I have had several questions as to what I use, how it all fits together. As well as the advantages / disadvantages of doing it this way. I shall give a brief overview and then go into detail about the various areas.
The heart of the rig is a Macbook running Ableton Live 9 (Standard Edition) – this is what fires all Clicks, Cues, Backing Tracks, Stems, Song Words & Chords, Guitar Amps & Effects via Mainstage, as well as having the ability to fire videos / logos / song words from ProPresenter. All ins and outs are covered by my audio interface, a Focusrite 18i8, which then feeds the InEar Mixes and FOH Mix.
This is not a brand new high spec computer, with the latest hardware / software. Its a mid 2010 model, that I have upgraded the RAM from 2gb to 8gb (that was a sweet day!) The hard drive is consistently full, mostly due to my large music collection. But when I finally upgrade to an SSD the Mac will take on another new lease of life.
I saw many people using this software a few years back, and promised myself that I would never use it. It was far to complex, looked ugly, and there must be something better out there for my needs. Sadly I was wrong. It has a wealth of options, and allows multi channel playback of Audio and MIDI (with the ability to add images / lyrics / videos via MIDI Protocol). It truly is the powerhouse to what we are able to accomplish.
With one button I fire the backing track, Click & Cue Tracks (both on separate outputs), Guitar Amp settings to change, iPads to change to the right song. We have also played around with using ProPresenter as our Lyric Presentation Software, its possible to fire all the lyrics in time with the tracks.
When using the Electric Guitar alongside the set, i started to use Mainstage for the guitar amp(s) rather than carrying my 15kg Tube amp up 3 flights of stairs. It also gives me more ability to change the sound of the amp on the fly. Depending on the song means we can have a very clean Tube amp or a High Gain Solid State Stadium Rig. This has been useful to me, as it’s forced me to think more about what I want to play and how I want to fit into the mix.
With this, I can swap through the patches via MIDI output on Ableton. I added in a CPU Meter just to see how the performance of the Mac was doing. Before I upgraded the RAM is sat in the 80% – 95% area. Now that it’s been upgraded it sits around 10% – 25%.
Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 – this USB interface has 18 ins, and 8 outs, as well as a powerful routing program ‘Scarlett Mix Control’. This program controls all the inputs and outputs of the interface. We use it to send a stereo mix to FOH and then Two separate Stereo InEar Mix’s. This involves us using 6 of the assigned 8 outputs, meaning that if we were to expand to more musicians, the system becomes slightly more complex. It also allows us to save settings, making recalling last weeks set quick and simple.
Here you can see the difference between mine and Abi’s InEar Mix’s. She doesn’t have any click and very little guitars. Her overall mix is louder, this is mostly down to using less isolating headphones.
When more musicians emerge, we would either use a split rack and send everything to FOH as well as the Interface, allowing FOH more control, and freeing up 2 outputs. and allowing extra monitor sends to be sent from the Sound Desk (if required).
Or use the last two outputs, and feed them into a 6ch Headphone Amplifier, allowing up to 6 people to share a stereo mix. My last blog covered the positives & negatives of this.
Either way, this would mean bringing a 19u rack as well each week (currently up 3 flights of stairs, or the slowest lift imaginable!) Whereas now it all fits inside a Pelicase – which is lovely and portable.
I make a lot of our own backing tracks, as it gives us a flexibility to change structures, etc. It is also great practice for me! Everything that we use is to a Click track, and a Cue track (Intro/Verse/Chorus/Bridge/Repeat,etc). This is useful to have when we haven’t gone over the structure many times. I create them all in Logic9, and then convert them into files for use in Ableton.
If you are looking to download some pre-made backing tracks I would recommend Loop Community. They are super great people, who have a passion for putting out the best produced tracks. They have original tracks, and ones made by other contributors. If you get stuck they care and are always quick to respond. Learn more about them here!
This is an iPad app that holds a library of songs that we use. It allows you to do a wide range of things, like make set lists, transpose chords into different keys. You can upload songs from Dropbox, Planning Center, SongSelect, and other places. Its a great app. I originally got it to save me carrying around a massive folder with music in. Now I use it in conjunction with Ableton. When I fire a track in Ableton, it triggers a MIDI cue to be sent via WIFI/Bluetooth which can launch the correct song inside OnSong. This is useful for changing multiple iPads to the same song, and making sure that everyone is singing/playing from the same music!
Ambient or room mic, as I stated in my last post, is a helpful way of making those on InEars feel less isolated, and more connected with the rest of the room. It helps me when people start praying / singing out off the mic. And gives my InEar mix more ‘space’. It is a really useful tool, that I overlooked for the first 8 months of using this setup. But now I would never remove it from the rig. I am currently using a Dynamic mic, meant for mic’ing up Toms, as it was spare, and had a clamp that would allow me to attach it to the Laptop stand, rather than lugging a mic stand up 3 flights of stairs as well. Next week I shall aim to use a small diaphragm condenser (SDC) instead and see what difference (if any) that makes to the room sound. Note that if you decide to use a condenser, then you will need to power it (+48v) from the desk / interface.
