What Should I get?
When I was beginning this process of deciding which equipment and software to get there were many different factors that ultimately led to the setup that I have now. The first was choosing a looping-thing that allowed me the freedom to create the music that I want. The second was familiarity, or in other words, a program that had an interface that I could use without having a major learning curve. The third was a triggering device that could be controlled with my foot, since my hands would be occupied. And the last was price (unfortunately).
A majority of looping (in popular music anyway) is done with a Boss RC-300 which is a great piece of equipment for many reasons: it is portable, dependable, and contains 3 separate tracks that all quantize to one another. One of the big problems with it (for what I am trying to do) is that it only contains 3 separate tracks and they all quantize to one another. I knew in the beginning that I wanted to have the ability, even if I didn’t use it at first, to create looping tracks of different lengths. There are several different programs that allow for this, but I do not know of any hardware loop stations that do this. With the Boss loop station out of the running I turned my attention to 3 different programs: Mainstage, Ableton Live, and Max/MSP.
I already own Max/MSP, which could theoretically be used for any and all of the purposes that I need, but the problem with it is that the learning curve to be able to execute such procedures is a steep one. I felt that I would need a stronger background in Max/MSP to be able to create loop station, effects, and map them all to a foot trigger that I still had to decide upon. I turned my attention away from Max/MSP with the thought that I could return to, or at least incorporate it later on when I have a better understanding of what I want to accomplish. Since Max/MSP is completely open to be able to do anything and nearly everything that one can imagine, I may have to turn to it eventually. There are many artists that use the program to create great music, but most of the time I see an entire person at the computer during the performance, whereas only my foot would be at the helm.
Max/MSP is out. What about Ableton Live? Ableton is a great program with many advantages to it. It could easily be used to create the music that I want and seems intuitive enough to use that it would be a great fit. Although it seems intuitive, it is still different than any other program that I have used before, which would require time to learn a new program and I want to make music now. One great thing about it is that it can incorporate Max/MSP which opens up many different possibilities for effects and playback potential. That is something to keep in mind for down the road if I ever feel limited by my current setup. One drawback of Ableton is the price tag: the standard version of Ableton is $450. They do offer student discounts though, and sizeable ones at that, so the actual price (for me) would be $270. In the grand scheme of music, life, and all things art, $270 is not that much for a program of such amazing power, but for a grad student that did not get paid on time by his school for the first 8 weeks of the semester, it is quite a lot of money…especially with such an affordable alternative.
Mainstage has a lot of things going for it, which is why I ended up choosing it over its competitors. Firstly, it is only $30! At that low, low price I can buy it and then decide that it is not a good fit and not feel like I have wasted too much money. The most important factor, though and why I believe it is a good fit for me (at least for now) is that Mainstage is very similar to Logic Pro. They used to be bundled together back in the day. That is, until someone realized that it is a pretty cool program and that they could make more money off of it. The fact that it is so similar to Logic Pro meant that I could start using it right away for my own musical purposes without having to learn something completely new. (There were still some intricacies, though, but more on that in the next installment.)
While I was researching software programs to accomplish looping, etc., I was also researching midi foot controls to use with said programs. This took less time because I knew that I wanted something that had a significant amount of buttons available as well as at least one pedal that could be assigned to a parameter within the program. A quick Amazon search and scouring of the reviews led me to the Behringer FCB1010, which is surprisingly affordable and customizable. A YouTube search also brought up many different tutorial videos with people who have the setup of Mainstage and the Behringer foot controller, so I knew that they would be compatible.
With my setup carefully decided I was able to make some music, or so I thought as I ran into a couple problems and a few quirks that had not anticipated.