Gig Performer is NOT a DAW!

Gig Performer is NOT a DAW!

Gig Performer is NOT a DAW! Gig Performer is an audio plugin host for live performance and session musicians, part of your instrument.

Think of the main view of your DAW containing everything you need for a session as analogous to just one rackspace in Gig Performer

When you switch from one rackspace to another, you are essentially getting a completely new “session” except that in Gig Performer, this happens instantaneously so you can switch from one set of sounds to completely different sounds in real-time while you’re performing, even during the same song, without missing a beat.


Almost everyone involved in composing or performing music knows about Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and probably has at least one. There are numerous DAWs available for all the major platforms, both free and commercial. Examples include Logic Pro, Cubase, ProTools, Cakewalk, Digital Performer, Studio One, Reaper, Ardour, Reason, among many others.

There are also some DAWs out there that cross over into the live use domain for certain genres, Ableton Live being the most well known with its ability to trigger clips and record/playback loops on the fly.

However, for the most part, DAWs are really designed as a modern version of the traditional multi-track recording studio to record, edit and playback multiple tracks and finally mix down to the finished product. In this sense, DAWs implement a “linear” paradigm where a song is built up from multiple tracks. Each track contains either audio data (pianos, guitars, vocals, drums recorded using microphones) or MIDI data where, via a channel strip, each track will typically be associated with an external MIDI driven synth or with a software plugin, usually known as a VST, VST3, AU (Mac only) or AAX (ProTools) plugin. That last kind of track is usually called a software instrument track.

Software instrument tracks are associated with MIDI channel strips and plugins are inserted into the channel strips with effects plugins (reverb, echo, phase, etc) directly under them. For example, here’s a screenshot of Logic Pro where we have created an audio track to be used for vocals and three MIDI tracks each of which is driving a software plugin along with some effects. If you want all your plugins to share some effects (e.g. SENDs) then you have to create auxiliary bus channel strips to handle these. There’s an awful lot of information in here, much of it not even useful for live performers.

Screenshot of Logic Pro, 1 audio track for vocals, 3 MIDI tracks, with plugins and effects

Let’s take a closer look at one of the channel strips – for example, here’s the one for Blue 3 – a rather wonderful Hammond organ emulator. At the top, the Blue 3 plugin is inserted and directly under it are the rotator and distortion respectively effects plugins. In this strip, the two effects plugins are the “inserts” and audio flows directly from Blue3 to the Rotator and then the output of Rotator goes into the distortion effect.

A closer look at one of the channel strips in Logic Pro

For comparison, here’s how this would look like in a Gig Performer rackspace, where there is deliberately no concept of a channel strip. You can see directly what will be the audio flow.

Gig Performer rackspace, no concept of a channel strip. See directly the audio flow.

Now suppose you want that Phaser to also be routed to a reverb effect. You can’t do that with the channel strip directly. To do this, you now have to create multiple busses and use Sends to route audio. For example, in Logic Pro, you would create three busses, each containing a different effect. You would then route the audio from Lounge Lizard channel strip into the phaser channel strip by sending audio to “Bus 1” and also disable direct sending to Stereo Out. Then, in the Bus 1 channel strip you would create two Sends to send the phaser to both the Echo plugin (Bus 3) and the Reverb plugin (Bus 2). Those last two busses would be enabled for Stereo out. So in summary, you have to create an entirely new structure to get the effect you want. Good luck coming back to this later and figuring out what’s going on!

Channel strips in Logic Pro

Compare this to Gig Performer’s approach where you simply add the Reverb plugin and connect it. Now you can easily see where audio is going without the distractions and complexity of organizing busses, very beneficial if you just want to focus on creating your sound.

Gig Performer’s visual approach, simply add the Reverb plugin and connect it to other plugins

Multi keyboard access to a sound

Now, right here, we’re going to see a critical reason why the DAW approach doesn’t really work in a live performance situation. In the studio, you can generally get away with a single keyboard since you’re most likely going to be recording one track. But what are you going to do in a live situation where you need one octave of that piano to be accessible on a section of one keyboard and another couple of octaves accessible on a different keyboard, or even on a different part of the same keyboard but transposed up or down?

I’ll leave you to figure out how to do that with your own DAW but here’s how it works in Gig Performer

Gig Performer, DAW approach doesn’t really work in a live performance situation

The orange blocks represent keyboards. Here’s an open view of the “Left hand C2-E3”

An open view of the "Left hand C2-E3"

The red arrow shows that only 17 keys of that particular keyboard are active, from C2 to E3. The green arrow shows the Transpose amount, meaning that when you play notes on that keyboard between C2 and E3, notes between C3 and E4 will be sent to the plugin.

