Soundfonts in Live (Part 1)

The VSTi soundfont player rgc:audio sfz (for Windows) plus the new release of Ableton Live 4.0 is turning out to be a fantastic pairing thanks to solid engineering on both sides. (A new bismark bs-1 for OS X was just released but I haven’t tried it in Live.)

Adding soundfont playing to Live is a welcome development and through Live’s new complex but powerful virtual cabling this setup is the environment to beat in terms of fun an productivity.

The free VSTi soundfont player rgc:audio sfz (for Windows) plus the new release of Ableton Live 4.0 is turning out to be a fantastic pairing thanks to solid engineering on both sides. (A new bismark bs-1 for OS X was just released but I haven’t tried it in Live. Everything in this tutorial should work the same way using that or any other VSTi soundfont player.)

Adding soundfont playing to Live is a welcome development and through Live’s new complex but powerful virtual cabling makes it the environment to beat in terms of fun an productivity.

I’ve spent the last few days learning the virtual cabling and in the process figured out how to have one instance of sfz serve as the target of 16 different MIDI parts. If you load a multi-instrument soundfont like the excellent Reality GM set (found on this page search for ‘reality’) you can get a whole orchestra, rock band, or techo rave going with very low overhead above the actual SF2 file.

In order to pull this off you need to set things up in a very particular way:

  1. Drag the sfz VSTi plugin into an empty MIDI track
  2. Select the name of the track and press Control-E to rename it (This step is optional byt very helpful for clarity.)
  3. Select Monitor ‘On’
  4. Double click in an empty slot any number of MIDI tracks. This creates empty MIDI clips to work with. After every thing is setup you can record or draw a MIDI pattern into these clips.
  5. Select the sfz track from the ‘MIDI to‘ drop down
  6. Select a different Track number for each clip’s track.

Next, call up the sfz plug-in to set up the soundfont:

  1. Load the soundfont file
  2. Select a channel number
  3. For each channel select an instrument

And you’re ready to go (!)

The thing to keep in mind is that the number in the MIDI to: Track drop down in Live matches the Channel setting in sfz, which in turn picks the instrument that will play for that track.

If you’re having problems you can download a simple Live project file but it should be pretty straightforward to do this if you follow the steps above.

The free version of sfz outputs all the sound into one pair of stereo outputs. You can load lots and lots of instances of the free sfz but things get very resource intensive (i.e. you will run out of memory) if you try this.

The “plus” version (sfz+) costs $71 USD and outputs eight stereo channels which is essential for any real world music session. I’ve loaded all eight channels in Live 4.0 using the plus version and the CPU meter never got above 11% — this is very, very good.

Read Part 2 to learn how to wire up the multi-channel version.

One thought on “Soundfonts in Live (Part 1)

  1. Heracleum

    Hi, I wonder if you could solve my problem:
    I’m not using rgc:audio sfz as a vst plugin, just as standalone sf2 player, in addition to MidiYoke (as Midi Cable Driver) and ASIO4all. All this to play my midifiles with better sounds, since mu audio card is a very basic SoundMax HD (integrated into motherboard).
    Now, actually it works great.
    The big problem is that while sfz is running, and a midi player (vanBasco) is playing, I can’t hear any other sound! For instance I can’t play any sound on the browser, I can’t record the midi playback on Audacity, I cannot run a Skype call/cast since the Audio Device is not available.
    So, is this normal?
    Or have I to configure better one of the application (early mentioned) to make it work without keeping the whole audio in/out busy/unavailable?

    Thanks in advance!
    Heracleum

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