We use a sequencer. Its something I’m not entirely comfortable with and never have been, but we have four members covering drums, bass, guitars and vocals but no keyboards/piano/synths player, even though some of our songs (most, in fact) feature keyboards, piano or synths, so I have programmed them into our recording and sequencing software (Reaper) using either my MicroKorg, Casio MIDI keyboard, or the software plugin EZ Keys which gives me some fantastic vintage electric piano sounds. We also use a click track so our drummer can keep time.
We have always routed the sequencer and the click track separately so that we can all hear the sequencer running through the PA, and the click track can only be heard by the drummer and this routing is done in the Reaper software.
This means I have to take my laptop and audio interface to every rehearsal, but here’s the issue – I don’t trust it. I can be confident that Neil isn’t going to blue-screen half way through a guitar solo, and that Nick isn’t going to fall asleep in the middle of a song and I’m not going to explode and start producing sparks and smoke whilst playing bass on a track. Pete might come in at the wrong time occasionally or sing the wrong verse, or one of us might hit a bum note or two, but we’re humans and can recover from our mistakes.
A laptop fails on-stage and we look like a bunch of dicks while we wait five minutes to get it back online, so the whole thing makes me feel… uncomfortable.
I am, by nature, quite a cautious person although I conceed that there’s a place for taking a risk. My first ever time on stage in front of an audience (and nervous as hell, no doubt) is not the occasion for taking the chance that the laptop will do its job perfectly. Its five years old and doesn’t have a particularly good spec and neither is it very reliable. When I’m at home, it sometimes shuts down without warning and it only takes one such event to make me worry that it will pick the timing of its next senior moment very carefully.
So this is currently our point of concern. I am never ever going to take my laptop on stage and I’m not going to shift in that view, so what do we do? We need a solution that’s reliable, easy to set-up and that will work on stage.
Safe as houses
The route we decided to take was to transfer the sequences from the recording/sequencing software into stereo mixes and that way we aren’t restricted to using our software or a computer. To this end I converted the files into WAV files (because I wanted something relatively lossless in terms of quality) the idea being that we can put the WAV files onto a newer, more reliable laptop or even a portable device such as an iPod, phone, or something similar. We have two signals, one for the actual sequence (keyboards, piano or synths) and one for the click track so we split them left and right and now the click comes out of the left channel, and the sequence is panned hard right. We feed the right channel through the mixing desk, and the left channel into a headphone amp and to the drummer’s earphones.
We have been spending the last three or four rehearsals making sure that our levels are all spot on and consistent throughout our set and last Thursday’s rehearsal confirmed that we believe that we’ve got that about right now.
The next step is to transfer them onto a portable device. I tried them on my phone but for some reason it converted the files to mono, which is no use at all. So that’s the next question. What do we use? It has to be something reliable, that someone on stage (I’m thinking that Nick, the drummer should do it) can kick these tracks off when we’re ready to perform each song.
Back to humans
Of course we could recruit an actual human being to play these parts live, but that’s perhaps a step too far for us at the moment…