5 Critical Elements for Building a Playback Rig
Monday June 24, 2019. 02:00 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
If you want to use tracks live onstage, there are five critical things you’ll need to consider. No matter your experience or budget, we all need these five things in order to use tracks well. In this article, we’re going to quickly look at what those five things are.
If you’re going to run tracks in worship, you’re going to need content! The most foundational piece of content is the click track or metronome. We’ve previously talked about why to use a metronome live and how to transition your team to using click, and those all start with the click. I’d even encourage you to start using just a click, before you start using backing tracks.
If you’re looking to use backing tracks, you have two options: you can create them yourself, or you can purchase them. If you enjoy producing and arranging, creating your own tracks can be a fun exercise. If that isn’t your particular strong suit or you want to use the sounds from the original record, you can purchase original artist multitracks from MultiTracks.com. Imagine how incredible it would be to share the stage with musicians from Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation Worship, and more each Sunday. When you purchase tracks from MultiTracks.com, you can!
You get multitracks from the original artist, preloaded in an Ableton Live file that you can instantly start using. If you’re looking to build your song library and want to save on your purchase, check out the MultiTracks Credit Bundles available here at Sweetwater.
Now that you’ve got your content, you’re going to need a way to play back that content. If you’re using an iPad or iPhone, you should use the free app from MultiTracks.com, Playback. You get access to your purchased content immediately, get free content like clicks and pads included in the app, and have great features like key/tempo change, automatic transitions, and more for free. You can upgrade to a paid subscription and get access to even more features, like editing your arrangement and sending multiple outputs from your Playback device.
While Playback is the easiest way to get started, if you have a Mac or PC and want more control over editing and managing your files, want to use keys sounds alongside your tracks, or want to control your production, then you should check out Ableton Live. It’s available in three different versions, but I personally recommend Ableton Live Standard if you’re going to be running tracks. Here’s a quick video I did on the subject:
Which Version of Ableton Live Should I Purchase?
How should you control your computer or iPad? The easiest way to get started is to push a button on your device or assign keys on your computer keyboard to trigger songs in Ableton Live. This doesn’t require any extra gear, and your “controller” is always connected and ready to use. But what if you don’t want to look like you’re checking your email onstage? Then you should consider using a MIDI controller.
I’ve written before about why to use a MIDI controller live and offered tips for choosing a MIDI controller, but here are a few key benefits of using a MIDI controller live:
You don’t have to touch or interact with your computer. You can feel like you’re onstage, performing music, not checking your email.
You can integrate software into your rig. Choose a MIDI controller that works for you and that allows you to stay focused on leading worship, not fussing with your computer.
If you’re a guitar player, you can have hands-free control of your computer by using a MIDI foot controller. This allows you to keep your hands on your guitar and still have control over your tracks.
Here’s how to use your MIDI controller with Ableton Live and the four MIDI mappings I make on every controller I use:
Using Your MIDI Controller with Ableton Live
MIDI Mappings for Live Performance
How will you connect your iPad or laptop to your soundboard so that everyone can hear it (including the musicians onstage)? The easiest way to get audio to the soundboard is to use the headphone output of your device. You can use a Hosa CMP-159 to connect your computer to two direct boxes. Think of it just like any other instrument you’d connect to a direct box, such as your acoustic guitar or keyboard.
In Ableton Live, you’ll want to separate your click and guide track from the rest of your tracks. Here’s how:
Routing Ableton Live’s Click
While this is by far the most inexpensive and easy way to get started, you’ll likely want to step up to using an audio interface. I’d suggest using an interface with at least four outputs, and you can even get an audio interface like the PlayAudio12 that lets you run two computers at once to create a redundant playback rig. Using multiple outputs allows you to split sounds between outputs so that you have more flexibility in your mix at front of house, and it really allows you to treat tracks like they are part of the band.
Check out this tutorial on how to set up your audio interface for live performance with Ableton Live:
Setting Up Your Audio Interface for Live Performance
While an audio interface will allow you to get audio out of your computer, you’re going to need a way to hear, or monitor, your audio. This will require some sort of monitoring system, either a headphone amp, wireless in-ears, or a personal monitor mix system like LiveMix. You’re also going to need each team member to wear in-ear monitors. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of in-ear monitors, check out this article, In-ear Monitors Demystified.) While the benefits are many, the transition to using in-ears is often quite difficult. We’ve talked previously about how to improve that transition, but a point worth mentioning again is to make sure you take time to train your team well on whatever system you’re using, and make sure they have everything they need, including a quality set of in-ears.
If you’re restricted on budget and feel like you’re ready to throw in the towel on the idea of using tracks live, it’s worth mentioning that there is gear that can provide multiple solutions in one. For instance, if you have a digital console like a PreSonus StudioLive, then you have an audio interface and monitoring solution in one. You can connect your computer via USB directly to the console to send audio to your board digitally and use the mix outputs of the board with PreSonus HP2s for a simple in-ear mix that your team members can control individually.
If you’re looking to start using tracks, I’d encourage you to consider where you are and what you have. Start with using the headphone output of your computer and the keys on your keyboard to trigger songs, and continue to slowly add gear from there. In no time, you’ll have a killer playback rig, and you’ll have the confidence and freedom that come with using tracks in your worship service.
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