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Ian McDonald

Seeking advice on a setup to use Cakewalk live

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Hi

I am new to Cakewalk and am running it on a windows PC.  I want to use the software to primarily play midi files in a live situation.  I possibly will want to also create my own projects - but not yet.

My question is, what equipment/ devices do I need to play midi as a backing track in Cakewalk and do vocals/ guitar live? I guess I will need a device to connect computer, guitar and microphone to a PA.  I may need a device/ synthesizer to reproduce the sounds that will interface with the midi information in the file.  

So I am looking for any advice on what is a useful investment and what devices, virtual or real, should I be looking to purchase to enable me to play live using Cakewalk?

My appreciation in advance for any assistance you can provide.

Thanks 

Ian

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While it can be done - people do it - CW is not really intended as a live performance tool. You're better off mixing down to a .wav or .mp3 and using that.

 

Even Notes Norton, famous for creating and selling third-party Band-in-a-Box styles and who plays gigs constantly does it that way.

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There's a lot you can do. If you have HW synths/samplers you can use CbB to drive them, if not you'll probably want to go with SW instruments (vst). If you use SW, as bdickens says you'll probably want to mix everything down. If you're using CbB live then you also have an option of processing your guitar and vocals. At a minimum you'll need a laptop/computer, audio I/F, mixer, PA, and MIDI controller to control CbB. The requirements for the audio I/F will depend on what you want to do with CbB.

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Yeah, I'd agree with both of the above. If you need to play back live synths, run effects/amp sims, control DMX lights, etc then you can certainly use Cakewalk, but if you want to do that in real time with playable latency, you'll need an interface with solid drivers, and you're going to need to have your hardware and Windows setup be absolutely bulletproof - tweaked power settings, nothing else running, WiFi and updates disabled... if this drops out mid song and your drummer is using that with a click track, good luck with that 😉

On the other hand, if all you want to do is play back audio, save yourself the headache and use a WAV or MP3 render. Far less chance of disaster, and that goes for any DAW on any platform too - the less moving parts, the less of a chance of something breaking at the worst possible time.

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Thanks everyone for thoughtful advice. Sounds like simple .mp3 may be the way to go for now until I get my head around CW.

Good suggestions regarding componentry.

Am off to experiment and have some fun 😀 

 

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BTW, You also might want to look into a USB foot pedal for start\stop. I have 2 different ones. I use one since I am a guitar player to keep my hands free. Been doing that for many years.

They are very cheap and most can be set to trigger any keyboard command you need. example: In CW spacebar to start\stop.

Edited by Pathfinder

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I’ve been using backing tracks since midi arrived back in the early 80’s. 
I found the most bulletproof system has been creating my tracks with midi and good quality VST instruments using Cakewalk and then mixing them to a 44.1/24 wave file. Why use MP3?  
I sing and play guitar so I only need bass,  drums and keyboards on the backing tracks.


I have a system of mixing them so they are all exactly the same levels for all the songs. 


I then use a small very basic laptop and Win Amp as a player. I use Win Amp because it can be set to stop at end of the song. Like @Pathfinder  I use a USB foot switch to control playback so my hand never leave my guitar.  I have never had any issues with this set up. My band fits in a briefcase.  

I toyed with using Cakewalk as the playback system but it was just way more work and I found it slow between songs. I also would loose the hands off system I now use. Only advantage of using a Sequencer live is it can then also control lights and effects. 
 

Edited by Cactus Music
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4 hours ago, Cactus Music said:

I’ve been using backing tracks since midi arrived back in the early 80’s. 
I found the most bulletproof system has been creating my tracks with midi and good quality VST instruments using Cakewalk and then mixing them to a 44.1/24 wave file. Why use MP3?  
I sing and play guitar so I only need bass,  drums and keyboards on the backing tracks.

I've been doing a similar type system.  The only difference is I am using the "Virtual Jukebox" tool in Cakewalk 9 as my player.  Strangely enough, it still installs on Win 10.  It allows for various modes of playback, (continuous, stop after each song,) and the ability to fairly easily manipulate the set list.  Also, by initially inserting the mixdown .wav into a new song file in Cake 9, I can then add midi info and preset changes at the appropriate time within each song.  I'm not sure about how to incorporate your USB footswitch to start and stop, but I think it can be done.   It's a pretty simple, stable way to go and doesn't need much horsepower or screen real estate.  My Cakewalk wish for years has been to bring this back in more robust, up to date format, utilizing the ability to use vst's live, etc.  ala Main Stage, Steinberg VST live, Studio One, Gig Performer, and of course, Abelton Live.   It would be very cool.....

 

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That is very interesting. I’ve never heard of the Virtual Jukebox and now I’m going to see if I can still find it. 
It seems there was more software written for live performance back in the 90’s and now I guess live performance is a lost art. All the software it’s designed for DJ’s. 
 

