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Matthew Carr

Use Arranger Track as a Set List

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Sorry for a long post!

I think there's an opportunity to leverage the great work made on the arranger track, to create a fantastic live performance tool.

I've been trialling it out, and all the component pieces are there, it just needs a bit of glue / enhancement to make it a really workable option

Here's an example project being used for my 80s (ish) cover band, which uses backing / click tracks extensively:

image.thumb.png.0405a5dcf55ebd3fcb14721b9fc9098b.png

Basically, I use the arranger track to create sections for each song, then use track folders to contain my audio backing tracks, Midi data to control outboard gear, Midi control of DMX etc. I then create a track folder for each song, which contains the virtual instruments used to perform the song controlled  from my master keyboards.

It works surprisingly well!

  • I can re-arrange the set list before any gig using the arrangements functionality
  • During the gig, I can jump to any track I want by clicking on it - it cues it up instantly
  • I use a workspace to remove any GUI components not needed
  • I use Mix recall to move between live and playback scenes
    • The Live scene plays the project, and allows recording on any track that's armed
    • The Playback scene plays back audio, and sends recorded midi data to the vsts
      • After rehearsal, I can adjust the mix, effects, instrumentation etc in context of other band members performance
      • At a gig (hopefully soon!) it makes it easy to do a virtual soundcheck
  • Importantly, (which could be a big USP for cakewalk), I can view notation, chords and lyrics via the staff view during the performance - perfect! Once you've had the ability to glance over and see notation / lead sheets synced up perfectly with the backing track you really don't want to go back...

To bring this all together and make it easier to use I'm thinking of perhaps a new project file format (.cwl - cakewalk live), which when opened changes the behaviour of the arranger track to make it more suitable to live performance.  It could also be achieved by a toggle switch on the arranger menu, which could be simpler for the bakers I guess?

There's a lot of options that could be included in the set-list version of the arranger window - I'm sure others have ideas, but my initial thoughts would be

1. Add a separate right click context menu to each song in the set list, along the lines of:

image.png.08db0b27c5a8492e5f42dd980b9201d1.png

With this context menu you could define some additional properties for the song

  • The Play mode, which determines what happens when the playhead reaches the end of the song
    • Continue, pause at end of song, loop song
  • The tempo and key of the song
    • Yes, I know you can insert tempo and key changes in the timeline, but would be a nice to have to be able to set this on a song basis!

2. When creating a song section, a linked track folder is created with the same name as the song section

  • The linked track folder is only displayed when the song is selected
  • Any virtual instruments within the track folder are bypassed (muted), unless the playhead is within the song

This would tidy up the project view and make it easier to manage, and avoid the current situation of having to draw automation to mute each virtual instrument outside of the song it's used for

I have a bunch of other ideas, but this post is long enough already.. If there's any interest I can add more 😁

Cheers,

Matt

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I think most of what you're requesting can already be done.

As you've alluded to, you can create arrangements to create set lists based on the sections you have.

The play mode can be based entirely on the arrangements (remember you can have as many arrangements in the project as you like) - i.e.:

  • If you want to play a set list, click play on the arrangement (or you can start mid way through the list by clicking the play button on an arrangement section )
  • If you want to play a single song, just click on the play button in the sections pane
  • Looping a song can be done by creating an arrangement with only that song in it, enabling arrangement looping, and pressing play

What I would recommend is:

  • Create a separate arrangement for each individual section
  • Create any additional set list arrangements

This will give you the maximum flexibility.

RE: Tempo/Key Signature: All the arranger preview is doing is moving the now time around while playing, so as far as tempo/key signature are concerned... they HAVE to be set within the timeline - so it makes no sense to have a separate way of entering this.

If you need a pause between songs, you can also insert an MCI command at the end of each song:

image.png

You can then CTRL + click play on the arrangement play button to continue.

