So Aron lets get to grips with exactly what is MainStage?
Well in its simplest form it’s a ‘live music performance software tool’. The software runs your live performances via a lap top and audio interface and does away with the need for preamps or stomp boxes. With the aid of midi controllers you can tailor a live performance in to what MainStage calls patches. Each patch contains all the effects and other auxiliary sounds you need for any particular song. All the parameters and adjustments are preset by yourself prior to the concert and with the press of a single button everything change in an instant allowing for complicated set ups to be recalled instantly while live on stage.
So how did you first discover MainStage?
My good friend Knut Hem was the first weissenborn player i know who had used the software. I was visiting him in Kardamili, Greece where he was performing in the annual “Kardamili Jazz Festival”. He told me he was using the software to run his entire traditional ’breakfast concert’ which always kicked off the festival as well as his ‘sunset concert’ later in the same week. His concerts sounded amazing and the sound and effects he had coming out of his lap top were very impressive indeed, no preamps, no effects pedals, no mixing board just the lap top and a hand held midi controller.
So how long after that did you take the plunge and download the software?
About 2 months after coming back from Greece. My daughter had finished University and had a spare Macbook for sale so i bought it off her and decided to give MainStage a go. I wiped the lap top clean and installed MainStage software and nothing else, it was a dedicated setup that was to only be used for MainStage.
What was the thinking behind that?
Well i won’t lie i was a little worried about CPU overload at the very beginning and the lap top crashing mid performance. It’s an understandable rational fear at first when you’ve used stomp boxes all your life. The fear of CPU overload was my only real concern over using this setup over conventional analogue effects pedals and preamps.
Has that ever happened?
No not once. I have been using it for nearly 3 months solid now every day and not once has it crashed or glitched. so its passed my initial worry tests.
So how easy was the install and set up?
Easy to download and install but a real pain to set up initially if I’m being honest. If you don’t know what you are doing. My friend Knut Hem came to the rescue one night over the phone from Norway and talked me through the set up step by step and i resolved the set up issue.
So what was the issue on set up?
Well basically as good as the software is it isn’t really designed or set up for acoustic guitar players, its really focused on electric guitar to the point where i couldn’t get a nice clean channel without using a virtual amp cab preloaded template which always coloured my tone badly. I was proper pulling my hair out and turned to Knut with an SOS. Little did i know but he had experienced the same problem when he first set up. But he had found a way round it.
What was that?
He had trawled through the internet forums and found a guy who had programmed a clean empty template (void of any virtual amps) that was the perfect starting point for an acoustic guitarist. He contacted the guy and he gladly gave the template to Knut who then passed it onto me. From there things really started to happen in a positive way.
Talk us through what you need to make this set up work.
Well first off you need a Macbook if you want to use this as a live stage set up (or iMac if you want to just try it at home), I wouldn’t have any real confidence in a Windows based lap top running this software if I’m honest. Next you need an audio interface device to link your guitars pickup to the lap top and then back to the amp or PA. Next you need the software itself and that costs around £30. That’s it really.
How easy is the software to navigate, how user friendly is it?
Well its developed by a company called Logic and they wrote the world renowned “Logic Pro X” music editing software. Most serious musicians have experienced this industry standard software at some point and the real bonus for people familiar with Logic Pro X is that MainStage uses the same interface, sound library, window layout, everything basically from Logic Pro X.
What if yore not familiar with Logic Pro X?
Well if you are even considering this as a avenue for live performing you probably have some DAW experience to fall back on. If not watching a few YouTube videos and phoning a few musso buddies and the basics soon fall into place.
What was you first reaction when you had it properly set up?
WOW WOW WOW!!!! I was really blown away with the sound I had created. it took me about a full 2 weeks to fine tune my preferred sound and tone but the effects library in this software is staggeringly huge! The effects are limitless, it’s like a kid in a sweet shop trying everything it had to offer before i discovered my favourites :-)
What effects do you use on your setup?
Well for me there are only 4 areas/effects to concentrate on when hooking it up to a Weissenborn. EQ, Compression, Delay and Reverb that’s it!
Nope nothing else. That’s all you need to get started and all I’ve used ever since. Keep it clean and CPU lean is my motto lol.
So tell about your recent release “Live From MainStage”
The live album was something I wanted to do initially to show my friends and musso buddies how great a Weissenborn could sound through MainStage. Over a period of about 2 weeks I recorded my practice sessions and selected a few nice tracks and put them together in a compilation. Then I thought it might be a useful promotion tool for me to get gigs or interest in me as a live performer. I ended up releasing it on bandcamp.com to make it available to everyone.
And its free to download right?
Yeah its just me practicing after all but if people feel they might want to make a donation then thats great by me, everything I make from my music gets invested straight back in. I have other music on bandcamp and iTunes which i don’t give away for free lol because that’s been a real investment of time and money to create, this though is something I didn’t feel I could charge for as it was primarily a promotional tool.
So these tracks are all 100% live right? no edits or remixes?
Yep all the tracks were recoded in my home studio directly through MainStage and were all one take continuous recordings, no edits, no remixes, even the backing tracks were controlled by me live in real time, I operated a hand midi controller to start, stop and fade them in and out just like I would on stage. This is exactly how my live performances sound live on stage and that was the really important part of this release for me, no tinkering, no adjustments just as it comes. I feel that’s a great leveller and shows future promoters what I can do as a live performer not just the shinny super clean studio versions which are sometime very hard to replicate live.
Is MainStage something you are going to continue to use in the future for live gigs?
I see no reason why not. My pedal board has been shut for a long time now and i don’t see me busting it back out anytime soon. The are limitless possibilities with the software and I’ve only scratched the surface. The other great thing about this software is that you can add third party ‘plug ins’ to it at any time and expand and focus your sound with specialist add ons suited exactly to your personal needs, such as third party reverb plug ins, or particular compressors or EQ add ons that further refine this process so you end up with the best tone you can get from your guitar. I liken it to bridging the gap between what can be achieved in the studio can now be faithfully recreated live on stage and that’s something i want part of.
Last bit of advise?
Just try it, if you already have a Macbook (or try it on your iMac) the software only costs £30 and that’s simply amazing value for money in anyones book. It’s been a game changer for me as a soundscape instrumentalist and I didn’t think I will ever look back from this leap of faith. Have a listen to my album and see what you think :-)
Where can people download the album?
Over at bandcamp @ https://aronradford.bandcamp.com/album/live-from-mainstage3 there are also links to buy all my music on my website @ www.aronradford.com
On Topic With...Aron Radford
Aron Radford is a UK based Weissenborn instrumentalist that has gained many plaudits in recent years for his serene, relaxing, immersive style of soundscape Weissenborn playing. With his relaxation ‘Elemental Weissenborn’ EP back in 2013, his ‘Singles’ release in 2014 and his last release in 2016 “Soundscapes & Sonatas” he established himself as a serious weissenborn composer known throughout the Weissenborn community. Always on the search for something new or innovative he recently discovered the live music performance software “MainStage”. As a instrumentalist who relies heavily on backing tracks and multi dimension reverb effects the coalition of new technology and live performing has been a revelation in his own words. With the release of the beautiful live album “Live From MainStage” recorded solely from his laptop using MainStage software and nothing else he has put the question out there “Is this the future for Weissenborn instrumental live performing”?
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