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TOP 5 MAINSTAGE STARTER TIPS: 


 

Introduction 

When I first heard about people using 


“MainStage” for worship I assumed it was just 
another in a long line of software that I could 
never hope to afford on my small worship 
team budget.  

Of course when I learned it was only $30 in the 


app store I downloaded it immediately!  

Unfortunately, when I started out I wasted a 


lot of time, I didn’t sound as good as I could 
have, and I worked harder than I needed to. 
Through tons of trial and error and after 
months and months of stumbling along I 
finally started to get better results.  

Eventually MainStage became an indispensable part of my live performance and 


creative process​. 

Now let me give you a jumpstart s​ o you can make progress faster than I did!​ I’d like to 
share with you the top five things I wish I could travel back in time to tell myself in those 
first days, weeks, and months of using the software. 

 
 
 

1. START (AND STAY) ORGANIZED 


When I realized that I could create and save concerts, sets, patches, channel strips, and 
plugin settings I. WENT. NUTS. I was saving everything left and right. Naming those save 
files whatever happened to pop into my head in the moment and with no real strategy for 
what went where and why. ​As a result I wasted tons of time digging through lists of 
save files, opening patches just to see if I could remember what they were for, and 
getting lost in finder searches with frustrating results. 
 
HERE’S WHAT I WISH I WOULD HAVE KNOWN: 

It doesn’t have to be that complicated. MainStage natively sorts these various save files into 
folders within your user folders. Generally found in “users/**your apple 
username**/Music/Audio Music Apps”. Within this “Audio Music Apps” folder you’ll find 
folders for plug-in settings, channel strip settings, patches, and pretty much anything else 
you can save from within MainStage (concerts being the big exception; by default those are 
saved to the “MainStage” folder). 
 
HERE’S THE KEY: 
Once you’re in the “Audio Music Apps” 
folder all you need to do is 
​ADD ANOTHER LAYER OF 
ORGANIZATION.  
For example, click on the “Patches” 
folder: once you’re in the folder, add additional folders for each type of sounds/patches 
that you think you might need. This might look like folders for “acoustic pianos”, “pads”, 
“bright synths”, “organs”, etc. Then when you export a patch from within MainStage, simply 
designate the proper folder within the “Patches” folder to save to. This works equally well 
for organizing patches that are specific to a certain song or genre. For example you could 
have a folder titled “Hillsong songs” or a folder titled “altar call.”  

 

 
 

2. MAKE YOUR SOUNDS CONSISTENT 

When I got my first MainStage setlist put together, I could hardly wait to use it. I’d culled 
through tons of the presets within MainStage, created some layered patches of my own, 
and found some freebie patches online as well. I could hardly believe that I was getting 
these high-quality synths out of $30 software! Then I got to my church... 

I plugged in my interface, connected my keyboard, opened up MainStage and was instantly 


disappointed when what I heard sounded like a garage sale Casio keyboard. One sound 
was piercingly brittle. The next was so bass heavy that it was unusable. Some patches 
would be blaring loud and others barely audible. 
 
HERE’S WHAT I WAS MISSING:  

First, I wasn’t limiting myself​. I​ spent so much 


time adding layer upon layer, patch upon patch, that 
I neglected to keep the final song in mind. ​YOUR 
KEYS PATCHES DON’T NEED LOW END.​ If it’s not a 
bass part or an acoustic piano that needs to sound 
huge, you can roll off the low end aggressively. Even 
all the way up to 200hz. This will clean up your 
patches immensely and keep you out of your bass 
player’s way. 

Secondly, I didn’t understand how digital audio worked.​ Some of my sounds 


were way too loud and I often tried to increase the volume of quieter sounds to 
match the loud ones. ​As a general rule of thumb try to keep your maximum 
dB output below -3 dB.​ Anything higher than that and you risk clipping which 
distorts your signal. You might want to mix layers with a higher p
​ erceived volume 
even lower than -3dB. Try -7 to -10 dB and see what works for you. If you need to 
increase the volume of a quieter patch try to boost at the plugin level first. 

 

 
 

3. IF YOUR SOUND SYSTEM IS MONO, YOUR OUTPUT NEEDS TO BE MONO 

When I was starting out with MainStage my patches sounded great in my headphones at 
home but I would often get frustrated when they sounded dull, flat, and one-dimensional 
at church or in the venue. At church I was running a single cable out of my audio interface 
to a direct box, to the soundboard. ​Since our sound system was mono, I didn’t think 
there was any reason to run a stereo signal to the soundboard. 
 
HERE’S WHAT I WAS MISSING: 

I didn’t realize that my set-up caused me to lose half of my audio signal!​ ​All those 
awesome stereo reverbs and delays were only being halfway represented by that one 
output system. Eventually I learned that it is totally fine to only use one output, but that I 
needed to sum my MainStage output to mono if I was only going to run a single line. 

