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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
In the next column, highlight the line labeled “EXS24 (Sampler)” as this patch is an EXS24 instrument:
Navigate down until you see the folder labeled “Pitch” and highlight that:
In the next column to the right, select “Fine Tune”:
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
When prompted as to whether you’d like to save your changes, select save.
Image E: Saving the changes
Close the instrument by clicking on the grey dot in the upper left hand corner of the EXS24 instrument.
Image F: Closing the instrument
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: