Setting Up a Keyboard Rig for Worship


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

Essential Equipment

  • 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

My Equipment

MacBook Air
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.

MainStage 3
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.

Worship Keyboard Rig


149 Responses to "Setting Up a Keyboard Rig for Worship"
  1. Hi brian….. my name is joshua and I am from india. I play keyboard for our church in a small village. I have a psr s950 yamaha .While we worship in our local language mostly…we have an english service in the evening. We do sing all contemporary worship songs from chris tomlin to hillsongs to deluge etc…however we manage the entire show with one keyboard. I use lot of synth pads…electric piano …drum accompaniment but all are built in sounds. I am feeling the need to upgrade our keyboard rig and have the following queries. ..
    1. Can I use my psr keyboard with a virtual instrument host like mainstage3
    2.i can manage to buy a mac computer and the mainstage software ..but cannot afford to buy another keyboard …should I buy a midi controller if I am planning to buy mainstage ?

    • Hi Joshua…

      As long as your pr s950 has either MIDI out or a USB port, you would be able to use it with MainStage no problem. I looked up your keyboard’s model number online, and it looks like you’re all set!

      If your current keyboard does not have MIDI capabilities, then I would recommend a controller (instead of a full keyboard) to control MainStage…even if it’s only 49 keys or so, you can get great functionality out of it, especially if you get one with knobs, pads, and/or faders.

      • Hi brian …that was really kind of you. Your response has thrown light on one of the critical doubts that I had. I shall slowly start procuring one by one the equipments as and when I get money and keep you posted all along. I need to firsr get a mac laptop. ..which should be my first big ticket expenditure. God bless you and your ministry. I really owe you for this help…

    • Joshua, Good to stumble upon a person of my faith from my home country. My name is Philip, I was born and raised in India until I was 19, then moved to US. Joshua, my Son’s name is Joshua as well. I would like to connect with you via facebook or LinkedIn. Please send me an email at:

  2. Hi Brian,
    I lead worship in my local church every Sunday as well as in our Miracle Meetings every alternate week. My worship team are all freshers.. still learning to play, so Im looking at playing an electric Guitar VST on a midi controller via Ableton Live alongside with my Korg Kronos. Im curious.. do I need the Focusrite? Im upgrading my rig to include a Novation Impulse 48 (still undecided whether to just use my PC or invest in a Mac), but the point is.. do I need the 2i2/2i4? I dont intend to do much recording on the fly.

    Would appreciate your input on the same. Thanks!

    • Hi Hansel…

      The Focusrite (or any audio interface) is not completely necessary if you’re not looking to do any recording, but you will notice a big difference in audio quality and latency if you use an interface instead if your computer’s built-in audio.

      Example – my MacBook Air could handle running the processing of MainStage without any delay, but I could not get a strong signal out to the board without experiencing clipping due to having to use 1/8″ to 1/4″ cables from the built-in output. The moment I ran though the Focusrite instead, I had plenty of headroom to spare as well as being able to send multiple outputs to the board.

      Hope that helps!

      • Hey Brian,
        Thanks so much! I was wondering about latency issues, and this clears it up for me. a few question .. from what I understand, if I get a Scarlett 2i2 then my keyboard will basically go through as an audio signal, so in order to use a Midi channel, I will need to get atleast a 2i4. Am I correct so far? Secondly, as a keyboardist yourself, whats the benefit in going in directly for a 6i6? Is that primarily for the multiple outputs?

        • Hi Hansel…

          You don’t necessarily need to run MIDI through the interface, as many keyboards/controllers have a USB connection that will translate MIDI to the computer. The interface would still process all of the sound and, as long as you have the USB ports available, and your keyboard supports it, the interface does not need MIDI capabilities. Also, you have the option of getting a MIDI to USB adapter if your keyboard does not have the USB option which, paired with an interface such as the 2i2, can be less expensive overall. I have this EMU XMIDI and it works well:

          For me, the 6i6 was the best choice because (1) I like having the MIDI connection right on the interface so all of my signal flow runs directly through one spot and (2) it offers the multiple outputs so I can send click or tracks to the board separately than my keyboard mix.

          • Brilliant!! Thanks so much man!! I really appreciate you taking the time out to explain everything. I think Im going to go with the 6i6 as well.

            God bless you and both, your worship ministry as well as your online tech ministry as well!

    • Assuming you use a full size keyboard as well? If so, one of those double-tiered stands works very well. If not, then I would just do a Google search for 49-key stands (plenty of options). And I personally don’t do anything fancy with my laptop and interface…a music stand or two works perfectly for me.

