TutorialsHow to use MainStage 3 – Part 1

November 3, 20170

Introduction to using MainStage – Part 1

Hello again everyone, sometimes bands and musicians produce some pretty amazing sounds on their records, but it can be hard to get that same sound, or even re create backing sounds without the help of a computer. Luckily, nowadays, we have computers, and a single musician can act like a whole band.

Today I would like to start discussing a tool which is focused on live performance.This tool, or program, is called MainStage 3. MainStage 3 is a very powerful tool that, as I stated earlier, is focused on live performance. Whether you are a single musician, electronic artist, or band of any size, MainStage 3 can help you in so many ways! However, since this program can do so much, there is plenty of information to go over. Therefore, I will be breaking this into a 3 part series; going over the basic layout and terminology, how to create different patches and channel strips, and finally, how to utilize MainStage 3 during live performance(s). In this article specifically, I will be covering the layout and terminology, so that you can familiarize yourself before you get started.

What is MainStage 3?

MainStage 3 is an offshoot of Logic Pro, with live performance in mind. It allows the musician to control and program different instrument effects for both midi enabled instruments and external instruments (utilizing either a guitar, bass, or microphone). MainStage 3 provides a very visual, user friendly interface, as well as excellent patch management capabilities. This program is excellent at its ability to create midi interfaces within the program. MainStage 3 also comes with Logic Pro 10’s entire library of instruments, effects, plugins, and additional downloadable content, at no extra cost (it took me about 6-8 hours to download everything). Best of all, is its price: MainStage 3 can be downloaded from the Apple app store for only $29.99.

What Equipment do I need to use MainStage 3?

The minimum requirements are:

  • 4GB of RAM.
  • Display with 1280-by-768 resolution or higher.
  • Apple computer – OS X v10.9.5 or later.
  • Requires 64-bit Audio Units plug-ins.
  • Minimum 6GB of disk space. 49GB of optional content available via in-app download.
  • Need a midi controller and/or audio interface (and whatever instrument or vocalist you can find)

Who can use MainStage 3?

MainStage 3 can be used for:

  • Keyboardists
  • Guitarists
  • Vocalists
  • Drummers
  • Sound engineers
  • Electronic Artists

How to Navigate MainStage 3?

Once you open MainStage 3, you will have a quick start menu, where you will immediately see a window with a key board and guitar (note: if you click the guitar, you will not get any sound right away, as the master volume is turned down to prevent feedback damage).

To demonstrate how to navigate MainStage 3, I will be choosing the Keyboard option.

MainStage 3 Start Window
Getting Started in MainStage 3.

Overview of MainStage 3

Within MainStage, there are 3 project modes: Concerts, Sets, and Patches.

  • Concerts – Think of this as if you are playing a show or concert. This is the highest level within a project. This will include all of your sets/tracks to be performed.
  • Sets – Think of this as a specific song or track that will be performed. This will include all of your patches or sounds that you use within a song.
  • Patches – Think of this as a specific sound or instrument that you will utilize within a song. Patches are the smallest grouping possible of channel strips and settings.

Internal Navigation of MainStage 3

There are 3 different navigation modes you can view: Layout, Edit, and Perform.

  • Layout mode – customize the look of the workspace along with way MainStage3 maps and behaves with midi controller(s).
  • Edit mode – 90% of your time spent in MainStage 3 will be here (cockpit of program)
  • Perform mode – expands workspace area to hide inner workings of MainStage3. This will essentially show you your instruments connected and effects being used. This mode is intended for live performance.
Navigation Menu in MainStage 3
Navigating between Layout, Edit, and Perform Modes in MainStage 3.

The Edit window is made up of the following areas (in the image above, Edit Mode is selected):

◦ Patch list (left)

◦ Workspace (interactive version of layout mode)

◦ Assignments & mappings for workspace

◦ Inspect areas (This will depend on the selected item. Example – patch inspector, channel inspector, etc…)

Channel Strips

I will cover channel strips in more detail in the next post, as there is a lot to it, and this is essentially the hub of MainStage 3. However, I will go over some of the basics.

There are 4 kinds of channel strip inspectors (instrument, auxiliary, audio, and external instrument).

Channel Strips
Channel Strips are the Hub of MainStage 3.

Channel Strips are where all of the instruments are kept, and is where all of the audio/midi info flows through.

If you look at one of the images above, you will see the Tool bar at the top of the MainStage 3 window. You can customize what appears in the toolbar, such as: cpu and memory usage, record button, play and stop functions, tuner, metronome, and double clicking on midi screen will cut off all midi notes being played.

How to Save Patches

Ok, so you found a sound you like, or maybe you are tweaking with a specific sound or instrument and would like to save it. Simply create a new patch and save. Well, that is easy! Simply go into the edit mode and create a new patch or “save as patch” to combine sounds (can click the little gear and a menu will pop up with other options).

Edit mode to Save Patches
Save a Patch in MainStage 3
Some quick and useful shortcuts:
  • Show Tuner = (cmd + T)
  • “V” button = show/hide plugin
  • Switch to Layout mode = (cmd +1)
  • Switch to Edit mode = (cmd + 2)
  • Switch to Perform mode = (cmd + 3, or cmd +4 for fullscreen)
  • Show Assignments & Mappings = (shift + cmd + m)
  • Show Workspace = (shift + cmd + w)
  • Reset/cut off all midi notes = (ctrl + p)
  • Enable Tap Tempo (can use keyboard to tap tempo) = (Ctrl + T)


Before I end, I would also like to go over some basic set up settings that might be useful.

First, click on the MainStage drop down menu in the top left (next to “File”). Then open “preferences”. Here you will find 4 tabs labeled: general, audio, midi, and display.

In the Audio tab, you can control your input and output audio settings. You will want to adjust your sample rate to match that of your sound card/audio interface (around 441k will produce less stress on the processor). The sample rate is the amount of times the computer samples the analog audio within a second.  In the advanced settings (a button located in the audio tab), you will find the I/O buffer size. This is the buffer size and samples that the computer will wait before playing a sound that you trigger. A lower buffer size will cause less delay and be more realistic to how you play; however, this tends to put more stress on your cpu usage.  On the other hand, a higher buffer size will cause more delay between triggering sounds; thus a much lighter load on your cpu. This will take some playing around with, as it is a trial and error process, and depends on how many plugins, tracks, instruments you are using at any given time. An I/O buffer size of around 128 should be good, but feel free to try and see what works best for you. Lastly, to get the most out of your cpu, you will want to set your cpu usage to 1 core less than your computer has. For example, if your computer has 4 cores, then you will set it to use 3 cores.


Overall, MainStage 3 has a lot of functionality and is very user friendly. However, it can be overwhelming in the beginning, which is why I will try my best to explain how to use MainStage 3 in a very simplified way. This article was part 1 of a 3 part series, and I hope it illustrated some of what MainStage 3 can do, and my hope is that once you download it, you can start easily navigating between the different views, modes, and settings (eventually playing and incorporating into your live sets). As always, it is best to play around and explore all the different options/tools available within MainStage 3 by yourself; this will allow you to develop a better understanding of what things do and how to navigate around quickly (but hopefully with my help, that will speed things up!).

In the next article, I will be going over patches and channel strips. That is where the fun begins, but it requires a lot more detailed explanation. So until then, start messing around with MainStage 3, and we will continue where we left off next time.

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