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How to Build a Redundant Rig for Using MainStage or Ableton Live

I’m often asked how to build a rig with a redundant computer and interface for using MainStage live. While there are a number of ways that this could be done, I’m going to detail how I’ve done this many times in the past successfully and reliably. Building your rig carefully and with attention to detail can often make the difference between being able to troubleshoot effectively onsite or having your rig crash and burn. If you can clearly see the signal path and can tell where every cable should go thanks to detailed labeling, it’s much easier to troubleshoot.

 

MainStage rig with cables properly dressed and all components clearly labeled
Which of the above two rigs would you rather troubleshoot?
To get started, you’ll need the following items:
2 x Apple Mac Mini (preferably with SSD drive and 16GB RAM)
2 x MOTU 828x (or your audio interface of choice)
1 x MIDI Solutions 2-Output Active MIDI Thru Box
1 x Furman PL-PLUS C 15 Amp Power Conditioner (or your rack mount power conditioner of choice)
1 x KVM Switch (DVI or VGA)
1 x Radial SW8 audio switcher
1 x Sonnet Technologies RackMac Mini
1 x VESA compatible video monitor (DVI or VGA)
2 x TRS snake (preferably 8 channel, TRS to TRS)
2 x MIDI cable (3’ in length)
1 x MIDI cable (20’ in length)
2 x Apple HDMI to DVI Adapter
1 x 8U Rack with Wheels
1 x Container of rack screws
1 x Roll of Red electrical tape
1 x Roll of Scotch Glossy Tape
1 x Brother P-Touch PT-D210 Label Maker (or similar model)
Summary of connections
Power cables from the following devices:
    Both computers, both interfaces, power conditioner (to sound department power), video monitor, Radial SW8
USB cables:
    Main computer to Main MOTU, Backup computer to Backup MOTU
    KVM switch to both computers
    Computer keyboard and mouse to KVM switch (if using Mac Minis)
Audio cables:
    TRS snake from Main MOTU to Inputs A on Radial
    TRS snake from Backup MOTU to Inputs B on Radial
MIDI cables:
    Long MIDI cable from keyboard controller Out to MIDI Solutions In
    Short MIDI cables from MIDI Solutions Outs to MOTU In on each interface
Video (DVI or VGA):
    DVI (or VGA) cable from video monitor to KVM switch
Step Three: Connect computers to interfaces and verify that all pieces are communicating and working properly
It’s important to ensure that everything is working properly prior to installing in the rack. Otherwise, it will be a huge pain in the rear to take apart the rack to replace a faulty component.
Step Four: Install computers in Sonnet Rackmac Mini
This is a little tricky the first time around, but if you read the instructions you’ll see it’s fairly straightforward. Be careful not to tighten the screws too much as they can be easy to strip on the Rackmac Mini.
Step Five: Label everything
I strongly advise labeling everything you can possibly think of. Label as if you’ve been tasked with using up all of the P-Touch tape that exists in the known universe. You, your keyboardists, and your sound team will greatly appreciate this should you ever need to troubleshoot down the road. This step can make the difference between a simple diagnosis and a stopped show.
Here are some of the things that should be labeled:
Audio Interfaces: Label Main and Backup (or A and B) on both front and rear, power, USB (or Thunderbolt) connections
Power cables (both ends)
MIDI cables (both ends)
TRS cables (both ends, and label where each end connects)
Power conditioner (power switch, power cable)
KVM switch (all cables, remote button, USB jacks for keyboard and mouse)
Radial SW8 (audio switch, power cable and wall wart)
IMPORTANT: After placing each label, apply a layer of glossy Scotch tape over the label to prevent it from falling off.
MIDI Solutions Thru (ins and outs)
Step Six: Install components into rack
Set the rack on the floor or on a low surface with the back facing down and the front of the rack facing up toward you.
Place the components in the rack resting on the rack rails in the order that suits your needs. I prefer the following order (top to bottom):
Power conditioner
Space
Rackmac Mini
Space
MOTU B
MOTU A
Space
Radial SW8
This allows for easy access to the components, easy wiring and cable management in the back, and allows space to run cabling from the Radial SW8 through the back of the rig. It’s also important to keep the Rackmac Mini at least a couple of rack units away from the top of the rack or it will be difficult to access the back of the computers. This also allows allows enough room on the rear rack rails should the sound department wish to mount a G-Block on a Steck Mount.
Note that the Main MOTU goes beneath the Backup MOTU. This is intentional as that’s consistent with how the audio will be wired in the rear of the Radial SW8.
Once you’re satisfied with where all of the components will go, secure them into the rack using the rack screws.
Step Seven: Mount the MIDI Solutions Thru on the floor of the inside of the rack
