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my laptop rig doesn't 'cut through'. Am I doing something wrong?


bloodyMary

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I've been working for a while on my laptop rig. It's nothing fancy, just an old IBM ThinkPad running Hypersonic 2, v-station and a demo of pianoteq.

My audio interface is Lexicon Alpha.

The rig sounds awesome through my studio monitors, and I love the portability, programmability, and the huge screen.

But... I play in a loud band, busy mix, and the rig doesn't seem to cut it, unless I use very simple, straight forward sounds from the v-station. Everytime I switch back to the 1999 Korg, the result is just better.

Is there something I'm not doing to make it sound right?

 

 

 

 

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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Maybe your output from the Lexicon isn't hot enough? Same could be said for the output coming out of your Thinkpad.

 

This is another one of those situations where proper gain staging could be an issue.

 

Have you run your Laptop audio out into your system to see if its "hot" without the Alpha?

 

What is the input sensitivity set to on your "studio" system feeding your monitors?

 

Just a few ideas to look at.

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I have a ThinkPad R52 with eMu 1616m midi/audio. EWQL pianos sound great - as solo - they just don't cut in the band.

 

It has been my experience that, even with hardware, the better it sounds when paying by myself - the less it will work with the band. Example - the Bosendorfer grand sounds great on my Electro 3 (especially when triggered from my PC3X), but it just doesn't CUT On the PC3, I have to switch to Blues Piano or Rock Piano to get one that works well with the band - they don't sound that good comparitively when solo.

 

Try finding some computer patches and sounds that are a bit grungy, in-the-face too much when playing solo - try those with the band. Maybe even a gi-tar distortion pedal between the computer and the BIG Honkin' amp.

 

Haven't seen a Marshall stack yet that I couldn't wail over with the Falgor's Lament patch on the PC3 into a pair of cranked EON 15 G2.

 

Those sweet sounding solo patches in a typical guitar driven band are like carrying a penknife to a gunfight - puppy just ain't gonna hunt!

 

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The awesome solo patches are full spectrum audio... in a band situation, big chunks of the audio spectrum are claimed by the other instruments. If those frequencies are subtracted from the solo patch, the resulting piano sound may cut better, but sound crappy. If the EQ bands are boosted to compete, then the whole band may sound muddy. Better to find patches (like "Rock Piano") that are designed to fit into the frequency voids left by the other instruments.
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So true. While I hated my Kurzweil MicroPiano in a solo setting, it fit nicely in the mix with a live band. On the other hand, I absolutely loved my GEM PRP800 in a solo setting, but man did it sound weak in a band.
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This is another one of those situations where proper gain staging could be an issue.

 

Based on my own experience using modeling technology in a band situation, I think this might be the case.

 

I had to play with not only the gain settings in the modeler itself, but also the mixer it was plugged into. Not only must the overall volume level match the band (at least where the band leader wants it) but the dynamics must also match - if the gain is too high, when you dig in you drown out the others, if it is too low, nobody hears you no matter how hard you dig in.

 

I also learned the hard way that the mixer absolutely had to be part of the signal chain - I plugged the modeler straight into the powered speaker and everyone was wondering why the output was so weak. Turns out the modeler was designed to output at the -10db level. :facepalm:

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So true. While I hated my Kurzweil MicroPiano in a solo setting, it fit nicely in the mix with a live band. On the other hand, I absolutely loved my GEM PRP800 in a solo setting, but man did it sound weak in a band.

I wonder how new crop of hardware will behave in my situation (kronos?), since it has these huge detailed samples.

 

I saw a very successful band recently, their keyboards sounded very powerful and lush. Talked to the player after the show, and was astonished to find out he only used the 1994 Roland JV!

 

So, it seems I'd be better off with humble hardware, and only use the laptop for stuff like Pianoteq on ballads. Or am I wrong? What's the benefit of going the software route? Why so many guys here do it?

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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While I prefer hardware for other reasons, I don't think there's any reason the laptop can't work just fine. There are advantages to laptops - like being able to run whatever you want on them vs being stuck with what came in the hardware.

 

I think there's a lot to what those guys said about effects and complexity of the patches. I think if you just strip them down a bit and make them a little more raw, it'll go a long ways toward bringing them out.

 

FWIW - Keys aren't the only instrument to have this issue. I played with guitar players who ran direct through a modeling module and matched all of the sounds and effects perfectly to the CD. Unfortunately, live it just sounded like somebody was playing a CD, it didn't sound like a band. Same goes for electric drums. I've heard lots of people curse electric drums, but if you strip them down to the basic drum sounds you would get if you mic'd an acoustic drum, and only do slight variations on snare and toms, they can sound very "Live".

 

In particular, strip all effects except those necessary - like a flange, echo, etc. No need for ambience unless the effect really needs to stand out. Don't layer anything that doesn't stand out in the sound. No need to layer 4 or 5 sounds. Try one, if it's missing something, add another, try not to go deeper than that. Make sure there's no compression on it anywhere in the chain. Keep it dynamic. And finally, run it hot (as mentioned earlier regarding gain staging).

Dan

 

Acoustic/Electric stringed instruments ranging from 4 to 230 strings, hammered, picked, fingered, slapped, and plucked. Analog and Digital Electronic instruments, reeds, and throat/mouth.

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@OP Two things:

 

(1) Do you know how it sounds out front? Are you able to have someone else play (or run a sequence) while the band plays something and you can hear what the audience is hearing?

