I produce electronic music like electro house/dubstep. I am releasing it on the internet for some time, and I think it's time to do a couple of live performances.
How can I perform it live?
Two main ways:
Both are seen, but most club scenes use the first model overwhelmingly, and have done so long before house music was developed, for many reasons:
Live performances of electronica are still seen, usually in more of a concert format, such as Milk Inc's "Supersized" tour in Europe. Milk Inc is somewhat unusual overall, in that their live performances include a drummer and guitarist in addition to the main "mixmaster" and the vocalist. Even the big-name DJs like Armin van Buren, Tiesto, Oakenfold, and Fat Boy Slim generally put on a show when they tour, and form an entourage of dancers, emcees, vocalists etc that will travel with the DJ and all get their cut.
As a compliment to what has already been said, I must add that the electronic musicians I know that play live as a one-man-band, they have their sequencer open on their laptop and have a midi-controller connected.
The sequencer has their playlist loaded in in order and each song is split into stems. Stems are a sort of sections mixes. Fx:
Then they play with the 'mix' on-stage. Cut out the bass drum, add filter to the drums, give the percussion a ring-out delay, pan the synths, etc. All this have dedicated knobs on the midi-controller, that you have setup from home. You could have an 8-channel midi-controller, one channel for each stem, that has two-three knobs and one fader pr channel.
All the things that they do when they are in the moment to do it, just like musicians have their song form, chord patterns and melodies that are the map, they can play in different octaves, play eight-note patterns instead of fourth-note patterns one night, the drummer can breakdown on last chorus on another night.
I'm not an electronic musicians so my example of what stems might be chopped up, is purely my own little idea of what I would do. It would all depend on your songs and might be different from song to song.
We are an electronic/techno/rock/industrial band who heavily use computers.
In order to keep things fun and exciting for the audience, we split things out so we have:
and of course pyrotechnics and other nonsense live :-)
It works really well, but we do ensure we have backup for the prerecorded bits...just in case
There are two extremes:
Most electronic musicians choose their own method, that's somewhere on the continuum between those two extremes.
Some performers simply manipulate a laptop. To me this has two disadvantages -- it's too limiting an interface for the performer, and it's not visually interesting enough for the audience. To me it's more satisfactory when there are physical knobs and buttons and keys, and that can be achieved by having real outboard synths and effects units with their own knobs -- or by having MIDI controllers hooked up to the computer.
Some big name acts with large budgets -- people like The Prodigy, Chase & Status or Pendulum bring in professional musicians to replicate parts which were originally sampled or sequenced, live. This often requires virtuoso expertise from the musicians concerned, because they are playing parts that were originally created for machines.
A couple of examples:
The Vancouver band Holy Fuck are a four-piece consisting of a drummer, a bassist, and two musicians who work the electronics. The drummer plays real acoustic drums. The bassist plays a real electric bass. They supply a genuine live feel to the music. The other two work at trestle tables filled with circuit-bent "toy" keyboards, guitar effects and so on. They work with "loops" in the sense that they use heavily distorted preset patterns from the keyboards, but they also play those toy keyboards, or simply coax drones out of them. They also sing or hum into microphones, again heavily effected. Their time is spent starting and stopping patterns, playing keyboards, and adjusting effects.
They make a tremendous sound, and it's unusually entertaining to watch, for an "electronic" act, since the rhythm section is live, and all four use eye contact and gestures to synchronise each other.
The well known techno act Orbital consists of two men, working with sequenced synths, drum machines and effects. I'm going to talk about their "classic period" live act, because that's what I've observed most closely. I know since then they've moved on to using Cubase, although that may not make much difference.
Orbital worked with hardware MIDI sequencers, driving hardware synths. I think they had a sequencer each, synchronised, so they could each be triggering loops or transitions. A performance involved both of them constantly hitting buttons or twiddling knobs, to prepare the next pattern, trigger it, tweak the sound of a synth or an effect, and so on.
There are many solutions but I would advise you to take a look at :
Or more hardware-oriented solutions : (electribe + mpc etc)
Live enables you to trigger different parts of your songs. You can go from using it as a backtrack while you play an instrument to have each and every part of your song (every drums, lead or bass line)triggable, in time. This way you can reconstruct your song just the same as your studio version, or remix it on the go (using filters and effect). Search for madeon or m4sonic videos.
You can use Maschine to do the same (controlling live or another soft) or could go hardcore and play it live mpc-style. Look for Jeremy Ellis (my favourite) videos or araab music. It's far more technical and hard that way though, but there's a real sense of performance.
There's plenty more midi controller which you can use to do live electronic, software-oriented music. I personnaly use a launchpad and two CMC-PDs and plan on buying a push, but you also have the easier midi-fighter, or much harder and nerdy monome.
As for hardware solutions, they more or less are another variation of the same concept, only the fact that you can rid yourself of a computer is the real difference.
I don't agree with the answer by @KeitS: just because some visible producers perform their music live by just DJing, that does not mean you should be doing the same. First of all, people like Tiesto have built up a reputation based on their productions, and can afford to just do a DJ set, or perhaps not do anything at all live, but just pretend they are doing something (put your hands in the air and pretend you are DJing).
If you are not a major act yet, in my opinion you should seek venues where you can create a real live performance and perform your music live, just like traditional musicians with guitars and drum kits do. And the reason some acts that are electronic (like Milk Inc) play with guitars on stage, is because they cannot figure out how to handle their tech setup live, and are afraid that it might break. If you know your gear and are a bit technical, you don't need guitars to do a live gig. Look at people like Orbital or Aphex Twin who play live shows. They are all electronic acts and perform their music, they don't DJ.
Can you imagine a rock band producing their music in the studio and then just DJing live? How lame would that be? Don't let people tell you that you should DJ live and that that is the norm and how it should be. Have the balls to put down a real performance. If you want to show the audience what you're doing and you want to put down a presence, work with visual elements in your show. You can either use lighting, video, or just make sure that you as a performer are the show element (see Deadmau5).
If you want to bring live arrangements of music that include many instruments and you can't play them all, because you're a one man show, then go find someone to perform with you who is also electronic and can join your band, or use things like sequencers and controllers, to "conduct" rather than "play" the different parts of your performance.
One solution for that is by using Ableton Live, combined with a high-level live performance tool like AudioCubes by Percussa. AudioCubes also have a visual aspect, besides allowing you to control your effects and sounds, and can generate patterns for you while you play live (like an arpeggiator). Besides AudioCubes there are also more traditional MIDI controllers out there, like the Akai APC40, which is a more bare-bones type of control surface for starting and stopping sound and adjusting levels in Ableton Live.
The article is old and targets the Ableton Live software but, the principles remain the same for other tools. Have fun!
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