A Harmony Machine for a Keyboard Accompanist?

Aug 22, 2014
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I am part of a musical traveling country show “The Louisiana Hayride.” My job is primarily that of a keyboard based accompanist for all the country singers that take center stage. In order fatten the backing vocals (primarily with oo's and aa's) I have always used a harmony machine triggered live. Originally I used the Digitech VHM5 (1990) and now I am using the Digitech Live Pro.

Unfortunately, as time goes by, this newer machine is becoming less reliable and we are looking at our options. Along with this, the Live pro lacks certain features from the old VHM-5 . No harmony machine (in the world!?) other than the VHM-5 includes a keyboard for accapella singing. Along with this, the newer Live Pro's display is very small, making it more difficult to check its harmony tracking.

Along with this, while both harmony machines recognize MIDI, neither recognize MIDI sustain messages (cc64) forcing me to perform in an “organ like” manner not a “piano like” manner in order to trigger correct, latency free, harmonies. Along with this, unlike the ancient VHM5, the Live pro defaults to major harmonies (not minors or diminished) which means that a different performance style is required for different chords.

I have tried many other harmony machines but they keep adding in “off the chord” notes when I sing certain notes. On the Roland/Boss, when I sing a “D” note over a “C” chord triad it includes a “B” and on the TC Helicon when I sing a Bb note over a C chord it sings a “D.” While these “off chord” notes may be nice for some melodic harmonies they are wrong notes for the accompanist who needs the back up harmonies to adhere to the chords being played.

Personally I would like a modern (high quality) harmony machine that...

A: Includes a single octave keyboard for accapella singing (see the VHM5)
B: Includes MIDI sustain pedal recognition (or {virtually} latency free audio recognition)
C: Includes a consistent user interface over all chords.
D: Includes a choice between backing harmonies (that stay on the chord) and melodic harmonies (that follow the melodic line through user specifiable “off chord” transitional notes/intervals).

The reason that I continue to use Digitech is that the notes stay on the chord. This characteristic is essential for back up the work that I do. Perhaps however there is another machine somewhere out the that will do this (and more?!). Unfortunately the only “accapella-friendly” harmony machine in the world (the VHM5's) has long since been discontinued. I would very much appreciated hearing from anyone in the music industry who is familiar with harmony machines and could therefore recommend a suitable machine for a keyboard accompanist...
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Jun 27, 2014
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Adelaide, Australia

I used to work with a singer who used a TC Helicon voice live 3. I wonder if it would suit your purposes? It seems very versatile.

Alternatively, rather than muck around with a vocal processor, maybe record the backing vox on tracks and trigger via a sampler?
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