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Much of the audio equipment behind huge Las Vegas shows is now available for indie musicians on a budget


Every huge show that is put on in sin city has its own unique requirements, with varying numbers of musicians, dancers, and lighting effects, but use similar rigs that have become relatively common in recent years.

Inside the audio control room, the operator surrounds himself with some high end monitors so he can immerse himself in the sounds of the show, often with a 5.1 or more setup. Meyer HD-1 have an excellent reputation in this kind of setup, with various engineers from the great Roger Nichols to Jason Pritchard (The Beatles’ LOVE – showing at the Mirage casino, famous for its slot machines and pokies) swearing by the accuracy of their sound reproduction. Meyers may be quite pricey for the indie musician, but if anything is worth investing in it is something that offers you great playback sound like these.

On the computing side, operators tend to have two completely redundant highly specialised computer setups (synchronized down to analogue), like those offered by Molten Music Technology, generally running Ableton Live on over Windows. Some engineers also run their setups on Macs, and Ableton have said that their software will run similarly well on any highly specced machine, but Windows seems to be more common in large productions because Windows lets the operator choose a truly customised PC.

The computers are controlled with touchscreens, often with specially developed software to deeply integrate into the computer setup and allow for immediate seamless switchover if one of the systems fails. Only a few years ago, all this would have been controlled by specialised hardware devices like a JazzMutant Lemur, but now many engineers have moved to tablets like iPads, where Jazz Mutant have released a software touchscreen version of their controller.

The controllers are not the only parts of the production that have moved to software in recent years – with samplers such as the LIVE sampler and Native Instruments’ popular Kontakt, and a variety of software synthesizers and effects also running if required for the performance.

Not only can the samplers be used to loops bars of music, but the operator can adapt to any issues on stage, such as when moving between scenes or set changes, and seamlessly loop different slices of music or sounds so that the audience is unaware of the issue. Having to replay a section of music from the start because of a one minute delay would feel awkward, but if the operator can slice in new music and possibly a prepared light how to match then the audience will still believe that all is running smoothly.

Only a few decades ago, all the technology used to put on a huge show like those to entice the gamblers away from the poker tables in Las Vegas were very expensive and completely out of reach for most musicians. Now, however, computing power has made the majority of the tools available at much smaller shows and even to independent musicians that are armed only with a decent laptop and an iPad to use as a controller.

Photograph by Lestat

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