The simplest way to do this is to add the “Gain” plugin (located in the “utility” section of the 
MainStage audio fx) to the output channel strip within MainStage. Open up the “Gain” 
plugin and select the button that says “mono.” This sums your stereo image to one unified, 
mono signal. 

 

 
 

4. DON’T PUSH THE SOFTWARE HARDER THAN YOU NEED TO 

I treated MainStage like a kid in a candy store when I started out. I wanted ALL OF THE 
LAYERS AND FX! My concert had ALL OF THE PATCHES! Unfortunately, MainStage was using 
ALL OF THE CPU! This lead to audio clicks and drop-outs, which lead to me increasing the 
audio buffer size, which lead to a ridiculous amount of latency (delay).  
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED: ​I learned that MainStage could definitely deliver complex layers 
and rich, detailed sounds as long as I followed a few best practices.  
 
FIRST: ​Don’t run any other programs in the background unless they’re necessary for your 
performance. Close that internet browser, exit your 
calendar, shut down the iTunes app. All of those 
programs use CPU even in the background. I​ f they’re 
not open that frees up CPU for MainStage.​ Even shutting off your wifi can help improve 
your CPU usage. (bonus tip for retina MBP users: run MainStage in “low resolution mode” 
for a MASSIVE boost in CPU performance) 

Second:​ Keep your concerts as small as you can. When MainStage loads a concert, it 
prepares to run every patch in the patchlist. If your concert contains 85 patches you’ll begin 
to see increased CPU usage as you switch patches. T
​ he best practice is to keep your 
patches organized in folders​ (as we discussed at the beginning of this document) and 
only load the patches you need for a given performance into your concerts. 

Third:​ Avoid CPU hungry plugins if you can. ​The two biggest 
culprits in my experience are the “Space Designer” reverb 
plugin and the “Amp Designer” amp modeler.​ Both of these 
plugins average 10-12% CPU consumption WHEN NO AUDIO IS 
BEING PLAYED. What’s worse, the starter concerts that come 
with MainStage feature the “Space Designer” plugin heavily on 
concert level aux channel strips. To delete those instances, click 
on the concert name at the top of your patch list and scroll 
through the channel strips until you find “Space Designer” and 

 

 
 
remove the plugin. I’m a little more lenient with “Amp Designer” because it is actually a very 
useful plugin. Just be cautious and try to only use it when necessary. 

Fourth:​ Consider bypassing plugins that you don’t use all the 
time. M
​ uting a channel strip doesn’t help with CPU usage 
because MainStage still processes the audio signal as 
normal.​ If you’re not using a channel strip but you still want it to 
be available simply bypass (turn off) the instrument plugin on 
that channel strip. You can map that bypass toggle to an 
onscreen button on your layout if you’d like to be able to turn it 
back on quickly. For more advanced users, you can map the 
bypass to an on-screen fader or knob by adjusting the curve of 
the toggle. 

5. COMBINE PATCHES TO QUICKLY GAIN NEW INSPIRATION 

For some, this last tip may be old 


news but let me tell you it is one of 
the most useful and inspirational 
tools that MainStage offers. You 
can quickly combine two or more 
patches by holding command and 
clicking on each patch in the 
patch-list. Then click the settings 
cog and choose “New Patch from 
Selected Patches.” That’s it! This 
function is a big part of what 
makes our S
​ unday Keys MainStage template​ so groundbreakingly flexible. Within Sunday 
Keys it’s possible to create inspiring layered patches from the ground up in only seconds, 
because we designed everything about the template to take advantage of this “New Patch 
from Selected Patches” functionality. It might sound simple (and that’s because it is) but 
this approach is a real game changer, especially if you need to be able to dial patches and 
presets in quickly and reliably, without having to dig through menus. 

 

 
 

If you are just getting started out and you’d like a great jumping off point then I think you’d 
really benefit from checking out Sunday Keys. 
This is the template I wish I 
would’ve had the day I 
downloaded MainStage. 

It incorporates the philosophies and 


lessons learned that I’ve mentioned 
here today to create a simple, visual 
format that sets you up for success 
as you grow and create.  

Sunday Keys is designed specifically 


for worship music and comes with a 
full library of  
patches perfect for your next 
worship service.  

You can learn more about Sunday 


Keys by C
​ LICKING HERE​ or heading to ​https://sundaysounds.com/sunday-keys 

I hope this e-book has been helpful to you! If we at Sunday Sounds can ever help you out 
with anything in MainStage feel free to shoot us an email and we’d be glad to help: 

info@sundaysounds.com 

Now go out there and sound your best! 

David Pfaltzgraff 
Founder and Lead Sound Designer 
SundaySounds.com