Follow Brian Li (@DecryptoBL) on Twitter.
Follow Brian Li (@bwhli) on Instagram.

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.

Continue Reading →

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.

Continue Reading →

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.

You may also be interested in…

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.

You may also be interested in…

How to Connect a Headphone Amplifier to an Audio Interface

October 24, 2017

There are many reasons why you may want to connect an external headphone amplifier to your audio interface. Perhaps you need more headphone outputs for a large recording session, or maybe your interface’s headphone amp isn’t providing enough clean gain for your headphones. In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to connect a headphone amp to your audio interface.

Audio interfaces typically have three kinds of sound output connections – line level (TRS or XLR), headphone, and digital (S/PDIF, ADAT, Ethernet, etc.). While all of these connections can be used to attach a headphone amp to an audio interface, they also offer varying levels of sound quality.

Headphone Output to Headphone Amp

The cheapest way to expand the number of headphone outputs in your system is to get something like Behringer MicroAMP HA400. To use this kind of device, use a TRS cable to connect your audio interface’s headphone output to the headphone amp’s input.

Behringer MicroAMP HA400 Headphone Amplifier

While this method is usually the cheapest solution, keep in mind it involves amplifying a signal that’s already been amplified by your audio interface’s internal headphone amp. This kind of setup is okay for casual tracking purposes, but I wouldn’t recommend it for professional monitoring.

ART HeadAmp6Pro Headphone Amplifier

Other headphone amps that take a headphone level input include the ART HeadAmp4 and ART HeadAmp6Pro.

Line Level Outputs to Headphone Amp

Feeding an un-amplified line level signal to a headphone amp will general result in better sound quality. These kinds of headphone amps take line level signal from your audio interface via TRS, XLR, or RCA cables, amplifies it, and distributes it to a single or multiple headphone outputs. This means you’ll still be able to use the built-in headphone output on your audio interface.

There are many headphone amps that take line level inputs, so choosing the right one really depends on your use case – professional quality monitoring or headphone distribution.

Professional Quality Monitoring

If you’re looking for higher quality amplification than your audio interface’s built-in headphone amp can provide, check out the Grace Design m920 or SPL Phonitor 2. These professional level amps sound incredible and provide a lot of clean gain for even the most power-hungry headphones.

SPL Phonitor 2 Headphone Amplifier

A more budget-friendly but still great sounding solution is the Grace Design m900, which takes RCA inputs. In order to use the m900 with your audio interface, you’ll need 1/4″ TS to RCA interconnect cables.

Grace Design m900 DAC & Headphone Amplifier

Headphone Distribution

If you want a higher quality way to add more headphone outputs to your setup, you’ll want to look into distribution amps that take line level inputs.

As opposed to the MicroAMP HA400 and HeadAmp6Pro which amplify a headphone level signal, these headphone amps amplify a line level signal, which results in better sound quality.

Aphex Headpod 4 Headphone Distribution Amplifier

I’d recommend taking a look at the Aphex Headpod 4, Presonus HP60, or Behringer HA8000 V2 depending on how many headphone outputs you need.

Presonus HP60 Headphone Distribution Amplifier

If you’re just looking for a simple and cost effective way to convert two line level outputs to a single headphone input for customized mixes, check out the Behringer Powerplay P1 Personal IEM Amplifier.

Behringer Powerplay P1 Personal IEM Amplifier

Digital Output to Headphone Amp

If you’re unhappy with your audio interface’s DAC chip, using a headphone amp with a digital input will enable you to bypass the interface’s conversion. Since many mid-tier audio interfaces feature digital connectivity (S/PDIF and ADAT), this is a great way to upgrade your monitoring quality without shelling out crazy money for a top of the line audio interface.

Professional Quality Monitoring

Both the Grace Design m900 and Grace Design m920 feature S/PDIF inputs. As long as your audio interface has a S/PDIF output, you’ll be able to connect it to these headphone amps using a S/PDIF coaxial cable.

Grace Design m900 DAC & Headphone Amplifier

The Grace Design m920 also features an ADAT input, so you can use a Toslink optical cable for connectivity if your audio interface has an ADAT output.

Grace Design m920 DAC & Headphone Amplifier

Digital connectivity can be confusing, so make sure to consult your interface’s manual if you’re unsure about what connection you can use. Alternatively, leave a comment below, and I’ll help you out. If you’re looking for audio interface recommendations with ADAT digital connectivity, check out the Focusrite Clarett 2Pre, MOTU UltraLite-mk4, and RME Babyface Pro.

Focusrite Clarett 2Pre Audio Interface

Headphone Distribution

Digital headphone distribution is often used in professional and specialized applications. Most of these systems enable you to create complex monitoring systems over a single Ethernet cable. If you’re interested in digital headphone distribution, check out Focusrite RedNet system, Aviom’s A360 system, and Behringer’s Powerplay system.

You may also be interested in…


Find me on Twitter, or send me an email.