Live Music and Technology or, “You came in *that* thing? You’re braver than I thought!”

Ah, the joys of being a tech geek and a musician. There’s nothing better: so much wonderful technology out there for making music. Infinite possibilities in infinite combinations. One can spend more time playing with the technology than actually playing music (a danger I must constantly avoid). But it’s so much fun, and so very satisfying to coax amazing, warm sounds from the “soulless machines”.

And then you decide to play live. Whether there’s an inherent anti-social tendency in these machines, or just shy and nervousness, things can and do go wrong. And the effect is amplified when they’re in groups. I know this for two reasons. First, the band I’m in only has two members, and we have a lot of gear to compensate.

The second reason is that the band I’m in is about to start gigging for the new year, and as this is the first official gig with this incarnation (last year the band had 5 members), we had what could be considered a “dress rehearsal”: we tore everything down from our practice room, packed it all in vehicles, drove to our church, set everything up on stage there, and ran through our set. I had more problems that day than I think I’ve ever had: stuck notes on one keyboard (MIDI issues), computer problems (OS crashes that nuked the configuration of my music software), and controllers that flat-out refused to do anything. The most interesting problem was in the aftermath of the crash. My music software has a configuration option for “CPU protection”. The idea is that if the CPU load goes above a certain threshold, settable as a percentage, the music software will stop processing things. Undesirable in a live setting, but better than the machine crashing completely. Unbeknownst to me, this got reset from it’s normal value of 90% to 0%. I’m trying to figure out why nothing is working (everything in my live rig goes through the computer at once point or other), but looks normal. That took a few minutes.

There are those who will point out that if the “dress rehearsal” went badly, the “production” should then go really well, and I’m still optimistic, but when you’re placing yourself in the hands of your technology, in front of people (oh, and did I mention that a lot of people we know are going to be there?), you have to prepare for the possibilities, and, well, I have to confess to being a little bit nervous.

I am glad we did this, if only for the fact that now I have a better idea of how things could go wrong. What’s interesting about this goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning: notice I didn’t once talk about the music itself; my nervousness stems from the technological uncertainties, not that I’m playing music in front of a crowd. If I was sitting at a piano all night, it would be completely different. It’s all part of the fun, I suppose. I’ll be sure to do a follow-up after the gig to let you know how it went.