    • Very similar…I’m just adding a USB Hub (same one, in fact), as I am running out of options when looking to add another keyboard. Big fan of PreSonus as well…next on my list is getting a better handle on incorporating and mixing backing tracks live. I get the concept, but have yet to use it in practice or live yet. I know Abelton’s the “industry standard”, but have you compared it to working with the Playback plugin in MainStage by any chance? Haven’t found too much good stuff on the Internet yet…

  3. Hi Brain, Im Chris, Im from Seychelles..I really like the Topic here, You really helped me a lot with all the details…Ive been playing the keyboard for a few years and im always thinking of the nice sounds some people get from softwares, Especially some bands like Jesus Culture & Hillsong, But i never could really understand how to get to that level and what are the requirements…My question was if i could get a M-Audio Axiom 25 and use a simple Yamaha DGX????

    • You could use the setup…while the Yamaha would have built-in sounds, you’d need a computer in the mix to use the Axiom (as it’s only a MIDI controller). The folks at Hillsong (and others) are using Mainstage as their main software, along with instrument plugins such as Kontakt or Omnisphere. Those apps allow for much more granular control of patch and sound design.

  4. Hi Brian! I’m Jason from Virginia and i’ve been playing keys for our Contemporary group for 5 years now using my Yamaha MOX6, however I would like to add some extra pads and/or strings into our music. I have a MacBook Pro however I’m technologically challenged. Does Mainstage allow you to use extra pads etc.? I have a MIDI capable keyboard to use if so. Any help is appreciated. Jason.

    • It absolutely would…you could either use your MOX6 as the controller for MainStage, with MainStage driving all of the sounds. Or you could use your other midi-capable keyboard as a secondary instrument, using both your MOX6 and MainStage simultaneously – just depends on how ambitious you want/need to be! For me personally, I’ve found it more efficient and better for my setup to run everything through MainStage. The sounds it has are better than the keyboards I have access to, so it just makes more sense for quality of patches. You would want to look at getting an audio interface, though, to better process the sound from the computer.

  5. Thank you brother Brian, I really appreciate your help..Brian I dont have a MacBook pro for now, im thinking of getting one very soon, And i also dont know much about it Ive always been using windows….The truth is that for some reason I never liked Apple devices, But if i can get some nice sounds from an apple i will go for it 🙂 …. And im also thinking how can i get the MainStage Software???? And since i dont have a Mac for now, Is there any good or similar software i could use in the meantime with an ordinary laptop??? I hope im not asking silly questions 🙂 🙂

    • You can’t beat Apple’s durability and performance for music application, whether it’s live or in the studio. They are different than Windows machines, for sure, but I wouldn’t rly in anything else during a live music situation. MainStage is Mac-only, so you’d have to get the Mac first…not too sure about options on the PC side (I’ve worked with Macs for 8+ years now)…but I believe both Kontakt and Spectrasonics have PC offerings.

  6. Thank you very much Brian for the explanation….. I saw MacBook Air at the local ishop store, planning on getting it in a few mounths

    • I’m still not there yet…that’s next on my list. I’d like to stick with just MainStage, if possible, to smooth out the signal flow. It seems like the Playback plugin will do the trick with my hardware setup and the ability to create and manage tracks in logic with automatic marker integration. It’s all theory at the moment, though…

  7. Hi Brian! I’m a keys player for my church, and we just started using Mainstage setup. We have an old Korg Karma that we love for its sounds, I was wondering if we can use it as a sound module and load the sound patches on Mainstage, and control it using our Novation Launchkey midi controller? I tried connecting it via MIDI and it wouldn’t load… I don’t know if this is entirely possible, or is it just a MIDI cabling/routing issue? Thanks for all your help!

    • We’re connecting the Launchkey to Macbook’s USB port, and the other Macbook USB port is connected to a 2i4. Korg Karma MIDI in/out to 2i4 MIDI in/out. Anything I did wrong?

      • Hi Laura…the basic signal flow should be as follows: Korg’s MIDI Out > 2i4’s MIDI In. Then, in MainStage, you’d add a channel strip choosing “External Instrument”. Apple has a brief support document here:

        Just as a practical question, though…if you like the sounds the Karma has, why not just send its audio to MainStage via an audio channel strip and use the LaunchKey just as a MainStage controller? I’m thinking you might not need the double-midi setup…

  8. Hey Brian, Dave here. Though playing Roland handsonic (electro-Djembe and more) and hand percussion I am up against a budget and starting a keyboardist with beginning skill set. My wife say this at Costco (don’t laugh plz… lol) and wondered your thoughts for a small fellowship that seats 100. is this a decent starter?

    can you advise, our last worship team had a full-sized Roland but the price today would be prohibitive. it was a nice k-board and couldn’t play a Hammond B-3 sound. thanks for your input.

