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MainStage: A Crisis Of Faith

MainStage: A Crisis Of Faith

If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I love Apple's MainStage live performance program. But I’ve got to confess: I’ve been seeing other keyboards. Let me explain.


I still love MainStage. MainStage is the best software program on the market for playing live, and still have far superior samples in every category to most hardware synths. Literally, every sample library in MainStage is better than my Nord Stage’s samples (and Nord is top notch on most things). The Nord Stage also has some serious limitations: it only allows a single sample layer for anything but B3, rhodes, and pianos, and you’re essentially limited to a maximum of 6 layers of sounds, or two per instrument type. 


Their are two reasons I’ve been turning to the Nord Stage more: tweakability and stability. Let me tell a story to illustrate.


This last weekend I played a show in Mississippi with a country artist from Nashville. I had my Nord Stage and MainStage running. The Nord Stage 2 performed with flying colors- I made tweaks live easily, it was rock solid, and it took just 3 cables and 60 seconds to setup. 


MainStage didn’t do so well. During programming at home MainStage, dragging a mouse around a screen seemed so slow and tedious when I could reach out and grab a control on the Nord Stage. Also, the size of the sample libraries really bogged down the computer (and my computer is a blazing fast MacBook Pro). 


When I got to the venue, it took about 3 minutes to set up everything and launch the program. Their were 58 songs in the set and MainStage was running sluggishly, so I relaunched several times. The latency was terrible, and I just didn’t have time to tweak it live. I ended up ditching MainStage mid-set and programming on the fly with the Nord Stage for most of the patches. MainStage really, really let me down on that particular set. 


Does this mean that MainStage and I are over? Absolutely not. Like I said before, I still believe MainStage is the best live performance software on the market for keyboardists, and I still think it’s very useful in certain live situations. There were a couple of major problems with the gig that I did that played a role in MainStage not performing up to par: 


1. A massive setlist. With 58 songs with complex sample-heavy patches eating up CPU and memory usage, it’s no wonder that MainStage struggled. 


2. No external hardware mappings for quick changes live. I didn’t have time to program the onscreen controls to real knobs and faders, which would have made last minute tweaks much easier. 


3. No practice before the show. I didn’t have a chance to make modifications to the project, because I literally showed up and started playing. 


If your gig involves the same sort of issues, I’m thinking MainStage may not be the program for you. If you’re a church service, or you tour with a group that has a fixed, same-every-night setlist, MainStage is still probably the best option on the market. 


There, I said it. I know I’m risking cutting my own wrists with being this honest, but I had to let you know. What are your thoughts on MainStage? 


P.S. I believe Apple needs to focus on two serious revamps of this program to take it to the next level for these kinds of gigs. Here’s my list: 


1. Radically better CPU and memory optimization for large sets. They’ve got to figure out a way to keep even 100 songs loaded without bogging down your computer. I could see a system that dynamically shut down FX and VST instruments when they’re not making sound to reduce the load. 

2. Better instrument loading. There should be a way to drag and drop channel strips into MainStage, and maintain all instrument mappings to knobs and faders. Eurorack-style interface for each channel strip, anyone? 

3. More intelligent mappings for controllers. There has to be a completely new way of handling mapping in MainStage, possibly through a tabbed instrument/FX specific interface that automatically updates based on what plugins you have.

Okay, I'll shut up now. MainStage users, what are your thoughts?

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