Live primer: Using Native Instruments Maschine+ onstage

(Image credit: Native Instruments)

BACK TO LIVE: Want to ditch the laptop without losing all the conveniences of a DAW? NI’s standalone Maschine might just be the perfect middle ground.

What is it?

After years of wishful forum posts, in 2020 NI finally unveiled the first truly standalone Maschine that can be used independently of a computer. With its quad-core CPU and bespoke Linux operating system, Maschine+ lives up to the promise of a fully integrated beatmaking experience, albeit limited on the plugin front to a selection of ‘classic’ NI tools. Like the current generation MPCs though, Maschine+ can also work in controller mode, for limit-free desktop operation.

Why use it on stage?

As with the MPC Live/One, Maschine+ is a good bridge for those who want to be laptop-free onstage but with the convenience of modern software. Its system of Groups, Patterns and Songs provides plenty of flexibility for breaking down tracks so they can be triggered live - whether launching patterns, finger drumming, performing melodies on the pads, or any mix of the above. The touchstrip controller Perform FX are great for on-the-fly tweaking too.

Any downsides?

Compared to similarly priced/sized instruments, Maschine+ is a bit lacking in I/O (just one MIDI out and one MIDI in, along with a single master output, stereo pair line in and mic input). There are two USB ports that can expand the I/O though, via USB-equipped MIDI gear or a compatible audio interface such as NI’s Komplete Audio devices. Some onboard tools, like Prism, can put a strain on standalone CPU, so stress-test projects before taking them out live!

Setup ideas

Limited support for NI’s Maschine Jam controller has been added to Maschine+ as of the latest firmware update, which may make for a powerful on-stage pairing. Jam is a little different from most Maschine controllers, trading the standard MPC-inspired design for a grid of 64 smaller buttons. In practice, when connected to Maschine+’s USB ports, Jam can trigger and arrange similarly to Ableton Live’s Session View. Jam’s eight, fader-like touchstrips can manipulate Perform FX across multiple Groups at once.

Live tips and tricks

Replace your looper pedal

While Maschine+ boasts plenty of DAW-level synthesis, sampling and arranging capabilities, one of its most handy uses in the live sphere is as a replacement for a humble looper pedal. Enter sampling mode and set recording parameters to Loop and Sound to emulate the workflow of a classic looper, whereby users can create up to 15 overdubs on top of an original loop, each assigned its own Audio device across the 16 tracks of a Group. Hook a pedal up to the input on Maschine+’s rear for foot control.

Make the most of wireless syncing

Maschine+ is equipped with Ableton Link, so it can be wirelessly sync’d to compatible software running on a laptop or iOS device - a handy way to sync two machines on stage without a full-on MIDI/USB connection. Even if you don’t have access to a venue’s wifi network, this can be done using an ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network.

Pick your plugins

Unlike Akai’s MPCs, Maschine+ puts no limits on track counts in standalone mode. However, going too hard with synths and effects can risk artefacts or even a crash. For live purposes, consider what plugins you really need to leave active, and what you could potentially bounce down to audio. 

Is your lead riff a Massive synth part running through compression, reverb and a virtual tape delay? Consider bouncing it down to an audio loop with all but the delay ‘baked in’, so that you’re not taxing the CPU but can have that final effect running live, allowing you to tweak and edit for a little live ‘ear candy’.

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