I'm not sure how you would do the track focus / notation / lyrics... here are some suggestions though:

  • For lyrics I've used Melda Production's MNotepad and automated the movement of its scrollbar, so that the current line is always shown at the correct place within the song. You can set the font to a pretty large one so it's easy to read.
  • For notation, you could copy the various MIDI parts to a dummy MIDI track (perhaps as linked clips). As each song is in its own time region on the timeline, they shouldn't clash. You'd just open that track in the staff view, and it'd always show the notation for the current song.



 

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Matthew,

I don't quite get how you're doing this.  In your screenshot, do you have all those tracks containing backing tracks, vsts, etc loaded as one Cakewalk project?  Could you show us a screenshot showing expansion of the backing track folder and one of the song folders?  Are all those songs loaded into memory at one time?  If so, wouldn't it take a lot of resources?  On the other hand, if they're not all preloaded, wouldn't there be loading delays between songs?  What's it look like if you scroll to the right in your timeline?  Would it show one song after another? 

I've got my own system of using Cakewalk live which is completely different and involves a combination of Autohotkey and CBB playlists, but always looking for something better.  My method relies on the playlist deleting the last song as the setlist plays so that only one song is in memory at a time.  And the playlist loads the next song ahead of time to avoid delays between songs.  Anyway, I'm very curious how you're doing this.  Thanks.

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Posted (edited)
8 hours ago, craigr68 said:

Are all those songs loaded into memory at one time?  If so, wouldn't it take a lot of resources?  On the other hand, if they're not all preloaded, wouldn't there be loading delays between songs?

AFAIK, Cakewalk reads audio tracks on the fly as it's playing them back. For MIDI, resource use for the song itself is minimal. What drags down the engine is plug-ins.

What I see in the screenshot looks like on single long project, not a way to load individual ones. When loading individual projects, there is load time, but that overhead is more for, again, plug-ins and settings and all that ancillary stuff to playing back audio or MIDI. Once the project is loaded, it doesn't have to pause to reload more stuff later in playback.

The possible technical hitch in doing what Matthew is doing is having multiple different plug-ins on multiple tracks loading down the system. Some plug-ins take resources even when they are not processing or generating audio. However, this is easily solved by freezing or bouncing. At that point, Cakewalk is just playing back audio files. It gets to the end of one song, then it starts streaming the next one from disk. Low overhead.

I must say, pretty ingenious use of the feature, @Matthew Carr. And a setlist that opens with The Cure and segues into Joy Division would capture my post-punk heart. Although later in the set I'd be calling out for The Smiths and New Order. Also, "***** Dwarf" over "Tainted Love." 😂

Edited by Starship Krupa

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Whenever I've used SONAR / Cakewalk for live arrangements, I've always used stereo mixdowns for each song, so I've essentially got one song per track staggered across the timeline. I'd been doing it this way since Cakewalk Pro Audio 9.

Having audio only vastly reduces the amount of resources needed.

What I'd do then is get all the levels more or less equal in Cakewalk,  then record each song on to Minidisc and CDR as a backup. I was singing / playing guitar or bass at the time, so had no need for Cakewalk itself to be running (and I'd had bad experiences using computers live before going back to my Amiga days).

However if you need to use Cakewalk itself live (e.g. because you're playing VSTi's), you can always add only those synths as separate tracks.

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Or even for FX processing of live instruments. I've lately been pondering what I would do if I wanted to play live. My stompboxes and whatnots are not the same thing as all the sounds I can get using my plug-ins.

It's a thing in our post-Ableton world to use the DAW on stage as the instrument it is in the studio (always with that SD card or CD-R with your set on it so you can play something and wave your left hand around in the air while you're frantically getting your laptop sorted out with the right hand).

I suspect that most people who want to do that do use Ableton Live or one of the other purpose-built programs for doing that, but is there any reason Cakewalk couldn't be put to that use? It's been stable enough so far that I wouldn't feel too unsafe trying it.

An interesting question: how to handle a situation where you want to perform live with Cakewalk.

