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Practice, routines and improvisation
Old 6th May 2016
Here for the gear
Valyo's Avatar

Practice, routines and improvisation

I have several questions which are kind of related to each other.
1) When you come up with a live setup, how much of it is improvised and how much is pre-defined/sequenced/etc?
2) Do you have a specific practice routine when you prepare for a show?
3) I personally find that the biggest challenge in preparing a live set is breaking down the big task into smaller chunks and not overcomplicating things from the get go. Do you have any similar sentiments or advices to share? How do you deal with breaking down your workflow? At least in the beginning when it was new to you. I would assume you do a lot of the stuff now quite intuitively.
Keep rocking
Old 11th May 2016
Special Guest

Valyo, that sounds Bulgarian? Thanks for the nice questions

I will answer all at once, because all is related. All started when i had several successful releases and I felt i can play more international gigs, but it was difficult to get a lot of dj gigs (although I have many years of experience and here in Bulgaria I had a serious reputation as a DJ). At about 2009 Kai Fischer, my agent at that time suggested me to think of a live set, as there is a good market for it. I totally hated the idea, for me it was all about djing, i still believe it can be so much more live and better sounding than most of the live acts, if the DJ is good. But I needed the "job". I thought I can play few live gigs, make some connections and come back to djing. Because of the software I used at that time, it was pretty much impossible (too difficult) to export my tracks on stems and I decided to look at it as a more advanced digital DJ set. I need to say i had very limited finances at that time. The first controller I bought was Novation Launchpad, which inspired me to take a decision - 1. to launch loops from my premasters, instead of dealing with stems, it would save me a year of exporting stems, it would free my mind in improvising with other instruments, it gave me the freedom not to have any pre-arranged composition, as I`m "djing" with short loops - there is no any kind of arrangement and I`m free to go anywhere, musically. 2. to focus on live recording and overdubbing, in which launchpad is great 3. to focus on live sequencing, the launchpad is perfect for that too. This concept became the core of my live set and now 7 years later i still follow the same system.
The next step was to find the right instruments for the live improvisation part. I tried with analog gear, but it was difficult to set up and transport, also soundwise the difference from a plugin was not that big. Now I`m really happy i took this decision, because my setup is highly customizable, the sky is the limit. and I can work while travelling. I decided I want to use (virtual) instruments which I loved all my life, i know how they sound and i wont get tired of them. So this is a Rhodes piano, an M1 style piano, TB-303, TR-909, FM style bass, a Moog style synth, shakers and classic breakbeat samples. I also included a turntable, to play accapellas and locked grooves, again, to add more of a spontaneous DJ vibe and loose feeling in the set. Once I decided how I want my set to sound, I had to make it work. The first dissappointment was to find that most of the controllers have conflict with each other, so each time I buy a new controller - i had to make sure it works on its own midi channel and the CC and midi notes are different in all the controllers. I hated the process of developing my live set, but it had to be done, i decided to block Thursday as my practicing day. At that time I already had regular gigs, every weekend. Everything started immediately, when I said I can play live (although in the beginning i couldn`t). Most of the time in my Thursdays would go into sorting problems with controllers, learning Ableton making my ideas work. Often I would be dissapointed, some stuff that suppose to be easy is impossible with Ableton. Like audio overdub and assinging more that one knob to one parameter. In the first 2 years I would work on the set littlebit during the week and then all day on Thursday, often without going to bed, before the weekend. Extremely stressy and boring time, also totally not creative, but it has to be done. The routines - sometimes I would practice at home, if i have time, but most of the times the first time i tested a new idea was in the club. That was actually very useful, because there is a very big difference between playing at home (where everything is perfect) and doing it in the venue, where you have many problems you cant predict (bad space, sound / mixer, drunk people / liquids over gear, too dark to see your machines and of course the stress of playing your music to people, who might not like it, which bothered me less). The first couple of years were quite stressy, for some strange reason I became very busy since I launched the live set, I still cant understand why, as I thought I really sucked in the beginning. The lessons I learnt: Make it as simple as possible and make sure you have fun. At some point you might be doing shows in 5 countries for a week, which can go for years, without a big break, you wont be as fresh and focused as when you practice at home. Make it easy for transportation, don`t check in any luggage in the plane, avoid asking promoters to rent gear, use what you can bring or ask for a standard equipment, that you can find in a club. Maybe all this sounds a bit far for you, but you never know and it`s better to be prepared for the beginning, instead of doing a crazy amout of work afterwards. Set-wise - what i do is a bit more complicated than what I would do, if i was starting now. I decided - if i dont use a certain feature for 4-5 shows in a row - i remove it from the set.

how much of it is improvised and how much is pre-defined/sequenced/etc?
in the beginning I was djing with my tracks and on top of that I would trigger / record drums, also for each track I would have midi clips to synths, that I can tweak live. Now i still keep playing the loops of my tracks, but they are shorter and usually 2-3 loops per track maximum, usually 1-2 bars. On top of that I would play / record and play back keys and percussions, I would program my TR-8 and step sequence stuff in Ableton via one of my Launchpads. At some point I would remove the pre-recorded loop and it would be just live improvisation. Although I can play a long, 100% improvised live set, i still drop a lot of loops from tracks i created at home, because people come to hear those tracks and also i want to test new stuff for potential releases. In terms of content I guess on a usual KiNK set 60% of the audio comes from sources, which are pre-recorded, but of course, always played differently, with improvised layers on top. Then the other 40% would be completely live composed, but then - also it could be a routine, like the acid part i do in my shows and often i invite someone from the crowd to sequence the bassline via my launchpad. It`s hard to say really, I look at it like a Jazz concert, you recognise a lot of the songs or at least some hooks, but you (or the musician) never know where it will go and what will happen in the next second, also a lot of good stuff happen in the moment, by accident. My next record (comes out later this month) is based on improvisation i basically sampled from my own Boiler Room set in Moscow. Ah and i have few tracks which i play pretty much in the original version (with a little twist) like my biggest track so far Cloud Generator. It`s just right and there is not so much to change. To sum it up all - now i really love to play live, still my main issues are technical, not creative, but it becomes better and better. Since few years i feel very confident, totally enjoying the time on stage, which i think is my biggest achievment with my system.

So, sorry about the random way I answered, but i think more or less it covers your questions. Feel free to ask more and good luck with the set.
Old 15th May 2016
Here for the gear
Valyo's Avatar

Hey, thanks for the awesome reply, and for providing context to where you're coming from with your set.
(PS yes, fellow Bulgarian I am indeed )
Look forward to your next gig in London!


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