    • Nothing to make fun of – you have to start somewhere! The thing I always look for is the the option to expand (via MIDI)…if you like the sounds it comes with, you’ll be all set. This keyboard has USB output so you can run it through a computer later as you grow.

  9. Hi Brian, I am trying to connect my computer to the Scarlett audio interface. Should I use a USB to quarter inch cable or a 3.5mm to quarter inch cable?

    • Hi Jeremy…you’d be looking to connect the Scarlett to your computer via USB. The interface effecting replaces yours computer’s sound processing and adds extra inputs/outputs. You can then connect speakers or headphones to the Scarlett’s outputs to get the sound out of the computer.

  10. So would you say that there are 2 things bringing a computer into your rig can do: 1.) generate/process sounds that you would control with a small keyboard (midi controller?) and 2.) allow you to add loops, click tracks and other pre-recorded arrangements into your live performance using Ableton Live or some software like it?

    If that’s the case, would MainStage be able to replace Live or would you somehow use them in conjunction?

  11. We have a small group of worshipers we have a tyros 4 Yamaha. We have plug in microphone. Did we make a mistake in purchasing a tyros 4 yamaha keyboard. would like to know if should we sell it or do something more portable

    • Not a mistake at all! It all boils down to what works best for your group and the person(s) playing the instrument. The only thing I caution against is buying equipment that doesn’t allow you to grow or progress, and that’s not the case with the Tyros. You have many sounds to work with and many connectivity options that will allow for expansion as you grow (MIDI, USB).

      Portability I find is a relative term…I have a Yamaha P120 keyboard…love the feel of it, but it’s rather heavy. But I’ll cart it around when appropriate. I’ve expanded to have an 88-key MIDI controller for my laptop-driven keyboard rig, and that’s very light weight, but I’m sacrificing on the feel.

      I mention all that to say that it’s all good…enjoy the process, see what you like or don’t like, and look for ways to stretch and develop!

      • Thank You For your Reply. Which would you connect to tyros 4 to a mac via firewire to Finale or ProTools. What is the single most important lesson you learned about God and Worship. How do keep freshness in your ministry. How do you keep from sounding like other people.

        • Hi John…there are some simple questions and some that either take years to answer or I’m not sure if I’ve discovered fully yet.

          For the Tyros, if you’re looking to use the sounds it has and send those to the computer, you would connect them to the Mac with an audio cable and (preferably) through an audio interface. If you’d be using the software to generate the sounds (Finale or ProTools), you’d connect via USB or MIDI to just send note information.

          The single most comes down to a heart matter…why do you really do what you do? Are you doing it for His glory, as an expression of worship for all He’s done, and to assist in helping his people do the same? Or are there other motivations? It’s a constant check, but really taking a step back and knowing where you perspectives and motivations lie is if the utmost importance.

          Freshness comes by constantly learning…you never fully arrive, you never know it all…there should be a constant evolution and growth. Listen, listen, listen – to everything from traditional hymns and anthems to high-energy youth worship and cafe-style acoustic. Practice, practice, practice. Take what you are listening to and practice playing in those styles, learning the rhythms, methods, and sounds that make those work and see what works within a set list.

          And that last point leads to your final question….while it’s true that “there’s nothing new under the sun”, having a variety of styles in your tool belt help you and your team develop a sound that is unique to you. Change the dynamics, experiment with the tempo, modify the arrangement and find what works and what doesn’t (sometimes just as important).

          Hope that can help!

  12. Brian

    Love the info. I think you are doing what I want to do and just want to make sure it is possible. I plan on using a focusrite scarlet 214 to run the stereo signal from my nord and also the ourput from MS. Will that work and will I be able to layer sounds from the nord and MS and they both come out of the speaker system?



    • You might not be able to do both using just the Nord…might need an additional MIDI keyboard for MainStage. Most keyboards that I’ve worked with, once you do MIDI Out, it disables the audio out functionality. So just keep that in mind as you experiment…your Scarlett interface will work just fine, but you might be adding a MIDI keyboard and work with a dual-keyboard setup.

      • Sorry Brian. One more thing. Can you talk me through in basic terms how you set up a program chnage from MS to the Nord. What did you do on each device?

        • No apologies needed! The following assumes you are using MainStage to generate all the sounds and the Nord is just a controller. If you are looking for MainStage to use some of the Nord’s sounds, you’ll want to read up on External MIDI channels in MainStage (there’s plenty of Apple documentation in the MainStage user guide, accessible from the program’s Help menu).

