NIN: Echoplex – Live at Rehearsals, July 2008 from Nine Inch Nails on Vimeo.

Jaymis at Create Digital Motion was admiring this video and watching the Lemur action at the beginning. It further inspires me to custom-install a touch overlay on my laptop, which isn’t terribly expensive – having touch in a live playing situation is really quite nice.

But as I watched the video and its modular synth action and Novation gear, I actually found myself thinking about something else: why aren’t more bands this tight? Most importantly, why don’t more bands simply use in-ear monitors when they’re working? Lots of bands now are adding drum machines again, working with more complex rhythms and harmonies, mixing electronic and acoustic elements. Yet you’ll often see them playing live trying to stay together with a monitor on the floor, and they not surprisingly go out of tune and out of step.

Shure makes a number of fairly affordable models with different in-ear attachments for adapting to different situations. Frankly, just about anything would work. There’s also no crime to routing a separate output with a click track. That’s something even a lot of “serious music” contemporary composers are doing these days. It’s not always the right answer, but there are now situations across genres where it makes sense.

The main thing is, set up so you can take advantage of the musicianship you’ve got. And on that note, while readers here regularly knock Nine Inch Nails – something along the lines of, “if they weren’t NIN, you wouldn’t care” – imagine if you hadn’t heard of this band. They’re an extraordinary group of musicians. Plenty of brilliant musicians labor in obscurity, but it is comforting to know that some of the light of fame is hitting people who can play amazingly well.

Now, sing along: “You will never ever ever ever / own this much gear.”

What? That’s not what they’re singing?

(Actually, the lyrics “You will never ever ever ever get to me in here” can also work nicely on the door to your music studio.)

NIN Visuals:

For once, the visual environment is actually upstaging the sound gear lust. See this video on the “stealth” LED screens, cameras, particles, and … lasers. Mmmmm, lasers.

LEDs In The Sky: MomentFactory’s “Show Environment” for Nine Inch Nails [Create Digital Motion]

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Bill Van Loo

    Nice writeup, Peter.

    In regards to your questions:

    1. "why aren’t more bands this tight?"

    One thing that helps NIN stay "tight" versus other more electronic-oriented groups is that they use pretty traditional song structures. In other words, it's pretty easy to talk about a "16-measure verse" instead of "that ambient passage where you're noodling on the modular synth", and consequently easier for more traditional musicians to work within that context.

    2. "Most importantly, why don’t more bands simply use in-ear monitors when they’re working?"

    One answer lies in the video, during a barely-glimpsed look at their monitor engineer behind a massive board :) It takes a lot of know-how and gear to set up and maintain a good in-ear mix, especially as you start to get toward 5 or 6 musicians like NIN.

    I've personally started experimenting with it a bit myself, but I'm just one person. During live performance with Joshua Schnable, I've worn more traditional headphones to hear a click and that worked wonders, but I have yet to really look into getting a comfortable, high-quality pair of in-ears.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Bill: Absolutely, agreed on both points. But that doesn't mean you still can't do *something* with an in-ear monitor mix, even if you're your own tech. I agree, too, that sometimes conventional headphones will do the trick — then, again, just comes down to giving yourself the right mix!

  • http://toilville.com peter swimm

    Ive used the in ear monitor thing with live drummers, but of course nothing beats having the best studio musicans money can buy :)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Oh yeah, I didn't mean, use in-ear monitors and turn into NIN! ;) But that makes it all the more puzzling to me why people don't consider some of the simpler things they can do to get the most out of the skills they have (that being just one possibility)

    Anyway, it is inspiring seeing good musicians work. :)

  • ashton

    I recently was in a band where we were running drum loops and pads with a full live band( acoustic and electric gtr, drums, and me on bass) No one else in the band really knew how to run ableton so i had to figure out our live set up. I bought firepod ($600) and a behringer headphone amp ($40), we all had previous in ears shure E2 ($100 each), and about $50 worth of cables extenders (way cheaper than 4 wireless systems) everyone got a mix in there headphone that was mainly just click and drum loops. I ran separate outs for the main mix. the biggest problem was that our instruments weren't in our headphones, but you could easily just take out one ear and hear yourself. I even had a backup computer that ran linked to my iMac, so that if something failed i could press a button and switch to the back up. it was a really effective and cheap way for a small Nashville band to use loops and other things.

