Using Your Computer In A Live Situation
Tips for getting the most out of your set…
With the sheer amount of sounds, instruments and effects stored on computers these days, it’s only natural you’ll want to investigate how you could potentially take advantage of them in a live situation. The modern computer is such a powerful thing that everything from guitar amp tones to soft-synths could quickly become crucial to your sound if you spend enough time using them. Clearly, there are steps you’ll need to take if you decide on transporting the computer to a sweaty stage, but it needn’t be as daunting as it sounds if you take a few simple precautions. Here we’ll delve a bit further into how you could begin using your computer live. Before that though, here’s a few things to consider…
What exactly do you want the computer to do, and what will it help you achieve? Are there sounds and presets contained within it that simply cannot be repeated using standard gear? Are you triggering samples which could instead be loaded up onto a dedicated sample launcher like the Akai APC40? You’ll need to have a picture in your head of exactly where the computer will feature, and upon how much will you be relying on it to perform for you. As much as we’re saying it’s entirely do-able, there are always risks using your computer live so if you’re not confident and can make do with regular gear it may be best to do that.
Perhaps most important is exactly how reliable is your machine? Do you trust it implicitly? Are you confident it will do exactly what you want it to do, exactly when you want it to do it? We can imagine nothing worse than being midway through a song and everything falling down when your temperamental anti-virus popup announces itself, just as you’re about to reach the good bit. If you’re using a laptop, will you run off its battery, or using a power supply?
With the amount of software stored on your computer, not to mention recordings, you’d be gutted if it went walkies. How will you ensure its safety and what steps have you taken to ensure, if the worst happens, you’ll be able to transfer your data to a new machine?
Ok, scare-mongering over. Despite what is written above, it is entirely feasible you can be using your computer live with just a few simple steps. Let’s assume your computer is reasonably reliable, secure, and you have its place in the signal chain mapped out. Let’s also assume it is a laptop which you have dedicated to music-making, and you haven’t nicked the family desktop for the evening. What can you do to increase its efficiency and make it into a valuable addition to your live arsenal?
Audit your hard drive
Ideally before you rock up to your next show, laptop in hand, you should spend some time doing some basic maintenance and preparation. The first thing is to remove anything non-music related from the system. particularly the pointless apps which come pre-loaded onto most modern computers. Most can be done away with quickly and easily. Conduct a complete audit of your computer’s applications and programmes, and cull the ones which absolutely do not need to be there. This serves the dual purpose of freeing up valuable memory and reducing the risk of corrupted files throwing a spanner into the works. With that done, you should also look to remove and photos, films, music or anything else which is taking up valuable memory. With external hard drives being as inexpensive as they are, it makes sense to simply transfer everything over to one of them, keeping your computer as an application source only, i.e. not a tool for media consumption.
With a nice clean hard drive, you should take a look at some of the settings on your computer. For starters, consider making some changes to energy/battery settings, as well as screen savers and password lock configurations. This will ensure your computer doesn’t try and go to sleep, show dodgy screen savers or, worse still, require a password unlock at a crucial point of the set. You should also look at screen brightness, because this can have a huge impact on battery and if you’re going sans power supply, you’ll want to conserve every drop of battery you can.
It’s also worth looking at scheduled or automated tasks on your computer. Most systems these days carry out automated jobs like backups or system updates, and by switching off the automatic setting you reduce the risk of your computer trying (and probably failing) to carry out a full backup at the worst time possible.
As well as minimising risk while you’re performing, you’ll also want to see what performance enhancing tweaks you can make to eek out more power while you’re on stage. A lot of computers offer visual effects and shading, which look very nice in an office or at home, but will serve only to slow you down. Turn off as much or as many of these fancy visual stylings as you can.
It is often worth seeing what upgrades are available to try and boost the spec of your machine. These can often be done relatively cheaply and easily, but can have a profound impact on performance. If you’re using sample libraries or processor intensive applications, a simple RAM upgrade can make a world of difference, while changing your hard drive out for a solid state one will make loading samples far quicker and easier than it would be otherwise.
So your computer is clean, lean and ready for action. All that’s left now is for you to physically get it on a stage and start performing. For increased safety and security, you may consider a dedicated laptop stand like this Stagg COS-10, which is sturdy enough to withstand the odd wobble without falling down and can be packed up for easy transport. If your setup already includes a surface on which you can perform then you may be better off with the Numark Laptop Stand Pro. You’ll also need a rock-solid audio interface to route the sound out from the computer and into the front of house. There are plenty of these about, ranging from the simple 2 in/2 out iTrack Solo, through to the more versatile Scarlett 18i20, both by Focusrite.
So there you have it. Preparing your laptop or computer for live use is really more about the preparation you put in. By trimming the fat from your system and making a few tweaks to the settings, you’ll be ready to add a hugely versatile and powerful sound source to your rig.