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The MainStage Rigs of the Broadway Show Gettin’ the Band Back Together

Gettin' the Band Back Together

I recently had the pleasure to set up the MainStage rigs as the synthesizer programmer for the new Broadway production Gettin’ the Band Back Together. It’s a fantastic production with great music, hilarious jokes, a fun story, and freakin’ amazing band and cast!

Overview

The MainStage rigs are fairly standard redundant MainStage rigs, but I’ve managed to squeeze a bit of extra functionality out of them. Keyboard One (K1) is comprised of a standard MainStage rig with the addition of a Hammond XK5 organ running through a NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie simulator. Keyboard Two (K2) is a standard redundant MainStage rig. I built each of these MainStage rigs as per my earlier post on how to build redundant rigs for live performance. For audio interfaces, we’re using the MOTU UltraLite mk4 and we’re using Radial SW8 audio switchers.

MainStage Rigs
MainStage Rigs for Gettin’ the Band Back Together

Click Tracks

On this production, we wanted to use click on nearly every song, but only had a few places in which we wanted to trigger any timecode or sound effects. Therefore, we couldn’t justify the expense for a separate Ableton rig. I couldn’t use the metronome that’s built into MainStage as some cues required tempo changes mid-song. I considered using the Playback plug-in, but there’s too much latency when triggering cues. I finally found a great solution in the EXS24, thus allowing us to send click from the MainStage rigs.

I created a template in Logic for building clicks. Using the EXS24, I created a high pitched woodblock click for each downbeat and a lower pitched woodblock click for the other beats. I then recorded my voice counting to four and chopped these up so I could create varieties of count-offs. I placed markers throughout the project as per the form of the song and built tempo changes into the tempo map of the project. 

After bouncing the click and the count-off together as 44.1/16 WAV, I imported the file into a new EXS24 instrument mapped to the note C-1. I created a new EXS24 instrument for each click.

Depending upon whether the click was needed for one entire song or section of song, I’d either load the EXS24 instrument with the click at the set level or the patch level. In the K1 rig is a MIDI Solutions F8, which I use for the switch pedals that will operate the click. The START pedal is mapped to send Note On to C-1 to start the click. The STOP pedal is mapped to C#-1. I mapped C#-1 in MainStage to send “all notes off” to the EXS24 click channel strip.

MainStage rigs
K1 MainStage Rig for Gettin’ the Band Back Together

Integration with FOH

There are a few places in which we needed to send timecode or a series of sound effects, but needed a quick and simple way to implement this. We achieved this by using a MIDI Solutions Quadra Thru. The K1 keyboard controller runs into the Quadra Thru’s MIDI In, and the MIDI Outs of the Quadra Thru go to the MOTU UltraLite mk4 Main, Backup, and to a MIDI Line Amplifier (MLA). The MLA then converts the signal to XLR to send to the front of house console where it’s routed to the QLab rig. Within QLab, C-1 is set to receive MIDI per cue. When it receives a Note On message from the K1 rig on channel 1, that signal either triggers timecode or an audio stem of sound effects.

MainStage rigs
K1 Footswitches

Achieving an Authentic Hammond Sound

As for the Hammond XK5, we wanted an authentic Leslie sound, but I’m not a fan of using a Leslie cabinet in a theatrical situation. They’re not reliable enough, they make a ton of noise backstage, and a slight accidental microphone movement can affect the mix drastically. Once I heard the NEO Ventilator 2, I was hooked. We use a Hammond CU-1 half-moon switch as a remote for the Ventilator, which required some adjustments to the stock settings. Also, I needed to tweak the Leslie acceleration and deceleration speed on the Ventilator and the EQ on the XK5, but eventually we achieved a sound that was quite authentic and that sits well in the mix.

The Keyboard Two Rig

The K2 rig was much more straightforward and was also built according the earlier post on how to build a redundant MainStage rig. However, there are several places in the show where the drummer needs to leave the drum booth and run to the stage to play drums in a scene as a member of the onstage band. During the underscoring cues in which he’s either onstage or in transit between the stage and the pit, I built drum loops to be triggered by the K2 player. 

