is either hardware or software that records and plays back midi notes. An explanation of MIDI is beyond the scope of this FAQ, therefore please check out the MIDI spec at http://www.midi.com/, and read on about the various popular sequencers below.

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What are Live P.A.s actually doing up there?

It varies from performer to performer. Some Live P.A.'s push play on a CD, DAT, or DAW (nowadays usually a laptop) - this is called using “backing tracks” and is used by musicians that don’t want to take the risk of making a mistake onstage. Others take it a step further and remix that material on the fly and add live instrumentals and gear tweaking over the top. The “real” Live P.A.s take it further by recreating their studio sound live and have the expressive capability to improvise and change the music on the fly, because all of their instruments are right there with them on-stage. Therefore, you’ll see some Live P.A.'s play shows with racks of hardware gear, and others with just a laptop (as it’s possible with today’s powerful computers to create entire music tracks using just a computer). Part of the beauty of the art of Live P.A. is that there is no set method. Performers use whatever means they can to produce the music.

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Will Live P.A.s be replaced by DJs?

No, Live P.A.s will not be replaced by DJs because many electronic musicians want to play real live concerts, as opposed to spinning vinyl or mixing mp3s. That’s because many of us grew up going to and playing in rock, jazz, and classical bands and concerts, where musicians play instruments live and put on a show for the audience. Some Live P.A.s also DJ, and some DJs also do a Live P.A., so the two performance methods go hand-in-hand for some musicians, while other more traditional musicians wouldn’t want to be caught dead behind turntables - it all depends on the person.

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But many Live P.A.s that I’ve seen spin vinyl. Should I spin my tunes?

That depends on your objectives and values. The advantages of musicians DJing their tracks on vinyl as opposed to using hardware gear are: better portability, the consistency of the vinyl recording (vinyl doesn’t deviate or “screw up” unless it gets scratched or there’s a problem with the turntable), and ease of acceptance, because 99% of the clubs and events out there already have turntables and a DJ mixer setup. The disadvantages of DJing are that the audience does not experience a true live concert and the musician DJ has very little freedom to improvise (i.e. to create something musically new on-the-fly), unless they have turntablist-level DJing skills. The simple act of beat-matching and crossfading from one track to another does not amount to musical improvisation, in our collective opinion. In that respect, another disadvantage of DJing tracks is that you earn very little credibility from your peers that put in the full effort and energy to create and play a real live show, and even less (and likely negativity) vibes from traditional musicians who go up on stage and perform every note and nuance of their instrument specifically to deliver the best live show they are capable of. So those are some of the values that other musicians have that you should consider if you are looking to build a reputation with your musician peers. Most people won’t be jerks about it, but you can be sure it’s on their mind if they have to put more effort in than you for as much or less respect (and monetary retribution…) from the public.

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Are laptops viable musical instruments?

Yes, now that laptops are smaller, cheaper, and significantly more powerful than just a few years ago, some DJs and Live P.A.s (and even some keyboard players in bands) are dropping their vinyl and bulky hardware gear for a laptop. Another key advantage of the laptop is that it’s customizable with the musician’s software and hardware controller of choice, and can be played at a live concert. For example, USB controllers integrate with software to give the Live P.A. control over the live music in a very similar way that hardware electronic music gear allows. When the musician plays the ivory keys of a USB keyboard, it sends MIDI note data through the USB cable to the laptop, which then plays audible notes (which are created by the musician’s software) through the laptop’s soundcard audio output jack. Likewise, virtual knobs and faders in software can be controlled by hardware potentiometers/knobs and faders on USB controllers and older MIDI controllers. Also, certain professional music software programs (MAX/MSP, Reaktor, Buzz, etc.) allow modular “programming” of sound and music within the laptop so that musicians can create and perform using their own virtual instruments (i.e. algorithms). MAX/MSP has a very loyal following in academic electronic music circles where the entire focus of graduate study programs is on algorithmic composition and live computer music concerts, sometimes even incorporating live acoustic instruments that are modified by the MAX/MSP algorithm to create a computerized “improvisation” on the live musician’s playing.

