I’ve been playing keys in church groups and worship teams since the summer before I went to college. There has always been the typical stage piano – 88 weighted keys, a couple decent piano sounds, maybe a string or pad worth mixing in, and a bunch of other terrible patches. Unless you have a $3500+ Workstation at your disposal, a more budget-friendly option is needed to keep up with the newest ideas in worship music.
I’m finding the trend in worship music (see Hillsong, Planetshakers, and others) is to be very synth-heavy with rich textures and layers upon layers of sound.
These types of sounds aren’t typically possible in your standard stage piano keyboard setup, due to the aforementioned lack of quality patches. So when I was called upon to serve on the worship team at our church’s Easter celebration at the Whittemore Center Arena, I knew my setup needed improvement.
I’ll talk more in future posts about the tips and tricks I learned along the way related to the tools I’ve acquired, but I’ll first describe the basics of what is needed for your worship keyboard rig, along with what I’m using for equipment. The goal is to have a flexible rig that can handle any keyboard situation, from pop-rock pianos and rock organs to layered pads and aggressive leads. Also, I was looking to set myself up for future needs of adding click and backing tracks to the worship experience, so I needed equipment that could accommodate those needs.
I assume you have the following:
- Full size (or at least 76-key) keyboard with built in sounds and MIDI output
- Standard audio cables (instrument cables, DI box)
- A sound system or speakers for output
- Computer (laptop recommended) – to drive the sounds
- Software – to generate the sounds
- MIDI cables (Either straight MIDI or MIDI-to-USB) – to send digital info for your keyboard to your computer
Optional Equipment (but recommended)
- Audio Interface – to process the sounds
- MIDI controller – for easier control of your live setup
With the speed of Flash memory, i5/i7 processors, and 4gb of RAM standard, these machines are quick and efficient – do not need to drop hundreds more on a pro unless you’re looking to do multitrack recording or HD video editing.
For $30, you get a highly-customizable software made for live performance that throws studio-quality sound libraries and effects from grand pianos and B3 organs to amp modelers and a variety of synths. You can’t beat the combination of price/quality.
Focusrite Scarlet 6i6
I was looking for a small-scale audio interface that could (1) handle both XLR and Instruments inputs (2) MIDI connectivity, and (3) offer multiple outputs for sending independent click/tracks to the board – all without breaking the bank. After reading many reviews, I settled about this interface and I am very pleased with it. My favorite part? It’s solid construction – it feels good.
Akai MPK mini
I did already have a MIDI controller (M-Audio Radium 49), but it’s not incredibly portable and it only has faders. I was looking for something much more portable with customizable buttons, pads, and faders/knobs and this fit my budget perfectly. They have a model without a keyboard (just the pads and knobs), but for $30 more, it was worth it to me to have a couple of octaves to work with.
Stay tuned for future posts where I’ll walk through the hardware connections, customizing the MainStage layout, sound design, and other tips/tricks I found throughout this process.