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If you gig with a laptop, what do you do if something goes wrong?
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ark
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#1
21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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If you gig with a laptop, what do you do if something goes wrong?

I recently had the following experience: On stage, my laptop started emitting loud crackles on a set that had worked just fine when I tested it the day before. An earlier set had also worked fine during the same performance, so I guessed that the problem was that something was interfering with the cpu and that if I played something else that was less demanding, it would be OK. Fortunately, I was right, the audience liked my alternative, and all was well.

But this event got me to thinking: If you use a laptop onstage, can you ever be confident that something weird isn't going to go wrong? Obviously, you can't prepare for everything -- for example, someone might throw a brick at the stage, hitting you in the head, and next thing you know, you're waking up in the hospital -- but it seems to me that laptop failure is enough of a risk that it's worth thinking about what to do if it happens.

Some people deal with this problem by never using a laptop on stage, period. I'm not willing to go that far. However, I do think it may be worth having the ability to play enough music without a laptop to get you through one performance.

Obviously, unless you're a solo virtuoso on an instrument that you're going to bring with you to every performance, this backup planning suggests bringing along something that can be used as an alternative to a laptop. But what? I have some thoughts in this area, but I don't want to bias you--so I'd like to hear what other gearslutz do about this problem before continuing my train of thought.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Man, with my laptop I cannot burn a CD properly or record audio from selected source when I need it. Laptops annoy me, they sometimes don't work and then start working even though I didn't change anything.

My golden rule that I stick with: if you take a laptop to a gig, don't forget to leave it in your car boot.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Whack in your elevator music in the cd player and press play. Then you grab the mic and tell everyone that you´re sorry you didn´t get a mac and then ask for a bottle of whiskey that you start hammering down to get the crowd going while the crappy pc reboots.
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21st May 2010
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Say something crazy and humorous to the audience so as not to show that you want to smash the damn thing.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Call me old style,but I've never organize a live performance based on just a laptop.Even for a djset,a mpc(1000 for me)and a cd player it's always included.

Luca
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21st May 2010
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Perhaps I've asked the wrong question.

I'm not asking how you recover onstage from mishaps -- that's a performance problem, not an equipment problem. I'm asking what alternative gear those laptop performers among you bring along in case something goes wrong with the laptop.

I am sure there are many answers. Some of you will say "I don't use laptops onstage." I respect that point of view, but it's not relevant to the question I'm asking. Others will say "If the laptop dies, I'm screwed; but that's a risk I'm willing to take." I respect that point of view also, but what I'm looking for is alternatives.

For example, I remember reading recently a comment (I don't remember whether it was on this forum or another) to the effect that "I always gig with a laptop plus a Machinedrum. The last time the laptop crashed on me, I just played the whole set on the Machinedrum. It wasn't as interesting as it would have been if the laptop was working, but it wasn't an hour of silence either."
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21st May 2010
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Bring an iPod.


Or run two laptops in parallel.
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21st May 2010
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learn to be entertaining without a laptop.

i.e. demonstrate a musical skill for the audience.

that may seem like a cruel joke or something, but it isnt.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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The most obvious answer is to have a second laptop ready to go or better yet, already playing some kind of generic intro riff into a seperate mixer input. Or bring an ipod, put on a song and wait for your stuff to restart. Or burn all your songs onto CD's, use Cd turntables and start a DJ set while you reboot. For the cost of a machinedrum (plus the hours to sequence your stuff into it) your better off buying a second laptop.
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21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
learn to be entertaining without a laptop.

i.e. demonstrate a musical skill for the audience.

that may seem like a cruel joke or something, but it isnt.

pwned so many people right there
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21st May 2010
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I always put a pre-mixed cd I've done in the clubs CDJ before i start my set. So if the worst happens I can just mix the cd in quickly and solve the problem with the laptop while the pre-mix is playing.

I always take enough tracks on CD's to play a set, just in case I cant fix the laptop on site.
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21st May 2010
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stick your head between your legs!
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21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
learn to be entertaining without a laptop.

i.e. demonstrate a musical skill for the audience.

that may seem like a cruel joke or something, but it isnt.
Not to worry--so far I make more money playing acoustic music than electronic music. Last gig I played included me singing and playing guitar, accompanied by a pianist (playing music that I wrote) and a drummer. A few moths ago I played recorder with four other musicians (including an organist), some solo singers, and a chorus.

