These Days Anything Is Possible ! How I Brought The Full Breadth of My Music to the Stage as a Solo Artist
If I compare today to the last time I played a live show , things have changed in incredible ways . It was over 10 years ago that I had my nine-piece band , complete with horns and back-up singers . I have always used a lot of vocal harmony and colourful instrumentation and was dead set on presenting the songs in that way , which of course meant I needed to pay everyone appropriately . Unfortunately , that also meant that every time I played a show , instead of earning money , I was spending money . I began to lose so much that I simply couldn ’ t afford to continue to do live gigs .
Having recently released a new album , The Occasion , and feeling very determined to push it as hard as possible , I knew I now needed to come up with a new solution to the problem of being an independent musician and playing live . I started by reaching out to a very knowledgeable friend of mine , Troy Feener , who plays drums for Classic Albums Live . He knows all the latest gear and how people are using it . He asked me ,“ In a perfect world , how would you like to present yourself ?” I replied , “ Since this time around I can ’ t afford to pay a group of musicians , I would like to figure out a way to be able to gig on my own but make it so I could play guitar , bass , and keyboards while singing , and also be able to include all of the exotic instrumentation and arrangements from my record . Is that at all possible ?” He turned to me and said , “ These days anything is possible !”
He then introduced me to musicians like Imogen Heap who have taken full advantage of what seems like the unlimited potential of using software such as Ableton Live together with samplers and loop triggers . In her case , she has gone so far as to create her own custom gloves that trigger her loops and samples with just the snap of her fingers or flick of her wrist , meaning she can seemingly stand alone on a beautifullylit stage and appear to magically create these wonderful , vast sonic soundscapes using hand movement alone . It is a fantastic and inspiring live presentation .
After talking with Troy and investigating other modern-thinking musicians , I dreamt up my current live show . I imagined three different instruments ( guitar , bass , and keyboards ) all “ floating ” on an artfully-decorated stage where I could go from one to another mid-song while singing . I also knew I needed to have all of my back-up vocals and big orchestrations at my fingertips , too . Still not sure if it was going to work , I set out to attempt creating it for real .
The first problem to solve were the floating guitars . For those I discovered something called the Mbrace , which you can attach to any guitar or bass , then screw into a microphone stand and , voila , a floating instrument !
The next thing I did was invest in a solid laptop and Ableton Live software . Not being tech-savvy at all , I hunted down a local Ableton expert and enlisted his help to pull off my vision . First thing we did was load the software with all of the separate audio stems from my recorded songs so that the strings , horns , winds , drums , and back-up vocals would all be on their own separate tracks . Then in order to bring the live guitar , bass , keyboards , and vocals into the laptop , I needed to buy an audio interface and chose the MOTU 8pre .
With a quick set-up time in mind , I didn ’ t want to have to lug guitar or bass amps around or worry about setting up effects pedals . So , I looked into guitar and bass amp simulation plug-ins and used IK Multimedia ’ s AmpliTube , which sounds fantastic . Within Ableton , I was also able to automate all of the volume levels and effects ( distortion , reverb , delays ) on my instruments and vocals so they would turn on and off at specific points in the songs . In order to be singing but still float between instruments mid-song , a wireless headset microphone was needed and easily solved that issue .
Regarding the sound output , the way I have things routed allows me to give the FOH either just a stereo mix of everything or as many separate tracks as I might like to manipulate .
Lastly , for stage decoration , I enlisted the help of an artist friend and made two 7 x 3-ft . colourful banners and I also added LED lights to the mic stands by stuffing them into white swimming noodles and wrapping them around the stands themselves .
The live show I have put together simply wasn ’ t possible 10 years ago . It allows me to play a variety of instruments on top of the arrangements that I worked so hard to create . It ’ s quick and easy to set up and tear down , and after the initial investment , it doesn ’ t cost me anything going forward to play shows .
For those of you like me who are wondering how the heck you can afford to play live and how best to present yourself , to quote my good friend Troy , I say : “ These days anything is Possible !”
A self-produced multi-instrume ntalist , Harkness - mystically clad in visor and gown - wears his inspiration from musical titans such as Brian Wilson , Prince , and Todd Rundgren on his sleeve . His new album , The Occasion , is now out on Windchild Records via CD , vinyl , or your preferred streaming service . On it , Harkness sings , plays guitar , bass , piano , and drums , and produces everything himself . For more , go to www . harknessmusic . com .
58 CANADIAN MUSICIAN