Using Cantabile and Backing tracks from DAW



I wish to build a system where I can play live using Cantabile, along to some pre-recorded backing tracks, The tracks will themselves be a mixture of VST and Audio tracks, along with some SysEx Midi program change messages to some external equipment at points in the songs.

I can see how this would work if I keep everything separate…
One laptop with Cantabile, all my VSTs, usb’d to an audio interface going into the PA
Another laptop with my DAW (Presonus Studio One), again with all my VSTs, going to another audio interface, into the PA. This laptop would play the tracks and send the program change messages out to the Cantabile laptop, along with the other external equipment.

My question is, is there any way to streamline this?
Do I need 2 laptops, or could I run both the DAW AND Cantabile at the same time on one powerful laptop?
Do I need 2 audio interfaces, or could I run both the DAW and Cantabile into different outs on the same audio interface (if I have enough)?
If there IS a clever way to run cantabile and the DAW together on one laptop and one audio interface, can I send program change messages from the DAW to Cantabile to get it to change my sounds at the right moment in the song?




Hi, Jack

I am not sure why you want to keep your DAW in the equation when playing live? DAWs are best left in the Studio, as they are not built for live use! :slight_smile:

Build your backing tracks in your DAW and then export the required Audio and MIDI tracks so that Cantabile can use them in a Song.

In a Cantabile song add Media Players (which can handle either Audio or MIDI) for each exported file and add in your exported Audio and MIDI files to each Media Player. Take a quick look at the screen shot below (click on it to expand it)

I have a Media Player called “Master”, which is playing back MIDI Data. The one below it called Audio has an Audio backing track, which is slaved to the Master Media Player. When you start playback in Cantabile, both Media Players start.

I also have Soft synths in here, and I am also triggering program changes on external synths, which shows you can also create MIDI routes and bindings for any combination of virtual and hardware devices.

As well as Brad’s excellent guides and videos, you might wish to check out my own guides

Cantabile Guide, which shows you how to set up and use Cantabile in a project context, using a set I was creating last year. The picture in this post is from a song described on Page 21

Gig Rack Guide, which explains how I built my Gig Rack which is the main hub of my live rig, a combination of hardware and software devices.



Ah thanks Derek. So basically I can save myself a whole world of cost and hassle by learning how to use Cantabile properly!

i’m still not 100% on how the multiple audio clips, midi notes playing VSTs, fx running on different tracks translates into Cantabile. I think I need to do a bit more reading and have a play.

Thanks for the answer, Derek. It sounds like I can do absolutely everything I need from within cantabile.


Can I just add, Derek, that I’m taken a quick look through your guides, and they’re amazing. It’s exactly what I need. Thank you so much.


As Derek says, just skip the DAW and do everything in Cantabile. I do this all the time for my funk cover band (which uses both MIDI and audio background tracks, plus a whole lot more) and it works flawlessly.



Happy to help. :slight_smile:

Cantabile has a bit of a learning curve, especially if you are not used to live (as opposed to studio) hosting software, but it is very powerful. Be sure to go through Brads guides and Video tutorials as well to get the full picture. My guides are not intended to replace those, but to add to them to show how I built up my Gig PC and how I use Cantabile.


I’ve been doing the same thing you’re looking to do for about a year now with no issue at all. Cantabile plays 4 different backing tracks using media players (click, keys, guitar, backing vocals) outputting everything to a Behringer X-Air 18. This gives me the ability to mix the outputs along with the live instruments depending on the song/venue. I’m also using the transport triggers to change midi presets on a Voicelive 3, bass preamp, and guitar amp. Additionally I’ve got all the song lyrics in Cantabile and use song states and transport triggers to switch the lyrics at the correct parts of the songs (and use the built-in web interface to display the notes on my iPad). I also output midi CC messages to QLC+ to run the lighting in time with the tracks.

If you’ve got any questions, feel free to ask.


Very similar to the setups of Derek, Herman and Robb here.

I‘m mostly using several Media Players in Sync with only a certain soundfile in each. This gives me the freedom to do the mix and finetuning inside cantabile during rehearsals. Furthermore I have seperate hardware outs for clicktrack, sequencer, keys, percussions, etc. for the FOH and different monitor lines. This is absolutely sufficient for my needs atm.

I had a situation when Media Players were too limited as I needed patterns to be changed by hand during songs. This is something you can typically be done with a daw like ableton.

After fiddling around with ableton & multi client drivers (I didn’t want to use 2 PCs of course) I finally used ableton & push as midi trigger machine, LoopBe as virtual midi cable from ableton to cantabile and let cantabile do all the audio stuff. Worked nice and stable.

