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My Live Setup - For the Gearheads and the Gear Curious

I got a question recently on my Facebook page from a friend in the States about my live setup in a stage photo I posted one night and how I use all those iOS devices. My response to him was so long it made me realize that an updated description of all that has been a long time coming here. A lot of this is pretty technical, but I suspect a few musicians and curious onlookers may be interested, so here goes:

The stand on the right and most of what it holds is new - a Focusrite iDock, which now serves as a mixer for my guitar and most of the virtual instruments I’m playing, and the new 128 Gb iPad it holds. The main apps I use on it are JamUp, DrumJam, ThumbJam, DrumKick, Loopy, and Audiobus 3, which is an internal router and mixer that allows the instrument sounds all to be routed into the Loopy, the wonderful multitrack looper app.  I’m now finally able to have the SoftStep floor strip controller, designed by Keith McMillen and which I’ve had for years, in use now to control most of the looping on the floor via USB on the iTrack dock. The dock is AC powered, keeping my iPad battery charged up to 100% so it can handle all this. I have the TC Helicon VoiceLive apps onboard for adding backup vocal harmonies I sing into the looper, but I haven’t incorporated that into my live sets yet - still just using their great VoiceLive Play floor unit on the left for live vocal harmonies. But, as you might have guessed, there’s a lot of learning, tinkering, rearranging, practicing and rehearsal going on here in mi casa this summer.

The second iPad runs keyboard apps, including ThumbJam, GarageBand, a couple other chord triggering apps, and the amazing iFretless apps, which are set up like guitar fretboards that trigger other instruments, making them especially fun for guitarists. You can midi control other keyboard apps with both the iFretless and the color coded ThumbJam apps them too, so the sky really is the limit on sonic possibilities now in the iOS world. I can also midi trigger ThumbJam samples with my guitar too, so no need for my old synth pickup. I have a lot of other apps that I pull in now and then on both units for this kind of exploration, including some of the new audio unit apps that are designed to serve as effects or sample banks in AudioBus. I can now save all my regularly used apps and settings as a single file in AudioBus, som I just open up that app and it loads them all for me, cutting down a lot of tweaking time before a show. It’s made music life much easier for me!

I run that second older iPad into the dock too so I can include parts I play on that in the loops too. My repertoire is pretty enormous for my the aging internal hard drive of my brain, so I keep an updated chord and lyric chart book on that one for reference on newer and seldom played tunes too. I mainly use the little iPod Touch as a soloing instrument, running ThumbJam mostly, but also SampleTank and iFretless too. To cover full disclosure, the dock’s mix goes through my also brand new Electro-Harmonix Freeze app, which I learned about from Bill Frisell awhile back and have coveted ever since. I use it, like him, mainly for holding an indefinitely frozen chord or pedal note on my guitar to play over - really cool for solo guitar stuff and surprise breaks in the loop heavy arrangements. If you haven’t heard of it and you play guitar, you might want to check it out.

All my amp models and most of my guitar effects are in JamUp, made by Positive Grid, where I’ve set up a number of presets that combine them in different ways. I sometimes use their BIAS Amp and Effect apps to custom design the amps, speaker cabinets and effects and then store them in JamUp for live use. DrumJam is an amazing world drum and percussion app co-designed by percussionist Pete Lockett and Sonosaurus LLC, who is also the developer of ThumbJam.  Pete, a world class percussionist who has played with Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, Björk, and Robert Plant, played all the loops and sample instruments in the app. You can play them with your fingers on a touchpad on the screen and mix the huge array of different loops he’s made of all the instruments, which I use to make beats or parts for my songs. I use the app as a virtual midi controller that sets the tempo and keeps time for the looping. I play and loop the drum and percussion sounds live on the app, and will soon be triggering them on my new BopPad, a revolutionary new drum pad that was also designed by Keith McMillen, who funded it’s manufacture through a Kickstarter campaign. The pad has a realistic drumhead feel and is super touch sensitive, playing with sticks, mallets, or your hands. I just brought it back from the north a few weeks ago, and I’m about to introduce it into some of the live shows here, but the weather has been too rainy to risk putting another piece of gear at risk on that little seaside stage. As you’ve probably noticed, the Caribbean is lapping the shore literally only a few steps behind me on that little Lazy Mon stage, so you can imagine quickly the storms can blow in. 

Any questions? 😉