          You’ll start by connecting your Nord to your computer, either directly from USB or through a MIDI cable through your audio interface. Then, do the following on your computer:

          1) Create a concert in MainStage. Can use a template, but you might be better off with a blank one. Make sure you understand the terminology:

          2) Work in Layout mode to set up your objects. I basically recreated the hardware buttons and knobs I had on my MPK mini using the drag and drop tools in Layout mode. For me, buttons work great for patch changes, knobs/faders are great for FX and Volume control.

          3) Use the Edit mode to map the objects to desired parameters. Select the object, click “Learn”, select the desired parameter. Here’s a video of a slightly different example, but it shows the Layout/Edit workflow:

          That’s the basics…let me know if you have any more questions, and I’ll do my best to answer!

          • Hi Brian

            Thanks for this. The thing I really wanted to know was the thing you didn’t cover in detail. I am looking say to have a really nice EP on the Nord for a song like GGDF and have MS change the patch on the Nord. I’ll read the documentation you suggest but if you have any tips, that would be great.


          • Yeah, I’m admittedly a novice in that area…never have had a nice enough keyboard to use its sounds over what MainStage produces. 🙂

            It looks like Nord has a pretty good user forum, though, and I found a couple discussions around this topic in a quick search…here’s one that gives a couple screen grabs:

            Would love to hear how it all works once you get it up and running!

  13. Brian

    I figured it out. You just need to set up an external instrument channel strip and in the midi out section set up a program and bank change request for the relevant patch on your keyboard. I love it!!


  14. Brian,
    My Roland RD700sx decided to leave this earth lately, and I have purchased a PowerBook with Yosemite, apk88, mainstage 3, and a 6i6. I am figuring some things out as quickly as I can. I purchased the 6i6 earlier today. Hoping to improve sound quality and give me a few more output options. Had trouble today trying in integrate 6i6 with mainstage. Was not able to get sound out of 6i6. I’m very sure I am not doing something right. I can’t get mainstage to allow me to choose output options for different instruments. The 6i6 software sees the daw signal, but I can’t get mainstage to separate the signal to separate outs. Any help would be appreciated!
    Thank you!

    • Nice rig to get going! I’d first check that MainStage recognizes your audio interface as its main audio source in MainStage > Preferences. Then, test your output via the headphone jack to ensure audio is coming through…for output on different instruments, you can either select the Output from above the track’s volume fader or utilize busses to send the signal to an Aux and determine the output via that (my preferred method).

  15. Brian,
    I have a Yamaha Motif X8, akai MPK249, a Macbook Pro and Using MainStage 3. My issue is that I’m running everything through USB and MainStage does not recognize the Yamaha mapping for sound. I don’t know if Im doing it wrong but I want to use the Yamaha DAW to draw my sounds from the Motif onto both keyboards. If Im using my sound library of my mac it works great and uses the Yamaha outputs but I can’t figure out sound selection through the motif to work with MainStage. I also just picked up a Saffire Pro40 haven’t played around with it yet but I’m hoping that it may help in using the Yamaha mapping.

    • Hi Elias…

      To use the sounds from the Yamaha, you’ll need to look into working with External MIDI tracks in MainStage. While it’s not something I’ve personally done (never had a keyboard worth using its sounds over MainStage’s offerings :-)), the basic concept is as follows:

      – MIDI Out on Yamaha to MIDI In on audio interface
      – Add an “External Instrument” channel strip in MainStage
      – Choose appropriate program/patch change on the MIDI Out section that corresponds to your Yamaha

      Apple also has some documentation related to the subject here:

      Hope that helps!

  16. Greetings Brian!

    Your write-ups has been a great read. I’ve been toying with the notion of going MainStage for some time now. Well, either that or trying to dabble with a Nord Stage2. But, and frankly, this sounds more fun as I’m a ‘tinkerer’ at heart. My current rig is MOTIF ES8 (the early 2000 model) // Alesis QS8.2 (with a Sanctuary Q-Card) running to a 8-channel Beringer stage mixer that I run out to DI…then to the board. All sitting on an ancient APEX Ultimate 3-tier (AX-48).

    If my goal is to do two voices simultaneously via MainStage, what would I need? Am I looking at 2 Macbooks and 2 instances of MainStage, etc?

    Thanks for your valued time!

    • Hi Dan…

      Only one laptop is needed! The beauty of MainStage is that it can handle multiple sounds at once…the concept of a “patch” in MainStage is not just a single sound – you can load up as many channel strips as you want in each patch with layering sounds, adding effects, splitting the keyboard, etc. – many options!

      Really all you need is the ability to send MIDI from each of your keyboards to your Mac, either via an audio interface or MIDI to USB connection (or both).

      My setup has a full size keyboard going MIDI out to the MIDI in if my Presonus interface and my secondary keyboard connected via USB. In MainStage’s Layout mode, you add a visual representation of each keyboard and tell it which keyboard controls which instance.

