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21 December 2017

What Computer do I use for Multitracks?

When starting out with multitracks, here are some comments frequently heard:

  • Do I need an IPad or a Mac to run multitracks?
  • Can I use my PC to run multitracks?
  • Can I run tracks on Android?

There are many misconceptions about hardware requirements for multitrack player systems, so this blog will give you some ideas about how to decipher this.

Hardware Role

You will need consider the different capabilities multitrack player software can perform when choosing hardware.  It is not as simple as just deciding which platform is needed to play the audio on stage.  Rather, consider which platform(s) support all the ways you want to use the multitracks.

Audio Playback: For the primary audio playback role, the most important consideration is – can the platform reliably support the way you want to interface audio to the sound system?  For instance, if you want to use multi-outs to drive in-ear monitors from the sound board, can you do that on the chosen platform?  Most PCs and Macs support multi-outs, as do IPads and IPhones.  If you really only need stereo output with a splitter (the simplest configuration) all platforms support that, however, some are less trouble than others.  For instance, under Windows 10, sound card control (like turning off surround sound) can be confounding.  I usually recommend people use a low-cost USB audio interface ( such as the Traktor DJ Audio 2 ) even when there is a headphone jack available on PC/Mac systems.  Different platforms can also introduce different latency, which can be important in some settings.

Control: The multitrack player systems described in this blog support control by touch screen, MIDI, bluetooth foot pedal, and keyboard in some cases.  Deciding how you want to control tracks can influence these choices.  Some systems are optimized for a given controller and platform scheme, like the combination of touch and MIDI control used by Loopcommunity Prime.  Some systems, such as FlyWorship, ship with foot pedals designed for a given platform.  Before deciding on a playback platform, decide how you want track control to work.

Lyric Display: If you are considering automating lyric display as part of your multitrack system, then choosing a platform that supports this is important also.  This usually means a PC or Mac, unless the system directly supports these capabilities on an IPhone or IPad.  Your system will generally need to support multiple display output in these cases.  A PC/Mac configuration handling both audio playback and video output is very common for more complete multitrack systems like Fly Worship or Worshipsong Band.

Chord Display: Does the multitrack system support linked chord charts?  If so, how will this work?  Is it via MIDI, or as a feature of the playback software?  Will the band use this capability? If so, on which platforms?

Other Uses

This is a consideration that is often missed.  With a multitrack system, you should consider all the ways you want to use the content, not only the playback hardware.  For instance:

  • Do I want my band to be able to rehearse with the multitracks at home?  If so, on what computer platforms?  Will I do this by providing the multitracks to the team, or by providing custom instrumental mixes?
  • Will I be using any wireless or bluetooth networking features, such as synchronized audio playback, Ableton Link, or wireless networking that mean platforms will need to work together during performance?
  • Will I be building a set list on one system and playing it back on another?  Are they both the same platform?
  • Will I need the system to grow in the future, if I decide to use a full DAW for Playback?