In Logic, I used samples from the stock Native Instruments Komplete drum libraries to construct loops based on the drum parts in the score. Our K2 player then triggers these as one-shots during the scenes in which the drummer is moving between the pit and the stage. I’m assuming the loops work well in the house based on a moment in tech rehearsal in which our K2 player was testing the loops on his keyboard and the choreographer asked the drummer to stop playing.

MainStage rigs
K2 MainStage Rig for Gettin’ the Band Back Together

The Drum Rig

Our drummer is also using a Roland SPD-SX in addition to his acoustic drum kit. We use it mainly for sound effects and for some 808 drum kit sounds. However, there’s also a section in which he triggers a drum loop that he created on the unit. He used the internal SPD sounds to play and record the loop directly on the unit. I then recorded that audio into Logic for further editing. I adjusted the audio to place the hits exactly in time with the tempo grid and added some additional processing and layering within Logic to give the loop a bit more fullness. I then imported the new loop back into the SPD so it could be triggered with a pad.

Summary

Gettin’ the Band Back Together is currently running at the Belasco Theatre on West 44th Street in New York, NY. The show is hilarious, the music is great, and the band is rocking’. Sound designer John Shivers designed a beautiful mix that sounds incredibly full and authentic. This week, we’re recording a cast album at Power Station Studios which will be released on Ghostlight Records. I highly recommend checking out this incredibly fun show!

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MainStage 3 Tutorial: Optimizing Computer Performance

Synthesizer Programming for Broadway

I get many questions about poor computer performance when using MainStage 3 for keyboard programming, so I’ve compiled a checklist of essential items to do prior to using MainStage 3 in a live performance situation.

Computer Settings to Adjust

Close all programs not absolutely necessary for running your concert

This includes Mail, Messages, Remote Desktop, and anything else that’s not absolutely essential for running MainStage 3.

In addition, if there are any programs that automatically start and log you in during startup (such as Dropbox, Time Machine, etc), disable these as well.

Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth

This can cause serious performance issues with your computer when running digital audio. Searching for and staying connected to networks will drain your CPU.

Disable Spotlight indexing

This can wreak havoc on your system performance. When your computer decides that it’s time to begin indexing your files so that they’re easily found during the next Spotlight search, it will noticeably slow down your machine and can greatly impeded performance in MainStage 3. To disable Spotlight indexing, do the following:

System Preferences > Spotlight > Privacy

Select the + button in the lower left corner of the screen

Select your home folder, select “choose”, then select “Okay” when the dialogue box appears

Free up hard drive space

Not having enough free space on your computer’s hard drive will surely slow down computer performance as your system needs a certain amount free in order to perform basic functions. You should make sure you have at least 15% of your hard drive free, if not more.

Clear your computer’s desktop

Storing files on your computer’s desktop will create a noticeable lag in computer performance. If you really need to hold onto all the files on your desktop and aren’t sure where to put them at the moment, create a new folder on your desktop and store all of your files there. Better yet, move that new folder to your documents folder.

MainStage 3 Settings to Adjust

Set “Autosave modified concerts” to “Never”

If your MainStage 3 concert is trying to save your modified concerts regularly, this is not only a drain on your CPU, but it also will take up extra space on your hard drive. You can select when to save your concerts (hopefully it will be frequently), and when to do a “Save As”.

Cmd – , to get to MainStage preferences

In General preferences under “Autosaving”, select “Never”

Set Hot Plug behavior to “Do Nothing”

This will prevent your computer from trying to use a video monitor with audio (or other such devices) as your audio output when you plug these in or startup MainStage.

Cmd – , to get to MainStage preferences

In the audio preferences, Hot-Plug Behavior is near the middle of the screen.

