In Cantabile 2, I used to have a “monster rack” with all possible instruments in it and with scenes/states for songs or song parts. With Cantabile 3, I have completely changed my approach: I usually have a basic starter template, which for me consists of a piano with an optional string layer on the lower keybard and an organ VSTi on the upper keyboard. It also includes all my basic routing, abstracted keyboards, pedals, master volume and effect racks, so that I can immediately start playing and editing.
Based on this song template, I can easily add other racks or replace the existing ones - building a song of standard complexity takes no more than a minute. It takes a bit more time when I need complex layers or multiple states with different instruments active or controller fades between states.
In addition to this, I have a “universal” song, which allows me to switch quickly between a basic set of bread&butter patches (10 for my upper keys, 10 for my lower keys, 8 guitar patches and 3 VoiceLive presets). This is great for rehearsals when trying out new songs without having to prepare Cantabile songs in advance. Given that I want to switch sounds independently for three separate playing sources (keys upper / lower, guitar), this song file is a bit complex, with a lot of Cantabile rack and route trickery (can’t use states, since these switch complete configuration, and not configuration of a subset).
So, usually, I start exploring a song in my “universal” configuration and then, once I’ve got my head around it, I build a dedicated Cantabile setup, based on my basic template, adding my instrument racks to taste, creating states for song segments where needed and fine-tuning the setup. My goal then is to have full “automation” of the configuration: load a song and start playing, using only my “red button” to step through states, with only very few faders for real-time adjustments (e.g. adjust solo volume when needed…)
One thing I’ve learned in my time with Cantabile: working with VSTi live is a different beast than working with them in a production environment. For a live setup, it pays to concentrate on a set of key instruments with a low CPU and RAM footprint for bread & butter. I certainly have a ton of synth plugins that I use in production, but for my live setups, I use only one or two virtual analogs, 2-3 “rompler-based” synths like M1 or Xpand (currently testing the Roland JV1080). In this space, mostly “good enough is good enough” for live - no need to manage a zoo of plugins for the last 5% of sound. I only use larger sample libraries for the few sounds I just can’t live without, which is mainly piano and a bit of brass. For the rest, I usually trade the last 5% of sound for CPU and RAM efficiency.
This has made my setup pretty lean and mean and fast-loading; plus, Cantabile thanks me with pretty much flawless stability…