Tel: 905–690–4709 dk@tfwm.com - Darryl Kirkland, Publisher

Product Review: APPLE’S MAINSTAGE 2 (in LOGIC STUDIO)

When it comes to music, for me, Christmas is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. And by far, it is the most stressful. Maybe at your house of worship you’re fortunate enough to have a full orchestra to provide your instrumentation, but for many churches, including mine, the sounds of the season will come primarily from keyboard synthesizers.

Few appreciate how stressful managing multiple keyboards during a live performance can be. Dozens of configurations of sounds have to be called into action in a split second without missing a beat.Triggering sounds, adjusting volume levels and managing processor effects – not to mention playing the correct notes – can be daunting.

However, a recent discovery has me saying ‘Bring on Christmas!’, even though it’s still months away. In fact, exploring Apple’s new MainStage 2, has been reminiscent of the feeling I had as a five year old barreling around the corner on Christmas morning, ripping open a bounty of goodies.

MainStage 2 is live performance software, part of Apple’s Logic Studio, which also includes Logic Pro 9 to make and record music and Soundtrack Pro 3 for post production. Logic Studio includes more than 200 new features that simplify complex tasks such as Waveburner1. 6 which is a general purpose mastering and authoring CD tool. With Logic Studio I’m able to masterfully handle all aspects of audio production from studio work to live performance to digital mastering of Cds and MP3s.

Let me tell you why I’m so excited about the discovery of MainStage 2. This Christmas I will walk into the high demands and expectations of the church Christmas production with one keyboard and my MacBook Pro in tow. That’s all. No multiple keyboards, no submixer, no effects processor, yet I will have more musical power than I’ve ever had before. I will turn the volume down on my keyboard, MIDI my keyboard to my computer, and use my keyboard as a controller for MainStage 2 and the software synths that reside on my MacBook Pro. The audio outs of the computer (or if I choose, the audio outs of a FireWire interface) will be sent to the house mix.

With MainStage 2 I’m able to build what the software terms a “concert” which is actually a patch list. (From here on I will use the terms patch, sounds and instruments interchangeably.)

Most all of the patches that I will play will be soft synths that I have loaded on my computer. As I build my concert in MainStage 2, I can group patches by song and configure every nuance for my instruments such as volume, reverb effects and layering. By the way, I have access to all the sounds in Logic Studio and GarageBand which include more than 20,000 royalty-free Apple Loops, 4,500 presets, 1700 sampled EXS instruments and all six Jam Pack collections, so there are great pre-made sounds to choose from right out-of-the box. Layering sounds is just like setting up mixing tracks in digital audio software, that’s because MainStage 2 uses the Logic 9 engine to make the magic happen. Setting sound volume by track (layer) is the same as it is in Logic.

When it comes to using traditional keyboards, quite frankly, we’ve tolerated way too many limitations for far too long. Let me share with you some of the high points about this new world of empowerment.

I GET TO BUILD THE INTERFACE

Say goodbye to the tiny keyboard interface screens with green computerized text. If I don’t like the interface, it’s my own fault because all the controls, knobs, meters and more that I want to see can be easily dragged into my customized on screen interface/ control panel. To connect or assign an onscreen knob to a real one on my keyboard, in the layout view, I simply click the memorize button, choose the button I want to assign, wiggle a knob on my keyboard and it is now linked to the button on the screen. Once I get the layout like I want it, and I build my patch list, come rehearsal or performance time, I will choose the full screen mode and have the most handsome, largest interface I’ve ever experienced. It is intentionally designed to be dark and high contrast so it’s not brightly disruptive and and it doesn’t get washed out under stage lighting.

SOUNDS AREN’T JUST ON THE KEYBOARD ANYMORE

No longer am I limited to the sounds that reside on my keyboard. This may be the best news of all for you.In days of yore, I primarily bought a keyboard because of the sounds it contained. Want new sounds? Buy a new keyboard. No longer is that necessary. Soft synths can be played via MIDI using the keyboards that I already own.Logic Studio is compatible with all the most popular third-party music hardware, software, and plug-ins. With the ability to run Logic Pro and Mainstage in 64-bit native mode, you can use 64-bit compatible plug-ins and take advantage of much larger memory capacity.

All of the sounds we need as worship musicians are there, including a wealth of pianos, pipe and Leslie organs and a full cadre of orchestral and acoustic sounds. A huge collection of Apple Loops, sound effects, sampled instruments, impulse responses, presets, and Soundtrack Pro music beds give you more creative freedom than ever. There’s also surround content, so you can build beautiful, immersive productions. I know what you’re thinking. Is it reliable? MainStage 2 is solid as a rock. It’s easy to set up and in pure Mac fashion, it just works. In fact, professional musicians who play some of the largest shows on the planet rely on on MainStage 2.