 

(2) What are you using to hear yourself onstage?

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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I don't think it's a "hardware vs software" thing as much as "live vs studio". I've noticed that many ROMpler pianos that work fine live tend to sound harsh and nasty when played next to pianos that sound great in the studio. (S90ES and RD700, for example.)

 

As mentioned above, kill any FX and slowly add only as needed. Also definitely worth making sure your gain staging is good and that you have the volume you need (louder sounds better!) If it's not that, then I suspect it's what I mentioned first: a great studio piano sound isn't necessarily best for live work in a band.

 

I don't know what Hypersonic 2 and V-station are, but possibly it's a similar issue.

 

BTW, I use a modeler live for seconding on guitar, for simplicity. Works great for my purposes, but no way it sounds as good as a real guitar amp & cab.

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can this be helped with a preamp

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Ask you band if they can do a rehearsal and give a bit of time for programming. This way you will choose the right sounds for the application. Programming by yourself will not get the job done.

 

Get rough sound choices during rehearsal. Then, on your own, take some time to finish up your live setups.

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I had to play with not only the gain settings in the modeler itself, but also the mixer it was plugged into. Not only must the overall volume level match the band (at least where the band leader wants it) but the dynamics must also match - if the gain is too high, when you dig in you drown out the others, if it is too low, nobody hears you no matter how hard you dig in.

+1 to this. Getting this right took me some time. Pianoteq has a parameter that changes the dynamic range of the sound in dB - mapping this to a hardware knob might help.

 

I don't think it's a "hardware vs software" thing as much as "live vs studio".

This.

 

Ask you band if they can do a rehearsal and give a bit of time for programming. This way you will choose the right sounds for the application. Programming by yourself will not get the job done.

Agreed. Also, since you have access to a laptop, here's a trick that worked for me. Record your bandmates onto different tracks during rehearsal. Tweak your sounds at leisure (without fidgety bandmates breathing down your neck)...! :idea:

 

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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So, it seems I'd be better off with humble hardware, and only use the laptop for stuff like Pianoteq on ballads. Or am I wrong? What's the benefit of going the software route? Why so many guys here do it?

 

For me, better sounds are just part of the advantage. Not often mentioned is the sheer freedom a laptop provides from the limitations of the hardware - in terms of Midi processing. As I mentioned in another thread:

 

...Hook up any keyboard as a controller, just remap velocity curves, and you're in custom heaven. And you're not limited to a handful of curve presets - you can actually hand-draw the sensitivity curve to an infinite degree of flexibility. Ditto with pitchbend, aftertouch, ribbon, pedal, breath controller inputs...

You're no longer limited by the 'controller features' of the keyboard, like zones - make your own zones, any number, anywhere you want. Patch switching too slow, like the VMKs? Chuck the internal patches on the board, save any number and recall them via just about any button/knob whatever. Customize your patches to ridiculous levels of detail. Map anything to anything else.

All you need are good hardware sensors that send reliable info - note, velocity, aftertouch, pitchbend, CC. Have decent action in a portable package, will rock!

Caveat - enjoying this freedom involves a huge investment of time and effort in the programming side of things. Much more than what's involved in programming a workstation.

 

Same goes for getting your sounds to 'cut through' live. The sounds in most workstations are designed for that. Most VSTs, are not. Lots of good suggestions in this thread, these should help get you there.

 

Common theme with going the laptop route - unless you invest time and effort in getting things right, you won't see why it's worth it. But worth it, it is. YMMV.

This is really what MIDI was originally about encouraging cooperation between companies that make the world a more creative place." - Dave Smith
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I've been checking in to see if the OP post back - I'm wondering if it's going to be one of those "sounds good through my studio monitors IN STEREO but through the band's MONO PA ..."

 

That's why I was asking about how it's hooked up when s/he is working with the live band.

 

 

I'm the piano player "off of" Borrowed Books.
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You're probably gonna hafta do a little judicious frequency pruning like others suggest.

 

This discussion reminds me of another that I had with a guitar-playing "studio" guy who was cleless about keyboards...he couldn't understand why in the world someone would NOT want to use a laptop and mega-libraries live...I couldn't get him to accept that cheaper, smaller, more 'tuned' programming in ROMplers are still better for live applications (generally).

Weasels ripped my flesh. Rzzzzzzz.
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wow, many great suggestions here, guys!

To clarify things, yes, I do monitor myself mono live. On gigs it's always floor wedges (usually okay ones), in the rehearsal studio it's the dreaded Peavey bombo amp. I do have plenty of volume, so it's not the problem (easily overpower the guitarist if needed).

I did invest time in getting my setups together, but guess I got carried away with fat lush sounds.

 

I will try to apply what everyone seems to agree on - cut on effects, choose more 'compact' sounds.

 

I get it now. The real advantage of the laptop rig for of is the infinite flexibility. Different sound engines, add sounds/features easily - VA, modelling (Hypersonic's

modelled Hammond sounds like crap, though), drum tracks, whatever.

But the bottom line is always the sound. If I can't improve my actual sound with the software, maybe I shouldn't bother... Make it a studio rig, where it can bring real improvement.

 

 

I have to reconsider the pros and cons of gigging with a computer.

 

 

Thanks guys, the KC is great as always. The only place in the world where I can get no-bullsh!t advice from pro keyboard players!

 

Stage: MOX6, V-machine, and Roland AX7

Rolls PM351 for IEMs.

Home/recording: Roland FP4, a few guitars

 

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