Torn between MIDI route and Hardware keyboard for gigging

Discussion in 'Keyboard Purchase Recommendations' started by RossDaMusician, Feb 28, 2017.

  1. RossDaMusician

    RossDaMusician

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    Hi
    I play keys in a function band, at the moment just running a Yamaha MM6 61 key Synthesizer/workstation for all of my sounds. While the E-Pianos are great as a lot of the patches are similar or identical to the legendary Yamaha Motif, the brass sounds are underwhelming. The genre of music we play is Disco/Funk/Soul which as you can imagine is very taxing for keyboard parts. Although I play the saxophone too in the band for solos, the sound of a big brass section has to come from my keyboard and I often find myself with lots of splits and for some songs 2 patches with splits each. We play Street Life Randy Crawford which is a nightmare on keys as I have 3 patches! I am looking to upgrade my keyboard rig basically because the sounds are lacking a bit.

    Gear I currently own:
    Macbook Pro 15" loaded with Mainstage 3, Logic Pro X as well as Komplete 11 Ultimate (Amazing sounds)
    Komplete Audio 6 (For a better output if I do use my laptop for sounds)
    MM6 Keyboard Synthesizer/Workstation with stand (61 key)
    M-audio Keystudio MIDI Controller (49 key)

    Option one: Use my MM6 as a MIDI keyboard as well as my M-audio Keystation 49 to trigger all my keyboard patch changes and host the sounds. Also plug my MM6 into the PA and host a piano or basic brass patch in case my laptop fails so I can keep playing and reboot while continuing the set.

    Option two: Buy a new MIDI Keyboard to use with more functionality and MIDI buttons that my MM6 lacks and use that instead with my Keystudio 49 to play sounds hosted on a laptop. This is more unsafe because I have no hardware sounds if my laptop crashes which would probably be a bit of a nightmare. The keyboard I was looking at would be either the Keylab from Arturia or the Komplete S88

    Option three: Busk my butt off to save up for a hardware keyboard, I have the Nord Stage 2 in mind and I played one in a music shop and fell in love with how intuitive the interface is as everything is right in front of you instead of being hidden in menus. It is fairly light (73 key compact) and this is the most portable rig other than option 4 because I could carry the nord in a case on my back. which would be ideal as I will have no car when trying to gig at Uni only public transport/walking/friends with cars.

    Option four: Stick with my MM6. At the end of the day, the audience dancing aren't going to be complaining about my keyboard sounds, they are just going to be dancing. While at the end of the day my keyboard doesn't sound great it still does the job and it is only a few of the sounds that aren't amazing. The E-pianos and clavinets and other sounds work great just not the brass. It was the drummer of the band being picky about my keyboard sounds and while he is somewhat right do I really care or do I just want a new piece of gear? I am only 17 so I have loads of time in the future of my life to get gear, spend my money on lessons!

    Sorry for the long post, and I'd be interested to hear your experiences with using a MIDI based setup vs a dedicated workstation/keyboard. Have you experienced awful dropouts and crashes with a laptop? Do you think software sounds are overtaking hardware keyboards? Keyscape from spectrasonics sounds incredible. Thanks all :)
     
    RossDaMusician, Feb 28, 2017
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  2. RossDaMusician

    SeaGtGruff I meant to play that note! Moderator

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    Have you tried tweaking the brass sounds on the MM6 to see if you can punch them up a bit?

    One idea could be to edit the Filter Cutoff and Resonance to make the selected voice brighter or darker and bring out certain harmonics. You could also try editing the Envelope Attack and Release settings. And changing the Reverb Depth and/or Chorus Depth could help-- in particular, adding some Chorus can help make a voice sound a bit "fatter," although you might want to experiment with different Chorus Types.

    Another idea could be to layer a couple of brass voices together, such as a trumpet and a trombone, or some other combination of brass voices. If you set the individual layers to different Pan settings, it will help separate them from each other if desired. And of course you can edit the parameters of each voice as suggested above. For instance, if you're just going for a trumpet sound and don't want to mix in some other brass instrument, you could even layer the same voice with itself, but edit the parameters of the two layers differently-- different panning, or different filter settings, or different envelopes, etc.

    EDIT: Also, you might try layering a synth brass voice with an acoustic brass voice-- or using a synth brass voice by itself-- as some of the synth brass voices may have more "character" than the acoustic brass voices.

    And you might try adding some nuance to the notes with some judicious use of the Pitch Bend and/or Modulation Wheels. Sometimes it's not so much how the voice per se sounds, but how you play the notes. For instance, playing a guitar voice or a brass voice using the same keyboarding style as for a piano voice won't sound as good. In order to make a particular type of voice sound more convincing, you have to try to mimic the way a guitarist, or trumpeter plays.