What I am trying to do is resolve the following tension: Using a laptop as a performance tool is both liberating and risky. It is liberating because it lets me play music that would be completely impossible otherwise. It is risky because laptops are fragile.

I do not want to have to show up at every gig prepared to play two completely different kinds of music just in case the laptop goes crazy on me--especially because it usually doesn't. So what I'm curious to know is what other people do about electronic musical hardware that (1) integrates well with computers, so that it's not just an extra box that usually doesn't get used, and (2) can stand alone without the computer if necessary.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chauvin View Post
I always put a pre-mixed cd I've done in the clubs CDJ before i start my set. So if the worst happens I can just mix the cd in quickly and solve the problem with the laptop while the pre-mix is playing.
That works if you're playing dance music. I'm not, at least not now.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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I was in a metal band that had live sequencing. Of course being the only smart one in the band I had to set it up.. Was not fun to do
Anyways right before I quit I transfered everything to a labtop. I told them, if something can go wrong, chances are it eventually will. So bring back-up. I suggested keep what we used to use just incase. Exactly what your doin if I understand right. Well check this guy out for your backup plan
Roland SP-404 Sampler :: Overview
You can record the audio your playing right into there and play it back live. Real easy to use. Look into it. Hope that helps
(we had all audio panned to left and click on right for drummer, took the left channel into the live mixer, right to headphones. Meaning it couldn't be stereo because the audio only happened at certain times. If this is a whole track your playing you may just be able to get stereo and follow the sequence. But mono sounded pretty good even still so it didnt matter to us.)
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21st May 2010
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Well what are you doing with your laptop on stage? Playing software instruments live? Playing live along with pre-recorded tracks? Playing live along with sequenced tracks? Playing software instruments along with sequences? Loops? Playing Beethoven sonatas on a sampled piano? None of the above?

Hard to say "what's an alternative to a laptop" without knowing what it is you're doing on stage anyway.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by keybdwizrd View Post
Well what are you doing with your laptop on stage? Playing software instruments live? [yes] Playing live along with pre-recorded tracks? (not at the moment, but probably in the future) Playing live along with sequenced tracks? [yes] Playing software instruments along with sequences? [yes] Loops? (yes, including vocal looping) Playing Beethoven sonatas on a sampled piano? (no, I'm not a good enough keyboard player)
To which I might add: Playing hardware instruments along with sequences.
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21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
Not to worry--so far I make more money playing acoustic music than electronic music. Last gig I played included me singing and playing guitar, accompanied by a pianist (playing music that I wrote) and a drummer. A few moths ago I played recorder with four other musicians (including an organist), some solo singers, and a chorus.

What I am trying to do is resolve the following tension: Using a laptop as a performance tool is both liberating and risky. It is liberating because it lets me play music that would be completely impossible otherwise. It is risky because laptops are fragile.

I do not want to have to show up at every gig prepared to play two completely different kinds of music just in case the laptop goes crazy on me--especially because it usually doesn't. So what I'm curious to know is what other people do about electronic musical hardware that (1) integrates well with computers, so that it's not just an extra box that usually doesn't get used, and (2) can stand alone without the computer if necessary.
cool. it's fresh to see somebody from a traditional background doing electronic music, and i wish i saw it more ... which led to my advice (an assumption, i admit, but not mean spirited - i promise)

in my opinion, you couldn't do any better than simply bringing another computer. as far as unreliability goes, a live set made on a computer should be as easy on the computer as possible, maybe one or two vst synths, the rest should be triggered samples. of course, the techology may have changed, and it may be more reliable to use vsts now instead of clogging the hard drive bus, so take that second part with a grain of salt. i'm part of the group that doesnt use computers at all in the writing and arranging part.

a second option would be to use a phrase sampler, but you sacrifice the flexibility of a computer. if you planned on doing something wacky you might not be able to realize that on a phrase sampler. you might also sac the portability aspect of simply bringing a backup netbook. allow me to suggest getting an mpc of some sort. that can sit happily next to a computer, function as a midi controller, trigger samples alongside your computer, or in desperate times function as its own midi sequencer (compete hyperbole though, as it is a very capable sequencer)
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21st May 2010
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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this doesn't address your specific issue but it was my solution to a similar problem i ran into. i had two different internal hard drives fail on me on different occasions while recording off site, obviously putting a big damper on the session! now i always carry an external hard drive that i set up with a bootable partition on it that also has all my software installed on it. if my hard drive dies i can boot my computer from this external hard drive and keep going like it never happened.
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21st May 2010
Old 21st May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
in my opinion, you couldn't do any better than simply bringing another computer.
I've considered that, but there are several reasons I think it won't work:

1) The one failure I've had so far was a software failure of (still) undetermined origin. If I had a second computer that I kept configured identically, there is no reason to believe it would not have had the same problem, whatever it might be.

