MainStage3 is a music application developed by Apple Inc. that is designed for playing live. It features similar functions as many DAWs (Recording Programs) however its strength is to be able to apply effects and layer sounds to give palettes of fresh and expressive sounds to draw from while on stage. As the sound of popular praise and worship music has shifted to a more synth driven genre, MainStage is becoming an integral part of church platforms all around the world; replacing the need for churches to by expensive and quickly outdating keyboards. This article will take you through in 5 steps how to implement MainStage for keyboard players.

The Gear

MainStage is only available on Mac computers. If you don’t already have a Mac, this is a big step. But the investment is well worth it. Typically guitarist would spend $1000-$2000 on a quality guitar, the same on a nice tube amplifier and between $200-$500 per pedal, ending up with 5 or more. Now that music has shifted to be synth driven. Piano players should step up to the mark and invest in their gift. The following is the list of a gear to make a simple MainStage keyboard rig work well.

Apple MacBook Pro (recommended minimum: Processor i7
2.5GHz, RAM 8gb, HDD 512gb Solid State)

USB Controller Keyboard
It is possible to use existing keyboards by connecting it with a MIDI/USB cable. But depending on the model, it could have compatibility issues. USB Controller Keyboards work every time and are inexpensive, lightweight and portable. They are available in various sizes all the way up to semi-weighted 88-key versions. (Make sure it is capable to receive a sustain pedal)

Sustain Pedal

Sustain pedals come in 2 typical shapes; the big traditional style with the silver foot trigger or the
compact flat square type. Either will work fine, just make sure it has a Polarity switch on it. This will ensure it wo
ks correctly with any model of keyboard.

Korg Nanokontrol2

This is a great compact device that allows you to have extensive control over the sounds in MainStage. Though some Controller Keyboards have knobs and faders built in, anytime you move between keyboards, you are faced with the tedious task of reassigning the knobs faders and buttons. Having the Nanokontrol2 means you can take it with you anywhere and have all your saved settings operate just like your used to. They can be easily fixed to a keyboard with Velcro or tape.

DI Box (or USB Interface)
There are many ways to get the sound out of the laptop. Coming out of the Mac’s headphone port into good quality DI Box will do the job just fine. It won’t take up any USB ports and you can use the Macs volume as a master volume control. Most importantly

, it will protect your laptop’s sound card from being damaged by phantom power (48v) if it happens to be turned on while yor laptop is plugged in. Many users prefer a USB interface to pass the audio but unless you spend lots of money to get a high quality one, you won’t notice much difference. A USB interface becomes a necessity if you require to run the click (metronome) from MainStage. This requires an interface with 4 or more output channels.

Connecting It Together

Connect the keyboard into the computers
USB port. This allows the computer to receive to the information of the player pressing the keys. It will then convert this into Audio.

Connect the Nanokontrol2. Later in MainStage you can give the knobs, faders and button specific assignments to your needs.

Connect the audio. If using the
Mac’s headphone port, use the appropriate cable
to plugin into a DI box. Your sound person should be able to assist getting the sound out to the sound desk from there. If using a USB interface, you will need to select the Audio output before the Mac will send the audio to it. This can be done in the Macs settings under audio. Or a shortcut is to hold Option/Alt and click on the Volume icon in the top right of the screen.


MainStage3 can be downloaded directly from the App Store. The first time you open MainStage, it will ask you to download additional content. I recommend just ticking all the boxes and download the lot. So make sure you have lots of internet data and hard drive space available (around 50GB).

There are 3 sections in MainStage: Layout, Edit and Performance.

Layout Mode: This is where you setup the hardware to talk to the computer. Typically I lay out the controls on the screen in a visual representation of what I have in physically in front of me. Click here to view the template that I have already for the Nanokontrol2.

Edit Mode: This is where most of the time is spent. Here you can start building “patches” which is a preset you can create and give titles. The real power of MainStage is being able to layer sounds, move them around the keyboard and apply all types of effects. An amazing feature of MainStage is MIDI effect called “Chord Trigger” which allows you to program chords played by 1 finger. This frees up your hand to play a lead line or modulate effects and filters. A new expressive and dynamic way of playing the keyboard!

There is an expansive library of sounds for you to explore and started using in worship sets. There are few pianos to choose from as well many styles of synths and arpeggiated sounds that you can layer and customise as you please.

Performance Mode: This last section can be used while playing live. It basically blows up the screen so you can see more clearly and removes all the tech features for a cleaner look.

The Keyboard with Chris Lang DVD features lessons on how to setup and start using MainStage.


MainStage comes with a huge library of sounds that are downloaded during the install page. However, the use of third party plugins can greatly enhance the depth and expression that you produce. The most piano players would agree that there isn’t enough depth in the MainStage piano samples for them to be satisfied to let go of their digital piano. Native Instruments has an assortment of very expressive Piano’s available from they’re website (which will often be on a 50% off sale a couple times a year). My favourite of these for an around worship piano is Alicia’s Keys. The Giant and The Gentlemen are also worth a mention if your looking to expand your piano library even further.

The next plugin I highly recommend is Omnisphere by Spectrasonics.

This is a synthesiser plugin that comes with over 50GBs of sounds. They are presented in the most atmospheric and expressive way possible. Hunting through the 8000+ library of preset sounds is so inspiring that just listening to the samples evoke worship. The sounds are also highly customisable so you can achieve just about any sound you can imagine or even had never imagined. They have recently updated Omnisphere to Omnisphere 2 which has even more sounds and sophisticated way searching through and manipulating the sounds.

Spectrasonics also has Trilian that is all about that bass 🙂 and can integrate directly into Omnisphere. Sylenth is another

popular plugin being used to create edgy synth sounds in praise and worship.

Implementing It

If you have read up to here, you could quite possibly feel a little overwhelmed by it all. But it is important to remember that implementing MainStage is a journey that won’t happen instantly but will keep growing and expanding with you. The first time I used MainStage I didn’t know what plugins were or how to use an arpeggiator and chord triggers. I simply made it do what I knew. I set up a single patch with 4 channels; piano, pad, organ and rhodes and assigned them to first 4 faders of the Nanokontrol2. I then blended and faded between the sounds throughout the set to provide variety in the sound I was producing. The next step was for the following week was to single out 1 song from the set and develop a patch dedicated to it with some chord triggers and lead synth. The rest of the set I just did what I did the week before and pulled up my 4-layer patch. Over time I developed my own library of patches for the songs we did at my church. And would you know it! Within a few weeks we started to repeat songs that I had already made patches for 🙂

There are many benefits to using MainStage as part of the worship team. Not having to use tracks can free the worship team to play together and move into spontaneous worship progressions. Because of the ability to spread out and layer sounds around the keyboard, a single keyboard player can do so much more with the 2 hands and 10 fingers God has given us than we could with a standard digital piano. Because it is software based, it is continually updatable and customisable. Using MainStage is a fresh style of keyboard playing that young people understand and grasp very easily because the playing is based around the current sounds being produced. So it’s a great way of getting more people involved and expanding your team.

If your a keyboard player (or any other part of the worship team) and have been listening to how popular worship music has evolved over the past few years and wanting to expand the gifts God has given you, implementing MainStage could be just what your church needs you to do!

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