Soft synths vs physical synths

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kernelkurtz
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Soft synths vs physical synths

Post by kernelkurtz » Thu May 17, 2007 10:39 am

I play in a local rock band and as the keyboardist all I do is simply take my macbook everywhere along with my midi keyboard and play live that way. However some of my band members as well as some others think that it's "lame" for me to do this and want me to get a real synth/keyboard.

I'm just curious to see what you guys think... is it really better to perform one way or another? To me, all of my sounds from NI and Arturia's programs sound fine, so I've never really given it serious thought... but is it really worth it to get a real keyboard to play live?

I guess this topic has some to do with peer pressure. :(

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Post by MitchK1989 » Thu May 17, 2007 11:06 am

why would that be any more lame than using a rack synth? either way you're playing a controller hooked up to a sound module.

The vast majority of software is much more versatile than hardware, plus as long as you're using software you can use as many softsynths as you want rather than bringing a crapload of gear.

Not to mention the fact that the only thing that sounds more like a prophet 5 than arturia's prophet V... is a prophet 5 (or maybe creamware's emulations, but then you're using a module + controller, so why not just use software?).

Your bandmates are retarded rockers who don't know the first thing about music technology, explain things to them and they will see the light. Unless you're having reliability or latency problems at gigs, I don't see any legit reason for complaining about the macbook.

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Post by MrHope » Thu May 17, 2007 2:50 pm

Keep your laptop system. It's working for you. You are the keyboardist, it's up to you not them. If you like your sounds, there is no reason to change. What you are doing is a bit more high tech anyway.

If they are concerned about band image, slap some kind of sticker on the back of your controller to make it look like a famous brand name synth. You can buy mailbox letters from a hardware store or letters from an art store and spell out "VIRUS" or "Roland" or "Oberheim" or "SynthGeist" or whatever catchword comes to mind. Or you could just leave your system as it is so people in the audience can see what your actual gear is and be impressed.

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Post by Stab Frenzy » Thu May 17, 2007 3:29 pm

I think if you're playing live then how things look actually contributes a fair bit to what the audience takes away from the show. That said, if you're standing staring down at your keyboard, even if it's a minimoog, it looks just as bad as if you're standing staring at your laptop screen.

What gear you use isn't important, it's how you play it. Rock out with a laptop and the band and the audience will ove it. Buying a synth just for the look won't change much, but at least then you won't be worrying about knocking your lappy on the ground while you're flailing around trying to play keys with your teeth.

Oh, and hiding your laptop so you can't see it is a good thing, it stops you from staring at the screen. Screens can really be mesmerizing when you're on stage, so make sure it's not right in front of you so you can concentrate on putting on a good show. However, don't hide the fact you're using a lappy from the audience, it looks lame and like you're hiding something.

This is coming from someone who gigs with a laptop and hardware synths a fair bit.

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Post by DX » Thu May 17, 2007 3:35 pm

I am agree with the reasons about using laptop, but...

On the other hand, there are other good reasons for using real synths instead software:

I watched a Kraftwerk performance, all of them was playing a small laptop, even with midi controller, just tweaking a mouse. The most boring thing I see long time ago. Altought a silly thing for some people, it is good to see hardware synths on stage. I mean, ir you are gonna play FM7 on your laptop, it would be more nice to see a real DX7 on stage. This not means laptops are bad, just only means real machines feels better on stage for a lot of people.

I think is not the same a synth module than a laptop. A laptop needs a common operative system (risk of freezes, hangs, etc) while a module works with its own dedicated op system (that risk is reduced dramatically).

People who think it is better a laptop than a real synth due to technology advance, also should think it is better to run the singer voice thru Antares auto tune live too. It is technology.... I guess that is not the reason. Maybe the fact of the wide range of sounds stored in folders, make the software very attractive.

Also a physical synth is better at the time of changing some parameter (even a DX7 interface too). The pleasure of handling a hardware synth is bigger than playing a small mouse and a laptop. Even a hardware sampler with midi controller is better IMO (at least, you can handle physical buttons for getting access to all funcions).

For the people which go to see a rock band live, it is better to see a Hammond or Nord Electro on stage than a laptop and a MAUDIO controller. Call it as you like, but I feel so when I am going to see a gig.