For me, I think if I want to bring my mad improvising skillz with me to the stage, it's probably best that I get good with that copy of Ableton Live Lite.

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Posted (edited)

This is my Autohotkey Gui interface I built to load a set of songs or any selection of songs.  For instance, clicking on SET1.TXT will load the 10 songs below it into the CBB playlist.  Or I can check any selection of songs to load in to CBB.  It takes about 1 minute to load the 10 songs and the 2nd screenshot shows what it looks like.  I mixdown everything I can to audio beforehand, which is what track 8 contains.  The rest of the tracks are VSTs I play from 2 midi controller kybds.  It works pretty well but I still could imagine a better playlist feature.   It's good that the CBB playlist kicks the last played song out of memory as the set progresses, thus releasing resources.  Doesn't matter much because I got an i7 with 32G and it can handle quite a bit.  Since all songs are preloaded, there are no delays.   

image.thumb.png.a1d91bd9b73420235a71197f86a59023.png

 

image.thumb.png.a72eb4d82e54f456dd9b466f14d8bd97.png

Edited by craigr68

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On 4/20/2021 at 10:17 PM, craigr68 said:

Matthew,

I don't quite get how you're doing this.  In your screenshot, do you have all those tracks containing backing tracks, vsts, etc loaded as one Cakewalk project?  Could you show us a screenshot showing expansion of the backing track folder and one of the song folders?  Are all those songs loaded into memory at one time?  If so, wouldn't it take a lot of resources?  On the other hand, if they're not all preloaded, wouldn't there be loading delays between songs?  What's it look like if you scroll to the right in your timeline?  Would it show one song after another? 

I've got my own system of using Cakewalk live which is completely different and involves a combination of Autohotkey and CBB playlists, but always looking for something better.  My method relies on the playlist deleting the last song as the setlist plays so that only one song is in memory at a time.  And the playlist loads the next song ahead of time to avoid delays between songs.  Anyway, I'm very curious how you're doing this.  Thanks.

Hi craigr68,

It's always fascinating to see how others approach live performance, I'm intrigued by your approach! I get the impression that the performers amongst us are always looking for the perfect tool, but it's not out there, so we end up 'constructing' something using what's to hand .

In my project, I've basically implemented a lot of the things Mark pointed out in his post  (the screenshots below are for a test project, not a real gig btw!)

1. I have a 'Pause Events' track, where I've inserted MCI commands to pause playback at the end of each song (where needed)

2. In the 'Leadsheets' track folder I have a some midi tracks with outputs set to a 'Sink' virtual midi port, i.e. the midi doesn't go anywhere. I then set the staff view to view these midi tracks, and for each song I've added the leadsheets I need on the same tracks. It means all songs have the same generic track names in the staff view, but that's fine.

image.thumb.png.0a0281f60e02e9d56b5491784ec67a02.png

I maximise the staff view and then as each song plays I can view any Chords / Lyrics / Leadsheets I've entered, in sync with the backing track. Entering lyrics is an exercise in frustration, so I tend to find remembering them is almost easier! (one day staff view will get some love... we just have to believe harder🤣)

3. In my song instrument tracks, I use 'Automated mute' to mute the VSTs outside of the songs they are used for 

image.thumb.png.256bb1b5f9a2c03cc0aa5109e3b3e7e7.png

This means the VSTs are all loaded in memory when you open the project - so if you want to use massive Kontakt instruments, you're going to run out of steam eventually. I tend to use (for my shame) Air Music Technologies Xpand2 as my goto live VSTi -  it's a pretty low resource multi timbral rompler,  so I can set up keyboard splits all within one VSTi.  It sounds... OK... (for pubs gigs, anyway)

In my FR I suggested the track folders linked to songs could always be muted, and only un-muted when the linked song was active - which would avoid having to draw automation for every VSTi.  It's a simple solution using existing functionality, but if If the bakers really wanted to go to town on this they could look at dynamically loading / unloading the VSTis in the linked track folder for each song loading based on the setlist. That's what some of the live performance hosts do (e.g. Gig Performer)

As and aside, I tried out Gig Performer and it was pretty neat, but to me none of the live VST hosts has the full package yet, esp. if you want to be able to view notation / leadsheets

4. For backing I used mixed down Audio track - streaming audio doesn't use much resource, so it's a much better option than generating it via midi / vist

 

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On 4/19/2021 at 11:40 AM, msmcleod said:

I think most of what you're requesting can already be done.
 