2) If I were to have two computers that are not configured identically, it becomes even harder to test everything.

3) I compose on a desktop computer, then transfer stuff to a laptop for performance. If I had a second laptop, that would mean three computers. A lot of music software will let you install on two machines but not three.

4) Having a second laptop would not add anything to my musical capabilities--it would be only a backup. If failures are not common, I think it would be more interesting from an artistic viewpoint to have some other piece of hardware that would add new possibilities under ordinary circumstances, and that could serve as a backup (presumably with a change in strategy) in an emergency.

5) If a computer fails, it takes time to set up the backup computer--unless it is already set up and ready to go. Either way, it adds complexity that goes unused unless something goes wrong (see (4)).
Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
as far as unreliability goes, a live set made on a computer should be as easy on the computer as possible, maybe one or two vst synths, the rest should be triggered samples.
The set that failed was entirely in Ableton Live and entirely in MIDI--no plugins at all. In retrospect I realize that I could have reduced my risk by freezing all the tracks, as I didn't intend to change track parameters.
Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
of course, the techology may have changed, and it may be more reliable to use vsts now instead of clogging the hard drive bus, so take that second part with a grain of salt. i'm part of the group that doesnt use computers at all in the writing and arranging part.
I use them all the time. Often I'll compose music using Finale as a "word processor," with an eye toward getting people to play what I wrote while still leaving open the possibility of playing the same music on a computer from MIDI if human musicians aren't available.
Quote:
Originally Posted by pinkerton View Post
a second option would be to use a phrase sampler, but you sacrifice the flexibility of a computer. if you planned on doing something wacky you might not be able to realize that on a phrase sampler. you might also sac the portability aspect of simply bringing a backup netbook. allow me to suggest getting an mpc of some sort. that can sit happily next to a computer, function as a midi controller, trigger samples alongside your computer, or in desperate times function as its own midi sequencer (compete hyperbole though, as it is a very capable sequencer)
Several years ago I bought a Roland MC-808. In retrospect, that was a mistake It has a capable synth engine, with a fair amount of control over sounds, along with a plausible sample player. However, it also has some very weird limitations:

1) It is limited to playing one pattern at a time, and as far as I can tell, you must switch patterns from the device itself, not from MIDI. So you start playing a pattern, and it keeps playing until you start playing another pattern. You can mute and unmute tracks, and you can change FX, and in principle you can even change patches on individual tracks; but as far as I can tell, you cannot change the MIDI that any track is playing in any way while a pattern is playing.

2) The only way to record anything is to stop the music, go into record mode, record, and then go back into play mode. So there is no on-the-fly sampling or looping of any kind.

3) No bulk import of samples. So if I have 100 samples, I have to go through 100 manual steps to get them into the MC-808.

I'm thinking I might well have been better off with an MPC, but don't know enough about them. Some people seem to really like the MC-808, too, so maybe I haven't figured out the right approach to using it.
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21st May 2010
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I've never used laptops live, I don't think I ever will for audio, for video sure. One thing people fail to realize is that many of their precious instruments and hardware ARE computers. Case in point, I was doing a live gig using my MPC sequencing an Alesis Fusion. Everything was working great until the Fusion started having problems processing the Midi, notes were being delayed big time. I started sweating, turned off the Fusion and rebooted it. MPC kept playing my beats which was cool, not a big deal.

I've had big time problems with my Blofeld live too. I don't play live with it anymore, I use my Virus rack because of that.

Now to answer your question: Want some redundancy and added awesomeness? Get a nice DJ mixer and run your laptop through that, gives you some external EQ capabilities and you can plug in whatever to it. So yeah, plug an Ipod into the other input for an emergency, get an SP-404 or SP-555 or some other sampler and have a whole other toy to play with live. Play long samples and crossfade-cut em.