Just my opinion :)
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Post by CS_TBL » Thu May 17, 2007 4:07 pm

Just buy 3 of those modern midi keyboards, those huge 8-oct ones with tons o' controllers. That'll look equally impressive, and no-one cares that the signals go to a notebook.
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Post by Media » Thu May 17, 2007 5:21 pm

The way I see it is if you are rocking out and you are really playing it dose not matter what you are using to get sound. Most teck gear is not greeted with open arms. Musicians seem to get intimidated, or have some pretension of "learning to play there instrument". I meet people who are way out there and won't even consider me a musician for playing synth. I tell them this "I PLAY A SYNTH, I DO NOT LET A SYNTH PLAY ME". I think its more that people are against the one button push gratifacation of todays synths more than anything, they might think it undermines there playing skills. so I can see where they are coming from. if you have your laptop but are really playing, and not just triggering or playing a sequence(witch IS lame) than more power to you, and way to bring forth the next generation of music tools.

I feel as long as we are still musical with these tools, and don't let music tools play, or corrupt us we are bound to make wonderful new sounds for years to come.

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Post by Big Gnome » Thu May 17, 2007 9:30 pm

I think that getting a hardware synth is worth considering, but you should do whatever works for you. If you're more comfortable using a laptop, then by all means keep doing it--you wouldn't insist your guitar player ditch his lame amplifier for an all-tube Mesa or Marshall stack, would you? Of course not. I think Stab Frenzy made some wise points though--playing live is a performance first and foremost, and it is lame to stare at a screen the whole time--you do not want to give your audience the impression that the computer is "making all the music for you" or somesuch (which I think most rock audiences are quick to assume at the sight of a computer onstage).

From my own experience, I've only performed a small number of times on keyboards (I usually play as a guitarist or bassist), and I've done it with both computers and physical keyboards, and I do not personally care for software; computers tend to be too prone to crashing--in my old band, for example, nearly every show was recorded in Protools on a laptop, and it typically crashed about once per hour (of course I hope yours is better in that regard); otherwise, I just don't trust laptops to be as sturdy as hardware, particularly if you play out a lot.
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Post by kernelkurtz » Thu May 17, 2007 10:02 pm

Regarding reliability, my macbook is rock solid.. the RAM is maxed out and all my programs are universal binary, so that's never been a problem. I agree with most of your posts, the problem is the widely held perception that using a laptop isn't really making your own music, it's the machine doing it for you. But the reason I'd never considered buying any keyboard other than perhaps an authentic analog synth is that all the other racks/keyboards make their sounds virtually, so why waste money buying that kind of hardware when my laptop can already produce sounds like that? So in my mind, using a laptop is no different than using a real synth.

But yeah, I still haven't decided yet what to do, I don't think I should succumb solely for the concern of image, because I think I add a bit of creative innovation that typically couldn't be done with hard synths, since with software, the possibilities of creating sound are endless. I have a budget of about $1000, so I'll decide within a month or so whether to buy a keyboard (it's down to a nord lead 2x or a moog phatty for me, but regardless, I will still use it in conjunction with my soft synths :)) or to spend it on a pair of really nice monitors. Thanks for all your comments anyhow.

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Post by Automatic Gainsay » Thu May 17, 2007 10:21 pm

Several things to remember:

Live performance is not just about sound. In fact, sound is pretty secondary. How many bands have you seen that actually sound the same live as they do in recording? I think I've seen two. People don't come to see a band so that they can hear something sound exactly like the recording... they come to have a physical experience of the band. The sound is part of that, but there are a lot of other factors.

The audience wants to see you perform. While you may be performing your a*s off, you're still sitting behind a laptop, and that doesn't look like performance (to the general public, at least at this point), that looks like you're answering e-mail. Especially if you aren't very animated.

