Why I Ended Up Ditching MainStage

It has been a while since my last article related to MainStage in worship. So I figured it would be appropriate to close out the series of articles on MainStage use.

First, the short answer: I have gone back to using hardware. I use my Roland XP-30 synthesizer stacked on top of a venue provided digital piano, having programmed it to do much the same as what I was doing using MainStage. I have a series of programs in the synth that allows me to accomplish all the same that I originally did using my RD-800 stage piano, but allowing the synth to be mated with a venue provided Basic Piano (I will get into my definition of a Basic Piano later). When mated with a better venue piano such as a Nord, I can pull off much more. I will handle the hardware approach using a new series of articles on the use of hardware synths.

Now to get back to the subject of the original series using MainStage, to summarize, I have tried out an alternate template, Worship Essentials Plus (because I had Omnisphere at this point). I then later developed my own concert templates, leaving behind the use of third party templates altogether.

Now for some random thoughts on the matter.

  1. Worship Essentials Plus had some nicer sounding patches. But this isn’t a so-called fair comparison. A fair comparison would have been Worship Essentials (without the Plus) versus Sunday Keys.
  2. But Worship Essentials uses a different approach that reflects a different background and different goals. I think WE designers were closer to some of the sources of worship music, some even serving on teams, and then selling the templates. On the other hand, SK designers adopted an approach to enable the user to be better able to create their own sounds from assembling together the layers, etc. And they took a more product oriented focus, with support, etc. Their approach was almost like someone who makes keyboards.
  3. Sunday Keys have since released templates for use with Ableton Live (a different DAW than MainStage) and this has opened them to the Windows market (as MainStage is Apple MacOS only). SK have also gone the route of recording their own samples for use, thus making sounds more consistent between the host DAWs, relying less on the host DAW builtin libraries. And finally, they have taken SK to an iPad app that can be used without a MacBook or Windows laptop. That is pretty incredible. This was at the expense of switching to a subscription model to get updates, but the subscription gives you the flexibility of moving around between your devices.
  4. I moved towards my own concert templates, because as I mentioned in an earlier article, one good use of a template is to learn, and then after that, you do more on your own. I have learned to fish, so why keep on buying fish from others (to use a cliche metaphor). I expanded my Native Instruments Komplete to Standard Edition and then later to Ultimate Edition (and as mentioned in previous article I acquired Omnisphere) so I started constructing concerts to take advantage of the higher quality sound sample libraries and synth engines.
  5. I did some experiments to see if I could get Maschine to act as a host DAW (like some have done using Abelton Live) but there were too many limitations like only one track being able to have the focus of input controls at a time so that didn’t pan out.
  6. I bought an alternate DAW, GigPerformer, which is an excellent product (available for Windows and MacOS). Most concerts I have implemented using MainStage are now also implemented as Rack Spaces in GigPerformer. GigPerformer does a better job of resource management than MainStage so the resulting rigs tend to be more stable with less need to prune things down prior to doing each gig.

It was around this point that I decided to try using my Roland XP-30 synthesizer. The basic logic focused around:

  1. Omnisphere was developed by the same guy (Eric Persings) who Roland had previously hired to develop many of their sound libraries, so there are many similar waveforms, even patches. The samples in Omnisphere use better bit rates, have more nuances and the samples are stereo. (Obviously there is more – it is like a newer version of the whole thing).
  2. But I found that in many venues, it makes no difference once it is in a mix, then pumped out through a venue’s FoH PA system (often not with the best of operators) plus you have room acoustics and of course, you have the congregation singing along.
  3. A crash (computer crash, or even a DAW crash because a USB connection comes loose) leads to up to a minute of down time when using a soft synth DAW, whereas my XP-30 is back up and running in about ten seconds after a power cycle. The stage pianos I stack it with have about the same power up times.
  4. Finally, despite packing more gear, the setup and tear down time is much the same, and the bits and pieces are more rugged, having been designed for road and gig use.

The result is that I haven’t spent much time working with DAWs recently. I have been happy working with the hardware again, learning new tricks with them, and of course some musicians appreciate the “vintage” element that comes with using hardware.

So in the end, I learned a lot from MainStage and then later, Gig Performer. Then I applied the same principles using my hardware synth. It didn’t hurt that my synth allows the sound library samples to be processed like how waveforms are processed in old analog synths (which is much the same model as is used in Omnisphere).

I may come back to MainStage (or at least Gig Performer) down the road, when I reach a point where I need to do things that are not possible without buying new hardware. But for now, I have fun with my hardware stack.

Below is my XP-30 stacked on top of a Nord Stage 2 at my church.

And here is my setup at a different venue, stacked on top of a more basic Roland FP-7f.

Probably the only thing I missed from the soft synth DAW is a tonic drone. I was able to implement a shimmers pad as a layer that fills much the same space as the ever popular shimmers reverb does.