So yeah, a DJ mixer will allow you to have an instant backup and more possibilities and will look better than you just checking your email.
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22nd May 2010
Old 22nd May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wax808 View Post
I've never used laptops live, I don't think I ever will for audio, for video sure. One thing people fail to realize is that many of their precious instruments and hardware ARE computers.
Doesn't matter so much so long as they're computers with a completely different architecture from each other.
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22nd May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
Several years ago I bought a Roland MC-808. In retrospect, that was a mistake It has a capable synth engine, with a fair amount of control over sounds, along with a plausible sample player. However, it also has some very weird limitations:

1) It is limited to playing one pattern at a time, and as far as I can tell, you must switch patterns from the device itself, not from MIDI. So you start playing a pattern, and it keeps playing until you start playing another pattern. You can mute and unmute tracks, and you can change FX, and in principle you can even change patches on individual tracks; but as far as I can tell, you cannot change the MIDI that any track is playing in any way while a pattern is playing.

2) The only way to record anything is to stop the music, go into record mode, record, and then go back into play mode. So there is no on-the-fly sampling or looping of any kind.

3) No bulk import of samples. So if I have 100 samples, I have to go through 100 manual steps to get them into the MC-808.

I'm thinking I might well have been better off with an MPC, but don't know enough about them. Some people seem to really like the MC-808, too, so maybe I haven't figured out the right approach to using it.
1) i've never used a hardware sequencer that allowed more than one pattern to play at a time and i think this has a lot to do with the limitations of midi. vst is not constrained to 16 tracks. this requires work in a different headspace or clever workarounds if youre doing something special. ive heard that the JJOS for mpcs allows for two patterns to play at once (ive only used 2000XL which has no JJOS). My command station allows for creating blends between tracks of two patterns.

2/3) this is only something ive encountered in roland grooveboxes and older sequencers. the mpc most definitely allows this. emu command station does too. every groovebox ive ever used by roland has been seriously limited. fun, but limited and not really suitable for professionals.

ive never heard much of a bad word about mpcs from people who own them. i personally own an emu command station and now that i know it i wouldn't trade it, but if i could have found an mpc2500 for $400 or so when i was shopping i would have taken that instead. the guy i play with uses an mpc2000xl and he loves it. both emu and akais are very capable machines, but akai is still around and making mpcs so i suggested those.
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22nd May 2010
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When I was gigging with a laptop, I bought two identical laptops and used a disk imaging program to mirror their hard drives exactly. Left the backup on stage with me in sleep mode. If there was ever a problem, could quickly open up the 2nd laptop, plug in the cables, and be off again with a minimum of downtime.
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22nd May 2010
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I've always set up the house's CDJs and have them ready with a CD cued for if anything goes wrong.

Fortunately, I've not had too much trouble.

One time the ****** talking over from me managed to pull the firewire cable of my interface clean out of my MacBook Pro... which Ableton obviously didn't like too much... but the bar wasn't too busy at the time & it was dead air at the start of that next guys set & with him looking dumb; I just packed up & went home.

Beyond that, the only time I've had Ableton cut out is when I've accidentally hit the Space Bar
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22nd May 2010
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You might know Shift+Space will restart you exactly where you were.
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22nd May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ark View Post
If you gig with a laptop, what do you do if something goes
If you gig with X, what do you do if something goes wrong?

There's always the possibility for something to go wrong with anything.
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23rd May 2010
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I use a mini-disk on stage that plays my backing tracks while I play missing parts on my synths live. The mini is tiny and sits above my keyboards velco'ed to my stand. Each disc is a set, I can load everything via my computer (song order etc) and have used this system for over 8 years. I have never had a crash, skip or outage (batter operated) of any kind. Since it is black in color, the one one sees the mini and audiences (mainly musicians) seem mystified as to where our backing tracks are coming from.

Having a laptop seems to be more and more common these days so it is becoming the norm to see a laptop on stage. I know musicians are using a lot of softsyths these days, but having a laptop on stage, IMO, seems to give the impression that it is a lazy cop-out that is doing all the work. We don't see Depeche Mode's laptop set up on stage now do we? Get some good live synths, play as much as you can, after all, isn't that what playing "live" is all about?

The last synthpop concert I went to at an Austin, TX nightclub (I won't name the well known popbular band) had their laptop crash twice during the show. They had to reboot, reload the program, test the softsynth audio, start the same song again... It was, suffice it to say, lame.
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#30
23rd May 2010
Old 23rd May 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by djanthonyw View Post
If you gig with X, what do you do if something goes wrong?

There's always the possibility for something to go wrong with anything.
Of course. That's why you make contingency plans. For example, I went to a concert recently in which one of the guitarists brought a second guitar with him in case he broke a string. He figured it would take less time to switch guitars than to change a string.

I'm trying to find out what kind of contingency plans people make who gig with laptops.
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