Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tips for solo musicians, duos or worship leaders. Increase your sound!

Not enough sound coming from just your voice and acoustic? Want to add more sound or instrumentation to your sound? Here we'll look at seven ideas - Pads, BeatBuddy, Stomp Box and tambourine, multi-instruments, vocal harmonisers, OnSong, FCB1010, backing tracks, pads with beats...

One of the things that happens when you play or lead worship on your own or perhaps with just a couple of you, is that you may find the sound isn't as full as it can be. This happens with myself and a friend who play acoustic together. This is where pads can sit in the mix underneath your playing.

Here are some options to increase your soundscape....

1. Pads

These sit 'under' your mix and are not he root / tonic note. They can be a plain synth sound or have a variety of arpeggiations / pentatonic notes to add to the variety. I make some for free - visit https://www.youtube.com/user/zerofourzulu/videos and generally have them at around 25mins per track.

2. BeatBuddy

You can use the BeatBuddy to add beats for your songs. This is one thing I do. I've set up 'worship patches' on my Beat Buddy using the associated software.

The advantage is that you can programme to play different parts of each song. Disadvantage is that you need to programme it using the computer - and then work it (correctly!) when using live. This takes practice but adds a lot as it plays back real drum samples. Just practice, practice, practice and buy a separate foot pedal to trigger play back etc.

3. Stomp Drum / Tambourine

You can use a stomp box / stomp drum (same thing). I use one from Beat Root (off ebay) which is OK but needs some serious sub bass and EQ-ing to get a good sound. My friend uses a slightly bigger and better one from Acoustim8 off Amazon which is physically bigger and produces a better thump for sure. A professional musician friend uses an even better one from Logjam (the Logarhythm).

The advantage is that you can play it and choose when to come in. You can get different sounds depending on where you stomp down. The disadvantage is that it's only one sound (a 'kick drum') and it can get tiring on the foot / leg playing it, especially when standing! You may also need to tie it down as it can often move meaning you're dragging it back towards you mid song!

To go to the next level of this idea, one worship leader once had a kick drum as the main beat and got the bass player to play a tambourine on the floor (mic'd up with a condenser mic and a ton of reverb) as the 'snare'. It worked well.

4. Multi-instruments Simultaneously

Idea 1 - I have one friend who manages (brilliantly) to play a keyboard with one hand playing the basic melody line or the chords - and a cajon with the other hand. This provides a great extra bit of sound with two sound sources. He also sometimes uses a Novation Mininova in the background as a 'pads' sound, or jumps between his keys and the Mininova.

Idea 2 - Another friend has used a Novation MiniNova as a bass sound with one hand (sometimes holding down the sustain pedal to keep the bass note), while using his electric guitar (with a ton of reverb) using the other hand. A capo helps him to play in the right key.

Idea 3 - I have often done a combo of playing pads on a MIDI keyboard using MainStage (Worship Essentials by Abel Mendoza), using the sustain pedal or using the Drone Pad tonic note pad within Worship Essentials - while playing acoustic guitar.

Idea 4 - On a more limited level, you can use more than one sound source for pads. For example using two iPads playing back sounds or samples or triggering Garage Band. Or using pads on an iPad and playing a synth. Or you could run a MIDI pad triggering drum samples and pads.

The advantage of this is having two sounds. The disadvantage is that you need to be able to do this well and it may prove too much for some. Can be tricky to sing at the same time too!

5. Vocals - using a Harmonizer

For vocals I also use a TC Helicon Play Acoustic and run the vocals through this. You will also need to run your acoustic guitar through this so the Play Acoustic picks up which key you're in. If you're playing a single key, then you can programme the Play Acoustic with this key.

I use the harmony sparingly and sensitively, with a relatively low db (volume level) so it doesn't sound too fake or too over-done. But this is a way of having harmony with your vocals and an encouragement to nail the notes every time - otherwise the harmony sounds terrible!

6. Triggering a MIDI synth / chords with a foot pedal and MainStage

Warning, this is a long and involved procedure but if you follow all the instructions and especially use the videos linked to, you'll find a way through! The Behringer FCB1010 doesn't have a MIDI to USB output built-in so you'll need to purchase a MIDI-USB adapter. Don't skimp!

However... If you intend to use the programme iFCB to edit the Behringer FCB1010,  you will need a USB-MIDI adapter or unit that is capable of transmitting MIDI SysEx. Many adaptors don't work with this including expensive and cheap ones. So find one that definitely will allow SysEx. The FCB forums here give some examples - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=6

If you're using OS Mojave then it's possible iFCB won't work (at the time of writing this, October 2018) as iFCB is only a 32 bit app. It may work but I've yet to test it.

