Setting Up a Mainstage Rig For Your Worship Band

I recently received an email about setting up a Mainstage rig for use in worship music- since many of you are using/planning on using Mainstage 3 live at your church, I decided you all might benefit from hearing my response. Tony writes:

Hi Eric,

I am a church musician in the Bahamas and came across your blog recently. I own a motif xs and recently have been considering purchasing an ipad2 16gb along with Mainstage to enhance worship in church. However, I am completely lost as to how to go about developing a simple rig for church. Trying to see if I could get any type of help.


Hi Tony,

Mainstage is a great platform for worship music, and is especially powerful when you pair it with a hardware-based keyboard like the Motif XS. Here's what you'll need to run Mainstage live on Sundays:

Mac Computer

I'd recommend a laptop, although a desktop will work. you can pick up a Mac Mini if you're squeezed for budget- they can go as low as $599, and sometimes even cheaper if you get it refurbished from the Apple online store. Remember to get the fastest computer you can afford- Mainstage eats your CPU and memory at an insane level.

Midi Controller 

While this might not be necessary if you plan on controlling Mainstage with the Motif XS or similar keyboard, you definitely might consider getting one if for no other reason than having a second tier keyboard to put over the top of your main rig.

For instance, I often use a M-Audio or a Novation keyboard placed on top of a Nord Stage keyboard, that I use for my organs, pianos, electric pianos, and other meat and potatoes sounds.

This helps you to keep from switching patches too often during a song. I often have all of my pads and ethnic instruments programmed on my top tier keyboard controlling Mainstage, and my piano and organ sounds down below on my Nord. Then instead of switching all the sounds midway through the set, I simply reach to the upper keyboard.

I often program Mainstage to switch all the sounds on my Nord and on Mainstage using program change messages (check the Mainstage manual to figure this one out) which can make it much simpler to change all your sounds with a single press of a button.

Audio Interface 

While you can definitely use a little 1/8th to 1/4th inch adapter to get the sounds out of your computer to the FOH mixer, I would highly recommend you invest in a decent audio interface to translate the sounds from Mainstage, and send an analog signal to your DI box. Every professional I've ever met uses one of these for reliable, consistently stable audio signal output- it'll also keeps your audio from weird drops and spikes that occur when using adapters.

You can pick up a decent audio interface for under $100 here. Take your pick- I recommend almost all of them for audio output, minus Pro Tools interfaces (too much latency) and Behringer (really unstable audio drivers, creating drops in your audio). Top of my list is anything by MOTU and Focusrite- I toured with them for years and had no problems. If you want to hook up a midi-only keyboard to your system, make sure that you get one with midi in and out. 

Extra Stuff

You'll definitely need all of the following: 

• At least 1 instrument cable (2 for stereo output. If you choose to run mono, make sure that you make your master output track a mono track.)

 • 2 USB cables (the longer, the better.)

• Sustain Pedal

• 2 midi cables, if you choose to control a main keyboard via midi messages with Mainstage. 

• Stand for laptop and keyboard



Quickly, here's how to put it all together: 

1. Set up your stands, then put your keyboards on them. 

2. Plug in a USB cable to your audio interface and midi controller. Connect the USB cables to your Mac.  

3. Plug in your sustain pedal to the sustain pedal jack on your midi controller.

4. Plug your instrument cable into the output channel 1 on your on your audio interface. Add channel 2 if you're running stereo (if you have issues, just use the headphones out jack for the time being, and refer the the documentation for your audio interface.)

5. Launch Mainstage. Load the program you want to use.

6. Under file>preferences, make sure your audio interface is selected as the main output for your Mainstage sounds. 

7. Hit Command-1. Click the onscreen keyboard, and click the "Learn" button on the RH side of the screen. Play your midi controller to set it as your master keyboard. 

8. Hit Command-2. Select the track you want to use, and play. You should be good to go.

Note: the only thing I didn't include in this list is a speaker- I'm assuming that you'll be using your church's speaker and monitor system. 

Good luck!