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But Live P.A.s stare at laptop screens during the show and look like dorks…

The answer to this problem is that Live P.A.s need to PERFORM - that means using your musicianship during your show. Play the keys, tweak a USB hardware controller, freak your synth, beat your drum pads, play a traditional acoustic or electronic instrument, rock the mic, etc! A good live act has control over their music and can improvise at a moment’s notice to blow the crowd’s minds in ways that a DJ cannot. If all you have at your disposal is a laptop, then at least put some effort into having fun and getting into your music, and interact with the crowd. A mantra of live musicians across all genres of live music across the world is to fire up the audience and draw their energy and put it back into the music, and repeat the cycle to keep the good vibes going. This can be done easily - all you need to do is use your charisma with your audience (even if there’s only 2 of them watching) and use your limbs to your advantage (FWIW, we do not condone indecent exposure), and control the music from the laptop’s ASCII keyboard to make as much of a live performance out of it as you can. For example, in Ableton Live 4, use the preset track mute keys, trigger legato clips using other keys, and throw in some improvisational live sample triggering, and show them you’re doing it live using your body language! If you’re having fun, they will too. (and it helps to write good music, too…)

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Which is better for Live P.A. - laptops or hardware gear?

There is no set method, so use whatever means works for you. Many people have laptops these days, so it is very simple to get started with software like Propellerheads Reason or Image Line Fruity Loops. On the other hand, many Live P.A.s choose to use hardware gear for tactile, immediate control over the instrumentals. Also, hardware gear provides a more professional look than a laptop does. Some Live P.A.s have gotten into hybrid setups, where both hardware gear and laptops running software are used. (see below) As far as instrumental sounds go, there are sounds that hardware synths can do better than software (i.e. fat analog synth sounds), and there are some sounds that software creates that most affordable hardware can’t (i.e. real-time granular resynthesis, ala Absynth and Reaktor ) so if you crave sounds or effects from both hardware and software, you may want to consider a hybrid setup. A simple example of a hybrid setup is using Ableton Live 4 to sequence silky smooth basslines on a Studio Electronics analog bass module. The other way around would be to use an Akai MPC1000 hardware MIDI sequencer to trigger realistic multisampled upright bass sounds in a soft sampler like NI Kontakt or Tascam Gigastudio.

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I’m just starting out as a Live P.A. - what should I use?

For beginners to electronic music, a common recommendation is to start off simple and build from there. If you have a laptop but no musical experience, download demos of Fruity Loops, Acid, Reason or Live, and get the feel for them. If you don’t have a laptop, and don’t have the budget for it or any expensive gear, start off with a used Yamaha RM1x and a used E-Mu (ESI or Emulator series) or Akai (MPC, S2000, or later S-series or any Z-series) sampler, and download samples from the internet or get a few cheap sampling CDs. Another approach would be to get a bunch of used Electribes, like the ER-1, ES-1, and EA-1, and sync them all together and write and play out your tracks like that. You can prepare and perform an entire live set using just Reason, Live, or an RM1x + a hardware sampler if you spend enough time learning your software or hardware gear. Read the manuals, check online FAQs, and ask questions on forums like this one and Dancetech.com. As you feel the need for better sounds or more control of your tracks, your next gear acquisitions will naturally fall into place. For example, with software you would probably want to get a few good soft synths (checkout KVR-VST for the latest, most popular soft synths) and a USB hardware controller. If you make a mistake and buy gear that you didn’t need or grow out of it - it’s OK, it happens to all of us. Experiment with gear, find out what works best for you, and most of all… have fun!

For keyboardists and musicians that are just getting into electronic music, the above recommendations might provide a good and inspiring starting point, but you may want to opt for a more powerful instrument early on. For example, for a laptop Live P.A., you could skip Fruity Loops and Acid, and go straight for Reason or Live. Get a good VSTi analog-modeling synth like Absynth, Albino, Sonic Synth, Tera, or Zeta+ for your basic synth leads, pads, and basses. For bread and butter sounds, check out Sampletank and GigaStudio, and for samplers, look at Kontakt and Halion (both of which support many established sample library formats and hard disk streaming). If you’re getting a laptop more to mangle sounds, proceed straight to Reaktor and check out NI’s website for downloadable Reaktor instruments. For a hardware Live P.A., checkout the Yamaha RS7000 and Roland MC-909, or for even more power, look at the Roland MV-8000 and Akai MPC 4000. As a slightly cheaper alternative, you could get a serious hardware sequencer like an Akai MPC 1000 or 2000XL and use it to drive a few VA and analog synths, the most popular of which are the Access Virus and also the Clavia G2 modular and Nord Lead series (note: the Lead 3 sounds VERY different than the Lead 1 and 2.) A few popular analog synths currently in production (as of early 2005) are the Dave Smith Instruments Evolver, PolyEvolver, and the Alesis Andromeda. Other hot synths include the Kurzweil K-series, the now-deceased Waldorf Q and Wave lines, the Yamaha AN1x, the vintage Roland Juno and Jupiter lines, the Novation Supernova synths, and the Alesis Ion and Micron. The Korg MS2000 and Roland JP-8000 have their supporters out there, but those cats probably never played a Virus.

