Why I Use MainStage Instead of a Synth
by Joel Endicott
As a keyboard player, the sounds I use are very important to me, as well as how easily I can control them during a worship service. Today’s modern keyboard synthesizers are incredibly powerful and sound fantastic. So why do I use a $29.99 program instead of a $2500 workstation? In a word: Flexibility.
MainStage is an amazing stand-alone piece of software from Apple (www.apple.com/mainstage) that comes with about 40 GB of sounds, loops, and effects. If you already own a Mac laptop, it’s a no-brainer to pick this up for the incredible price of $30. Then, just add a USB keyboard (I use the M-Audio Axiom 61, though any keyboard with a USB out should work) and an audio interface (such as a Presonus Audiobox) to get the sound out of your Mac and you’re set to play live music out of your laptop.
For a typical Sunday morning, I’ll set up the patches (sounds) I need on the left column of the screen. I can put them in order of the songs we’re doing, making for an easy single button press to go from song to song. Each patch has immense possibilities for how many softsynths I want to use as well as plug-ins to process the sound.
My typical set-up:
For example, a patch I use all the time is a piano sound along with a synth pad. Each sound gets it’s own channel strip (the columns on the right) which allows separate processing of the sounds and autonomous control from my keyboard. I have each volume level assigned to different sliders on my keyboard, so that as the song fades out I can lower the level of the piano, leaving just the pad, and go right into underscoring a prayer. Another nice feature is that when you change from patch to patch there is no “hiccup” of sound – you hear the previous patch fade out as your new patch starts playing. This is so important in making smooth transitions between songs.
In my next article we’ll look at how to set up some basic patches and give you a visual overview of the app.