LAYERING SOUNDS IS AS EASY AS POINT, CLICK AND DRAG

Layering (combining) sounds is now the easiest it has ever been. It’s as simple as adding channel strips just like I do in Logic 9, then choosing in that channel strip my choice of soft synth along with the effects (like reverb) I want to apply to it.

And let me be quick to point out, I don’t have to shut down the sounds from my traditional keyboard. I can route them to my computer to become a part of the final mix, perfectly balanced with the virtual sounds.

As for layering, in the layout view, I choose the key range by dragging a color bar (which represents a patch) over a range of keys on the on-screen keyboard. What’s cooler than cool is the ability to activate a floating split point for a layered sound. For example, if I have a saxophone part assigned to the right hand side of the keyboard, a range that ends at middle C, with the floating split applied, should I begin a melody line that goes a few notes below middle C, the sax will continue to sound, instead of becoming the instrument normally applied at that range.

With seamless patch switching, I am able to sustain a chord, change the patch and have the notes from the previous patch continue to play. The next strike of the keyboard, as it should be, will sound the new patch.Sweet.

STAGE SOUND CAN BE AS GOOD AS IT IS IN THE STUDIO

One of the age old complaints of musicians has always been the inability to create the sonic perfection that’s achieved in the studio using a digital audio workstation on stage. In fact, many keyboardists were using their digital audio workstations on their laptop to mix sound and effects on stage which isn’t, of course, what such software was ever intended to do. That need led to MainStage. All of the software instruments and effects plug-ins that are available in Logic 9 and GarageBand can be accessed in MainStage 2. The channel strip settings, which include the combination of plug-ins, are interchangeable between Logic and MainStage.

One of the great new features is the ability to set up and play backing tracks using the new plug-in called Playback. This can be a single audio track or it could be multiple tracks from Logic 9. In other words, should I want to include a live bass player, I can mute the bass track on my multi-track backing track. In addition, I can record loops and even set up return points in the loop so I can manipulate my arrangement on the fl y, for example, repeating chorus or particular sections of the music. With Loopback plug-in, you can even incorporate live loop recording and playback into your performances. And for fun, I can even record my live performance to a standard audio file that can be opened in Logic 9.

In summary, Apple’s MainStage 2 has no peer. There’s not another piece of software on the market that does what it does. Apple has always understood how we creative types operate and the solutions we need. There’s no better example of that than this software. And the benefits don’t stop here. Guitarists and drummers love it too.

Logic Studio is available online on apple.com, at Apple’s retail stores or authorized resellers for $499. Existing users of Logic Studio and Logic Pro can upgrade for $199.

GUITARISTS & DRUMMERS GO VIRTUAL

Harnessing the demands of live performance isn’t just a challenge for keyboardists but guitar players, digital drummers, and even vocalists. My guitar playing friends, who still pride themselves on owning an arsenal of amps and stomp boxes, flip out over their digital equivalents in MainStage 2. It may be possible to have all the stomp pedals you need on stage but owning every amp imaginable, instantly rigged? Well, of course that’s impossible, but not in the virtual world.

If you want to see the depth of what guitarists and digital drummers can enjoy virtually, just look at what’s available through Logic Studio and Mainstage 2.

Amp Designer and Pedalboard are two new plug-ins that give you a mind-boggling collection of gear. Amp Designer lets you mix and match 25 amp heads, five Eqs, 10 reverbs, 25 speaker cabinets, and three microphones that you can position freely around the speaker cone. With this plethora of opportunities, you can re-create almost any legendary sound.

Pedalboard features 30 stomp boxes, all meticulously crafted to emulate the original tones and responsiveness. The Pedalboard interface makes it easy to re-order and swap your pedals, and to creatively route your signal for thousands of combinations and virtually unlimited sounds.

In addition, you’ll have a full on-screen tuner, the availability of foot-controlled tap tempo, and 3D models that change with each to patch to represent different pedal board stomp boxes you’ll be using.

MainStage 2 adds support for the new Apogee GiO USB interface and control device, which let you operate Pedalboard, Wah and rotary speaker effects, and the Loopback and Playback plug-ins hands free, which is, of course, a dream for the one-man-band gigging musician.

Vocalists can build their show and apply different effects for each song and digital drummers, you’ll be able to take advantage of more than 50 drum kits, 400 sequence patterns, and 1,000 sounds from Ultrabeat. You can also build drum and loop kits from the 40 instrument plug-ins that come with Logic Studio or, of course, you can work with your own third-party plug-ins. Drummers can trigger looping audio from the Playback plug-in.

For more: http://www.apple.com/logicstudio/mainstage/ Also: http://www.apogeedigital.com