Seattle, WA - December 2018... Justin Kausal-Hayes is the perfect picture of the real-world working musician. Gigging five to seven days per week in and around Seattle, he works with various bands and as a solo acoustic singer-guitarist. Whether at a nightclub, coffee house, corporate function, or wedding, he has become inseparable from his new Mackie FreePlay LIVE ultra-portable personal PA."I'm an entertainer who tries to make people happy," says Kausal-Hayes."I do several solo acoustic shows per week, some in recurring venues, and my rig is just my vocal mic, my guitar, a couple of guitar effects pedals, a vocal harmonizer, a looper pedal, and the FreePlay LIVE. For a long time, I'd been using a soloist-oriented amp that's very popular with acoustic musicians but I switched to the FreePlay LIVE mainly because it's so compact and weighs just under nine pounds. When the weather is nice, I like to ride my motorcycle to gigs, and the FreePlay fits along with my guitar and pedals. I couldn't do that with the previous amp."
Kausal-Hayes found that despite the FreePlay LIVE's diminutive dimensions, the PA produced a surprisingly huge sound. "I have to admit the first time I looked at it, I thought about the room I was playing in that night and went, 'No way!' he admits. "But then I got there, plugged it in, and that changed to a 'Holy crap!' It fills a much larger room than you would expect it could." The FreePlay LIVE projected well enough to serve as an impromptu outdoor PA and saved the day-and possibly his reputation-at a recent wedding. "A couple of weeks ago, we were playing one of those weddings where there's a separate cocktail-hour jazz set in a different area," he recalls. "We had a PA set up on the main stage, and the keyboard player was supposed to show up with his gear for the cocktail set. Ten minutes before we were supposed to start, he still wasn't there. There was no cell phone signal where we were, so we couldn't reach him, and we didn't have time to take down the main PA and drag it across the field to where the cocktail set was. I realized I had the FreePlay in the car. I got it, plugged in my mic and guitar, and was able to perform some appropriate music. The guests were happy!"
Kausal-Hayes also appreciates being able to control every aspect of the FreePlay LIVE -including level, three-band EQ, and reverb send for its two XLR combo inputs and stereo auxiliary input - via wireless Bluetooth, using the FreePlay Connect app for his iPhone. (FreePlay Connect is also available for Android devices.) "I'm a pretty low-tech guy," he notes, "and FreePlay connect is very intuitive for me, like using a basic analog mixer. You have a nice, big fader for every input, then below each one, an EQ curve you can drag around and the reverb. Since it's just my vocal mic and my guitar output downstream of the pedals, it's perfect. Because I can save snapshots in the app, I can also have basic setups for all my recurring gigs at the same venues. I can load my Tuesday settings, or my Friday settings, or whatever, in an instant. I only have to tweak a little bit if, say, the room fills up with people. I have the FreePlay Connect app on both my iPhone and iPad as well, because often I have the iPad set up, so I can search for lyrics if someone requests a cover tune. With FreePlay Connect on my phone, I can walk around the room to see if I sound good and can make adjustments or play more intimately to the audience once I've set up a groove on the looper.
"The Mackie FreePlay LIVE is pretty amazing," Kausal-Hayes concludes. "It has made it easier than ever for me to do solo gigs, to just plug in and make music. And I mean it when I say it packs a powerful punch. I'd call it the nine-pound hammer, but I think that name is taken by a craft beer somewhere in Seattle!"