I own a bunch of different foot switch’s and by far the best quality is the Stealth. https://stealthswitch3.com/

All of them can be programmed to send any keystrokes so example Win amp starts with the B key etc. I have one set up for Cakewalk with Spacebar, R and W. 

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When I was playing guitar/singing with backing tracks, I prepared all of my backing tracks in Cakewalk (well, SONAR at the time),  but live I used a MiniDisc player with a portable CD player as a backup.

I've been burned too many times in the past with computers on stage, so I avoided them when possible.

I tried to keep my live rig as simple as possible,  as less gear = less things to go wrong.  I also had a backup for everything: spare guitar, mic, guitar fx, vocal fx... even a spare PA Mixer Amp.  The only things that never failed me the PA (which I built myself), and the MiniDisc player. Every one of the other bits of gear failed on me at least once, and was glad I had a backup at hand.

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On 9/2/2022 at 11:28 AM, Cactus Music said:

That is very interesting. I’ve never heard of the Virtual Jukebox and now I’m going to see if I can still find it. 
It seems there was more software written for live performance back in the 90’s and now I guess live performance is a lost art. All the software it’s designed for DJ’s. 

1353262251_CakeLive.jpg.8b3363e8cc277ff59f21b32c597c682f.jpgMy entry into the world of Cakewalk....

It was all about "Live"

 

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On 9/2/2022 at 8:42 PM, msmcleod said:

When I was playing guitar/singing with backing tracks, I prepared all of my backing tracks in Cakewalk (well, SONAR at the time),  but live I used a MiniDisc player with a portable CD player as a backup.

I've been burned too many times in the past with computers on stage, so I avoided them when possible.

Yes, I went through a few years of using MiniDiscs.  Had 2 players running.  I opted out of that because of the time limitations per disc and having to have so many discs to fumble through during the course of a gig, especially if changes in the set list had to happen on the fly.  The time is took for the initial reading of the disk, plus having to remember what was on each disk during a show (or read my notes on the back of the case) became a bit cumbersome.  I also had a couple of physical or mechanical problems over the years, where a disk got stuck inside the unit, or the disk became unreadable.  At any rate I went back to a rackmount computer, with a laptop for backup, and while there have been a few instances of some type of failure,  luckily with backup on hand I have always been able to complete the gig without a major disruption.  As with any type of equipment, things will break down.  Maintenance and backup are essential.

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Boy it’s pretty rare to find others who used Mini Disk.
I had a Sony player as well as one of the Disk man’s. The disk man had USB and that was a bonus as you could now transfer the songs to disk using the software instead of what I originally had to do which was recorded in real time.   
It was certainly a good way to get rid of over 100 lbs of gear. The mini disk replaced the Atari and it’s huge monitor. Then I had a GR50, MT32, Korg 05/RW and a rack full of stuff. 
But I missed the foot controller, the lyrics on file start and midi control of my effects. 
I used the mini disk for probably 6 years with out issue. I still have about 20 disks, 2 Sony players, 2 Disk mans, as well as a Yamaha MD 8 which I also used as a player and mixing board back then.
I actually sold my MD8 10 years ago. Then a few months ago this bass player friend of mine gave me his. Mint condition he never used it. Still in box with a full box of unused Data disks. regular mini disks work but only in stereo. 

I started using a Laptop in 2004 about when I also started using Cakewalk. But I initially dumped the mini disk tracks into it and converted them to MP3 using the Sony software. When I needed a new track I’d fumble around with Cakewalk. 
Then I also had all my original midi files and eventually those all have been reworked using better quality sounds. 
 

My latest idea is working on a video of each song. I’m finding I get foggy on lyrics these days. So because WinAmp  can have videos mixed with audio files in the playlist I make a video with lyrics and even chords and cues. It’s takin me over 20 years to figure that out. Duh! 
So only thing missing since the Atari days is midi in the playback stream. 
 

Edited by Cactus Music

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Not trying to steal the thread, but this would be important for the op also.

Curious, is winamp still (as in today) the choice for playing wav files live as backing tracks or is there something better, well, newer not better. I am getting back into my one man band thing again and looking for options.

Thanks

Edited by Pathfinder

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In just the last month or so they've given Winamp a huge overhaul with a code refresh, and added better playlist support, and a bunch of other stuff. That's still my go-to audio player after all these years - it does what it says on the tin.

It certainly could be used for sure, although if you do want songs to stop or pause between tracks in your playlist, you'd need to find a more dedicated backing track playing app or device.

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12 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

It certainly could be used for sure, although if you do want songs to stop or pause between tracks in your playlist, you'd need to find a more dedicated backing track playing app or device.

I've used Win Amp since I guess 2004 without any issues on it's behalf. And the big reason I stayed with it is it seems the only player that  allows you to set it to " Manual Playlist Advance" Someone said Foobar also  works but I haven't tried it yet. I do not want to have to press STOP when a song ends. 

