MainStage Mondays: Three Ways To Design Your Keyboard Rig

I received this email from a blog reader this week: 


Hi Eric,


I had a question about your recent review of the various piano plug-ins that you wrote about. When you play live, do you usually use software piano sounds, or do you tend to mix the hardware sounds from your Nord with mainstage for synth/pads?






Hi Jeremy,


I use a variety of sound sources (i.e. software, keyboards), depending on the demands of the show. Let me give you three of my basic setups: 


1. All software


When I have to do a show that requires me to fly to the venue, it’s usually impractical to ship my keyboard. When this happens, I usually rely on a 100% software based setup, running MainStage 3 on my MacBook Pro. 


I have the fastest computer I could afford, with a Solid State internal drive (for the massive samples),16 gigabytes of RAM, and a 2.6 gigahertz dual core CPU. I use a MicroBook II from MOTU for my audio interface, and I’ll rely on either the venue to get me a midi controller, or bring along my trusty Novation SL 61 key.  


Airliners by law have to allow musicians to bring their guitar along with them, and I modded a guitar case into a keyboard case for this reason. 


Advantages: light, easy to haul around, great sound.


Disadvantages: Less hands on control. If you have a slower computer, you run the risk of overloading your CPU. 


2. Hybrid setup


I use my Nord Stage 2, my Novation controller, and MainStage together. This is usually my favorite setup, since it allows me to have the stability of a hardware keyboard, while not sacrificing the power of MainStage. 


I route everything in MainStage like I did in the all software option, but also use the usb connection with my Nord Stage to control MainStage. This allows me to layer both the Nord and MainStage together for rich sounds that could never be accomplished using either option alone. 


To finish things up, I route everything into a sub mixer or I occasionally use the Microbook’s audio inputs to create a summed audio signal I can send to the FOH mixer. 


Advantages: powerful, stable, and very flexible. 


Disadvantages: A little hard to setup at a venue quickly. 


3. All hardware


I generally go all hardware when playing acoustic shows, or venues where I need to setup super fast. I used this method last week when I played an acoustic set with Mikei Gray, and all I needed was my Nord Stage and about 30 seconds to plug in my cords. 


It’s not my first choice for more diverse sets, but it’s easy when you just need the basic piano, rhodes, and organs. 


Advantages: super fast setup. Hands on control.


Disadvantages: A little limiting on your sonic palette, depending on your keyboard. 

This video shoot with Mikei Gray was the rare exception where I used hardware only, in this case a single Roland Aira System-1 keyboard. 

This video shoot with Mikei Gray was the rare exception where I used hardware only, in this case a single Roland Aira System-1 keyboard.