Preparing for a live set / DAW to hardware.

Hi all.

After my DAW, no DAW, bits of DAW journey I’ve arrived at using a DAW to create tracks alongside a Digitakt. With some live sets coming up (which I’d forgotten about given Covid etc) I’m thinking of ways to get the stems onto hardware so I can play the set live.

But this got me thinking. I don’t want a laptop on stage because - honesty I don’t know but I don’t want it. And also I don’t just want to output the stems and loop them whilst playing with levels.

So maybe I need to recreate the tracks for live use on hardware.

This got me thinking (hang on in there this is evolving as I type) that as I am only interested in live music, why use a DAW?

Cost and capability I think are the answers.

So my question is how do the DAW users work live?

I’m hoping my question will evolve as this thread does.

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For me my live music and DAW music are just 2 seperare world’s. I like making music in a DAW and have control of every little detail. For live music I can’t use anything prerecorded because it just doesn’t feel honest to me. So live sets i base on a lot of live looping and modular. I do use a laptop live as it just so handy for complex live looping setups and with the audio interface being a mixer and a brunch of high quality FX.

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Same here. Live sets usually are born working directly with the hardware. DAW tracks are born in Live and are finished there. In a few occasions I’ve created loops and samples in the DAW and then further developed them on the Octatrack, but that is more the exception. The idea of just playing back loops during a live performance isn’t too exciting to me personally and that is what I would end up doing if I would try to replicate something I have made in Live, using the Octatrack.
Something that I did a few times, and which is an interesting approach is to do things the other way around. Start with the Octatrack and an assortment of additional instruments. Create a track (either for a live gig, or pretending it’s one) then record the whole thing – ideally multi-track – and then further refine things in the DAW.

To me DAWs really excell at fine-tuning. For the things where you want to zoom in a bit. They are great to edit things and to do the mixing and mastering. While I don’t have a big issue with creating tracks start-to-finish in the box, I do notice that things come out quite differently when I do the initial creative part outside away from the computer screen. Lately I’m appreciating this quality more and am experimenting a lot with finding a workflow that will use the computer only in the final stages.

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I have been torn for a little while about the studio / live dichotomy…

On one side I see the risk of boring people with my live tweaking (who has never been utterly underwhelmed when listening to improvs that felt incredible when playing ?) and on the other I see the risk of boring myself with too few to do and build with live. So I try to balance the two, like everybody I guess…

Can I ask you why ?

“Honest” seems to call to a clear and constructed idea about what live music should be.

I hear a lot of stuffs going along those lines (hey!), but I don’t think I really get why. When I think about it I see the extreme cases as really clear and everything in the middle feels a lot less obvious. For instance, is playing live modular with a patch already laid out a problem ? Is using samples of a musical instruments a problem ? Phrases of said instrument ?

It makes me think about the “playing an instrument VS composing” debate…
I have to say that to me electronic music gives the opportunity to let people play music “by themselves” if they want, and in this case what you play is the entirety of the music that the public will listen to, it makes me feel like my “responsibility” is to them, to present them something that is not “me playing” but rather “music being presented”.
I still want to be able to steer it, let it take me somewhere rehearsals never made me explore, etc, but there is no way I’ll make good complexe music on the spot thinking about so many aspects of it (well it already is a struggle having taken away a few parameters…). I guess it depends on what it is you want to play with live, what said music is about, but it always feels like that line between “just push play and wave your arms” and “live coding event” must be challenged, thought about, etc.
Personally I choose to “pre compose” concrete music (missing some effects, leaving parts unachieved in terms of intensity, etc) that I bounce on 4 track cassette, that I later use as a guideline with a synth, pedals, loopers, and a red of all that and two mixers for feedback of everything. It makes for a wild beast if I want to but if I want to land on my feet I have my tape with “already written time” on it.
In the end what I play live has a “fixed” part on the tape, an other “fixed” part that is my rehearsed playing of this weird system, and this part changes every time, even though it always “plays its part”. chaos and order fighting ! That is what my music is about, so that is what the system I built is about too.

More on the topic asked (sorry), to me everything is about answering “what do I want to be able to do live?”, and then finding the gear that lets that happen, with just the right amount of control.

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I can relate to the feeling that simply bouncing loops/stems from a DAW and using hardware to play them back feels a bit “wrong,” but in my case I think that’s another way of saying it seems like a boring way to spend my time, both in preparation and performance.

