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Author Topic: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?  (Read 2006 times)

Eric Barker

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Man, one after another, it seems like the big keyboard manufacturers have been turning away from making performance instruments to DJ, EDM, and studio gear. So many good products are pushed aside in exchange for gimmicky electronic beat and loop machines. I've been gaga over Roli for a few years, hoping to justify purchasing a mid-sized Seaboard Rise. And I'd been heralding them as one of the last bastions of pure keyboard performance instruments. But now with Block's and their newest abomination, the mini-key Seaboard Block, it's pretty clear they're trying to cash in on amateur hour. I bought a Arturia Keylab because it really felt like a keyboard made for working musicians, but I see Keystep ads far more often, and with their Keylab Essentials line and the fate of the main Keylab line in question, I have some legitimate concerns about their direction.

It's kinda disheartening, really. You don't see Fender and Gibson on ad rotation pushing new DJ digital turntable units or button matrix interfaces. Guitarists have some solid rocks they can rely upon for quality kit that will always be there when they need it. We really don't it seems. They can go out and find exactly the right instrument with the features and hardware they'd like. I'd love an 88 key controller with a builtin laptop tray, waterfall keys and a joystick style pitch/mod wheel with a 18 inch ribbon controller. If this was the guitar world, I'm sure that combination of features would exist.

Are true keyboard performance professionals that rare or something? Why? Makes no sense to me. When I came to Honolulu 3 years ago, and advertised myself as a working keyboard player, BOOM, I had like 4 bands on the phone wanting to hire me, practically sight unseen. I've been told by musicians in other cities that "Keyboardists are like unicorns" (not my quote). Huh? How did that happen. Seriously, if I ever have a kid who wants to make a living being a musician, I'm gonna get them piano lessons right away, seems there's always job openings at the very least.
« Last Edit: June 23, 2017, 09:56:29 pm by Eric Barker »

chops88

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Re: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2017, 10:22:43 pm »
I had the word "unicorn" thrown my way just the other day, hahahaha.... I live in a smaller city outside Vancouver, CA, but even my friends in Vancouver told me that there's a lot of work right now for decent k players.

Seriously, though, in terms of midi controller quality. There really isn't much out there, and I had to recently research it all again recently as I literally ran over my favorite and trusty Novation Remote 61 SL mkii with my car. I thought I'd just go buy another one, or whatever is best. Well, dammit if that isn't a compromise right off the top, in 2017.

Novation: discontinued the 61-key Remote SL (in my now revised opinion, still the best unweighted controller out there) and their impulse and launchkey lines == shitty keybeds, missing critical features.

M-audio: ugh. *Shittiest* keybeds.

Akai: well built, but the new Advance series has no faders (which I need during performance as knobs won't cut it for some of the quick moves needed), and while the keybed feels solid and nice, it has a very short key-length and even weirder fat-surfaced black keys which I just know after 5 mins on it that my fingers will get caught between them and trigger unwanted notes on fast moving passages.

Native-Instruments: arguably the best keybed available, other than the Novation Remote series. Its quite possibly the best unweighted at the moment. But again, real lack of controls - no faders and very very expensive.

That left me, as I was in a panic with no decent performance controller, with the only acceptable option at my local: Arturia keylab. Keybed feels totally middle of the road in terms of quality, but at least the keys are a reasonable size and spacing. Heard many stories about broken keys out of the box, units arriving DOA, firmware flakiness, pots/faders not working. My Keylab 61 wouldn't save anything into a preset that would survive a power-cycle out of the box. Was on 1.25 and now that its on 1.33, seems to work. We'll see. I got the extended warranty from my dealer....

There are only two other decent looking options out there upon further research, but haven't had a chance to try them: the Behringer Motor61, and the Roland A-800 (Edit: Roland's notorious joystick - no way to easily disengage spring on Modulation, like you can on the Novation. Yuck.) Anyone care to comment?

Electronics are a mostly a race to zero, and electronic musical instruments are no different I guess.