For electronic musicians that have been making tracks for awhile, it’s a different story. The main pieces in your gear setup now should give you a good idea of what you need to bring out live, so if for example, the Virus was your main synth, plan on taking that out, and sequencing it using Ableton Live or an MPC. However, if you don’t want to break the physical continuity of your studio, or risk taking out your very expensive gear investments, you might want to consider using Ableton Live to remix your tracks on the fly, as opposed to recreating them in their original state. If you want to avoid laptops and software altogether, but still want to take the sounds from your studio out, there are a few hardware devices that you could consider as alternatives. The Roland SP-808EX stores samples directly to zip disks in a compressed format, and bypasses RAM limitations of standard samplers, so that long phrase playback is possible. There are a few live acts out there that use (2) SP-808s to remix tracks on the fly at live gigs. Other hardware samplers with large RAM capacities include the Akai Z-4, Z-8, MPC4000, and the Roland MV-8000. A certain famous techno Live P.A. uses (2) Yamaha SU700 loop samplers for slamming multi-hour techno sets. All of the above hardware samplers are capable of taking chunks of your studio tracks and recreating them live in a spontaneous way with the possibilities of improvisation at hand.

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What are some common setups for Live P.A.?

A popular hybrid configuration is to use Ableton Live to trigger audio and MIDI loops stored on the laptop, and connect a hardware sequencer with its own built-in sounds like a Korg Electribe to the laptop with a MIDI cable. In this configuration, the Electribe functions as the MIDI master and Ableton Live as the MIDI slave. When you press “Play” on the Electribe, the laptop running Live or Reason should playback in perfect sync with the Electribe. You should setup a simple bass drum or high hat pattern on both to check if there’s any lag between them. If there is, adjust the MIDI sync parameter in Live to sync Live and the Electribe up tightly. Then, you can trigger loops (“clips” in Ableton terminology) in Live completely independent of your patterns on the Electribe, and mix back and forth between the two alone and both together to create one continuous flow of music. The non-stop flow of music is important for electronic dance music genres, but perhaps overkill for non-dance electronic music genres. Ultimately it’s up to the musician and the desired artistic effect of the show.

For all-hardware setups, the most reasonable configuration is a hardware sequencer (like an MPC) driving a few synths and a rack-mount sampler. The reason you would want a rack-mount sampler in addition to the MPC is because the MPC can’t play samples chromatically up and down the keyboard. So you would use the MPC for drum samples and the rack-mount sampler for multi-sampled instruments, and the synth obviously for basses, leads, pads, etc. Basically, you would write your music on the MPC or on a computer (in which case you would transfer the MIDI files to the MPC), and play it back live using the MPC 1000 or 2000XL’s “Next Sequence” feature to create a live, spontaneous song structures. Another powerful MIDI sequencer that’s even more geared towards dance music is the now discontinued E-Mu Command Station series, with its powerful X-Mix feature that lets you mix and match tracks from the current and next pattern, much like the Roland MC-505 Megamix. The Yamaha RS7000 (see Motifator.com RS7000 discussion board for discussion) or RM1x could also be used in this configuration, but you would probably want to avoid using the internal RM1x sounds if you’re going for a professional live sound… Also, you could look for the venerable Alesis MMT-8, which can mix and match tracks like the Command Stations and MC-505, but since it came out nearly 20 years ago (!), you’ll have to use MIDI SYSEX dumps or analog tape to save your sequence data.

Another all-hardware setup is the multi-sequencer setup, where multiple hardware sequencers and drum machines are MIDI synced together, but play their own internal sounds (or even trigger external sounds on synths or a laptop). For example, one fairly vintage combination is the Roland TR-909 and TB-303 synced together for vintage acid house and trance music. A simple modern example is the Electribe MX and SX, teaming the MX’s analog modeling synthesis with the SX’s sampled drums and bass, respectively. As long as your sequencers support MIDI Time Code (MTC) and MIDI Machine Commands (MMC) (and most all of them do…), you can sync as many as you want and create a groovebox ensemble.

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What software can I use for a Live P.A.?

