How Do You Tour with a Laptop?
Find A Good Live Performance Host
- Turn off all sounds on your computer (email notifications, alarms, calendar notifications, auto-updates, ANYTHING that makes or could make a sound. You don’t want that alarm you set and then forgot about to go off halfway through a set do you?)
- Turn off WiFi — No, don’t answer emails on stage… bad bad bad. (Turning off WiFi alone will also prevent many apps from automatically updating, wasting precious computer resources.)
- Prevent your computer from going to sleep — Uncheck "put hard disks to sleep", and make sure that screensaver of your cat never pops up.
- Temporarily disable Anti Virus software. These can take away precious CPU resources from plug-in processing.
- Turn off all other apps besides your live host. Again, don’t waste CPU resources.
- Buy a case for your computer. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just protect that investment. (You will probably be putting that computer in some weird places.)
- Most importantly—Backup your computer!!!
Backing up a gig file with Gig Performer is easy — I simply store the gig file on a separate hard drive along with a backup of the samples I use. When the five of us in the band are on the road, we all bring our computers. To me, this means four backup machines. You should designate one person's computer as "the backup". Ideally pick the one person with the fastest processor, most hard drive space, etc. If a computer goes down, plug in the spare hard drive, authorize the needed plug-ins (definitely do this before-hand, you'll need internet access), load the session and gig with confidence.
- MIDI controller: This preference will vary for everyone, so find the one that's right for you.
- Laptop computer: Obviously! But seriously, what kind, you might ask? The answer is simple. Mac or PC, just get one that meets your most intensive plug-in's system requirements. I would opt for the i7 processor, minimum 2.4Ghz, at least 8GB of RAM (16 is ideal), and an internal SSD. The size of your SSD shouldn't concern you much, as long as it's big enough to hold what you need. An external SSD should have USB3 ports or Thunderbolt. Most plug-ins (like Omnisphere or Keyscape) will let you stream samples from an external drive. The thing about computers is this—they depreciate as soon as you take them home. The best purchasing advice is to buy the best computer that you can afford at the time.
- USB cables: On Amazon, a three-pack of 10ft USB cables is around 10 bucks. Extras are great to have around.
- Adaptors? If you have a new Mac and you use those USB C to USB 3.0 connectors, make sure you have extras. Those have a way of disappearing. PRO TIP: Buy individual ones and tape them to the USB cables.
- Audio Interface/DI box: If you’re using one virtual instrument rig I’d recommend the Radial USB Pro. It’s extremely sturdy, doesn’t need a driver, and if you’re not using your own stage amp, it has a headphone-out so you can check your signal before the sound guy turns the monitors on. It also happens to have stereo XLR outputs, eliminating the need for an additional DI box. Using multiple keyboards? Grab an interface with multiple inputs and multiple outs. Mix your rig yourself then send the combined (or separate) signal to the Front of House. This will give you complete control over your volumes and sound check will be quicker.
- Plug-ins: Most of my sounds are coming from Spectrasonics's Omnisphere and Keyscape. Omnisphere covers all my synth and textural needs while Keyscape covers the classic keyboards. If hard drive space is limited there are affordable options too, like AAS's Lounge Lizard EP-4, which has a stellar electric piano sound and uses physical modeling (no samples = little hard drive space).
- Live Plug-in Host: Two words—Gig Performer. Keeps your CPU usage extremely low, has glitch-free switching, let's you use different plug-ins for song parts (verse, bridge, etc.) and create setlists. Have I mentioned how easy it is to use?
All in all, I'm pleased to say that over the course of three weeks and 14 shows, never once did I have a hiccup in my instrument rig, nor was the sound guy ever confused about any aspect of my setup. I'm sure many will agree that it's great to have analog gear on stage, and this is one of the reasons I still have the Juno-106 in my rig. However, in terms of live performance, there is no beating the versatility, portability, and power of virtual instruments. Putting a gig into a backpack says something, especially since the industry has placed such a heavy emphasis on one's live show. Sound like your record on stage, bring less gear, put on a killer live show and make life easier on yourself. Isn't that the touring musician's dream?