      • Thanks so much for your reply. I’ve deeply considered this path. I think I’m still nervous at this point…but, willing to give it a shot. That said, I’ve allowed $500 ‘seed money’ to get me started. My pastor is interested in selling me his Macbook Air. It’s a Mid 2013 1.3GHz i5 with 4GB DDR3 running OS X Yosemite. Do you think this machine will handle Mainstage? If so, would there be any limitations other than load time lag? I’m really worried about interface lag…hitting a key and having a delay before it actually sounds out.

        I apologize for asking this again…I’ll be able to use a Midi-to-USB cable to go from my 2000 model MOTIF ES8 to the Macbook Air? or do i need the focusrite scarlett 2i4 or similar?

        • That laptop should handle it just fine! And yes, a MIDI to USB cable would connect your MOTIF to the laptop.

          Ultimately, I’d recommend having an audio interface just to avoid the potential latency (lag time). An interface effectively processes all of the audio so the computer doesn’t have to – the laptop would just be thinking about the software. Plus, if the interface has MIDI In connections like the 2i4 does, it’s one less cable to worry about connecting to the laptop (just use a standard MIDI cable from the keyboard to the interface).

  17. Question for you guys,( I’m a worship leader for my church and I sing and play the piano) ( My station is located in the middle of the alter).I run click tracks/ backing tracks.I’m trying to find a good looking stand or something to hold all the stuff, (But) it needs to be in arms length to be able to play/sing/and trigger the loops….. I have a Motif xf8, 13 inch Macbook pro, Audio interface and a Akia Mpd32 midi controller. Im using a music stand for the Akia Mpd, but I don’t want too many stands up there. the laptop and the audio interface sit on top of my piano and sometimes hit a button and throw my piano sounds off. Thanks for any advice.

    • Hi David…

      Your question is a good one and one we all struggle with. I’ve gone through a handful of varieties of setups over the last year and half, as I work to find my ideal solution that can encompass my audio needs while providing an efficient setup and be pleasing for the congregation to see.

      While I hear you on not wanting too many music stands, having one more for your laptop is probably the best choice for now. You could then look at adding something like this for your interface (Quik Lok MS-329 Microphone Stand Accessories

      Another approach is to look at either a keyboard table or percussion table (set up directly behind your keyboard), as they have more width than a traditional stand and can look a little bit better. It sounds like a rack/DJ unit or similar is not necessarily with your current equipment, so just some reasonable furniture can do the trick.

      Hope that helps!

  18. Hi Brian, need your help on this. How do I connect these properly with cable wirings in/out:
    Roland700nx, Macbook Pro w/ Mainstage and AKAI mini mk2 (as my controller). I want my AKAI to be my only controller controlling my patches, track volumes, etc.. and my Roland will handle all the sound from Mainstage.

    I appreciate your help. Thank you Sir!

    • Hi Gab…

      You’re looking for MIDI out of the Roland into your laptop (either via audio interface, MIDI to USB, or if the Roland has a straight USB connection). The Akai will connect to the laptop via USB cable. Audio out from the laptop via audio interface or headphone jack.

      In MainStage, customize a layout to have the same buttons and knobs as your Akai and a keyboard to visually represent your Roland. See my other posts for customizing the MainStage layout.

  19. Also, sometimes on any day, what if I want the sounds coming from my Roland as they have great sounds, and mix them sounds on my DAW and still use my AKAI midi controller. I actually haven’t started using this rig set yet, just planning ahead. I am just ordering my midi controller. Just would like to know the process in advance! Thanks 🙂

    • To use the sounds from the Roland, you’ll need to look into working with External MIDI tracks in MainStage. While it’s not something I’ve personally done (never had a keyboard worth using its sounds over MainStage’s offerings :-)), the basic concept is as follows:

      – MIDI Out on Roland to MIDI In on audio interface
      – Add an “External Instrument” channel strip in MainStage
      – Choose appropriate program/patch change on the MIDI Out section that corresponds to your Yamaha

      Apple also has some documentation related to the subject here:

      Hope that helps!

  20. Hi Brian, I play keys for my church and I am looking into setting up Mainstage. I have the Korg Trinton Extreme Workstation. Do I need a second keyboard to use as midi controller if I am planning to use just the sound from Mainstage? Thank you.

    • Nope! You’d be all set to use what you have by connecting either a USB cable to your Mac or with a MIDI to USB connection. The advantage of having another controller would be to (1) have a dual keyboard setup for different parts and (2) use extra knobs/faders/sliders to control functions in MainStage, but it’s not necessary to get started.