Some titles that we’ve seen in action are:

Cubase (Steinberg)
Logic Audio (Emagic)
Reason (Propellerheads)
Fruity Loops (Image-Line)
Orion (Sonic-Syndicate)
Live (Ableton)
MAX/MSP (Cycling '74)
Reaktor (Native Instruments)
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Which is the best one for playing live?

The current favorite for electronic music is Ableton Live. For the more experimentally inclined, check out Native Instruments’ Reaktor and Cycling '74 MAX/MSP.

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How powerful of a machine do you need to play live?

The more power the better. You want to run the latest apps with a comfortable amount of CPU headroom and low latency. Most Live P.A.s on this site use Pentium 4 and M-based laptops, and most applications suggest at least 512MB RAM, with 1GB RAM recommended. Some models we’ve heard good things about are IBM, Toshiba, Sony, and Avertec. You should plan on getting an external USB2 or Firewire hard drive to backup all of your data on a daily basis, and make it bootable so you can take to gigs in case your main hard drive crashes. You should get a good quality PCMCIA, Firewire, or USB2 mobile audio interface (i.e. sound card) with several outputs and onboard MIDI i/o. RME is the best. M-Audio makes decent cards. Roland / Edirol are known for reliable cards. The Tascam FW-series controllers are solid, too.

But keep in mind, you can make music with ANYTHING, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t afford the latest system. Use what you’ve got and try to maximize it’s potential. On older PCs, you can still run MIDI from a sequencer. A few good pre-VST applications were Cakewalk, Massiva, Pure Data, FastTracker, Buzz, Fruity Loops, etc. Some of the first standalone apps like Propellerheads Rebirth and NI Battery can run quite well on a 500MHz-ish Pentium 3 chip, assuming you have a decent audio card with ASIO drivers. If you don’t have a good audio card, try a websearch for ASIO4all, as it can (depending on your CPU and on-board sound chip) reduce MME driver latencies down to around 4ms.

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How about using ADAT digital i/o, digital mixers, and mLAN?

You could consider an audio interface with ADAT lightpipe or mLAN, and get the compatible digital mixer from Tascam, Roland, or Yamaha, and route tracks directly from the mixer to the laptop and vice versa (you would use the A/D and D/A converters on the digital mixer instead of the audio interface). I’ve heard of good results with RME Digiface and a Tascam digital mixer with ADAT lightpipe in a studio situation, and there’s no doubt a proper Yammie or Roland digital mixer with ADAT lightpipe couldn’t do the same sort of job. The Yamaha digital mixers are widely regarded as high quality, but have a distinct “digital” character to the sound, as compared to a Mackie, so you might want to make sure you like the sound before you jump.

However, mLAN is a different story, because it requires the installation of an mLAN MIDI + Audio driver on your laptop, in order to stream all that MIDI and Audio data through the IEEE-1394 cable. With mLAN, be prepared to take a significant hit on your laptop’s CPU resources (20% or so on a Pentium M 1.4GHz…). I personally would wait a few years before diving into mLAN until Yamaha can optimize the drivers, and by that time, CPUs will get incrementally faster due to expected fabrication process improvements, and at that point laptops will be better able to handle the bandwidth requirements of mLAN along with a bunch of VST and VSTi plug-ins.

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Where to buy?



Digital Village


The Art of Performing Live Electronic Music by Sneakthief


Please remember, the art of playing live is about being cool-headed when things don’t go the way you expect it. Try to take everything in stride, and for god’s sake, never panic.

The most hard-won piece of advice that I have right after you perform DO NOT CRITICIZE YOUR SET IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE. If you must, save the self-deprecation for another day and only for your closest friends.


First of all, most of the “mistakes” made while performing will only be noticed by you. If someone thinks that you played fine, and then you start telling them about all of the fuckups, it can change their perception of your performance in a negative way. Your confidence and self-assurance plays an important role in how your music will be received.

The truth is, there will always be things going wrong - e.g. gear fuckups, bad cables, bad sound, audio glitches, police, people trying to talk you or hit on you, etc… live performance is about Having the confidence to overcome such difficulties and play your music as best as you can.

Although it may look impressive to haul a lot of gear, what really matters is what you do with it. Having more gear means having more things to go wrong. So think twice about bringing your whole studio for your next life gig.

Studios are like laboratories - they’re usually safe and controlled environment that you’re familiar with. The minute you drag your equipment somewhere else, you introduce all sorts of weird variables including

-power fluctuations
-low lighting
-strange sound system setups with weird cabling
-spilled liquids
-intoxicated/obnoxious/distracting party goers
-lots of bass to rattle wires, connections and hard drives

As such, I prefer taking less gear rather than more. It also helps to really know your equipment inside and out.