Use the industrial strength Velcro for this, and ensure that there’s enough room for the MIDI cables to connect to it.
Step Seven: Connect the audio and power cables
This is where things get creative. You’ll want to connect and mount the cables one group at a time (computers power cables, interface power cables, audio, MIDI, etc). Make sure you can clearly see the path of the power and audio cables and can access everything easily. You may need to repeat parts of this process in order to fine tune it.
Use the zip ties to connect cables to rack rails or the back of the RackMac Mini and use pieces of the roll of Velcro to hold together groups of audio and MIDI cables.
Dressing the cables will serve two purposes: 1) keeping the back of the rack neat and easily accessible, and 2) helping to prevent cables from becoming disconnected while in transit.
Step Eight: Install the KVM Switch (optional)
This step is only necessary if you’re using two Mac Mini computers. If you’re using two iMacs or two MacBook Pros, you won’t need a KVM switch unless you want to utilize one computer keyboard and mouse to control both computers. However, I recommend keeping things simple and using a separate keyboard and mouse for each computer if you’re using iMacs or MacBook Pros.
Mount the KVM switch on the top of the Rackmac Mini using the industrial strength Velcro. Make sure that the USB ports are facing the front of the rack and are easily accessible. Coil the cable to the remote switch and mount the switch next to the actual KVM so that it’s easily accessible, but secure the cable coil behind the KVM by fastening it to the top of the Rackmac Mini with black electrical tape.
Connect the KVM cables to the Mac Mini computers. You’ll need to use the Apple DVI to HDMI (or VGA to HDMI) adaptors to connect the KVM video connections to the Mac Minis.
Carefully bunch and secure the cables to the rear of the Rackmac Mini using the zip ties.
Step Nine: Connect the MIDI cables
Use the 15’ (or 20’) MIDI cable to connect the MIDI out of the controller keyboard to the MIDI In of the MIDI Solutions Thru box. Connect one of the 3’ MIDI cables from MIDI out A of the MIDI Solutions Thru to the MIDI In of the Main MOTU. Use the other 3’ MIDI cable to connect MIDI out B of the MIDI Solutions Thru to the MIDI In of the Backup MOTU.
Bunch the MIDI cables using a strip of Velcro from the Velcro roll.
Step Ten: Connect the video monitor
Use the included DVI (or VGA) cable to connect the monitor to the KVM switch. Also connect the ICE power cable from the video monitor to the power conditioner in the rack.
Step Eleven: Connect the computer keyboard and mouse
These should be connected to the respective jacks on the KVM switch
Step Twelve: Turn on everything and test
Your rig should function properly at this point unless you’ve connected something incorrectly. If you took the time to test the components prior to assembling the rack, you’ll be able to narrow down the culprit to having made and incorrect connection when assembling the rack. All you’ll need to do is trace your beautifully labeled and dressed cabling until you find the item that’s not corrected correctly.
It’s during this step that you can determine the proper boot up and power down sequence. You should experiment with several different orders and power your rig on and off several times to ensure that it’s working correctly and consistently. Also be sure to test the audio each time, and test both the main and the backup components of the rig as well.
Summary
When using MainStage live, it’s absolutely critical to be mindful of these seemingly small details. Be sure to take the time to really enjoy the process. If you rush, you’ll be more likely to overlook things and to make mistakes. Treat this as an art project and perform the steps beautifully and with attention to detail. It’s actually a very calming and peaceful process, and will serve you well in the future if you take the time to do it properly in the beginning.
I also advise creating a QuickStart guide for your players. It should be one page in length and should address startup and power down procedure in clear, simple bulletpoints.
Enjoy the process, and if you have any questions, I’m always happy to help. Feel free to reach out anytime at:
+1.917.338.7427
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MainStage Tutorial: How to assign pitch bend to EXS24 instruments

In this MainStage tutorial, we’ll look at how to assign a pitch bend wheel to EXS24 instruments.

After you’ve set up your controller assignments in your MainStage layout, return to EDIT mode and click on your pitch been wheel icon. It should appear as below with a blue outline.

MainStage Tutorial for EXS24
Select the pitch bend wheel in EDIT MODE

Next, in the screen control inspector select the tab labeled “unmapped”, then select the name of the channel strip you wish to affect. In this case, we’ll be looking to use the pitch bend wheel on the channel strip labeled “Boys Ch”.