  21. Hey, I need some help with my set-up for a live gig this week. I will be bringing a Focusrite 6i6, Mainstage 3, and Ableton to run tracks. They will have a Nord Stage 2 and a Nord Lead on backline. I usually use my Akai MPK261 with Mainstage, but I’d rather not lug it through the airport. My question is, how do I route and connect everything correctly? I’ll need 5 outputs: keys L/R, tracks L/R, and click…can this be done with the 6i6? And can I use either of the Nords as a controller with Mainstage? Can I control the Mainstage sounds with faders on a Nord?

    • The 6i6 will be able to handle all of those outputs…you would just route them via your software by setting the outputs using either separate Aux channels or on the individual tracks themselves. You just need to make sure your software (be it MainStage or Ableton) is set to process audio through the Focusrite instead of the Mac’s built-in outputs.

      You would be able to use the Nord as a controller, as long as you can connect it to your computer via MIDI. You’d also be planning to spend some time in MainStage’s Layout and Edit modes to both visually represent the Nord and map the faders/knobs/buttons to whatever parameters you’d like to control (patch changes, volume, etc.)

      Hope that helps and that you have a safe trip and enjoy the process!

  22. Hi Brian,

    So I think I have all the equipments I need to set up Mainstage but I am having trouble setting everything up since I am technically challenged. I have Korg Triton Extreme, Mac air, 2nd midi controller, and audio interface. Do I just connect the USB cable to the Korg and Mac? What am I supposed to connect to the audio interface? Thank you for your help.

    • Both your Korg and 2nd midi controller should go into your Mac…audio interface is connected to your Mac and should be your inputs/outputs in Mainstage > Preferences. Audio outputs from interface to the sound booth.

      If you’ve run out of USB ports on the Mac, you can run standard MIDI from the Korg to the interface.

      Hope that helps!

  23. Thanks Brian.

    Since my Mac has two USB ports, do you reccomend that I connect the audio interface and the 2nd midi controller directly to Mac and connect Korg to the audio interface through straight midi cable instead of using a USB hub to connect the Korg and the 2nd midi controller to Mac?

  24. One more question, so do I need just one straight midi cable to connect the Korg to audio interface? Midi out from keyboard to Midi In on the audio interface? Is this going to stop the Korg from generating it’s own sounds?

    • You’re correct – standard MIDI cable out of the Korg into the interface. And no, it shouldn’t prevent the Korg from generating its own sounds – you have the ability to either use audio our or MIDI (as a controller in MainStage or via external MIDI channel) from the Korg.

  25. Hi Brian,
    I connected the Korg and audio interface to the Mac. I am getting sound but the volume is really low and I already raised the volume to max on Mainstage and the mixer. Do you have any idea why this is happening? If I listen with the headphones volume is really loud. My audio interface is the M audio M-track.

    • A couple things to check:

      – Is MainStage processing the audio through the interface? Check MainStage > Preferences to make sure the M-Track is handling the input/output.

      – Are your levels strong when looking at the MainStage mixer? You’re looking to have the green volume meters for your tracks/patches be at least 50% so you can have good dynamic range.

      – From your interface, what kind of speakers do you have connected to its outputs? And were you hooking up your headphones to the M-Track?

  26. Actually, I was listening through the computer with the headphones. I just tried listening through headphones on M track and there isn’t any sound coming through. I already chose M track as the audio preference in Mainstage.

  27. But i know the audio interface works because last night at church it worked but just the sound was low. This is what we did: Korg audio output- M track input channel 1– mixer. Both Korg and M track hooked up to Mac through USB ports. I didn’t realize M track doesn’t have Midi In so I was not able to connect Korg to M track through straight midi cable. So the components we have are: Mac, Korg, M audio interface, DI box and Akai Midi Controller (I an considering getting a Powered USB Hub). We have Nexo Speakers, Yamaha. QL1 mixer and Digital snake in front. Did we connect everything into right places? And this is a dumb question but do you need an instrument cable to listen through the audio interface at home? I just used headphone jack and that’s when I can’t hear anything. Thank you.

    • If you’re registering strong signals in MainStage (visually full) and the M-Box is set as it’s audio interface, the other items in the signal flow that factor into overall level strength would be the DI box and the Mixer. Make sure there isn’t a pad on the DI box and try adjusting the gain level (as needed) on the mixer. You could also try to run two signals (Stereo L/R) to the board to see if just sending mono isn’t enough.

      And no, you wouldn’t need an instrument cable if you’re connecting via headphones at home – unless you wanted to plug the interface into speakers.

  28. Hi Brian,

    Currently I’m using the Mainstage in Macbook air connected to a midi keyboard.
    To maximise the sounds and mainstage potentials, can I use some VST plugins such as Garritan or Omnisphere?
    Could it affecting the sound quality since these instruments are quite heavy?