This may or may not apply depending on what sort of music you’re making, but if you have structured pieces that you originally created in a DAW, rearranging them for hardware can be a really fun challenge. That might involve exporting some samples or stems from one platform to another, but for me at least, it’s most interesting to try to recreate the existing piece from the ground up. You’re forced to figure out what the truly important elements are, to not be precious about making the live version sound exactly the same, to see how much you can change in your new arrangement while retaining the identity of the piece; and sometimes you learn to do things on your hardware that came naturally in a DAW, but that you wouldn’t normally think to do with (say) a x0x-style step sequencer. In a word, you can learn a lot about both your gear and your music by translating rather than transferring things to a more live-friendly context.

That said – I’ve seen enough dull hardware sets and awesome laptop- or even iPod-only sets that I’ve learned never to scoff at people who literally play back fully mixed tracks from iTunes (RIP) and sing/speak/play one instrument/whatever on top, or like, dance around, whatever. Any time that feels right and frees you up to do more interesting things, do it.

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What kind of music is it? And what kind of instruments do you play?

I’m in a similar situation as the other responses. I bought hardware initially because I wanted to perform live, and figured making the music on my live setup first was more conducive to “translating” to a live performance on hardware later. I had come to this conclusion after thinking a lot about how a live set would work once I finished a bunch of material in the DAW. (Too much, honestly, but thats another story)

But I have started to dip my toes back into the DAW in order to create sample fodder for my samplers. Being able to specifically make and mix certain noises in the DAW can let you fill in the gaps, not for a song but for a tool set. Hitting specific frequencies, designing unique percussion, compiling a library of clips that can be fun to cut up or granularize live.

In the DAW, you can virtually audition what you’ve made. How would this work with a 4 on the floor beat? Electro? I won’t be finishing them in the daw, nor performing them in the DAW, but it gives me an idea about what the specific sounds might need when I use them live with hardware or a midi controller or whatever.

But this presupposes a bunch of things about the style of music and abilities. I dont think backing track stems are that bad when people are playing amazing piano on top. But maybe you don’t play piano. Or maybe your ability to play piano doesn’t matter as much for your banging basement techno set.

The potentially expansive personal reflection is, what kind of performer do you want to be? How do you want to look on stage? What personally excites you? Do you want to be a finger drumming virtuoso? Jeff Mills absolutely working a 909 to death? Dubbed out selector? Precious four track tape loop ponderer? There may be certain DAW to live hardware strategies that are more important for one over the other. But the technical advice follows the more abstract idea of what you want to look like on stage and why.

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For me that it doesn’t feel ‘honest’ is a very personal view on my own music. I can enjoy other live music that might play stems or maybe even whole tracks while pretending to be live.

For me I think it comes from the path i’ve walked how my music developed.
In the nineties i was making music and beats by sampling records. After a while i started collecting and playing instruments and recording sounds to use them as samles instead. That felt much better then using samples from records. LIve sets in those days were not much else as almost playing complete tracks from a computer and adding some synth fx on top.
Later I started performing with live looping wilt a multi instrument setup. I just felt really right to make all the sounds on the spot. Also that the audience can see and experiences every part of the music is important for a live performance. Here my live music and Daw music went appart. What i can do live with live looping instruments (i m not a good instrumentalist) is a very different thing then i could or would do when composing tracks in a DAW.
I did incorporate my live way of working in multitracking my ‘live’ sets in the studio and then rigoursaly editing those into tracks.

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Thank you for your perspective.

What I’ve done is gone full DAW and bought a Push 2.

Finally the Ableton monster caught me.

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It’s funny because going back into live preparation mode for an upcoming gig, I stumbled on this topic again and this discussion about how playing loops and stems seems boring and like pretending to some. And then I thought about what people such as Lee Perry were doing with their studio which was in way very similar to have loops playing and live mixing them and I just figure it’s funny how someone’s performance can be someone else’s playback.

My opinion is that recreating the arrangement of a song can be enough of a performance in itself, even if it only consists in playing with levels, sends and filters. It simultaneously gives a lot to do, but also a lot of control on what the audience get to experience, allows you to go from a very sparse and muffled ambiance to an intense and bright one all because of decisions and actions of the performer. In a way, for techno producers like myself, it is the most live performance possible as it gives full control over the whole song, not just details of it but the main narrative, while keeping the integrity of the sound design and sequencing elements which are often complex and not reproducible.

