If you already have a DAW, do you also need a dedicated plug-in host for live performance?
The answer should be obvious as soon as you launch Gig Performer. Although instrument and processing plug-ins run in either type of application, features you want for production are different from what you want for playing onstage. Just as a DAW functions as the heart of a recording studio, Gig Performer can be the center of a live setup for both individual musicians and FOH engineers.
License to Share
Gig Performer 3.8 comes with perpetual licenses for up to three machines. In addition to the licenses for multiple computers, you can run multiple instances on a single machine. By having each instance address its own audio and MIDI inputs, each musician in an ensemble can have full real-time control over his/her performance set-up. Each musician can also go through discrete sets of plug-ins in a single instance, or they can share instrument and processing plug-ins.
Although Gig Performer doesn’t come with any instruments or processors—the idea being that everyone already has their own–it’s also available on Pluginalliance.com as part of their software bundles. Those bundles include soft synths, virtual pedals and effects, and a whole lot of signal processors, most of them oriented to studio use as well as live performance.
For this review, I ran Gig Performer on two systems: a 12-core Mac Pro and an old i7 950 Windows 7 machine. It’s hard to quantify exactly how efficient Gig Performer is, but it didn’t stress either computer. The same multi program loaded into Spectrasonics Omnisphere registered the same number of bars in Apple’s Activity Monitor in Gig Performer as in Apple Logic Pro X…which is to say that this is an efficient program.
Impressively, it didn’t crash either computer during the entire test period. That’s an essential feature for a program you’ll use for live performances.
Launch Gig Performer 3, and you’ll be presented with an empty rack called a Rackspace. To fill the rack with things that make noise, you click on an icon to go behind it. There you’ll see the kind of connect-the-object, flow-chart interface familiar to anyone who’s used Audio MIDI Setup, Logic’s Environment, Plogue Bidule, and many other programs. This is called Connections view.
In addition to default block objects representing the physical audio inputs and outputs in connected audio interfaces, lurking behind a right-click menu is a long list of things available to load. Those include the instrument and MIDI plug-ins you have installed, as well as an assortment of built-in objects such as mixers, a MIDI monitor, a MIDI filter, audio and MIDI file players… and you simply cable one to the next to create your signal flow.
You can cable these blocks to multiple destinations, and combined signals are summed automatically. Gig Performer’s online manual (that’s its documentation, which is very clear but not as handy as a PDF) points out that this is not your father’s mixer-with-sends interface. They feel this is simpler, and that’s probably true.
Intuitively, you double-click on a block to open it and get at its full interface—to access a plug-in’s controls, for example. You can set a preference to open plug-in interfaces automatically when they’re installed, and the program does remember where you opened them, although my one suggestion is that the program should be able to remember plug-ins’ open/closed status, much like a screenset in a DAW. The argument to that suggestion is the next feature in Gig Performer.
If you can find and even see them during the heat of performance, it’s not always possible to grab plug-in controls you need to move using just a mouse…or arguably worse, your laptop’s built-in trackpad. Consequently, Gig Performer 3 provides a rather elegant method for accessing the plug-in controls you want without even having them open, putting just what you’ll need within reach: Widgets.
Widgets live in rack units you construct at the front of the rack. They consist of a selection of graphic items: tape labels, knobs, faders, buttons, sliders, meters, LEDs, and drawbars. Just drag one of these Widgets onto a rack, then “wiggle and learn” to teach it what to control; that is, wiggle the destination plug-in parameter you want it to affect. Then you teach it what physical MIDI control moves the Widget using the same method. You can resize Widgets and color Widgets and rack panels for easy identification.
It’s possible to scale, invert, and set ranges for all these controls. You can also group Widgets so they move together. So, as a somewhat silly example, raising your mod wheel could simultaneously crossfade between two sounds in different virtual instruments while lengthening a reverb’s tail and sweeping a filter.
These controls change plug-in parameters very smoothly and instantaneously. I did encounter a couple of older macOS versions of instrument plug-ins that wouldn’t teach Widgets to move parameters by the wiggle method. They sent Gig Performer numbers instead of the names of their parameters. But it still works if you take the time to find the right parameter numbers.
Rackspaces are complete, recallable setups that can contain multiple rack units. You can also adjust Widget controls and create Variations, which are duplicates of a Rackspace with your adjustments stored. Using Variations means you don’t need to load multiple instances of the same plug-ins, saving computer resources.
Because Rackspaces are snapshots of your entire performance setup, they can include any number of audio and MIDI inputs’ and outputs’ comings and goings (including mics), MIDI patch changes, onboard instruments and the sounds they have loaded, effects, how everything is processed and routed, levels, and parameter settings.
Any audio file players you have set up—each with up to eight tracks—are part of the Rackspace. Gig Performer also has a metronome (with an optional tap tempo). Audio file players can sync to the program’s master tempo along with the metronome or run wild.
Gig Performer 3 arranges Rackspaces into Songs, Song Parts, and Setlists. Calling up a Song brings up lyric and chord sheets, along with its Song Parts.
Song Parts are actually Rackspaces and Variations, typically named for the section of the song they’re for—intro, verse, etc. The program supports the Chord Pro lead sheet format.
Why Not a DAW?
Probably the biggest difference between using a DAW to host plug-ins onstage and using Gig Performer is that the DAW can’t really switch between its equivalent of snapshots at the push of a button. Even if you can somehow fudge the DAW into doing that (probably by using grouped faders), sustained notes are going to get cut off when you change sounds.
Not so in Gig Performer—you can hold a note or notes, switch to a different Rackspace with different sounds, and play some notes using a new sound. Meanwhile the original notes continue until you release them (or more likely let up on the sustain pedal).
However, Gig Performer is complementary to a DAW. It has audio and MIDI recorders built in for capturing performances and then exporting them for further work. Or you can use it the other way around, treating it as a big external processor to your DAW.
They have many more differences than that, though. As the name suggests, everything about Gig Performer is set up for performing gigs. That’s apparent from features like its full-screen tuner and its global transposing control right on the screen… really, the program’s entire interface.
But Wait, There’s More
Gig Performer 3 has its own scripting language for processing incoming MIDI, called GP Script. As examples of how it could be useful, the online documentation’s introduction mentions transposing notes or using them to play chords constrained to a scale.
Deskew, the company that develops Gig Performer, says that someone capable of programming an Excel spreadsheet should be able to handle GP Script. Unfortunately, I have trouble doing a mail merge, so we’ll have to take their word for it.
Quite a few other features are lurking in Gig Performer’s menus, such as a latency tester for plug-ins and a MIDI monitor. You can run the program from a hardware controller (or an iPad) using the OSC networking standard. It has a built-in template for TouchOSC, an inexpensive iOS program.
A Solid Performance
Like most really good music and audio software, its designers created Gig Performer to fill their own needs. That’s written all over it, in its features and its interface. I see a time when the coronavirus is ancient history, mosh pits are full, and once again, musicians will be tearing down the house with Gig Performer 3 running on their computers.
Supported platforms: Mac/Windows; AU, VST, VST3 (all 64-bit only)
Price: Mac or Windows, $149; Mac and Windows, $199