Live PA Checklist - (this list has been compiled thanks to helpful suggestions from those on the livepa.org, EM411.com, and the now-defunct Moving-Parts & Topica livePA mailing lists)

Ask beforehand about the setup if possible and don’t forget to make your needs very clear. I highly recommend printing out a simple rider that spells out exactly what you require - some promoters might forget that you need power connectors, table space, an audio input into the sound system, etc. (Note: to prevent power issues and line noise, avoid going on the same electrical circuit as the discolights/fogmachine/etc.)

Make an equipment checklist and use it before every show. It’s so easy to forget one little thing that will prevent you from playing. Having your own power bar is essential if you need more than one outlet and always bring duct tape).

Don’t be afraid of writing down a listing of all the tracks you have - that way, if you’re doing any kind of spontaneous transitions, you can quickly choose what you might want to play next. (and NO, I don’t necessarily mean a pre-planned set list). Also consider making notes for patch numbers and changes, volume levels, or anything else that’s essential to your live workflow.

Know ALL your cable connections inside and out. Check your cables beforehand and make sure they’re all working… even midi cables go bad, and when they do it can be very frustrating because you might not think to check the cable when midi data isn’t being transmitted properly.

Mark your cables with coloured tape or label-tiewraps (so you know what goes where). Don’t forget the duct tape!

Bring a flashlight - lighting conditions can vary and chances are you will need one.

Bring many different types of extra connectors because you never know what kind of audio inputs/cables the venue will have. If you’re using a laptop, you might want to also bring a power connector that removes the ground (aka a ground lift) - this can help get rid of grounding problems (50/60Hz hum).

Consider putting a compressor/limiter on your final mix (see section below on Compression/Limiting for more info)- it comes in handy for sounds that get a little out of control. Remember, records have gone through a whole mastering process and will generally deliver a consistent volume range, whereas live sound can have some pretty crazy dynamics (but try not to squash your mix if you limit/compress it). Some cheap compressor/limiters: DBX 166, Behringer Multicom Pro, SYMETRIX 501, YAMAHA- GC2020B, ASHLY Model CG85E, ASHLY Model CG85E, DBX 266, ALESIS: CLX-440, 3630, ALTO CLE2.0, etc.

A monitor is necessary, or at least headphones. You will find that listening to both will help give you a better idea of what’s being heard on the dancefloor. Nevertheless, what you hear from the monitor speakers is NOT what the people hear on the dancefloor.

Soundcheck! If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to setup your equipment before the event starts, take some time to LISTEN TO YOUR SET ON THE DANCEFLOOR! This is essential, even if you don’t get a soundcheck, run out onto the dancefloor when you first start playing so you can get an idea of how everything sounds. Resources on soundchecking and live sound:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/onemusic/pe … kp01.shtml
http://www.digitalmusicworld.com/html/h … LSound.php
http://personalpages.tds.net/~rpmccabe/ … sLinks.htm

If the room sounds bad, a 10, 20 or 30 band eq will allow you to compensate for it. every room has a resonant frequency that may detract from your sound - Not to mention, all sound systems are eq’d differently.

Be friendly to whoever is doing sound because they can make or break your set through carelessness or malice. A good sound engineer will let you know if you’re running a signal that’s too high or too low, and will also be on duty to make sure that the sound system levels are staying consistent. A lazy or unfriendly sound engineer won’t give a damn if your set sounds like crap because your output is clipping and the limiters are squashing your set. If people are running away from the dancefloor, then you better check and see if you’re killing them with unfriendly mid-high frequencies, clipping or distortion.

If there isn’t a sound engineer, you can try to find someone who’s sober enough to let you know if any of your levels are going astray or if there are problems with the sound system.

Consider using at least 2 sequencers/laptops (or at least an extra drum machine). If one of them crashes, you’ll at least have a backup. If everything fails or the power goes out, start clapping to the sound comes back on or break out your emergency acoustic instrument. Or try beatboxing. I’m not kidding. (e-trinity once performed this successfully to a screaming crowd when his laptop crashed minutes before the end of his set at a big party in Sweden). Cheap sequencers to use as a second sequencer: Alesis MMT-8, Yamaha QY-70, QY-100, etc. (Plus: see Drum Machine section below for cheap drum machines that can be used as a sequencer.)