Performing with laptop in a band situation adds to the problem we, as synth players face... the "you're tricking me" problem. Since synthesizers became live instruments, a lot of audience members look at them with distrust. If they hear an instrument that isn't present, it's the keyboard player FAKING it. They feel they're being tricked... and that it's the job of the keyboard player to trick them. This notion is also made worse by the notion that people have had since synthesizers came out... that the synth is actually making the music, and the synth player is just pressing buttons to activate it. Arpeggiators made this worse, sequencers made it REALLY BAD, and computers... welll... they are like the nuclear bomb of audience distrust. While musicians know that musicians can be making music with computers... the audience thinks that you're doing something they themselves could be doing at home with Garage Band.
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Post by kernelkurtz » Thu May 17, 2007 10:44 pm

Thanks for your concerns Automatic Gainsay (btw, I'm a huge fan of your youtube videos :D). But ironically enough the band I'm in doesn't concern itself too much with visual appearance in our performances. I think the band's philosophy is that "it's more about the music" and while other bands (that have played with/against us in battle of the bands and charity concerts) have been more flashy and certainly more physically lively, we're pretty dead up there on stage in comparison when it comes to putting on a visually stimulating show. I think it's just our style and it fits our atmosphere well too I think (we're kind of a weird folk-rock/alternative fusion) and it hasn't stopped us from winning awards and receiving standing ovations. I think my bandmates' criticism comes from the fact that I look kind of out of place up there on stage next to the rest of the band, and that a real keyboard would look better. And I do try not to look at the screen most of the time, since that certainly is lame, but at the same time I tend to just play normally like I do at home, and don't really feel the need to act out a performance, since my belief is that the music alone has the potential to genuinely touch someone, and adding visual stimuli could just end up as a distraction or add an insincere element that could ultimately belittle the power of music itself.

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Post by ReaPeR » Thu May 17, 2007 11:20 pm

kernelkurtz wrote:I tend to just play normally like I do at home, and don't really feel the need to act out a performance, since my belief is that the music alone has the potential to genuinely touch someone, and adding visual stimuli could just end up as a distraction or add an insincere element that could ultimately belittle the power of music itself.
For me the visual element it's very important in live music... you had to bring a complete show to the audience...

A solution can be tilting your keyboard so people can see you playing... even if you have a pc everyone will see that you play the instrument
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Post by Automatic Gainsay » Thu May 17, 2007 11:54 pm

kernelkurtz wrote:Thanks for your concerns Automatic Gainsay (btw, I'm a huge fan of your youtube videos :D). But ironically enough the band I'm in doesn't concern itself too much with visual appearance in our performances. I think the band's philosophy is that "it's more about the music" and while other bands (that have played with/against us in battle of the bands and charity concerts) have been more flashy and certainly more physically lively, we're pretty dead up there on stage in comparison when it comes to putting on a visually stimulating show. I think it's just our style and it fits our atmosphere well too I think (we're kind of a weird folk-rock/alternative fusion) and it hasn't stopped us from winning awards and receiving standing ovations. I think my bandmates' criticism comes from the fact that I look kind of out of place up there on stage next to the rest of the band, and that a real keyboard would look better. And I do try not to look at the screen most of the time, since that certainly is lame, but at the same time I tend to just play normally like I do at home, and don't really feel the need to act out a performance, since my belief is that the music alone has the potential to genuinely touch someone, and adding visual stimuli could just end up as a distraction or add an insincere element that could ultimately belittle the power of music itself.
Well, yes... of course different genre audiences are different, so if what you have works, it works!
Because of your description of what your band is, and what you do... I might have to side with the people who say you should continue with what you do. :)
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Post by zukskywalker » Fri May 18, 2007 1:09 am

As said earler, do what feels best for you. But... use both and a whole new universe opens up (IMHO) 8)
Each generation of artists uses the "tools" of the time, now being the time of the computer (hmmm, what's next?) But when tied to hard synths, things like editors, librarians, plug-ins, sysex, midi system macros(my favorite), along with tons more all become part of your sonic palette.
Then there's the phenomena of the hard synth going soft.
From DX7 to FM8
From M1 to KORG LDE
From B3 to NIB4
etc, etc.
Having some connection to where the VST's come from seems to help in understanding the depths of your newer soft tools.

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Post by MitchK1989 » Fri May 18, 2007 1:56 am

pshhhaw.

Just because you have a laptop doesn't mean you're "tweaking with a mouse".

Just have the lappy beside you instead of in front of you, and you shouldn't need to look at it at all during songs. Playing a keyboard is playing a keyboard, whether it has an internal synth engine, is controlling a rack module, or is controlling a computer.

As for the "I'd rather see someone using a REAL DX7 instead of FM7"... FM7 is capable of sounds the DX could only dream of...

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