    • You absolutely can use those plugins, as long as they’ll load up in the MainStage channel strips. General rule of thumb is that if they work in Logic (or other DAWs), they’ll work in MainStage.

      Depending on how much RAM your machine has and the speed of your hard drive, you might run into some performance issues. Just play around with the buffer size and make sure no other apps are running in the background to maximize performance.

    • Hi Joshua…

      For software, I use MainStage for live performance and Logic X (and occasionally GarageBand) for recording.

      As far as keyboards go, it boils down to a bit of personal preference. My main keyboard is a Yamaha P120, but I use an Akai MPK mini and an Alesis Q88 as MIDI controllers. These MIDI controllers are strictly for controlling MainStage with patches, volumes, effects, etc.

  29. Hi Brian. Super helpful post. Thanks. I’m running a Novation Keystation49 and an Ultranova and just haven’t been able to get it to map out for MainStage. Maybe you can do a post on that? Is there a better brand of keyboard out there that you would recommend as an easier solution to mapping in MainStage?

    • MIDI ultimately is MIDI, so the different types of keyboards really boil down to user preference rather than a “works-best-with-mainstage”. The keyboards/controllers I’ve found to be most useful have a combination of pads, knobs, and faders so that I can set up and control a variety of parameters with one device.

      If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to check out another video I did about customizing a MainStage Layout ( While it doesn’t speak to working with a specific keyboard or controller, it covers the general workflow on how to add elements to MainStage and map them to the controllers you have.

      Hope that helps!

  30. Ciao Brian, I am Raffaele from Italy… I play in a band and right now my live rig is a yamaha psr 3000 and master keyboard that controls legacy cell vst from my laptop, the sound goes directly to the keyboard. At home I use m-audio 88 prokey plugged directly toy pc and brainspawn forte 3. I would like to use this last setup on my live concerts but i suppose is better to buy an audio device, thinking about a scarlett 2i2 but it hasn’t got midi in/out. The point is: is 2i2 able enough to process the midi audio or do I need the 2i4? Right now without sound card the latency is around 17 ms but I am sure a simple 2i2 could give me back less latency more output quality 24bit 96kHz (utopic on live I know).
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hi Raffaele…

      The 2i2 can process both audio and MIDI simultaneously, assuming your keyboards can plug into a computer via USB. If you only have standard 5-pin MIDI connections on your keyboards, you’ll need to look into at least the 2i4.

      The other piece to consider for jumping to the 2i4 (or bigger) would be the number of outputs. If you need to send separate, multiple signals to the sound system, you’ll want to go beyond to 2i2.

      But in short, any Scarlett interface would be able to process your audio needs smoothly.

      Hope that helps!

  31. Thank you for your quick reply, yes, I will connect my 88 master via usb and will use just one in for the mic. I don’t need right now to send more output than 2 so the 2i2 will be perfect for my purpose. Definetly tomorrow I will buy that sound card. Thank u for your help. Bye bye and compliment for your blog

  32. Hey! Thanks for this, I’m planning to use it at youth! A few questions though.
    We have a Roland Fantom X8 workstation. I believe it has midi capabilities. Could I assign parameters on Mainstage to the keyboard itself and still be able to play with it? Also, after all the set up, how do I get the sound from my MacBook Pro to the DI box that goes to the soundboard? What kind of cable do I use? (The DI box has only one 1/4 inch input).

    • The Fantom would be good to go! Just would need an USB or MIDI -> USB cable to your laptop to get connected. Typically, if you’re using MIDI, you’re choosing to use that over internal sounds on the Roland.

      You’d be able to use any midi-capable knobs, faders, and pads and assign them to functions in MainStage.

      In terms of getting sound to the DI box, you’ll look to use an audio interface (best) with 1/4″ outs or use a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter from the Mac (not as good).

  33. Brian,
    All of your replies have been very helpful! Quick question:

    Could you describe a number of possibilities that would drive up the needs for inputs and outputs on your audio interface?

    Inputs: For running live keyboards, would most people only need one audio interface input (straight from the computer) and possibly an extra input for non-computer-generated sounds straight from a keyboard? Other reasons why someone would need more?

    Outputs: What are the possibilities here? I’m thinking stereo outs to the front of house, click track to in-ears, backing track?

    Seems like a 2i4 would fit most people, but what might I run into in the future that will make me wish I had a 6i6?


    • I think you’re right that most applications for an interface would be handled by a 2i4.

      For me, I like having the flexibility in studio or at a practice to run multiple inputs in for quick recording (jam sessions, arrangement ideas, quick tracks) and have the option of multiple outputs live (separate channels for click, cue, drum track, pads, etc) or in studio (different reference monitors or headphone mixes).

