Use Apple Main Stage Live in Concert

I am preparing for the album release tour this spring. Apart from new songs and new choreographies, I will try to establish a new setup on stage. In this article I describe why I want to expand my stage gear with Apple’s Main Stage 3, how I plan to do it and what I expect from it in the future. I hope this can give you some inspiration for your own live setup.

Why

So why should I even bother to use Main Stage in a band concert? You might have reasons for doing or not doing it. Here are my pros and cons.

Pro Main Stage live:
- I can use studio sounds and FX exactly as they appear on the album. Not only does make the sound of album and live concert more coherent, but it can save me a lot of time programming and recreating studio-like sounds on my live keyboard.
- I don’t have to bring multiple keyboards or a rack of synths to the gig – a laptop is all I need. I’m also no big fan of having stacked keyboards in front of me that create kind of a „wall“ separating me from the audience – I like to perform and see my audience :).
- Vastly broadened possibilities sound- and effectwise. Software instruments are cheaper, easier to program and often nowadays more powerful than hardware synths.

Con Main Stage live:
- I like to keep it simple: One keyboard, two DIs, that’s usually it. I don’t want to carry a lot of gear to the gig and then manage that tech park like a several admin on stage. Instead I want to make music and perform.
- A laptop is fragile. That thing was not built for stage life.
- Fear about stability. Not that a Mac would not be a reliable machine, but a drop out or lost connection in the middle of a concert is nothing I want to experience. My gear should work 100% of the time.
- Complex bug hunting. The complexity of a setup increases exponentially with the number of devices you add. I certainly don’t want to go hunting for that error in the routing for an hour right before the show. Stage routing is already complex enough.

So, again, why do I want to schlepp a laptop on stage? Well, the pros and cons are pretty balanced; so I simply want to try it out and gather some more information about whether this is a good idea ;).

How

My current setup is a Clavia Nord Stage 2 keyboard, which fulfills most of my needs in any situation. I play it on a very stable stand, which allows me to perform like crazy on stage (see the video starting around 3:30 for illustration) without breaking anything (except for the bruises and blisters on my hands ;)).

To add a 15“ MacBook Pro (MBP) to this setup, I shopped around for a stable case to protect it from all the stage threats. I settled for a SKB case. It protects the laptop during transportation and still offers some protection when the device is in use on stage. For even more protection of this „not made for stage life“ laptop I plan to place it far away from the action and use long cables to connect it to my keyboard. I will have to control everything remotely because of that, but I wouldn’t want to fiddle around on a computer on stage anyhow.

The MBP runs Apple’s Main Stage 3, which should allow me to use almost any software instrument and to program elaborate setups that are remote controllable via MIDI from my keyboard.

As software instruments I will start with Native Instrument’s Kontakt and Spectrasonics Omnisphere synth. This should give me enough options for cool and nasty sounds live.

The audio interface will be a Roland Quad Capture with two line inputs, two line outputs and the usual MIDI pair.

For the signal path I plan to keep it simple. Connect the MIDI out of my Nord Stage 2 to the MIDI in of the audio interface. Connect the audio output of the interface to the DIs for FOH.

Then I see two options for the audio output of the Nord Stage itself: either a) send it directly to FOH and let the audio engineer mix my two stereo signals or b) send it to my audio interface and mix it on the MBP with the software instruments. Option a) is simpler for me, more flexible for the audio engineer and more robust in case the laptop freezes. Option b) gives me more control over the balance between the sounds, saves two channels for the audio engineer and gives me the opportunity to put FX on the Nord Stage sounds. After talking to our audio engineer, I will start with option b) and see out it plays out.

Future

Apart from the added MBP on stage, I am also been incorporating a Roland AX–7 keytar into my live performance during the last year. This keytar runs on batteries and transmits MIDI wirelessly via a transmitter and receiver to my Nord Stage MIDI input. This setup should also work flawlessly with my new setup for this year.

We’ll see how this experiment goes and I will keep you posted about what I experience. Maybe my struggles can help you find your perfect setup. By the way: what is your live setup? It would be great, if you could post your live setup in the comments.

Matthias Orgler

I play music on stages and in studios :). My passion is to help other musicians wherever I can. With www.gixtra.com I want to make gigging easier and with my "Real World Music Theory" series I want to make music theory fun to learn.

2 comments

  • So, how did it work out? Are you satisfied with the setup? Same problem with me. Not sure if I should continue using MainStage + master keyboard or switch to a more stable setup with a standalone keyboard, e.g. a Nord Electro. Can you give an update pls?

    • I have been using this setup for some time now. It works great in general! I have everything programmed so I don’t have to concern myself with the laptop on stage. The only drawback I notice is the longer time to set up my gear on stage.

      Things that occasionally happen to me on stage are, that I routed the audio output of my laptop to a different audio interface (while working in the studio) and forgetting to change it back. But I notice that during soundcheck and can fix it with a few clicks. I had no crashes so far. But the playback instrument in mainstage would sometimes not play a sample on the first attempt – it then works the second time and from there on. Maybe the developers of Mainstage can fix this and have the playback instrument preload samples when the concert is loaded.

      I also route my keyboard signal directly through the interface. This is a precaution, so that I can still play my keyboard even when the software should crash (which did not happen yet). The drawback here is that I have to set the correct (balance of) levels for the keyboard audio and the Mainstage audio. As my interface has hardware buttons for this, I have to adjust them for each new soundcheck. With this setup I also cannot use any Mainstage effects to alter my keyboard audio, but that is acceptable for me.

      All in all this setup with Mainstage has been in use for many many shows now and it works great.

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