« Last Edit: July 13, 2017, 10:41:16 pm by chops88 »

Eric Barker

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Re: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2017, 10:12:53 pm »
Native Instruments keyboard totally confounds me. I actually had the same idea about 10 years ago fora light system, and was about to get busy with an Arduino chip and make my own light strip. That said, the fact that it doesn't work outside of their propriety software completely kills it for me. Couple that with no controls what-so-ever, and it's a total waste.

Good to know I can find work if I ever move to Vancouver!

ClydeLyman

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Re: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2017, 06:00:12 pm »
Quite, the live performance market in the US, with rare exceptions, like Key West, is drying up like a jellyfish left in the noonday sun

ClydeLyman

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Re: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2017, 07:30:12 pm »
I've got the KeylLab 88 and bought V collection 5. Just have to wait until I can get my Delll up and running

I do have a question about the Aux Jack on the 88. Is that strictly an on-off footswitch jack or can it work with a varible pedal like the expression pedal to use for a variable parameter, like a Moog Filter pedal?

maze

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Re: Are gigging keyboard performers like unicorns or something?
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2017, 06:12:46 am »
aaaaah... this has been a major headache and frustration for me for years now!  Why is there no quality, professional grade, live performance keyboard controller out there!!!???  I have to assume that the semi pro home recording  market absolutely crushes the performing musician market... as the home recording world seems to be what all these controllers are designed for.

I had really high hopes for the Keylab... in theory, it seemed to be most of what I could have hoped for... solid road worthy build (wow, wood (faux wood anyways) sides), actual full size keys, full complement of controls...pots, faders and buttons (2 banks moreover). Unfortunately, the build was atrociously bad.  I myself experienced a fader which would not send the full range of MIDI info, the replacement had a key pop up after minimal usage.  And when you pushed the mod wheel a little hard it would get stuck at the end of its travel, then needing a lot of force to move it again (unacceptable of course during performance). What made all of this even worse was that trying to get help and support from Arturia was frustrating beyond words.  And of course, a simple google search or search through this forum reveals way too many stories just like mine.

Beyond that, there were some real misses and poor design.  I thought the keybed was really poor. And when you applied pressure, the keys actually feel like they are bowing or bending.  Speaking of pressure, the aftertouch actually took about 1/2 second of applying pressure before actually sending the after touch MIDI info... totally bizarre  and making the after touch unusable. Here's another weird one... when you put a button in toggle mode, it would light when you pressed it and the light would go out when you released it...which would make sense for momentary mode, but of course in toggle mode it should light after you press and release and go out when you next press and release..like on/off.

And I agree with all the other above assessments of other controller options.. just nothing out there that has it all together..poor keybeds, lack of physical controllers. etc.  I am using SL MKII 49 and I'm actually pretty happy with it, except for the unforgivable sin of only having 8 faders...as I use them quite a bit as B3 drawbars. A few other quibbles, like the display is impossible to see from a sitting position, you need to be standing over it and there is no contrast control or way to adjust. Also (and I don't actually know the exact measurement of "full size keys")  but these are smaller than the Keylab but it really doesn't bother me too much.  The Roland A500 Pro,which is also sitting on the shelf with the Keylab, had very noticeably smaller keys.  Man, the Behringer really seems to have some good design ideas,  but I just cannot buy a Behringer keyboard and jsut doubt it will fulfill its promise

I love how the Roland RD2000 implements its controllers..all the pots are endless rotary with LEDs encircling them and the faders also have LEDs... which of course makes it easy to see on stage, but also allows you to see what the actual  software values are when they are different from the physical position of the controller.  An ideal a controller would have plenty of actual physical controllers implemented just like those on the RD2000, or motorized like the Behringer...(including 9 faders, must I really have to say this to a keyboard designer when they are including faders?), full size keys, road and stage worthy design and build, two way communication like Novation's Automap.  Really doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

« Last Edit: November 22, 2017, 06:16:33 am by maze »

 

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