The core of my live setup is an octatrack filled with stems and loops of my tracks, controlled by a Launch Control XL and a Space Echo pedal as a send effect. I could absolutely play my whole set with just this, and recreate most of my songs produced in a DAW. Granted, all the structure subtleties I introduced in the studio versions would be impossible to recreate, but that’s part of the live experience isn’t it?

I’m debating adding a drum machine and a synth to have more to play with but creating smooth arrangements and transitions between songs with the core setup is already a challenge in itself. And I’m really torn between the idea that I can do a whole live set with just this (which is really interesting in a minimalist kind of way) and having a few more knobs to turn.

And just to comment on the fact that exporting loops and stems is tedious and boring: sure! I can’t tell how many times I’ve had to re-export stuff because it didn’t loop well, or I accidentally included an instrument that should have been in another track, it’s so infuriating!
However, I believe there will always be a part of tediousness in preparing any creative project, and it is highly subjective, but it is one I am prepared to go through given the freedom and quality it allows me during the performance. On the contrary, learning how to reprogram an interesting sequence, beat or sound from scratch during a performance doesn’t feel as interesting for me or the audience live.

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I always asked myself how to come up with the right middle ground between having a proper sound, having something to do and not to bore people and could never imagine it. A couple of weeks ago I saw an interview with Stimming where he talks about his process Plugged In | Stimming - YouTube. This was the first time I got a basic idea on how I would do it.

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As electronic live performer, I used to see my role as a conductor and entertainer. As DAW user, my role was composer and story writer.
Everything was very controlled, start to finish. That’s one of the reasons why I started to incorporate Norns and Modular (axoloti, for price and portability) into the live setup. Mangling live input and stems in often unpredictable ways, turns them into band members. The result is a dialogue between man and machine. In another project I play with, some stems run in Cubase controlled by midi, while percussion and bass are played by fellow musicians. Again creating tension between human response to machine output. The formula is a lot of fun and audiences like the imperfections just as much as the good runs if your entertainer skills can keep up.
So nothing wrong with stems, just make sure to mix uncertainty by human or machine into the formula, to turn a reproduction into a unique happening.
Edit: no good English before coffee apologies😴
Edit 2: I started listening to @dan_derks “sound and process” podcast. Lot’s of inspiration and thoughts regarding playing live. Especially this episode has some live topics:

Edit 3: Genre and environment matter as well. Ableron Live was initially conceived to perform with the mouse. Henke said in an interview that he tried to be obscure as a performer to the audience. The question to ask yourself is, if your gig is functional (dance, ambient) or entertainment as stage presence. The latter does not need to be musically challenging, for most audiences, pressing play on a synced CDJ is enough.

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Theres a Panda Bear live video in which you can see he just uses two Octatracks for all his stems, and maybe manipulated them slightly live, i’ll see if i can find it

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Great thread! I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately and have tried a few different ways of setting up my gear and getting a process I enjoy and can perform. It kind of has to be a compromise between structure and prepared stuff and an element of live/improv/danger in order to be interesting and enjoyable for performer and audience.
I’m coming round to the idea of using a DAW as the coordinator/conductor and the end-point, because it’s really good at that and because ultimately that’s where it’s best for my music to end up for mixing and mastering. But I want to avoid mechanically constructing tracks and using the screen, mouse, keyboard too much and making sure I have external instruments, mixer, effects and hands-on midi controls to do the middle bit. The Vermona Perfourmer is a great example of this, I can send it a simple 4-bar arpeggio, but the hands-on controls mean I can play that for quarter of an hour and keep the sound evolving, bring each voice in and out, change octaves, change waveforms and modulate the envelopes and filters, and send it through a delay pedal, which I can also play with.

I watched this great explanation from Sebastian Mullaert this week breaking down his gear setup and his musical process and it’s pretty much exactly what I’m hoping to do. I love that he seems to have a single Ableton project which is setup to be his workspace for performances of all tracks. That’s not something that had occurred to me. He then controls the voices, mixing and effects, so each performance has all the tools he needs laid out and well connected, but it’s not restrictive or prescribed in any way.

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