I love using Mainstage 3 live when I’m playing worship sets, and this week I thought I’d run through the details of a recent gig I had where Mainstage came in handy. Here’s how I used Mainstage to help me get the job done:
About 3 weeks ago I got a call from a megachurch near St. Louis- they had a keyboardist that couldn’t make it because of illness, and they wondered if I would step in and help. I said yes, they sent me the setlist, and I started practicing hardcore for weekend services.
Practice and Notes
Since I was replacing someone last minute, I would only have about two chances to practice before I got onstage with the band. Fortunately the set was only 5 songs, and I already had played two of them before. I’d have to focus, but if I could bust my butt I knew I’d be ready for first service on Saturday.
I decided to go old school, and pulled out pen and paper for a bit of tune charting. I use the Nashville Numbers system, and I also made some quick notes about patches, licks, transitions, and key signatures. Sometimes I opt to write the charts in Mainstage themselves, but I knew with only 5 songs I’d be memorizing them and leaving my notes at home. Once I’d worked the tunes I didn’t know out on the piano, it was time to dig into programming.
Picking My Rig
I wasn’t sure exactly what they would want me to cover keys-wise, so I needed to make sure my rig was super flexible and fast to change on the fly. I opted to go with my Nord Stage for all of my pianos, rhodes, and organs, and let Mainstage cover my pads and other instruments.
To keep things simple, I’d be using the Nord’s Extern section to control Mainstage. I’d send the audio from my Nord Stage into my MOTU Microbook II, which would then send a stereo output to a DI box. Here’s how I wired it:
I fired up Mainstage on my laptop and did a quick Spotlight search. Sure enough, I had presets saved from the last time I played the songs, and I loaded them into Mainstage. Since I’d be splitting duties between Mainstage and my Nord, I stripped out the piano, rhodes, and organ sounds from the Mainstage patches.
I created a folder in Mainstage for each song, and put in my patches:
When I’m playing live, I want to be able to switch between several sounds to see what works best. I ran through each song a couple of times while tweaking presets until I was pretty happy with the patches.
The last step was a little added time saver onstage- I set my Nord Stage’s Extern section to send a program change message to Mainstage. This would allow me to select a patch when I change my patch on the Nord, keeping both items in sync live. I checked the patches one more time, and packed all my gear for the road.
I drove the 5 hours from Nashville to St. Louis, and took a few more listens to the songs. I stopped for dinner beforehand (I always recommend eating before a gig, not after), and still got to the church early. I set up all my gear onstage and when the rest of the band walked in, I was ready to go and sound checked.
Rehearsal went really smoothly. The worship leader was running tracks live, and I quickly learned I wouldn’t have to cover a lot of the arpeggiated synths. I muted a few of the sounds from Mainstage that I didn’t need, and readjusted the volumes.
Also, I realized as we started playing that the guitar player wasn’t late, but gone for the weekend on vacation. I quickly dialed up a CP 70 electric piano on my Nord Stage, and used it to fill in some of the licks played by the guitar on the record. I used a volume pedal connected to my Nord to sweep in pads and synths in Mainstage, adding more dynamics to the sounds while I played CP70 sounds over the top of them.
The only tech problem I ran into was a simple one- I had a sustain pedal who’s polarity was flipped, making Mainstage sounds sustain when my foot was off the pedal. A couple of menu tweaks later, and I was back in business. We finished up some last tweaks, and headed to the back for coffee.
The Worship Set
15 minutes before we headed onstage, the pastor said that he likes having piano played over the end of the message. It was too late for me to get onstage to build a piano/pad preset, but I went ahead agreed to play behind him for the last 5 minutes of the message. Everything went great with the set- the band was tight and their were no glitches of any kind. Pre-stress testing your rig pays off huge dividends in stability onstage.
When I was called back up for the message closing, I slipped behind the Nord Stage, went to Live Mode, and grabbed the first piano sound I could find. I then quickly selected a stock pad sound from Mainstage that I used on a previous song, and gradually brought the volume up with the foot pedal. Instant piano and pad. I doodled on some chords until the pastor finished his sermon. Teardown was accomplished in about 10 minutes, and I was off to the hotel for a quick sleep before tomorrow’s service at 7 AM.
The one-two punch of a great hardware synth and a software program as robust as Mainstage makes for a killer rig. It’s fast, flexible, and powerful enough to make you stand out in a good way sonically. Most importantly, it gets out of the way- I never had to worry about the it crashing or glitching on me live, and instead got to focus on gelling with the other musicians onstage, and doing something very few musicians usually can do onstage: worship God without distraction.