If you want to layer that Left Hand with Strings, it’s trivial – just connect that Left Hand to a Strings plugin and you’re done.

Layer Left Hand with Strings in Gig Performer audio plugin host

Instant access to every sound

A track-based environment makes perfect sense in a studio/recording situation. Whether you’re using old-fashioned multitrack tape or a DAW, you’ll typically have one instrument per track or even multiple tracks for one instrument if, for example, you’re using multiple microphones to record a piano, or if you are miking each drum and cymbal separately to create a submix, perhaps bouncing such a mix into yet another track. But consider what happens when you’re in a live situation and you need your electric piano for four bars and then you need an acoustic piano plus strings for the next 8 bars and then you need to play all three together, either from a single keyboard or from multiple keyboards. DAWs are simply not designed for this kind of thing. And that’s just dealing with one song! What happens when you have to play a different song that has completely different sounds and requires different splits and layers?

On the other hand, Gig Performer is designed specifically for these kinds of scenarios. For example, here’s a rackspace, called My Blues Scene, with three plugins (Electric piano, strings, acoustic piano) all playable from a single MIDI keyboard controller. On the left, you will see that the rackspace has three variations in it. Each variation determines which plugins are enabled. In this example, we have selected the Rhodes+strings variation and you can see that the Acoustic piano has a red bar across it meaning that it is currently turned off.

Gig Performer Rackspace, with three plugins (Electric piano, strings, acoustic piano) all playable from a single MIDI keyboard controller.

You can switch from one variation to another using buttons on your keyboard or a MIDI pedal controller and you have the option to go up or down or you can explicitly select a variation using either program change messages or CC messages from a controller.

Alternatively, you could just use a rackspace with a default variation and, using three buttons (or pedals) on your controller, associate the enable/disable control of each plugin with a specific button or pedal for direct access. Here, the Rhodes and Acoustic piano are turned on and the strings are off. (Of course you can have more than three plugins and more than three buttons). We call these buttons “widgets” (knobs and sliders are also examples of widgets) and most widgets can be trivially mapped to buttons, knobs or sliders on your hardware controllers, making it easy to adjust your sound in real time while performing on stage.

A rackspace with a default variation, and three button widgets

This last approach is particularly attractive for guitar players using lots of effects. In the following example, we can directly turn on or off three effects (phaser, flanger and distortion), typically using buttons and we also can control parameters of those effects either directly or by using physical knobs on a controller that control the knobs displayed here in the rackspace front panel. You could even use a tablet and control these widgets remotely.

A guitarist might also have an expression pedal which, in this particular song, is controlling a wah-wah effect. In another song, that same expression pedal might be controlling the amount of delay of an echo plugin.

An expression pedal which is controlling a wah-wah effect, Gig Performer

Switching from one of these rackspaces to another is instantaneous and glitch free.

If you just even try to think about how you might go about doing this with a traditional DAW, your head will start hurting.

Songs and setlists

Of course, once you have created your rackspaces, designed your front panels, linked up your MIDI devices and so forth, then you can start working on creating your setlist. Setlist are collections of songs. Each song is a collection of song parts. Each song part represents a single rackspace/variation pair along with some extra properties. Take a look at the image below, the view in which you would generally use when you are on stage. So there’s a setlist called “Reeling In The Years” on the left and a list of songs displayed below. You can click on any song (or send the appropriate message from your control surface or MIDI pedal controller, etc) to make it active instantly. Each part of the song can be a completely different collection of plugins with a corresponding user designed front panel. Selecting song parts (laid out across the top for easy visibility or to match up with your pedal controller) is also instant, even while you’re playing a chord. The widgets in front panels in song parts can be temporarily overridden. This means you can easily reuse rackspaces in different song parts and still remember different settings.

Setlist are collections of songs, each song is a collection of song parts, each song part represents a single rackspace/variation pair, Gig Performer


There is too much “other” to describe here. ChordPro support, Ableton Link, a full OSC implementation, a programming language for advanced control, to mention just a few features. If you want to know more, perhaps leaf through the quick reference in our online user guide or better yet, download and try it.

