Have you ever worked all night on a paper only to have the power go out and realize you didn't save your work? It's gut-wrenching! Now imagine that happened on stage! Keyboard players don't have to be at the mercy of their equipment. Let's compare hardware vs. software rigs and see how we can mitigate disaster.
This means that you are going to spend the bulk of your money on an actual keyboard that has built-in sounds. It’s an all-in-one machine. Simply plug in the power, plug in the audio connections, and you’re good to go.
Pros and Cons
1. It’s only one piece of gear (usually) which means less things to troubleshoot if something does go wrong.
2. All the sounds are internal and fairly easy to access.
3. It can be somewhat limiting in its abilities. (i.e., the ability to combine multiple sounds, arps, and even quality of sounds)
4. It may not be as easy to move around. An 88-key keyboard is heavy!
5. These keyboards are fairly rugged in their construction, so you don’t have to worry about breaking them as much.
This means that you are using a computer that is running software like MainStage, Logic, Pro Tools, or Ableton in order to generate sounds from those programs or third-party plugins. You’ll most likely play these sounds using a keyboard controller (which generally does not have built-in sounds). In addition to the computer and keyboard controller, you may have an external hard drive to store all of your samples and plugins, a midi interface, an audio interface, other control surfaces, and more.
Pros and Cons
1. More than one piece of gear means many more things to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.
2. All the sounds come from your computer, so if it dies, you’re up a creek without a paddle.
3. This method can be extremely flexible and powerful, allowing you to cover more keyboard parts than you could with just hardware alone.
4. This can be easier to move around. I use this kind of rig, and I can pack it in my backpack alone if I don’t have to take a controller.
5. Most of these pieces are very fragile. Drop your computer, or anything else for that matter, and it’s toast.
There Is A Third Option
Last week I was playing at church, and as usual, I brought my software-only rig. I use a laptop running MainStage, for which I use a variety of software and plugins. I also use an iPad to control these sounds along with a Korg NanoKontrol. I have an external hard drive as well as a USB hub. Lots of moving parts! The only difference is that I always play these sounds using a hardware keyboard. I never use just a controller if I can get away with it. I was using a Nord Stage 2, and I was glad I did. Everything was fine during rehearsal, and the moment we started the first song during the service, my computer lost midi connection. I couldn’t trigger any sounds! I was dead in the water…. for about 3 seconds. Fortunately, I had already dialed up a good piano and synth pad on the Nord, just in case something went south. And I’m glad I did. I immediately turned up the volume to the Nord and played the set. After that service, I restarted my computer and everything was fine. I was able to use my rig for the next several services.
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Always have a backup plan. You never know when that amazing piece of software is going to die. Combining the best of both worlds can keep you rolling through a digital disaster.