Dynamic mics are usually used for up close and personal singing / playing, where as condensers are used generally for Drum Overhead mics / String Sections / Orchestras i.e. distance mic’ing. (this isn’t always the case as you can get Handheld mics for vocalists that are also condenser.)
Placing the ambient mic can be quite important, as its there to pickup the audience / congregation, not a specific instrument or the main mix. most larger stages I have worked on place a pair of small diaphragm condensers at stage waist-head height, one on each front corner. maybe try clamping onto the Worship Leaders mic / music stand. Trial and error are key. I did attach a SDC one to a truss above the audience, and 6-8m up in the air, and found that it did very little. Too far from the sounds I wanted to pick up to be any use, when turned up the preamp / mic hiss & buzz ‘drowned out’ the usefulness – which is annoying after running 50m’s of XLR from the top of a ladder.
I am very fortunate that I can choose what instrument to play on a week to week basis. I arranged the tracks that fire from Ableton to allow me to mute the instrument I am playing that week, and let the other guitar (be it Electric Rhythm / Lead or Acoustic) play. This adds variability to the setup.
Electric guitar – depending on how strong I feel makes a difference as to whether I bring my Fender Tube Amp, or use the Amp Emulation within Mainstage.
Using the amp means a fairly conventional setup. Les Paul out to my pedalboard, which currently consists of (in this order) Fuzz, Tuner, Distortion, Delay, Loop Pedal. The Loop pedal allows me to record in up to 3mins of recording, and then overdub it, this is useful for ambient background music when the service starts. Out of there it goes into the Amp, which is then mic’d up and sent into the 18i8.
Not using the amp is pretty simple also. The end of the pedalboard goes into a DI, and this in turn goes into the interface. From there its routed into Mainstage, and then back into a different output in MixControl. This allows it to be mixed into the stereo output at an appropriate volume.
Acoustic Guitar – a nice simple setup here, literally a Electro Acoustic into a Tuner into a DI, this then also gets plugged into the 18i8, and fed to the main mix and ears.
As I mentioned in my last post, I use Wired InEars. This adds a second cable to get caught up in. For this reason I made a couple of looms to halve the accident rate! One for me and one for my wife. At the moment they are held with cable ties, as we are waiting for the heat shrink to arrive. They are both 5m long, as we are never more than this away from the stagebox + 18i8. When we are, it will be simple to extend them, although hopefully if its a big enough stage there will be wireless!
I won’t delve to much into detail about these, as there is an essay below about them. I use Shure 215 Single Driver InEars. These work great and I would highly recommend them. If you are looking for more expensive ranges, adding more drivers for more clarity, I would go here or here. These companies require you to get a custom mould of you ear made (Ear Impression) this can be done at an Audiologists (Specsavers, Boots). This allows the InEar to fit more snugly than other generic brands. As well as allowing you to pick a range of colours and designs.
Thanks to the way I run this setup, the previous settings can be saved and recalled for next time. this is incredibly helpful for getting the InEars set quickly, and then allowing me to spend the time adjusting the FOH mix. It makes any issues that we have with the mixes able to be recalled at the studio, and issues ironed out.
Consistent musicians – The backing track doesn’t forget to tune the guitar / put a capo on / go out of time. Each week we know what to expect, and where each musical part fits, allowing less time to be spent worrying about blending in, and more time concentrating on the actual worship.
Great for smaller churches / worship teams. This method has been a godsend to our church, its allowed us to have more energetic & synth lead tracks. This simply wasn’t possible in the same way before, as one acoustic (or electric) guitar and a female vocalist cannot really pull off Hillsong Young&Free!
Practicing can be done without a lot of hassle arranging a suitable time / venue. We can play back the tracks just off the laptop without all the extra equipment. This saves complaining neighbours.
Spontaneity – With any backing track, you limit yourself to the structure that has been recorded in. There are ways around that, but its not a simple thing to do on the fly.
Lack of control for Sound Engineer at FOH. Because everything is done in the 18i8, the Sound Engineer only gets a Stereo mix of everything. This works well for us, as we don’t have anyone there to mix. But if we did, they would have to rely heavily on my mix being good.
Lonely stage! Especially in larger venues, having a full band sound, with only two people in view is weird! I regularly refer to ourselves as ‘Come see my Macbook live’! If and when we play anything bigger than 100 seater venues, more musicians will be required.
I mentioned on the InEar blog that my InEars aren’t comfy for me, even though they sound great! I would love to upgrade them, as well as getting a split rack, so that FOH have full control of each channel, while we remain in control of the InEar Mix’s. A box like the one below would be perfect for this, and would leave a spare Output on each for Recording.
The next big leap is to change the way we fire the loops and tracks to allow them to be jumped backwards/forwards to repeat Verses/Bridges/Choruses. I plan to make use of this little MIDI DrumPad to jump between parts. I hope to get 3 songs per layer, and as there are 4 layers, that gives 12 songs per set that we can use spontaneously. Its a lot more work than the current method of playback. I have almost finished 2 songs, and have many more to go!
I’m pretty sure that I have covered everything, I would love to hear from you.
What do you use?
How could this post help you?