To go beyond the normal 'pads' use of things, I created the following setup:

Unless you're in the States / Canada and can easily by the Looptimus foot pedal (which has pads already assigned to its foot pedal as one of its options), you will need a foot pedal MIDI controller that plays back MIDI notes. Trying to find this isn't easy and basically as of the time of writing (October 2018), your only options are the Behringer FCB1010 (the cheapest option) or the Roland FC-200 or FC-300, which I believe can play back MIDI notes. The Behringer FCB1010 definitely can.

So you'll likely need to first organise a set list in the same key - or in two different keys maximum. The reason for this is that we're going to use the FCB1010 to trigger not just notes, but chords from Apple MainStage. The FCB1010 has 10 available foot pedals for this use, so you can assign for example the top row of 5 pedals to play back chords in the key of E and the bottom row to play back chords in the key of C.

Using two keys will only work if the songs you're playing back don't have more than five chords in them. So I set up my FCB1010 to play back chords: 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 generally.

In order to do this, you will need to do two things. Firstly, you'll need to set up a concert in MainStage that plays back chords. Secondly, you'll need to set up the FCB1010 to play back MIDI notes and then assign the foot pedals within MainStage to the notes / chords you want to play back from MainStage.

Make sure you connect your FCB1010 and either follow the manual's instructions to set this up to send / receive MIDI note messages. Or visit https://mountainutilities.eu/fcb1010 and try their editor. Or pay $20 and get the editor from Rabbit Watch - http://www.wabbitwanch.com/iFCB.html or get it through the App Store.

Then follow this instruction video here to set up mapping the FCB1010 to MainStage if using iFCB:

If not using iFCB and you're up for the 'pedal dance' option of sorting yourself, this video may prove helpful instead:

I warned it was a little complex....!

Within MainStage, create a new drum pad concert, delete everything. Then from within the Layout tab and Panel Controls section at the bottom of the screen, drag on to the window ten drum pads in two rows of five. You can then label the channel strip as wanted in the Layout menu.

In the Edit tab, go to the mixer and replace the 'Ultrabeat' input with a pad of your choosing and rename - I used the Alchemy synth and navigated to the 'Hotel Endless' preset.

You can remove any of the other (musical) channel strips by deleting them. I then renamed the channel strip to 'Pad'.

Then still working in the channel strip, click on "MIDI FX' and select 'Chord Trigger'. Then the 'Instrument (Pad)' window pops up. This is where your notes will become your chords. But you will need to set this up. To do this, follow this video below (not done by me). You will need to follow the instructions but set up the chords however you need them to be. In the video, he uses a keyboard to assign the notes.

Note - you will be using the same principles (and notes displayed on the Layout and Edit tabs) to assign the chords to the relevant notes - e.g. C1, C#1 etc. These will need to be the same notes already assigned to each pedal from within the Behringer FCB1010 setup. You can change them in the FCB1010 easily if not the same.

To test if this is working, you can manually click while in the Edit or Perform tab of MainStage and see if these play back the correct chords.

Your next task once you've set this up is to assign the pads within your Layout window to the pedals on the FCB1010 (click assign, press the FCB1010 pedal, then click assign again). Do this for each pedal and you *should* be good to go. Save your concert in MainStage!

Now when playing live, you should be able to use your FCB1010 on the floor, connect up to MainStage and by clicking on a pedal you'll be able to play back chords from MainStage as you play them on the guitar. Now you're playing guitar and keys...

7. Pads with strings, sounds, and beats

One final idea that I use is to use my pads sounds from Logic but also add in a beat at a fixed tempo. I then organise a worship set with songs in a certain key and with the same kinds of tempos. The sound is then played back from the iPad in OnSong, triggered by the IK Multimedia Blue Rig foot pedal (you'll need to download and pay for the MIDI add-on within OnSong).

So as one example I did pads in E and put together a beat in Logic at 75bpm. I then used this to play back a few songs with similar tempos in the key of E - for example '10,000 Reasons' and 'What A Beautiful Name' and 'This Is Our God' and 'King Of My Heart' then 'When I Survey' (Tim Hughes version).

I have also done some specific timed songs - such as Reckless Love (Cory Asbury) or Guardian (Ben Cantelon). They are intentionally very minimalist as designed solely to be used by a single or duo set of acoustics for a specific song!

There is also a backing track for the KXC song 'Sing It Out (He's Alive)'.

To this end, I put some of my backing tracks like this onto Youtube in case they could be useful for anyone else. You can find them below...

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