Win Amp has a huge selection of options to customize.  Little things like the playlist font size. Those things make a huge difference. Example in pour lighting conditions like outside on a sunny day.  

Playback is controlled using keyboard shortcut grouping of the lower left row -Z-X-C-V-B     Z=back,  X =Play  and so on. I have my Stealth foot switch programed for these. But for simple set ups it's easy to use these keys. I have them marked.  But generally like to perform with my hands on my guitar at all times.  ( unless there's a cold one within reach) 

Win Amp can have just about any type of media files mixed in your playlist. Including Midi. Of course that plays the dreaded MS wavetable synth. I just recently have started adding Video files. And my Backing tracks are a crazy mix of MP3, Wave 44.1 and 48. It doesn't care. 

I have spent hours researching different software for live performance and it's always missing these key features. Here is my list of what I require and Win Amp does this all except the midi data output and the 2 track limitation.  

1- Stop at end of song

2-Drag and drop playlist editing on the fly at the gig.

3-Hot keys for playback control

4-Custom Font Size

5-PLay a mix of file formats including Video

6-GUI is resizable to fit anywhere on screen.

7-Midi output 

8-Display lyrics ( can do this with video) 

9-play 4 to 6 tracks of audio 

10-Save multiple Playlists

11- Print a set list

Screenshot (447).png

Edited by Cactus Music
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Pardon me while I put on my learning cap and pay attention to your post - I never noticed the Manual Advance option! Cheers for that! 🙂

Returning this back to Cakewalk, this is also a pretty great playback app for simple WAV files too. Load them all in to a single project, mark out Arranger sections for each song, and create your playlist using the Arranger Inspector.

The added bonus here is you can make pause/stop sections by adding in an MCI event to a new section. Where this is good is if you have a set where you have songs segue into each other in parts of the set, but you want it to stop in others, you could just add the Arranger section with the stop MCI event between the ones you don't want to segue.

Eg, the Arranger sections could look like:

Song 1 > Song 2 > STOP > Song 7 > STOP > Song 12...

And it'd only pause when it hits the Arranger secton with the MCI event in it.

Less resource heavy than a full project because you're just playing back WAV files, but with the flexibility Cakewalk offers with it's timeline/Arranger. 🙂

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14 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

In just the last month or so they've given Winamp a huge overhaul with a code refresh, and added better playlist support, and a bunch of other stuff. That's still my go-to audio player after all these years - it does what it says on the tin.

It certainly could be used for sure, although if you do want songs to stop or pause between tracks in your playlist, you'd need to find a more dedicated backing track playing app or device.

Definitely NEED to have control over stop and stop of individual tracks\songs. Thanks for the info.!

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2 hours ago, Lord Tim said:

Returning this back to Cakewalk, this is also a pretty great playback app for simple WAV files too. Load them all in to a single project, mark out Arranger sections for each song, and create your playlist using the Arranger Inspector.

Interesting idea. Have you been using this in a live situation to test? For one thing I've have a lot of projects get all messed up because of the arranger. I wrote it off as being a buggy feature and haven't been near it since. And I was only using it as a fancy labeler to show chords and even some lyrics. 

I run Win Amp on a 2006 Asus Net Book. One core, 1.6 processor and 4 GB RAM. It has an SSD drive and W7. It's the size of a Tablet and I use a Tablet Mike stand holder for it. It will also run on batteries for 10 hours.  It runs Sonar X3 Studio just fine and I have used WDM mode for playback when experimenting with the Cakewalk Playlist. It's deadly slow however so that was the issue with Cakewalk. 

My other collection of Laptops are much more powerful but all have dead batteries and are huge and heavy. I take one of them as a spare player and have used it to display lyrics using Power point and a second foot switch to control that. Now I just have my phone loaded with my tracks for a back up but that's a nightmare to use so I hope it never happens. 

Edited by Cactus Music

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I've never had any problems with the Arranger at all, honestly.

For one, this year I've been on a big songwriting spree in anticipation of our next release and I wanted to rapidly prototype as much stuff as possible, and the Arranger got a huge workout with song construction. Worked great!

Secondly, while I haven't used it actually live (pandemic, hooray 🙄) I've set up live templates as I mentioned above for click/backing tracks, with quite a lot of routing for stage monitoring on top of that and the Arranger has been flawless for me. Now, whether it all works in super low latency on a hot stage is another thing entirely, but if latency is taken out of it, and you were using this as a glorified media player, I would be surprised if it wasn't pretty much bulletproof.

I'm actually really trying to think of a time where I had any big problems with the Arranger at all, let alone show-stoppers, and I can't really think of any.

I'd still suggest a basic media player over dragging a laptop to a gig if you don't need all of this stuff, mind you, but if it's unavoidable then I reckon this is a workable option. 🙂

Edited by Lord Tim

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