By Eric Barfield
I got a call from a Nashville group- they needed a keyboardist to sub in for three dates on a tour. Was I free? I quickly jotted down the details and blocked out the dates on the calendar. These guys are really talented musicians, and I know I need to bring my A game.
I check my email and open up the set list for the shows. There are about 40-50 songs, and a lot of keys-heavy tunes. I see Bruno Mars, a few originals, even a bit of modern country. Thankfully their are detailed Nashville numbers charts for all the songs- that’s going to make my job a lot easier.
I start downloading the charts and fire up MainStage. I’m going to be using a Nord Stage 2 as my main keyboard, but the majority of the sounds are going to be with MainStage. I’ll be using my Native Instrument’s Kontrol 61S, so I fire up the MainStage template built for it. I’m going to need to have my charts in front of me, so I modify the template a little to display chord charts (you can download it free here).
I open the Vintage Instruments Bundle, and drop in some of the patches that I think I’ll need for the gig (I’m not loading them all to keep more RAM free). Then I make a Set folder for every song with the charts loaded in. I also have Spotify open, and as I practice the charts I add each song to a playlist for further listening.
The first pass through I focus on just getting the parts right, and I’m using a basic brass on my 2nd tier and a piano on my Nord. I go through the whole set, taking notes (including notes about the sounds).
After running everything once, I go through the set again and start building the patches. I drop in the sounds I need into each Set folder. From there I make minor tweaks to the sounds to make them fit the exact sounds in the tracks. I make notes about what I’m going to be playing on my Nord, and I’ll be switching manually between patches.
After a 3 hour bus ride, we show up in Louisville, KY at Churchill Downs for the gig. The Kentucky Derby is the next week, and we’re part of the pre-event ramp up. We load in, and I set everything up.
Live I’m using an MOTU AudioBox audio interface, a 2.6 GHz MacBook Pro with 8 GB of RAM, and an Ultimate Support single column stand with a laptop mount on top. Set up takes about 15 minutes, which is a little longer than I’d like. I think I might sometime in the future build a custom keyboard case where I can leave everything plugged in to speed up setup.
I’m using MOTU’s CueMix software for monitoring, and running an XLR input from the monitor mixer to the Audiobox. To avoid feedback, I’m creating a two separate mixes with one for front of house and one for me. This allows me to independently adjust my levels and panning without changing what I’m sending to front of house.
Sound check goes pretty smoothly, and just to be safe I restart my computer right before the set. The show goes great, with the MainStage sounds rocking it live. The only thing I would change is the speed of patch changes- since I’m having to adjust the Nord Stage separately, I’m a little slower than I should be. Next show I’m going to have MainStage send a program change message to dial in the right sound automatically.
After the gig I had several of the musicians specifically compliment the MainStage sounds. “Beefy” and “sick” are adjectives that come up. I smile and thank them. We hop on the bus and head back to hotel.
MainStage has some really amazing features that help a working musician build and manage a huge setlist, especially if portability is important. I really like having all of the knobs automatically mapped to useful parameters so I can make on the spot tweaks, and the sounds in the Vintage Instruments Bundle have enough variety that it lets me get my classic keyboard sounds really close to the originals really fast.
Even running over 100 patches my MacBook Pro did a great job, and while the spinning color wheel did pop up a few times, there were never any glitches with the sound. I’m definitely using it on my next gig, and will continue to integrate it in the future.