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Maybe this question is a little bit amateur but I am new to electronic music. I have seen a lot of bands like Coldplay that, despite they are only 4 members, they have lots of electronic sounds live that no one of the 4 members seems to be playing them.

For example, you can see an example in this video. At 1:02 an electronic melody starts playing. How is this achieved? Is the guy with the computer just triggering it at the exact time? That seems really difficult to do... Or is it all part of one big track and everyone is just playing with a metronome?

Thank you.

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Sometimes it's the drummer, sometimes someone is offstage, sometimes there are entire songs programmed and they all have click tracks in their in-ear monitors, and sometimes it's a combination of those things.

There are so many controllers available now and so many kinds of software that the possibilities are manifold. Drum pads or sensors, foot controllers, even guitar note to midi conversion software can all be used for all kinds of triggers and synchronization.

Many acts have racks of music servers off stage running different effects, synthesizers, and pre-recorded tracks. What's interesting is some of the most synth heavy bands actually create more organic sounding performances. Nine Inch Nails is on record as using Apple Mainstage for software synths and effects while also using totally analog, pieced together custom synth racks and other tools that make their performances really breathe.

If you can dream up a crazy idea for your live show, and you're willing to do the research on what's available and how to use it, and you have a bit (or a lot) of money to throw around, you can do almost anything these days.


Regarding the video linked in the question:

  • They all have in-ear monitors and are probably playing with a click
  • The drummer has a Roland Octopad trigger pad device
  • They have an entire DJ who can literally spend all his time triggering and syncing samples (as necessary) (this is almost definitely where the pre-recorded content is coming from)
  • Some "live" music videos actually have additional parts overdubbed after the performance (oh yeah, it's totally "cheating" but whatever makes the money is what happens)

From comments:

In case it was the drummer, does he just hit a pad and the melody starts playing? How can you be sure the melody will be on tempo?

Three ways (at least) a drummer might trigger something:

  • a pad
  • a drum trigger attached to a real drum or cymbal
  • a foot controller of some kind.

Synchronization can be handled in different ways:

  • Musicians can be given a click that matches the backing track, they can just play along with the backing track if they are good enough and the track is clear enough
  • The backing track can be made to speed up and slow down to follow the musicians
  • The backing can just be sample that doesn't play at a certain tempo and is repeatedly triggered and plays once for a short time.
  • In case it was the drummer, does he just hit a pad and the melody starts playing? How can you be sure the melody will be on tempo? – Martin Copes Jul 16 '16 at 22:10
  • @MartinCopes Three ways (at least) a drummer might trigger something: 1) a pad, 2) a drum trigger attached to a real drum or cymbal, 3) a foot controller of some kind. Synchronization can be handled in different ways. Musicians can be given a click that matches the backing track, they can just play along with the backing track if they are good enough and the track is clear enough, the backing track can be made to speed up and slow down to follow the musicians, or the backing can just be sample that doesn't play at a certain tempo and is repeatedly triggered and plays once for a short time. – Todd Wilcox Jul 17 '16 at 8:42
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I believe Coldplay simply plays to pre-recorded tracks that just play all the way through their song. I haven't seen anything in their performances which indicate the musicians are triggering them live. A click track in the musician's in ear monitors would allow only the band to hear the click and keep in sync with the recorded tracks.

In regards to the video you posted, that is a music video for a studio recording which is typically not a good representation of how they actually perform it live. To get a better idea of how they perform the song it's best to look at live concert videos. From looking up a couple different live versions of the song, they have a sax player play that part live.

So that makes me think that the electronic melody was done via "studio magic". It is extremely common for bands to do things in the studio that they don't/cannot do live such as have the singer sing the harmonies along with their own lead vocal, have the guitarist record different guitar parts which play at the same time, or in the case of your example the keyboardist probably recorded multiple parts in the studio and then they hire an additional sax player when they perform live.

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