Tagged: ableton

How the biggest electronic acts play their music live

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So far we’ve talked about digital audio workstations, basic components of a home studio, MIDI controllers, and even mobile apps and how they can fit into your creative process for making music. With Ultra Music Festival wrapping up this month, I figured it would be appropriate to talk about how some of the most technology-heavy music producers in the world utilize these technologies to create their sounds during a live performance.

Here are a few names you might recognize and which devices they use during their live shows:

Skrillex

Electro House, Dubstep

Skrillex, a former post-hardcore singer/songwriter, began creating digital productions and has been a major contributor to bringing electronic music back into the mainstream. Having been nominated for a total of eight Grammy awards and leaving with six, Skrillex is showing no visible signs of slowing down. Here’s what his live rig looks like:

Skrillex's Live Setup

Although not widely known as the most technically-skilled artist, Skrillex has gained massive success and helped bring modern electronic music into the popular culture. (From left to right: M-Audio Trigger Finger, Apple MacBook Pro, & Pioneer DJM-800 Mixer/MIDI Controller.)

Where you can hear Skrillex: Skrillex’s Official YouTube Channel

Flying Lotus

Experimental Electronic, Hip Hop

Flying Lotus comes from Los Angeles, California and proves how enormous sounds can be made on a small laptop. You might have heard his beats in-between cartoons on Adult Swim or you might not have heard of him at all – either way I suggest you check out Flylo. If you are fortunate enough to see him play live, here is what you’ll most likely see lying in front of him:

Flying Lotus' Live Setup

Flying Lotus utilizes technology while still maintaining a very organic and human feel to his music – a lot of this is due to his practice of recording and playing beats without any computer correction or editing. (From left to right: M-Audio Trigger Finger, monome 40h, Apple MacBook Pro, & Novation ReMote 25SL Keyboard.)

Where you can hear Flylo: Flying Lotus’ Official Website

Bassnectar

Breakbeat, Drum & Bass, Dubstep

Bassnectar aka DJ Lorin hails from Santa Cruz, CA and has been playing his electronic music in huge live settings for over a decade. In the last few years he has become known for putting on insane live shows and playing his loud, bass-heavy music to the masses. If you’ve seen Bassnectar live and had a second to stop dancing and look his way, then you would’ve seen him headbanging in front of these:

Bassnectar's Live Setup

Bassnectar chooses to dual-wield Apple MacBook Pros and M-Audio Trigger Fingers during his bass-heavy shows – this allows for the creation of more complex sets and improved reliability in the case of something going wrong.

Where you can hear Bassnectar: BassnectarLabs YouTube Channel

Pretty Lights

Electronic Funk, Hip Hop, Dubstep

Pretty Lights comes from Colorado and brings some incredible funkiness into the broad genre that is electronic dance music. If you’re ever able to look away from the light show that accompanies his live performances (and gives him his name), then you’re going to see Pretty Lights jamming on a variety of controllers:

Pretty Lights' Live Setup

Pretty Lights has embraced technology as a means of creating his music. For live shows, he connects two Akai MPD32 drum pads and an 8×16 monome grid controller to two Apple MacBook Pros and gets funky.

Where you can hear Pretty Lights: Pretty Lights Music

deadmau5

Progressive House, Electro House, Trance

deadmau5 is a Canadian producer of the electronic music genres of House and Trance, and has become a household name because of his extravagant live shows and signature mouse-head. An innovator (and cynic) of live electronic performances, deadmau5 is not afraid to take advantage of any and all technologies available to him:

deadmau5's Live Setup

deadmau5 has some of the most spectacular live shows in the world, and he uses an incredible amount of technology to make them happen. (From left to right: 16×16 monome, Native Instruments Maschine, JazzMutant Lemur, Apple MacBook Pro, & Pioneer EFX-1000 Controller.)

Where you can hear deadmau5: deadmau5’s Official YouTube Channel

Daft Punk

French House, Electro House

Daft Punk is a mysterious duo of robotic Frenchmen that have been pushing the limits of electronic music since their formation in the early 90s. In 2007, they went on tour with a new, and very complex, live set-up that used an impressive amount of technology. If you were somehow able to get inside the Daft Punk “pyramid” on their Alive tour, then you would have seen them working in a futuristic cockpit consisting of these devices:

Daft Punk's Live Setup

The robotic duo known as Daft Punk has long been an innovating force in electronic music; receiving multiple awards and becoming a huge influence on electronic artists and music today. For their Alive 2007 tour, they created a stunning live performance using a variety of devices and controllers. (Top row: Daft Punk’s “Super Computers.” Bottom row: 2 Behringer BCR2000 Controllers and 2 JazzMutant Touchscreens.)

Where you can hear Daft Punk: Daft Punk YouTube Artist Page

That’s a lot of buttons and knobs.

