New York, New York—May 2019… It’s questionable how much time Andy Burton actually spends at the home he maintains in the New York City area. Tours with John Mayer, Ian Hunter, Rufus Wainwright, Cyndi Lauper, and currently Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul keep Burton on the road enough to give him more opportunities to dine on English fish and chips, Israeli falafel, or Hungarian goulash than New York’s famed bagels.
Stevie “Little Steven” Van Zandt likes a big sound from his band but carrying Burton’s large collection of vintage keyboards on the road is impractical and wouldn’t even give Burton all the sounds he needs. Instead, he powers Van Zandt’s arrangements with virtual instruments running in Deskew Technologies’ Gig Performer live performance software.
Gig Performer is an intuitive, reliable, live performance platform that hosts nearly any VST or AU plug-in, whether a VI or a processor; routes and mixes their audio outputs; and integrates extensive management and handling of MIDI controllers for playing and manipulating plug-ins. Best of all, it can completely reconfigure an entire setup of VIs, processors, and controllers with the click of a mouse. Gig Performer brings all the complexity attainable in the studio to the stage in a flexible, CPU-efficient package.
Burton was slow to adopt VIs (or “soft synths”) to meet the demands of live performing and touring. “I tended to shy away from soft synths,” Burton recalls. “I didn’t trust one live unless I had it set to just one thing and left it that way all night. But not anymore, thanks to Gig Performer. Now, anything I can do in the studio, I can reproduce live.” Having taken the plunge into VIs, Burton relies on Native Instrument Kontakt and other instruments from Komplete 11, Modartt Pianoteq 6, Spectrasonics Omnisphere and Keyscape, Arturia’s V Collection 6, the Tal-U-No-LX-V2, G-Force’s M-Tron Pro, Virtual String Machine, and Minimonsta, among others.
Onstage, Burton runs Gig Performer on a late 2017 MacBook Pro laptop equipped with a Thunderbolt 3 SSD and a fast, rack-mounted 3 TB RAID. He carries two hardware synthesizers on tour: a Nord Stage 3 and a Sequential OB-6. Given the rock and soul orientation of the Disciples of Soul, Hammond B3 organ is also a crucial sound. “Steven likes the look of a B3, so I have a Hammond XK-5, which is a digital B3,” reveals Burton. “Even that is MIDI’ed up, though, so that if I’m playing both keyboard manuals and need to trigger a glockenspiel sound or a low bass, I can do it from the lower manual because it’s programmed into the Gig Performer rackspace.” (A rackspace is a complete configuration of plug-ins, including routing and control.)
Burton emphasizes that ease of use is critical in his fast-paced world. “In all the touring situations I’m in, especially with Steven, you have to sound great fast,” he says. “Just about every decision in this band I make in the heat of battle. When we’re rehearsing or at soundcheck, I don’t have any time to tweak, so all my sounds in Gig Performer are programmed beforehand, and they just show up and sound right. That’s exactly what I need.”
Easily accessing complex sound combinations is another quality of Gig Performer Burton finds invaluable. “There are some songs from Steven’s ‘80s period where I need four or five synth sounds, plus strings and glockenspiel on the chorus. So I have to bring in Kontakt instruments for those on top of discoDSP’s OB-Xd, for instance, and then on top of that add the TAL-U-NO-LX Juno 60 emulator,” Burton details. “All those things take time in the studio to set up. With Gig Performer, one button-push and it’s all there, mapped and layered exactly as I want, with all the effects dialed in just right. It’s great!” The VI sounds are combined using Gig Performer audio mixer modules in each rackspace.
Burton can configure things fast and adapt them as needed in Gig Performer without a lot of effort spent working out how to accomplish tasks. “I found Gig Performer much easier than the other live soft synth programs that are out there,” he testifies. “It’s extremely intuitive to set up, and there were way fewer hiccups.”
Gig Performer provides extremely deep capabilities for controlling instruments and processor plug-ins through widgets, controls that map on one side to plug-in parameters and are controlled onscreen or mapped on the other side to a physical controller. But Burton’s control tasks are straightforward. “I use widgets primarily for controlling audio mixer faders and mute buttons and for metering. I mostly control the faders from the computer trackpad, but some are mapped to the Nord Stage 3’s expression pedal,” reports Burton. “Occasionally I’ll map a knob widget to a synth’s filter cutoff or resonance, or to damping on the Clavinet in Pianoteq, and use the mod wheel to control that.”
Gig Performer makes Burton feel like a bit of a wizard, able to conjure entire worlds with a single finger. “Gig Performer is the entirety of the soft synth equation. With Gig Performer, one patch change from the Nord and I have a completely different setup,” he states proudly.
With little time to spend experimenting with new software, Burton is very appreciative of Deskew’s responsiveness to his questions. “The support has been stellar,” he reports. “I don’t feel like I’m working in the dark. Some companies are very unapproachable, but Deskew responds really quickly to phone calls and emails.”
The heavy demands of being a Disciple of Soul could have been stressful for Burton, but discovering Gig Performer, he proclaims, put him fully in control. “Gig Performer couldn’t have come a moment too soon,” concludes Burton with a smile.