    When i started figuring this system out, i would watch other bands and was always disappointed by how the did stuff. They would try loops live and would always be off tempo when triggering the loop, or i would see a band and they would cut a lot of their loops live that were on the album. Anyways, i just wanted to post a realistic example of what ya'll were talking about. i agree more band should be running in ears

  • robin parry

    their tight because they've sat down and practised not just how your fingers move but how you hear and how a band react while playing together. the more u do it the better it is. simple!!!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Absolutely, you guys get it … nothing substitutes for a) actual musicianship and b) practice time. BUT you can try to avoid squashing what musicianship you have, and try to make that practice time as productive as possible. If you're tone deaf, you don't need a monitor; you need someone to mute your mic. But if you can hear, then you want to do everything possible to take advantage of that.

  • ashton

    with my band, once we got levels set in our ears we were playing perfectly with the loops, after very little practice, and no one in the band had ever done loops live before.

    I agree with practicing makes you better, but when you have a loud beeping in your ear its hard to be off, practice or no practice

    (that's all assuming you can play to a click, or want to play to a click).

  • http://curiousinversions.blogspot.com/2008/12/music-piracy.html JRice

    Can I just say?

    Frickin' AWESOME performance.

    Thanks for the link to it. ;)

  • velocipede

    Hmm. I don't mean this in a critical way but it sounds and looks more like a promo video than a live rehearsal. Amazing that they can truly sound that close to the record, but I hope that they bust it up a little on stage.

  • http://web.mac.com/workethic/work-ethic.net/Info.html Pauly

    I was wondering when the current technological advancements in the Nine Inch Nails live set up was going to be posted here. Lemurs, Monomes, advanced modulars.. seeing them rock that shit live is awesome. Good on you guys for additionally posting the live info over at CDMotion. Thanks Peter!

  • http://myles.debastion.com Myles

    Yes, I do a lot of synth work with my band and no am starting to explore more complex time-based rhythms and loops but as with most traditional bands, our tempo is very organic and also our compositions change time signatures and pace constantly so I feel that I will have to be very creative to come up with solutions.

    A while back I discovered a nice tool called "InTime" which listens to a audio input and applies live beat detection to adjust the MIDI clock. I want to try setting this up even and seeing how robust it all is.

    Some videos: http://www.circular-logic.com/videos.html

  • tobamai

    I have a pair of shure's that I use for dj sets. I recommend them in any live performance because they offer a clean sound of what you're playing. You don't have to worry about the monitors being loud enough to overcome the room's acoustic problems. For dj's you don't have to worry about mixing against an echo.

    I haven't met a musician yet who doesn't want to hear themselves play. I consider in ear headphones to just be better monitors.

  • teej

    they dip into Sonic Youth sounding territory for a moment in there.

  • http://davesmith-hayes.com/ Dave Smith-Hayes

    Well, as Ben Weinman said in an interview once, Trent Resnor expects only the BEST musicianship from his bandmates. Hence why he's the only original member anymore. That's why the band is so solid during practice.

    Also, I would love to modify by notebooks to have touch screens, but I am a 17 year old boy with Job, and College to go too. Soon…

  • Ben

    Great post and great comments!

    I'd really like to see an in-depth article on the subject and to hear more on how people mix organic and electronic instruments live…

    I see bands like M83 and Of Montreal and I often wonder how they do this and that…

    Anyways, thanks!

  • http://snapshotintime.blogspot.com/ wi_ngo

    You don't get much of a taste of it here, but Alessandro Cortini (guy with the modular) is an extraordinarily talented synth programmer. His solo stuff on the Buchla as blindoldfreak is absolutely gorgeous.

  • monoman

    And It's also worth noting that Alessandro left NIN a couple of days ago…good luck to him!