Bring backup disks (or cdr’s, flash memory cards, hard drives) for everything… this sounds ridiculous, but redundancy is the key here. Consider what you would do in a situation where your synth loses all it’s patches or if your hard drive crashes. If you have a laptop, could you make a bootable cdr? Also, if you have a laptop, you could keep sysex dumps handy for external gear. The same goes for sampler data. External scsi cdrom drives are cheap. For about $50 or less, you can buy a cdrom drive and do a dump of your sampler’s hard drive to a cdr. Not to mention, external Firewire/USB2 hard-drive enclosures are ridiculously cheap and don’t weight that much.

Hard drives can be susceptible to low frequency vibrations which can cause misreads, or even head crashes (this is Bad ThingTM). So please be careful when you’re choosing a space to place your laptop. Consider placing it on foam, or even a t-shirt and at all costs avoid putting your computer on a bassbin!

Have some kind of backup plan in case your gear crashes, even if it’s something cheap and simple like a minidisk. This will give you some breathing time if you have to suddenly reload anything. If you’re using a laptop, consider having it automatically boot into your music software and automatically play a track (in case of a reboot) - remember to scandisk and defrag your machine regularly.

During your set, take a moment to occasionally look at the audience and see how they’re reacting to what you’re doing. If people start to leave the dancefloor, then perhaps you should try something different

Practice! I know it’s obvious, but it will help you overcome unpleasant situations where things fuck up. If you think you know your gear well, you may find out differently when it’s dark and in a completely different environment. doh!

Be prepared to politely shoe people away if they ask you to play their favorite song, or “what all those buttons do”, or make out with you during your set (heheh). And for God’s sake, don’t let anyone put their drinks next to your gear, and be extra vigilant when drink-wielding patrons are hovering around you.

I strongly recommend to not get fucked up on whatever substance. It’s rude and disrespectful to not perform your best - you will not play any better if you’re seriously intoxicated. Save the “partying” for after you’ve finished your set and packed up your equipment and it’s in a safe place.

Don’t be afraid to take chances and improvise whenever you feel comfortable in doing so - a perfectly pre-rehearsed gig can end up being too rigid. You have to be able to create some kind of repor or feedback with your audience, n’est-ce-pas?

Record your set and listen to it. You may end up getting some great material, or at the very least be able to figure out where you need improvement.

Try to have someone trustworthy watching your gear when you’re not around and pack up your gear as soon as possible!!! This will significantly reduce your chances of anything bad happening including theft and accidents.

“never never never never never never never never never act bashful during your set. It’s not cute and it’s embarrassing for everyone.” (credit djugel at EM411.com)

If you make a mistake, don’t make a big deal out of it. Just keep on playing. Most of the time it will only be you who notices or remembers it.

If you’re not afraid to crack open your equipment, don’t forget to bring a screwdriver in case you need to open up your gear right before or during your set in order to carry out some crazy emergency repairs.

If you’re traveling with your gear, make sure to pack it very well. A lot of smaller equipment fits nicely in those cheap hardware-store metal toolkit cases. Nice pieces of thick foam don’t cost too much and just a few minutes with a knife and scissors will allow you to customize the shape to fit your equipment nicely. Please remember that baggage handlers and roadies can be cruel bastards lol

Believe it or not, you can make a living doing live performance. It certainly takes determination, experience, perseverance and a little obsession. Many musicians from all walks of life have come to realize that there is typically more money to be made from performing as opposed to releasing recordings. As such, don’t underestimate your value as an entertainer - there should come a time when you will want to charge for your efforts. Although the amount of time and effort put into a live set is usually never offset by the income from performing, don’t doubt for a second that what you’re doing is worth being paid for.

Oh yeah, the most important thing is to have fun!

NB: as you get more experience, you eventually get less and less nervous before performing - but there should always be some excitement and sense of anticipation. Otherwise why bother?

Label EVERYTHING. Most wall-warts power supplies are black - get a white marker and write your name and email address on the back, and write what device it is for (SH-101, FX pedals, etc) on all five visible sides in big letters - that way you can find them in the dark. Label every single cable - a really good way to do this is to buy 1/2" heatshrink tubing from an electronics supply shop, then print off bits of paper with your name and email address on them and use the shrink-wrap tubing to hold them on securely. If you don’t have your name on everything, you will lose cables!
Some additions from the rest of LivePA.org:

When travelling internationally, expect that customs will open and search your equipment, and will not likely take the same amount of care to repack it afterwards - you are not allowed to be present at these searches. If your equipment is in locked cases, they will break the locks. Make sure your equipment is packed in a way that is obvious for repackers, and possibly even include a note or diagram explaining that the equipment is very delicate and must be repacked properly.