Regards, humphrey


Thanks everyone - I’ve had a little play and imported an audio file into a media player object in Cantabile, set it as the master, and pressed play. Perfect. So the only thing I don’t quite understand yet is how I get a midi track with a click and midi program change messages in, And indeed, what is best practice in getting stuff from my DAW into Cantabile.

So from Derek’s guide I can see he tends to use a midi file in a media object as his master and then has audio media objects as slaves.

So what would I do in my DAW which has 10 tracks of audio, 4 midi tracks playing VST’s, and 1 midi track playing a click?

I guess what I want is a media object with the click (going to a separate out for the drummer), another media object with all the audio tracks I want on the backing track (going to FOH outs), and then media objects for each vst track I’m not playing live.

So do you go into your DAW, export the whole lot as a single midi file, and then export the whole lot again as audio WAV? And then import those files into media players and they will be synced?

Thanks again




If you were using Cubase, I could tell you how to export MIDI, etc., but do not know your particular DAW. Try Googling “Presonus Studio One MIDI Export”.

I am not sure why you would want to export MIDI tracks playing VSTs which you are not playing live. You could do it but it would put an unnecessary load on Cantabile. Assuming you are not going to play those VSTs, then I would assume you could render them as audio to get into the track you want to go to FOH

In Welsh Floyd (as an example) we had some complex backing tracks based on sound effects and non-live instruments (sometimes VSTs, sometimes recorded live - e.g. extra guitar parts) and of course clicks (one for bass/drums one for keys/guitars, as sometimes our cues are different). I had the master/bus routing setup in Cubase to be four channel. CH1 and CH2 was FOH stereo (but note that I since learnt that most decent sound men will just mix stereo pairs, like this, to mono!), CH3 was the first click and CH4 the second click.

The Audio for FOH was all mixed down in Cubase for most songs, but for some where it is hard to gauge level balance in the studio (esp tracks with percussion on), I would bounce those out separately and have them in a different media player in Cantabile, so we could get the levels right in practice. It’s a little extra load on Cantabile to play multiple audio files, but not much.

Oh, I have the MIDI track as master as it contains tempo and time signature. You could use that to drive Cantabile’s own metronome to generate the click.

Note if you have the MIDI track as master, you must ensure there are MIDI events at the start and end of the play range you need for the audio as the transport will stop when there are no more MIDI events. It can be any event, e.g. a CC0 (Modwheel) to zero (you won’t hear that if nothing else is playing)

The key thing to realise is that there are so many different ways to do things in Cantabile to achieve your purpose. My way of doing things is just one way! Don’t be afraid to experiment to see what works best for you.



Thanks again, Derek. Just imported a midifile and got that working, so I think I’m pretty much set now. I agree that the only vst’s used should be the ones I’m playing live. Everything else should be audio. And audio wise, as you say, there’s a trade off on having multiple audio files which you can mix in Cantabile, or a single one you can’t but take up less resources.

Thanks for the tip about the start and end midi events - sounds like the type of thing that may have had me banging my head against the wall.

This is going to save me a small fortune. I didn’t realise Cantabile was capable of playing back tracks like this. I was looking at an extra laptop and audio interface.

I’m South Wales too, so if I ever happen upon you at a gig, I will be sure to buy you a pint!


It’s good to hear there are a lot of folks using Cantabile to play tracks live. I think that’s something Brad should push a little bit more in his marketing strategy. I had a terrible time finding Cantabile when searching for a multi-output backing track player with MIDI support.

I love that it’s solid as a rock and light on CPU/memory too. I run it on a little Atom-based CPU mounted in the back of my rack, and since I’m not using any sample based VSTs it works perfectly.


Cool. Whereabouts in Wales are you? I’m Cardigan based myself, but Welsh Floyd is more Swansea area


Swansea. I’ll keep a look out!


I’ve been using Cantabile for the same thing, for a few years. Definitely do audio tracks and avoid midi/ VST, your cpu load will be much lower. I’ve run up to 8 audio tracks plus 2 or 3 midi tracks all in Cantabile, no issues. But I typically have just 4 mono audio tracks all going to FOH, and a couple midi tracks to switch my guitar rhythm/lead/effects (no more trying to remember which stompbox button to push!), and to switch the mixer scene (no soundguy needed, we have a saved mix for each song). So premix everything as best you can.

For a backing track scenario Cantabile is the best out there… I love it. And definitely play with other things you can do with midi tracks… some guys are programming their light show and running it from a single midi track… something I’ve been planning to do when I get the time.


@twaw We’ve stepped into the automation realm too with the transport triggers, and we do the lights via Cantabile to QLC+. I love the idea of switching scenes on the mixer, hadn’t thought about that. What mixer are you using?