  • http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/action/#nin Brian Stone

    http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/action/#nin

    Sort of related, this showed up recently on Apple's site. I like the switch on the mic stand.

  • Chris A

    I saw this NIN tour in Pemberton and again a couple weeks ago in Victoria. By far one of the best shows I've seen. I've seen NIN a few times, but they step up the production each tour. Unfortunately….Trent said that they wouldn't be doing a tour like this again. :( It's not often that you'll see a show that pushes the new-media production value as much as this did. It was crazy watching synchronized 3D images like puffs of smoke make their way from the background through to the foreground screens and having the band play inside the visuals. From what I know they use a Pro-Tools live rig and synchronize certain parts of the show. That being said, if it all crashed, they could still use the floor monitors and still be playing away since they're an actual band. The band and engineers controlled the machines…not the other way around. So no Milli Vanilli, Ashley Simpson coverups here. What was really cool though was that the second show I saw in Victoria incorporated completely acoustic versions of tunes like "Piggy" and utilized upright bass, marimbas, glockenspiels, tubular bells and tambourines. To go from completely acoustic to rocking out using lemurs and modular synths live, without a laptop to be seen on stage, is pretty impressive. And at the same time doesn't sound like a carbon copy of a recorded track or performance. This tour made me rethink about how mainstream-electronic music can be performed live with energy and massive audience appeal sans some of the usual techie skepticism.

  • http://myles.debastion.com Myles

    If you want to know more details about how they put together and control the live show:

    http://www.wired.com/entertainment/music/news/200

    Inspiring to say the least.

  • mode

    I remember hearing a while back that their guitarists use amp simulators plugged direct into the board as opposed to "real" guitar amps. Anyone know more about this?

  • http://www.work-ethic.net Pauly

    Bonus! Plenty of all this and more over @ Apple.com

    http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/action/#nin

    Pretty well put together video of NIN's use of Logic, really worth checking out.

  • http://www.3amnoise.net/runagate runagate

    Nice.

    So what do you recommend as a cheap way of attaining a touch screen?

    I'm particularly interested in multi touch, of course, and just today stumbled upon the all-in-one PC/multi touch HP monster which I simply cannot afford yet yearn for terribly.

    Especially as I use the touch screen version of Usine DAW, because it implements many features I've been ranting about since before the iPhone existed and yet my crappy refurb POS serial touch screen with terrible latency is still dead and just taking up room.

  • Pingback: NIN Echoplex live rehearsal | Kev009.com

  • Freddy

    Well, besides practice and a good monitor mix, it takes all the band members being on the same channel, or state of mind if you want, most of the pro bands end up having it and some bands master it, amateurs hardly get to it and when they do, it takes so little to screw it all and get back to zero… been there, done that.

    Oh, and there's the extra effort, time and money to run a complex act that not everyone wants to invest… indie, punk, "live laptop act" – add your choice of music here- is easier/cheaper :)

  • http://www.obelus.com iain010100

    I saw NIN twice – first time at the Beacon theater on their Pretty Hate Machine tour, second time when they opened for David Bowie. Both times they were disappointing. They lacked a certain stage presence. It wasn't the stage technology holding them back because I also saw Ministry (twice), Skinny Puppy (twice), and Front 242 at around the same time (as NIN's PHM tour), and these other bands put on truly memorable stage shows. Also, Bowie and Reznor sang some songs together and Bowie blew Reznor away… on NIN songs!

  • iveseenitall

    And here I thought NIN was born in 2006 when I downloaded the Only video. Well, no matter since I didn't pass out cigars till a year later when, MAC and I downloaded our second music video Head Like Hole.

    Good thing I did too otherwise I might have missed becoming a fan.

    Might have been somewhere other than the Oakland Coliseum in 2008 when NIN rocked the house with big sound and a top notch show.

    Good grief, could a band deliver more to fans than NIN has during the last couple of years?

    Anyways, gear is great! Great bands are rare and hard to come by.

    Just ask David Bowie.