Assume that the house mixer will require you to plug in using 1/4", XLR, or RCA - and make sure you’ve got the appropriate adapters to plug into any of those connections! A good rule of thumb: for anything that you will need to connect your rig to the soundsystem, do not trust anyone but yourself to provide the appropriate connectors.

If you’ve got gear that uses wall-wart type adapters, buy and bring a decent-quality multiadapter with reversible polarity and many different types of tips - label it “Spare” and don’t depend on it. Sooner or later, all wallwarts will go flaky, and having a spare might just save your show.

If you’ve got a bunch of wall-warts and don’t want to carry around 10 power bars to plug them all into, consider buying three or four cheap 6-foot extension cords, chopping the ends off with three inches of cable each, and splicing the ends together to make a single six-inch extension cord. You can usually plug two wallwarts into a single plug on a powerbar this way. Hint: if you get 25’ extension cords instead of 6’, that leaves you with 24’ of nice thick cable that makes for excellent home stereo speaker wire!

MIDI cables can and do die. When you discover that you have a MIDI cable that is definitely flaky (i.e., it works if you bend it one way, but doesn’t work if you bend it the other way), EXECUTE IT IMMEDIATELY WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE!! Thou shalt not suffer a sketchy cable to live! Sketchy cables have a sneaky habit of finding their way back into use later on… immediately destroy the cable by cutting it in half, so that it can never bite you. If the ends are non-molded, you can salvage them for later use - but most MIDI cables these days have molded ends.

If you’re handy with a soldering iron, it is cheaper and better in the long run to build your own high-quality patch cables rather than to buy them. “Molded end” cables (ie. Hosa, etc, where the 1/4" plug is plastic and cannot be taken apart) are fine for short-term use, or use in things like patchbays where they will rarely be moved. For live-pa use where cables will be plugged and unplugged, coiled and uncoiled a lot, it is better to spend the extra dollar or three up-front, so that if/when a cable dies in a couple of years, you can repair it rather than throw it away. You can also tailor your cables to your live rig this way, and if later you change your setup, you can just keep the ends and rebuild new cables. I recommend Neutrik or Switchcraft plug components, and Mogami, Canare, or Sommer cabling. It’s not cheap; instead of buying a ready-made 20’ 1/4" patchcord for $14 at the music store, you end up paying $18 for parts (Neutrik 1/4" connectors are $4 each!) but you end up with a cable worth $50 at the same music store!

You can greatly improve the lifespan of your cables by never, ever bending or folding them at sharp angles - for 1/4" patch cables, store them in 1’ loops. Add extra strain relief anywhere that cables have their weight supported by the jack or cuff of the cable - velcro tie-strap strips work excellently for this, and can be attached to flightcases or mixers without trouble. One good method for packing cables - sew a drawstring into a small pillowcase, and store coiled cables in there. Cables stored in this way are much less likely to become entangled in travel - I use a mesh “stuff sack” that I got for $3 at an army surplus store.

Always bring either a bunch of demo CDs of your stuff, or at the very least proper business cards with your contact info and website. People have very short attention spans these days, and if you want someone to remember you, you have to give them something physical that they can take home with them! The more professional you come off, the more likely people are to recommend your act for other events.

Learn how to take a compliment graciously. When someone comes up after your set and starts gushing about how you’re their new God, shake their hand, look them in the eye, smile and say something like “Thanks, man, I’m really glad you enjoyed it!”, or “Thanks, that means a lot to me!”. Be a full-on rockstar on stage, but be a regular, down-to-earth person afterwards - if someone is impressed with your music, they’ll be even more impressed to find out that you’re a regular, approachable guy. This leads directly to more gigs!

UPS - Uninterruptible Power Supply: get a small cheap Belkin UPS from Office Depot or Office Max. It has a battery back-up that will save your fanny and gear if the power goes down as you’re playing. There’s one model that’s the same size as a power strip but has the UPS inside, it’s $30USD. Also, they just recently came out with sub-$100 UPSs with built-in Voltage Regulation (!) intended for home office use, but they are also compact enough for our purpose of taking them live out on gigs to deal with places with dodgy power situations.

Instead of just a screwdriver, get a multi-tool, like a Leatherman or a Swiss Army Knife. More useful, and sometimes the problems you may have to fix are not even your own.