Select “Do Nothing”

Set I/O Safety Buffer to “Off”

You’re better off experimenting early to determine the correct buffer settings for your setup rather than relying on this option, which will add to the signal path and CPU usage by constantly monitoring your MainStage 3 and computer performance to determine if additional resources need to be allocated to prevent audio clicks and pops.

Cmd – , to get to MainStage preferences

Go to audio preferences

Select “Advanced Settings”

Uncheck “I/O Safety Buffer”

I/O Buffer Size

Also in the audio preference pane of MainStage 3, you should take care to select the proper buffer size for your setup. You’ll need to balance system performance with the resulting latency. This is especially true for piano and other percussive sounds as those are the ones in which latency will be the most obvious. For programming that has many pads and lush string patches, erring on the larger buffer size will be much less noticeable. Generally, with more recent computers with sufficient RAM (16GB) and an SSD drive, you should be able to set this at 128 or 256 samples easily.

CPU Usage

Also in the audio preference pane of MainStage 3, you should take care to select the proper CPU Usage setting based on the number of processors your computer has. You may need to experiment with this setting depending upon the complexity of your programing, the number of cores your computer has, how much RAM you have, and whether you’re using any third party plugins that may or may not be able to take advantage of multi core processing.

Summary

By making these adjustments, you should notice an improvement in computer performance when using MainStage for your keyboard programming. Additionally, you should find that your rig will run much more reliably. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have and I’ll be glad to assist.

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MainStage 3 Tutorial: Editing EXS24 Strings for Greater Playability

MainStage Keyboard Programming

MainStage comes with a lot of great stock orchestral patches, though they often get a bad rap as these patches aren’t necessarily optimized for musical playability right out of the box. Many of the patches sound dull, are difficultly to control, and lack the needed response to be able to use them effectively.

While I often resample patches from other sound libraries so that they can be used in EXS24 format, there are many times that I find the stock instruments to function perfectly well, but only after some proper tweaking. In this tutorial, I’ll describe some of the steps I take to add musicality to the stock MainStage EXS24 instruments.

To demonstrate some examples of things we can do to tweak EXS24 instruments, let’s start by loading the “Full Strings Legato” instrument in our EXS24 sampler. You may notice that the instrument sounds fine, but lacks much depth, warmth, or playability.

Let’s start by opening the EXS24 and going to the level slider on the right side just under the EDIT tab. This setting will affect how our instrument responds to velocity. Typically, the default position leaves a velocity range that is much to wide to control. I like to adjust the bottom portion of the slider to about -18dB. Typically, you’ll want to be anywhere between -10dB and -20dB and you’ll need to adjust to your own taste, the type of instrument, and your playing style.

MainStage Tutorial
Adjusting velocity response on the EXS24

The next thing you’ll want to do is add some effects. You may wish to add some EQ to taste depending upon how the patch sounds to you.

For strings, I nearly always add some stereo spread. For this, I like to use the stock Stereo Spread audio plugin. Often, the default setting works quite nicely. There’s one sound designer I’ve worked with who always requests that I add this, and I’ve found his results at front of house to be some of the best I’ve heard with regard to blending sampled strings with live strings.

MainStage Tutorial
Adding Stereo Spread to EXS24 strings

The final piece of the puzzled is the reverb. For strings, I usually like using the Space Designer reverb on the 1.5s String Chamber preset with the Rev setting set at -24dB. If I use the effects in an aux bus, I leave the settings at their default and will send to the bus at around -12dB.

MainStage Tutorial
Using Space Designer reverb for EXS24 strings

These few tips should begin to make your patches more playable. In upcoming tutorials, we’ll dive deeper into edits that will address issues of timbre, uncontrollable velocity response, and how to handle stock instruments with too long of an attack time.

 

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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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MainStage 3 Tutorial: How to Edit Tunings of EXS24 Samples in MainStage

MainStage Tutorial

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

MainStage Tutorial

  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

MainStage Tutorial

  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

MainStage Tutorial

  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

MainStage Tutorial

  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

MainStage Tutorial

  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

MainStage Tutorial

  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