Introduction to MainStage Keyboard Programming

December 26, 2017

Keyboard programming is definitely on the top ten list of the world’s most misunderstood trades. Most theatergoers have no clue it even exists, yet it’s one of the most important aspects of modern musical theatre productions.

Over the years, keyboard programming has evolved from primitive hardware synthesizers to complex software counterparts with infinite routing capabilities. Recently, Apple MainStage has become the most popular software solution for keyboard programming.

In this series, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at all the possibilities that MainStage offers, and how to integrate these concepts into your own keyboard programming.

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How to Use Reverb in MainStage

November 16, 2017

Using reverb is a great way to add ambience and atmosphere to your patches, and in most cases you’ll want to use what’s called a global reverb. This just means instead of having an individual reverb instance for each of your channel strips, you can set up one concert-wide reverb that you can send all your sounds to.

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Q: Should I Split Up a MainStage Concert?

November 5, 2017


Here’s a question from Ben S.

What is the largest MainStage concert you would recommend for someone to build, in terms of sets/patches/channel strips, relative to one’s Mac setup? I’ve been wondering about this as my band is gearing up to learn 60 songs from the 1980s to play live. I’ve been wondering if I should try to make just one concert (with backups of course!) or split them into a few.

Unfortunately, there’s no correct answer to this question because there are so many factors involved when it comes to MainStage performance.
Here’s what I can say.
First of all, you should have an appropriate computer for running MainStage. While it’s technically possible to use MacBooks and MacBook Airs for MainStage, it’s definitely not a reliable option for live performance.
Next, think about what virtual instruments you plan on using in the concert. 60 songs programmed with stock MainStage plugins will typically perform much better than third party plugins and sample libraries. If you can’t recreate a sound with MainStage’s stock instruments, consider using the handy AutoSampler plugin to sample other sound sources into EXS24 format.
Many channel strips have reverb and other audio effects built in. In most cases, you can definitely get rid of individual reverb instances, and use a global reverb for your whole concert instead. This saves a ton of CPU cycles.
For other effects like EQ, compression, etc… bypass the plugin and listen. Is the plugin even doing anything? If not, get rid of it. I can tell you there are many stock channel strips with EQs that are not equalizing anything.

A useless EQ.
So, to answer the question… if you have a MacBook Pro (or even a souped up Mac mini), you should have no problem running an optimized concert with 60 songs. A few years ago, I programmed an Off-Broadway show with hundreds of keyboard patches…and then we decided to use the Mac mini for live guitar processing via Amplitube as well. Optimizing that concert was tough, but it ended up working out.
The keyword is optimized.

  • Don’t program hundreds of patches with resource hungry plugins.
  • Don’t use individual reverb instances.
  • Don’t be afraid to use AutoSampler.
  • Don’t forget to use aliases.

Do you have question too? Ask me here.

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How to Delete Unused Audio Files in Logic Pro X

November 3, 2017

Learn how to remove unused audio files in Logic Pro X.

If the size of your Logic Pro X is getting too large, it may be a good idea to delete some of the unused audio files that have accumulated throughout the production process. Here’s how you can delete unused files in Logic Pro X.
Click on the Browsers button in the upper right hand corner, and then navigate to the Project tab.Click on the Edit button, and select Select Unused.
Press Delete to get rid of the selected unused audio files.
Next, go to Project/File Management/Clean Up.

Press OK to move the unused audio files to the recycle bin. Finally, save the project, and empty the recycle bin.

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How to Filter Volume Control in MainStage

October 23, 2017

If you’re using an expression pedal with MainStage, it’s usually mapped to MIDI CC#11, which controls a channel strip’s expression dial. While this method technically works, it’s not the ideal way to control volume in MainStage. The proper way to use an expression pedal is to map it to control your concert’s main outputs with a range of -∞ dB to 0 dB.

But what if you find yourself in a situation where you only want to control the volume of a single channel strip in a patch? By mapping the expression pedal to control various auxiliary buses, you can selectively apply volume control to different elements of a patch.

In the screenshot below, I have a patch containing two channel strips — Electric Piano and Strings. As you can see, expression control has been filtered out, thereby locking the channel strip’s expression dial at 127.

To control volume, I’ve mapped the expression pedal to control Output 1 – 2 with a range of -∞ dB to 0 dB at concert level.

Since both the Electric Piano and Strings are routed to Output 1 – 2, the expression pedal will control the volume for both sounds. In order to selectively control volume, I’d have to route each instrument to an individual output, and then map the expression pedal to the output I want to control.

Since I’m only using a two output audio interface, I can’t route each instrument to different physical outputs. Instead, I can use auxiliary buses to create “virtual outputs,” which can then be routed to Output 1 – 2.

To create an auxiliary bus, just right click on the output section of a channel strip and select a bus number. In the screenshot below, I’ve routed the Electric Piano to Bus 1 and the Strings to Bus 2.

After assigning the bus outputs, two concert level channel strips will be created — one with Bus 1 as the input, and the other with Bus 2 as the input. I’ve named Bus 1 channel strip “VC” (volume control), and the Bus 2 channel strip “NO VC” (no volume control). In other words, the “NO VC” bus will be used for sounds that don’t require volume control.

Next, I deleted the expression pedal mapping for Output 1 – 2, and replaced it with a mapping for the “VC” bus with a range of -∞ dB to 0 dB.

As a result, the expression pedal now controls the “VC” bus. The “NO VC” bus and Output 1 – 2 are unaffected. All channel strips that require volume control to be disabled can now be routed to the “NO VC” bus.

Keep in mind that the output setting carries over when aliasing channel strips, so be sure to create a new instance of a channel strip if you require selective volume control for just one specific patch in your concert.

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