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Ableton Live 4 - hardware controller tips

Evolution UC-33 - map faders to volume, three knobs to aux sends, keys QWERTYUI to toggle clips on/off, ZXC to low/mid/high kill on the master out EQ.
Behringer BCR-2000 (rotary encoders): 20 buttons, 32 rotary encoders with circular LED displays, USB connectivity, 1 MIDI in, 2 MIDI outs, 2 footswitch.
Behringer BCF-2000 (motorized faders): same as BCR except has 8 motorized faders instead of the 24 additional rotaries.
Kenton Control Freaks and Spin Doctor. Highly customizable. http://www.kentonuk.com
Peavey PC-1600 and PC-1600X: the industry-standard 16-fader (non-motorized) + 16 button MIDI control surface.
Akai MPD-16 is nuts (as a controller for Live). Very cool to use as a switch for whatever functions you want to assign it to. (transport, mute/solo, clip launch etc.)
Faderfox boxes - made for Ableton Live, look quite dope in our collective opinion (although nobody has one yet): http://www.faderfox.de
A DM2 ($30 off eBay) with the DM2 to MIDI hack at: http://www.pdoom.ch/dm2/
Multiple controllers at once ( i.e. Akai MPD16, Ensoniq ESQ-1, and an Oxygen8) works just fine for Live.
If your controller has an infinite knob, in Live you can assign it to scroll through all your clips on an individual track. Then you can assign another button to play the clip. You could assign a button to play the next clip in the list. You’d have to organize your clips in such a way that they would be in a certain order, however.
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Ableton Live - song structure tips

One option is to use Scenes in Live’s Session View as the ‘main structure’ of each song with of loops, effects, and samples, but tweak synths (running a hardware synth or Reason through a Live audio track) in real-time, because it can be tough to sequence a good breakdown using only Tracks and Scenes.
Another option is to use Scenes as sections of your songs, i.e. Verse, Chorus, Breakdown, Build, and just launch the Scene for that section of your arrangement.
To spontaneously make your tracks change at the press of a button and for launching immediate drum fills, experiment with Live 4’s Follow Actions + Legato Mode + Clip Launch Quantization settings. Check out this very nice little tutorial from Ableton: http://www.ableton.com/index.php?main=t … b=tips1104
Scene selection can be controlled via MIDI Program Changes. This way, you can keep Live and connected hardware devices on the same page.
One approach is using a top-down approach, to assemble the clips with similar musical contexts near each other and color code each region going downwards.
Insert blank Scenes between “songs” (assuming each song is a group of Scenes) to write notes to yourself.
Possibly use Scenes between songs as “segue” areas which can involve pads, vocal samples, etc.
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Alternative Sequencers

Sequencers that break the mold:


Karma - takes MIDI input and generates complex musical phrases. http://www.korg.com [url=“http://www.karma-lab.com/”]http://www.karma-lab.com
Doepfer MAQ 16/3 and Schaltwerk - analog step sequencer using 48 rotary encoders. Outputs CV and MIDI. http://www.doepfer. com
Evolver - 16 x 4 sequencer with an awe-inspiring list of destinations and variable lengths. [url=“http://www.davesmithinstruments.com/”]http://www.davesmi


Thanks all, guys. Continues good advise. I very much appreciate it and feel a lot better prepared.
In the spirit of true priorities, I will acquire the goat before anything else. I will sell my instruments if I have to. I can perform with a goat. And I can make noises while I do. It’d count as avant garde, and be cool in its own way.


Thanks all, guys. Continues good advise. I very much appreciate it and feel a lot better prepared.
In the spirit of true priorities, I will acquire the goat before anything else. I will sell my instruments if I have to. I can perform with a goat. And I can make noises while I do. It’d count as avant garde, and be cool in its own way.[/quote]

Once knew a guy that lived in one of those sharehouses where everybody is at a crazy/genius level - One weekend he found a goat somewhere (no idea how, he lived in the inner city) so for the next few days he took the goat with him to whatever parties he went to.

Everybody thought it was awesome. True story.


Hate to break it to you, but…


Looks like goats are a universally recognized party accessory


it´s good to always have one safety pattern in mind, especially if you do lots of improvising (which I do). like a Plan B if the impro does´t turn out to be too good or if you run out of ideas. or if something goes wrong technically.

for example improv -> pattern -> improv -> pattern etc.
on good days, you might not even need one pattern :slight_smile:

ah, and an external delay can safe your life, if something goes wrong:
a long infinite delay, and you have time to reset everything.

good luck and have fun


All great info here :+1: THanx …


a stereo DI box. I have a blue Sampson one: was cheap & sounds fine. Sorry if someone has already mentioned that.