Cool. Yeah, I got a little Logidy UMI3 foot pedal (very small, 3 switches, fully programmable) for start/stop, next song, previous song. I have a Presonus StudioLive 16.0.2. Up to 99 user-stored scenes.

But there are pros and cons to this method. If I were to do it again, I wouldn’t do one mixer scene per song, I’d try to stay with just one scene/ mixer setting if possible, or maybe just 2 or 3. The reason is, to make a global change for all songs, it’s impossible… you have to adjust each song. Supposedly you can make global changes in the included VSL software (which connects the board to a computer via Firewire), but it just never worked right. Unfortunately I discovered this after I’d already done 40 songs, so it was too late. This is probably a function of the particular board, and I think there are other boards out there that will do the same thing, but also allow global changes. Heck, I think even Presonus’s more expensive boards do it properly, but for some reason it doesn’t work for my board.

Alternatively, you can automate a few other mixer functions, which are often quite handy… effect changes, effect on/off, main volume, and the like. This works well without any cons I can think of… each Cantabile song has it’s own midi track for that, so there’s no need to change the mixer’s scene for each song. And I can insert a command at the end of the song to revert the effects or whatever back to “normal”.

I learned quickly that backing tracks require very careful mixing and EQ, if you want it to sound as great as possible. My Scuffham S-Gear amp modeler lives in Cantabile, along with a Midi Sax. So I’m mixing more than just backing tracks, and EQ was crucial. Most of our tracks are Keyboard pads, and rhythm guitar during my lead solos, sometimes rhythm guitar thorughout, with the occasional effect or doubled vocal line. I ended up with 1 scene per song because I did virtual mixes, sans sound guy: we recorded our rehearsals and gigs via Firewire (unprocessed signal) and the Capture software that came with the mixer. Then on playback it sends it via Firewire back to the mixer. This allowed me to check mixes later by myself, and do a “virtual soundcheck”… playback the gig, call up the correct song on the mixer, and mix just as if I was mixing live, then save the song’s scene. That’s really handy, and I used it for channel EQ, effects, and level balance… allows you to really mix it well, getting all the instruments with the right EQ, sitting just right in the mix.

Got the mixes to sound amazing… practically studio quality. And I did it relatively quickly. At the gig I then use the Master 31 band EQ on the board globally, to ring the room and get the FOH sounding it’s best for the room and my mixes. I can even playback another gig or rehearsal and see how my virtual mixes are translating to the particular venue. This works far better than I thought it would, and it’s perfect to get the best mix possible without a sound guy (BTW I’m not against soundguys, I love them, but with this method we never have issues with FOH, IEM mixes, or anything else… it’s consistently great. And one less guy to book.)

BUT… and this is a big But… while the mixes are great and 100% consistent, I think I could have come pretty darn close by making all my adjustments in Cantabile. Yes, it would have been far more time consuming, requiring a lot of trial and error… but at least a global change would be easier (like the lead singer getting a new mic needing new EQ).

Now, if I could somehow SYNC Cantabile on my gig laptop, to the recorded gigs on my studio PC, then I could make all adjustments in cantabile and still do my virtual mixing. AFAIK Cantabile 2 Solo (which I’m still using!) doesn’t accept midi timecode or SMPTE or anything I can sync to. Hmmmm… just realized I’ve never asked Brad that… maybe I will.
Rock on…


Whoa, I figured something like that. I’ve got the XAir-18 which supports scenes, but I think only does up to 32.
The only changes I’m currently making on the mixer are muting the effects and muting 1-16 during breaks using Cantabile to run .bat files that generate OSC and communicate with the router via Ethernet.

My band is silent stage, the levels from the instruments stay the same all night, so I don’t really have a need to go down the path you trod, but props for taking it to the extereme!


Hm, after reading all this I’m considering doing the test also to skip my reaper live setup for my Depeche mode tribute.

Some questions keep rising:

  1. How can i run videos flawless with every song. I’ve been looking into it before.
    Could the be a way to run video from the media player

  2. Editing the midi from the media player, is this possible or maybe open the daw to edit when double clicking the part? Because i have many pc and cc changes also in song parts, would be handy for edit.

  3. Is there a way to have a live view where in the song part we are? In reaper i have colored item blocks that’s shows what part to play on.
    It could even do some karaoke countdown bar if wanted.

I think c3 has the advantage that it can quick change songs, plus the remote screen is handy for my fellow musicians to follow song position


I just ran into something interesting:
I create all of my backing tracks on my desktop DAW(s) and test everything in Cantabile on that machine. I set the output on all songs with the slider/meter on the Output Ports Bar (to have all of the gain in the same ballpark).

I moved everything over to my laptop and opened each of the songs to test for playback and levels. Interestingly, most of the audio was 6dB to 9dB hotter on my laptop! :thinking: