I love Apple’s MainStage software. It implements in software everything I had ever wanted or wished for when performing live with multiple keyboards for the past several decades. It offers many real benefits over any hardware keyboard system. Better sounds, more control assignments on a per patch basis, splits, layers and lots of other good stuff.
Personal experience and multiple different hardware/ computer setups has taught me that what lets it down is two things. #1 is that most people (and Apple themselves) think the best computer to use for it is a laptop – but it’s not.
#2 is that most MIDI controller manufacturers either do not offer the ability for visual feedback on the controller sent from the computer, or if they do it requires a closed communication system to get it to work.
Lets go a little deeper on point #1. Because laptops are fragile you don’t want them hanging around up near the keyboards when performing because it’s a vulnerable position for them to be in. A Mac Mini is a much more cost effective and robust option. If you go with the Mac Mini the issue then becomes getting adequate controller visual feedback since you’ve lost the laptop screen that was this – which brings us to point #2.
While there have been a number of excellent studio based control surfaces that provide visual feedback – like Mackie Controls, there has been little or no development of this functionality for the live performing keyboard player. The closest product that exists today for this is the Novation Remote SL MK2 series featuring updatable LCD screens. Behringer have teased us with the long promised Motor series but they are yet to appear.
With all this in mind about 9 months ago I embarked on building a 2 keyboard system – one weighted, the other unweighted – centred around a Mac Mini, Novation Remote SL 61 MK2 and a Roland RD64 and I’ve published a 2 part video on how I got it all to work. It is without doubt the best sounding, most versatile, most inspiring live rig I have ever played. Check it out and let me know what you think…