Thanks Mark - I totally agree, it's definitely possible to set up a project that will work; 95% of what's needed is there. A few minor mods to existing features would just really make live performance a distinct workflow, and easier to setup. Studio One is really pushing their live performance 'Show' page, and Cakewalk can knock the socks off that, with just a few enhancements.

I haven't really progressed to breaking out my songs into sections, but being able to easily loop or jump to sections of the song on the fly would be great! Conceptually, I would expect the performance arranger view to display two lists; A) Songs, and B) Song Parts. Selecting a song would filter the Song Parts to only show parts belonging to the Song. It didn't seem to me that normal arranger mode does that?

Using my project as is, I do find I hit some limitations

1. I have to use the mouse to interact with the arranger view. 

That's not great for live use, ideally there would be keyboard commands for navigating the arranger view which could then be bound to midi commands. (Would also be great if an external program change could be associated with selecting a section)

2. If I select an arranger section, program changes that belong to the song are not sent out until the playhead moves over them

So if I cue up a song which selects a crunchy patch on the guitarists FX board, the patch change doesn't get sent until I start playback of the backing track. Ideally there would be an option to send out the initial program changes of a section when selected, if playback is stopped / paused. (as happens when you open a normal .cwp file that has patch changes)

I totally take on board your comments re tempo / key changes - they can be added to the timeline using normal methods, I just thought it was more intuitive to be be able to set them for each song (which would then add them to the timeline in the background) - but I can see that would probably cause a massive headache with UI inconsistencies..

Being able to set the playback mode of the song / section, rather than adding MCI to add pause events, would be better I think. Using an MCI event to pause playback doesn't work so well if you then want to loop the section - playback still pauses when it reaches the MCI event. Having a dedicated playback mode for the section also opens up the possibility of an Icon to show the current playback mode of the section, and also controlling the mode via keyboard / midi.

I'm sure that there are loads of different ways people would approach this, what I wanted to do was start a discussion and put forward some ideas if there was interest. Let's keep the ideas flowing!

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On 4/21/2021 at 7:01 AM, Starship Krupa said:

"***** Dwarf" over "Tainted Love." 😂

😂😂 The guitarist actually suggested we do that. We put him in his place!! 🤣

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Matthew

Thanks for sharing your method.  Just a few random ideas/comments:

I like and use Xpand a lot also.  I play by ear and only do instrumentals, so no need for transcription or lyrics.   I  use various automation including  Midi mute.  In fact it's because of the need for automation and syncing to host tempo for sequences and arpeggiators, that I need to use CBB live.  Otherwise, I could just set up some midi tracks and play to a mixed down backing audio track.  I'm still intrigued by using Arranger more although I haven't figured out how to implement it to my advantage yet.  I hope they expand it to do something like Studio One Show page.  (Actually, I'm in test mode also, not really live playing yet - I'm a big star in my family room-LOL)

I was wondering if you've ever run across PluginGuru Unify?  It's been a game changer for me.  I have been obsessed with its capabilities since when I discovered it last October.  It's like a VST container program like Cantabile on steroids.  It can load pretty much any VST like Kontakt, Omnisphere, AIR, Syntronik, effects, etc, etc.  You can stack up VSTs as layers, split them, layer them, use built in effects, and much more.  Some recently added features has me replacing Midi mute.  They do informative Livestreams every Sat.  You'll see it in my tracks screenshot above.  What looks like a one track VST is actually a lot more when you open the vst Unify.  

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