Mainstage Mondays: Setting Up a Hybrid Software/Hardware Keyboard Rig

I got this note from a musician this week about setting up a Mainstage rig: 


Hi Eric,


I am the keyboardist for my church which is undergoing a huge sound equipment upgrade. I have the following items but can't figure out how to make it all work with Mainstage:


Nord Stage 2 (76 keys)

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

Macbook Pro 13"

Mainstage 3


I’ll be testing everything at home and then implementing everything at church.


Please I just would like someone knowledgeable in this subject to walk me thru this. Thanks! 


Thanks for writing! This is a very similar setup to what I do. Let’s walk through how to set it up from the ground up. Before you start, you will need a midi interface (these can be really cheap- check out this one on ebay)


1. Setup


Setup your audio interface and MacBook Pro first, followed up by the Nord and a stand (not mentioned in the description, but I’m assuming you have this). I would recommend putting your laptop on a small table to the side of your Nord keyboard, so you don’t have to worry about stepping away from your keyboard to adjust Mainstage parameters. 


I personally use a keyboard stand with a laptop mount on top so I have everything I need in a single stand, but I had my laptop on the side for years before I upgraded. 


2. Connect Your Gear


• The power cord for both the Nord and MacBook Pro

• The midi interface into the Nord’s midi out port (you’ll want to plug the cable marked “in” into the Nord. Think of it as water flowing through your midi cable into the computer one way, out from your Nord.) 

• A USB cable into the audio interface


3. Midi Routing


Now comes the fun part. Open up Mainstage, and select the Focusrite as the audio interface that works with Mainstage. Select a Mainstage Concert, then go to the Layout Mode (Command-1). 


Turn on the “Extern” section of your Nord Stage, and play the Nord keyboard. Now click on the keyboard in the Layout Mode of Mainstage, and select “Learn” in the LH corner of the screen. If your midi interface is configured correctly, you should be able to control Mainstage using your Nord now. 


4. Audio Routing


There are two ways to proceed from here: you could either send an audio signal from Mainstage and the Nord separately on two channels, or you could route your Nord into your Focusrite’s input and then send it merged in a single feed to the FOH mixer from there. Here are the general advantages and drawbacks of each setup:


• Routing two separate outputs give you built-in redundancy if your computer crashes during a service, and you have to reboot. The drawbacks are that you have to be more careful about balancing patch levels, and some audio engineers may not have enough mixer channels to accommodate you. Also, they may get confused as to what you’re sending on which channel, and accidentally screw up the mix (don’t ask me how I know).


• Merging both your Nord and your Mainstage Concert into a single output gives you complete control over levels, simplifies your output to FOH, and gives you a way to check your levels by plugging in a pair of headphones into your headphones out on your Focusrite. The downside is, if your computer crashes you’ll lose both feeds. Also, you’ll have to read a bit of the documentation for your Focusrite 2i2 to figure out how to passively send your Nord’s audio through your audio interface. 


A couple of things to note:


• You’ll want to plug into your Nord’s main outputs, and if you’re running in mono (using one cord instead of two), you’ll want to plug into the left output.


• To control Mainstage with your Nord keyboard, you’ll need to have the “Extern” section of your Nord activated, and keys mapped. 


• If you can’t get your midi connection to connect, experiment with the way you’ve plugged in your midi interface. Even now, I find myself making mistakes on which input I should use! 




Once you get this configured, you’re going to have an incredibly powerful, pro-grade rig that will last you for years to come. Good luck! 

   My keyboard rig is actually very similar to the one described above. I usually run a Nord Stage, 2nd tier midi controller, and a laptop running Mainstage at most shows. 


My keyboard rig is actually very similar to the one described above. I usually run a Nord Stage, 2nd tier midi controller, and a laptop running Mainstage at most shows.