Now you have an idea of how a few of the best producers in the world have decided to use the available technologies to create and play their music. If you’re overwhelmed by these diagrams or eager to buy all the devices you see in them; don’t be. These artists have built their live setups as their music has matured and required it – remember that getting a rig like Pretty Lights will not make you sound like a professional unless you truly know what you’re doing. On the other hand, putting on a giant mouse-head like deadmau5 or being born a french robot like Daft Punk seems to help…

Update

Since I wrote this article, I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to many people about the different live set-ups these artists utilize and learned a lot about how they’ve played their most recent shows. Technology moves very quickly, and the top acts evolve with it and change as well. Here are some updates:

  • Skrillex ditched the Trigger Finger + Ableton Live combo and now plays 4 Pioneer CDJs.
  • Bassnectar replaced the twin Trigger Fingers with a pair of Custom 60Works Controllers…so cool.
  • Pretty Lights is still using two MacBook Pros, but he has simplified his live rig to a single Akai MPD-32.
  • deadmau5 has changed his live set up entirely, and now has a veritable studio in his cube, decked out with multiple synthesizers, a 24-track mixer, 2 Native Instruments Kontrol X1 Controllers, various hardware effects, and a few more bits that I need to research further.
  • Daft Punk has a new album on the way, so we all must wait very impatiently to see how they choose to play their new sounds in a live setting.

Thanks to everyone who discussed these topics with me, I appreciate your help!

Past Articles:

Get Mobile! – How mobile apps can become an active part in your studio and your creative process.

Take Control! – What MIDI controllers are, what they do, and why you should consider using them.

Give Your Studio Some Life – The different components of a simple, but very powerful home recording studio.

Choose Your Music’s Workplace – What digital audio workstations do and a bit on the popular options for DAW’s that exist.

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Choose Your Music’s Workplace

The Laws of DAWs

In this modern age, almost every song or recording that you hear has been processed through what is called a DAW – or a “Digital Audio Workstation.” A DAW acts as a software-based hub for creating music digitally; it allows for recording, editing, and playback of audio and most modern DAWs have very powerful processing tools.

The most popular DAWs being used today include Ableton Live, Logic, Cubase, and Pro Tools, although there are also many other smaller software choices. The latter two of that list are considered “industry standard” and are commonly taught in audio engineering schools and used in professional studios.

Here is a quick run-down of these popular digital audio workstations.

Logic Pro screenshot

Logic Pro screenshot – taken from dannyjlewis.wordpress.com

Logic – Logic Pro was developed by Apple, so as you might guess it is available only for Mac OS. However, many musicians use Mac OS so it is very popular and important to mention. Logic is essentially a professional-grade version of Apple’s free recording software GarageBand, which comes already installed on all Apple computers. Logic Pro 9, the latest version, costs a reasonable $200 and can be downloaded directly from the App Store.

Cubase screenhot

Cubase screenshot taken by Ferran Nogues

Cubase – Cubase 7.0 is the latest iteration of this DAW software made by Steinberg. The Cubase family of products has been widely used since the debut of Cubase 1.0 in 1989. Able to run on both Mac OS X and Windows 7 and 8, Cubase is a very competent choice for whichever platform you use. Cubase 7.0 is moderately priced at $500 and is a great deal considering its capabilities.

Pro Tools screenshot

Screenshot of a timeline in Pro Tools

Pro Tools – Pro Tools is a beastly type of software that was developed by Avid Technology, and it has long been the standard for recording in professional productions. Pro Tools was first created in the mid-80s by a couple Berkeley grads and still remains the go-to DAW for many artists and sound engineers. As a result of its capabilities and widespread use, Avid is able to charge $700 for Pro Tools 10 and up to $2,500 for the HD-equipped version. It’s a huge price tag, but it would be an important investment for anyone interest in doing professional sound design or working in a studio.

Ableton Live screenshot

Ableton Live screenshot – “Session View” allows for designing songs to perform live

Ableton Live – Live is unique DAW created by a company from Berlin called Ableton. It was developed to be used for live electronic performances and has versions that can be run on both Windows and Mac operating systems. It has similar features to the other software described earlier but also has a separate interface for developing music and sounds to be played spontaneously. As a result, Live has been adopted by many musicians who perform their music with the accompaniment of a computer. Ableton sells Live 8 for $450 and is perfect for people that use their computers to make and play music, as well as those who just use them to record.

So…

So here’s a wrap up of the main ideas:

Use Logic if you own a Mac, as it’s affordable and an excellent product for Apple-based musicians. Get Cubase if you want a versatile, professional-grade DAW that can record and edit anything you’d like. Invest in Pro Tools if you want a career in sound engineering or if money is no object. Finally, take a chance with Ableton Live if you want to perform your music and use a computer while you do it.

Whichever software you choose, its all about learning how to maximize efficiency and get your musical ideas onto the screen as clearly as possible. When looking for software to make music with, look for the one that helps you accomplish these things most comfortably.