Related topics:
Music software has failed you and here is why (blog)
Gig Performer is not a plugin chainer!
Gig Performer is the best companion for all your musical efforts and more?
– A High Level Look at Gig Performer 3 with Larry the “O” (YouTube)
– 5 Reasons for using Gig Performer rather than a DAW with Matt Vanacoro (YouTube)

Scaling Curves

Scaling curves allow you to control the shape of the output of a widget or convert an incoming note velocity to a new velocity. Various predefined curves are available and they can be tweaked as necessary. You can also just draw your own curve as well to achieve the effect you require.


MIDI File Player Plugin

You can load up to 128 MIDI song files in a single plugin instance. Switch from one song to another, mute tracks and/or change their channel numbers. Tempo can be controlled by individual songs or you can use the global tempo and tap tempo to control the BPM interactively.


Favorites and Presets

Create a sound by placing and interconnecting your desired plugins, such as a synth, some effects and perhaps a mixer. Select them all and then save the selection as a named favorite. The favorite will subsequently show up in all plugin insert menus, making it easy for you to recreate that configuration whenever you need it again. This feature is also very powerful for creating your needed sounds on your studio computer and then transferring them to your touring laptop.


Probabilistic Sound Designer

Parameters you select in an open plugin are captured into the Probabilistic Sound Designer dialog window. When you click Randomize, you're only adjusting those selected parameters. Each entry in the PSD dialog has a curve but unlike widgets where the curve controls scaling, in the PSD the curves are used to define the probability of particular values being selected. Make sure the filter cutoff never gets too slow so as to block all sound. Perhaps adjust the max range of the VCA attack parameter so that the sound doesn't have too much delay. Constrain the octave ranges of the oscillators, perhaps ensuring that 1/3rd of the time we select 8' and 2/3rds of the time we select 4'. The possibilities are endless.


More Widgets

Numerous new widgets are included in Gig Performer - a new sustain pedal, plastic knobs, drum pads and more colored sliders. Shapes can be colored with different borders and fill colors and morphed from rectangular to circular. Your creativity is now the limit to creating fabulous front panels in Gig Performer.


MIDI Message Helper

Select MIDI devices by name. Choose the MIDI message type and adjust the appropriate parameters for the specific type



Layout management

Gig Performer supports arbitrary resizing. Layout your widgets the way you want - resize the main window and the widgets will grow or shrink as necessary to maintain the same interrelationships. No matter what size screen you have, your front panels will still be neat and usable.


Undo Support

If you move your widgets around and/or resize them, or even delete them by mistake, the Undo facility will correct your mistake. Minor moves to a widget by mistake will no longer spoil your design


Plugin Channel Count

Some plugins support a large number of outputs and they depend on the traditional channel strip to control how many ports should be available.   When you only need a stereo pair, it is convenient not to have a large horizontal block. In Gig Performer, the number of available ports  is controlled by the channel count override, which can be applied to individual plugins and will be remembered when the gigfile is reloaded or if the plugin is saved as a favorite.


Input muting and output fading

Rather than a single audio length tail, Gig Performer 4 gives you the ability to control input muting and output fading separately. Input muting controls how much time it takes for audio input to be silenced when you leave the rackspace. Output fading controls how much time will be taken for audio to fade out when you leave the rackspace.


Faster Plugin Finder

Instead of searching through menus of perhaps hundreds of plugins (you know who you are!), the Quick Plugin Finder makes it easy to find the plugin you need by simply typing partial strings. For example, as shown here, to find the Modartt Pianoteq 7 plugins, it's enough to type pia mod 7 (in any order, by the way)  to restrict the list of available plugins to those matching your query. The Quick Plugin Finder also knows about manufacturers, presets and favorites.



Touch Friendly Input

Any entry field can be changed by either dragging your mouse (or finger) up or down, or by using the large popup touchpad where you can just tap on the squares to enter a value. The large popup keypad also does validation so you can't enter an invalid value. You can also just tap the BPM field to pop up a larger view where you can quickly change tempo, tranpose, trigger Tap Tempo and enable Ableton Link, the last allowing you to synchronize Gig Performer with any other application that also supports Ableton Link.


New Tuner Display

The tuner view makes it easy for guitarists to quickly check and adjust their tuning. You can toggle into the tuner view from any other view and toggle right back as soon as you're done. All output will be silenced automatically while you're in tuning mode. You can adjust the concert reference pitch from its default of 440 Hz to suit your own needs. The tuner view fills the entire screen so you can easily see it from a distance.