    Sorry if all of this advice is old hat to you, but my point is that you might want to look for ways to make better use of what you already have before you start throwing money at the problem. And if you're not happy with the results, then you can start throwing money. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2017
    SeaGtGruff, Mar 1, 2017
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  3. RossDaMusician

    RossDaMusician

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    Thanks for your reply!
    The attack on the brass is already short and I could add some release but the brass lines are generally tight and punchy for the styles we play. I will try playing with the filter and layering a couple of brass patches! Only issue is I put my brass in the left hand and my chords in the right and you can only dual/layer sounds in the upper split and not the lower split as far as I know but I will pull the manual out and try, surely you can dual/layer the lower region. I will give this a try thanks!
     
    RossDaMusician, Mar 1, 2017
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  4. RossDaMusician

    Fred Coulter Collector of ancient keyboards

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    I remember going to gigs on the subway with a luggage cart holding my DX7 and ancillary equipment. Doable, but not fun. (I lived in Seagate, which is a walk from the Coney Island station, and we played in the Village.) I'd recommend a cart from Rock N Roller if you don't have stairs to worry about. Not sure if it would work on a bus, though.

    A lower cost approach and a bit more road worthy than using a laptop (although there are lots of people who do use laptops on the road) would be to look at a hardware sound module, controlled by your two keyboards. Get a MIDI merger, and set one of your keyboards to MIDI channel 1 and the other one to MIDI channel 2. There are several little boxes out there that have the polyphony to support two keyboards and a wide variety of boxes. This would be cheaper than buying a Nord. (Sorry, but I'm biased against bringing computers onto gigs.) Also, keep checking Craigslist.
     
    Fred Coulter, Mar 1, 2017
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  5. RossDaMusician

    RossDaMusician

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    Thanks for your reply
    Yes I have seen these about, sounds like a great idea. If I did not already own a laptop then I would probably have gone down this road but I needed a computer so I thought I'd be killing two birds with one stone by sorting out a sound module for gigging and a computer for some music production by buying one thing. After a band meeting this evening it's become clear that I will need some sounds sampled directly from the tunes like Uptown Funk's introduction with the vocal "dohs". I think for now I will try and and use what I have but use my MM6 as the MIDI controller and still plug it in the PA too so if my laptop dies I can quickly continue playing ,although I don't see this happening. If it does, I will make the patches on my MM6 for each song too so I can keep playing relevant parts.

    Can anyone recommend any keyboard stands? will be using two keyboards either way, I have seen the "Spider" style keyboard stands which seem very portable or there's the traditional two tier stands. I don't mind a bit of bounce if it means it's more portable.
     
    RossDaMusician, Mar 1, 2017
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  6. RossDaMusician

    SeaGtGruff I meant to play that note! Moderator

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    I don't have much experience with different types of stands-- I use a pair of X stands (Casio ARDX)-- so I'll let someone else recommend something. Actually, you might want to start a separate thread and use a subject line of "Keyboard Stand Recommendations?" or something like that.

    As far as layering two voices to the left of the split, from the MM6 Owner's Manual it appears that the MM6 lets you set up only three voices in all-- one to the left of the split, and one or two to the right of the split.

    Also, the MM6 has a rather low maximum polyphony of 32 notes-- the same as my Yamaha portables. If you do decide to layer voices together on the left side of the keyboard as described below, you'll need to watch out that you don't end up exceeding the maximum polyphony while playing.

    If you connect your MM6 to your laptop-- the easiest way is via USB-- you can use your DAW to send the left side of the split to a virtual instrument so you can get a better-sounding brass, and let the right side play the electric piano or whatever on your MM6.
     
    SeaGtGruff, Mar 2, 2017
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  7. RossDaMusician

    RossDaMusician

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    Yeah I should probably make a new thread for that, good idea. Thanks for your help!
     
    RossDaMusician, Mar 2, 2017
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  8. RossDaMusician

    Fred Coulter Collector of ancient keyboards

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    The problem with using a laptop (or any computer) for music is that the things you need to do to optimize it for music tend to lessen it's worth as a general purpose computer. There have been posts by other people in this forum that detail all the things you need to turn off, but the quick and dirty is that you want to remove all networking drivers (including WiFi & BluTooth), and anything else that could get in the way of the music software. Otherwise you'll get random lag, etc., while you're performing. Not fun.

    I haven't done it for this purpose, but I wonder if you could set up your laptop as a dual boot system. Assuming your hard drive is big enough, you could divide it into pieces, and have two copies of the operating system, etc. One of them has disabled or removed all the non-music stuff, running only the bare minimum necessary to do music. In addition to running faster, it may be less prone to crashes. The other half is your normal computer, with Skype and FaceBook and all the other necessary components of modern life.