MainStage Tutorial for EXS24
Select the channel strip you wish to affect

In the next column, highlight the line labeled “EXS24 (Sampler)” as this patch is an EXS24 instrument:

MainStage Tutorial for EXS24
Select EXS24 (Sampler)

Navigate down until you see the folder labeled “Pitch” and highlight that:

MainStage Tutorial for EXS24
Select the folder labeled “Pitch”

In the next column to the right, select “Fine Tune”:

MainStage Tutorial for EXS24
Select “Fine Tune” and adjust the pitch bend range

On the left side of the Screen Control Inspector, you can adjust the range of the pitch bend in the boxes labeled “Range Max” and “Range Min”. I suggest starting with +10 cents and -10 cents respectively, though you can adjust to suit your needs and your taste.

After moving the pitch been wheel while holding a note in the EXS24 instrument to test and verify that it’s working, save the concert.

It’s that easy! For another MainStage tutorial on how to adjust tunings of individual EXS24 samples, click here.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions. I’m always happy to help!

jeff@mardermusic.com
+1.917.338.7427

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Review: Rowin Mini Guitar Pedals

I recently had the opportunity to check out some really cool Rowin mini guitar pedals from China. Rowin has been manufacturing mini guitar pedals for years. They had a pedal for just about every effect and need, including many varieties of distortion, delay, chorus, and even various looper pedals.

The pedals are rugged, well made, sound great, and simply look super cool. Also, they’re of a size and weight that make them extremely portable, and they’re inexpensive enough to feel confident bringing them on any gig without having to worry about damage or theft to a super expensive pedal.

As you can see, these pedals sound awesome and are an amazing bargain!

In the videos below, three of the most popular Rowin pedals are reviewed by Jake Schwartz, guitarist for the Van Davis Band and The Book of Mormon on Broadway.

These pedals are all available on Amazon:
Rowin Analog Dumbler Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin Analog Chorus Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin LEF-614 Delay Pedal



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MainStage Tutorial: How to Edit Tunings of EXS24 Samples in MainStage

I this MainStage tutorial, we’ll look at how to edit pitches in the EXS24 sampler.

It’s not uncommon to discover that one particular sample in an EXS24 instrument is out of tune slightly, particularly if resampled from an external sound library or instrument via Auto Sampler. Or, it may be necessary to adjust the pitch of a sound effect to achieve the desired result. In this post, we’ll explore how to do this.

 

  1. The first step is to open the EXS24 instrument you’d like to edit by clicking on the plugin within the channel strip in MainStage. This will open a window that looks like Image A below, which is the stock harp patch in MainStage.

Image A: Opening MainStage instrument

  1. Next, click on the edit button just to the right side of the instrument name (immediately above the level fader) to open the edit window.

Image B: Opening the edit window

  1. Now highlight the sample you wish to edit. You can do this by striking the key on your MIDI keyboard that corresponds to the note you need to edit or by simply highlighting it with the computer mouse. In this case, we’ll edit the pitch of note D4. Once you’ve highlighted D4, you’ll see something that looks like Image C.

Image C: Highlighting the note/sample you wish to edit

  1. Since in this case, we’ll be editing the fine tuning of the pitch, we’ll double click the number in the column corresponding to the fine tuning of the highlighted sample. However, you could highlight any of the elements you wish to edit.

Image D: Selecting the fine tuning

  1. Now simple type the number that corresponds to the degree to which you need to adjust the tuning. In this case, I’ve already checked the pitch against the built in tuning from MainStage, so I know that the pitch needs to be adjusted up by 10 cents. Therefore, I’ll type the number 10 into the highlighted area. If we needed to adjust the note down by 10 cents, we’d simply type “-10” instead of “10”. In the upper left corner of the edit screen, you’ll see a red dot. Click on this red dot to open the prompt to save.
  1. When prompted as to whether you’d like to save your changes, select save.

Image E: Saving the changes

  1. Close the instrument by clicking on the grey dot in the upper left hand corner of the EXS24 instrument.

Image F: Closing the instrument

  1. Save the concert and reopen it. Your changes should now take effect for any instances of the edited instrument.

You could use this process to edit any of the parameters in the EXS24 instrument. This is particularly helpful if you’re unsatisfied with the tuning of a particular note, need to edit the range of a note, or if you need to adjust the volume of specific samples.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427