    (When I set up a computer as dual boot, it was to learn a new operating system. I didn't want to screw around with production software when learning Windows NT.)
     
    Fred Coulter, Mar 2, 2017
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  9. RossDaMusician

    SeaGtGruff I meant to play that note! Moderator

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    Fred, based on what I've read in other forums, some people prefer to buy a second computer, so they can have one for general use and the other for their DAW and virtual instruments.

    They strip the music computer of everything that isn't needed for the DAW and virtual instruments, including (as you said) networking, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc.

    When they need to install or update a DAW or virtual instrument, they download it on the general-purpose computer and transfer it over to the music computer.
     
    SeaGtGruff, Mar 2, 2017
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  10. RossDaMusician

    Fred Coulter Collector of ancient keyboards

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    That's a better solution, but the OP said that he wanted to use his existing laptop. I suspect that cash is a limiting factor for him (as it is for most people at some point).
     
    Fred Coulter, Mar 2, 2017
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  11. RossDaMusician

    SeaGtGruff I meant to play that note! Moderator

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    Right, I was just telling you what some people do to get around the potential problems you'd raised.

    I use my all-purpose computer for running my DAWs and virtual instruments, and rarely experience any problems, even with numerous programs and processes running in the background. But then, I don't perform on stage and am not much more than a casual bedroom studio dabbler.
     
    SeaGtGruff, Mar 3, 2017
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  12. RossDaMusician

    RossDaMusician

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    I built a computer a few years ago which I used for music and personal use, which worked okay and still works great, just wiped it and using it almost solely for music and the odd game and browsing I am keeping my laptop completely clean for music too only browsing the web on it and doing music production or Mainstage so I think it will be fine. It's a 2014 macbook pro that I have been saving up for, for a long time. 500GB SSD, 2.5 ghz i7 and 16GB of Ram, so as long as I keep it just for music I doubt it will crash on me, hasn't crashed on me since I've bought it.
    Yeah I've looked into the whole virtual machine thing just seems like a lot of hassle. Thanks for the advice anyway guys :)
     
    RossDaMusician, Mar 3, 2017
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  13. RossDaMusician

    Fred Coulter Collector of ancient keyboards

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    A virtual machine is not the same as a dual boot system. In fact, they're pretty much the opposite.

    In a virtual machine, on top of your existing operating system you're running a simulation (or virtual) system. Your computer is using the normal resources of your operating system PLUS whatever system you're running on top of it. There are good reasons to do this. Here at work we have virtual servers so that we've got one piece of hardware pretending to be two (or more). However, there's a performance cost.

    A dual boot system is one in which the hard drive is divided up into two (or more) partitions. When you turn the computer on, the first question it asks is whether to use partition 1 or 2 as the boot up partition. Which ever one is chosen, the other one is turned off (becomes invisible). This is how you can have a computer running both windows and UNIX (although not at the same time). One's not running inside a window of the other one.

    I did it to learn Windows Servers on a Windows Pro lap top. I would either boot it as a server or as a normal Windows box.

    The idea would be to have one partition used for only your music stuff, with a stripped down version of the operating system. One with zero wireless networking and other resource issues. No non-music programs automatically running in the background. (No non-music programs installed.) The other partition would be the normal computer you're used to using.

    You could set up a third partition that's visible to both operating systems, for files that you want access to no matter what you're doing. You could use this partition when you're downloading music files. (You need some way of getting files from one partition to the other so you can buy and download new VSTs, updates to programs, etc.) Go online with your normal computer boot and download the file to the shared partition. Then restart your computer to the music boot, and read the file off the shared partition.

    The biggest disadvantage to a dual boot system running the same operating system is that you're using twice as much space for anything that's on both partitions. Primarily that will be the operating system, but if you want to have PowerPoint working on both boots, then you'll need to install it twice. (Although I can't think of a reason for this, but it may just be my failed imagination.) So if you're already short on disk space, then you'll be even worse off.

    Virtual machines, my their very nature, will not run as fast as a regular machine. This isn't true for a dual boot system. Basically you get to choose which system you're running when you turn it on. There is no performance hit (other than picking an operating system at bootup).

    It appears that Apple has made it easy to do with Boot Camp Assistant. Since I don't own a Mac, I have no idea of the specifics of Boot Camp. Many PC geeks do it with a production version of Windows and the beta of the next generation.

    BUT, if you're not having any performance issues running music software live with your current system, then there's no reason to set up a dual boot system. It's only something to think about IF you find yourself occasionally laggy, or if some non-music program decides to lockup or reboot your system while you're trying to perform.
     
    Fred Coulter, Mar 3, 2017
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