      Hope that helps!

  34. Hi! Is it possible to have your sustain pedal work for both your keyboard and MPK Mini? I’ve got a mini and www wondering if I needed a separate sustain pedal.

    • It’s possible with a 1/4″ splitter, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Tying the two together removes the flexibility to treat each keyboard as it’s own instrument (see related discussion here). Playing with two sustain pedals really isn’t too bad – it feels a bit awkward at first, but it definitely is the way to go.

  35. Hi Brain
    I am Oreva from Nigeria. I just saw this site and I am so excited reading the comments and your response. I believe I am in safe hands here. I am a keyboard minister in my church. I started my keyboard rig last year but on a windows platform. I have a scarlet 2i2 audio interface, Yamaha KX8 midi controller and a Korg T2. i use the software called sforzando, fruity loops(to layer sounds) and most time kontakt player. I have heard a lot about the mainstage,seen videos about it. I have been a windows person but for sometime now, i notice a lot of limitations in my rig and I am thinking of shifting to the apple world. I will appreciate if I can get useful materials to really learn the mainstage.
    Keep up the good work! Thumbs up!

  36. Do you connect your MPK to the audio interface somehow? If so, how? And do you feel there is latency issues with a MIDI to USB keyboard? I want to decide which interface to get but I just don’t know whether to invest in one with midi capabilities or a cheaper or with none. Any way you can help?

    • Hi Manny…the MPK goes straight via USB to the laptop. The sound the computer generated runs through the interface. I haven’t experienced any latency and even have run a few services without an interface (just laptop, MPK, and MainStage) for simpler setups.

      I opted for the interface with MIDI connections to have more options, as I have an older keyboard and sometimes want to avoid using a USB hub and will connect with the 5-pin MIDI instead.

      • As you can tell I’m new to this. So what I’ve gathered is that regardless of whether the mpk is connected to the interface, the sound will go through it from the computer? I really appreciate your response!

        • The basic signal flow is as follows:
          MIDI Keyboard (either via USB or MIDI 5-pin connection > controls MainStage > generates sound through Mac’s built-in output (headphone jack/speakers) or audio interface (if connected and enabled).

          Hope that helps!

  37. Hi – and thanks for the mainstage tutorial video.
    Im a worship leader and I have a yamaha cp4. And I’m very happy with it. That is all I use. But I have decided to take it up a step. I’ve just ordered a MacBook and a akai mpk mini mk2 midi controller. I havent received it yet, but I’m getting there 😉

    I think I will be able to get started with the software and everything, but guess I’ll strugle a bit with connecting the hardware together.

    What is the minimum requirement (hardware components) to get started. Next week I will have a cp4, akai mini mk2, MacBook and mainstage. Is it anything else i MUST have, And what is the “chain of commands”. What is connected to what. Now i just connect my cp4 with xlr L/R directly to the mixingboard.


    • Hi Holar…

      Congrats on stepping out and trying new things! By using MIDI and software instruments, the signal flow effectively ends at the computer. With the equipment you mentioned, the signal flow would be as follows:

      MPK to USB > controls MainStage > Laptop audio out (via line output/headphone jack). You’ll look to have an 1/8″ to 1/4″ output, ideally then to a DI box to the sound board.

      I would recommend getting an audio interface to have connected to your computer to process the sound, instead of the laptop’s built-in audio. This will give you faster audio processing and send a cleaner signal to the board. I personally use either a Presonus Firepod or Focusrite Scarlett.

      One other advantage of the interface is if you wanted to do a dual keyboard setup, using your MIDI setup as a second layer. You can plug your original keyboard into the audio interface and send both signals simultaneously to the board, with the blend controlled on your end.

      Hope that helps!

  38. I wanted to get your input on this selection of gear. Currently we do not have a keyboard in place that I want to use and want to get everything in one full swoop. I have a MBP with mainstage already that I use with Guitar (my primary). I want to get a full rig for less than $1000 if possible so I think I have most of my bases covered. Can you think of anything I may be missing. I am going to come out of the headphone out I think or I have a Tascam US 1800 and a Zoom interface I may pull into the rig.

  39. hey could you email me … I have questions about setting up something like this for worship

    • Hi Jamel…

      My apologies for the delay… the answer to that question is a little bit of personal preference. I find Mainstage great for live keyboard sounds/layers, but Abelton is better for tracks/stems/loops.

  40. Hi, do you know if a Yamaha P-255 will work as a midi controller for MainStage without issues? Just looking at a digital piano for home use that has MainStage capabilities too.


    • My apologies for the delayed response – absolutely! Any keyboard that has either a USB-out or a MIDI-out can be used with MainStage. Your choice of keyboard really depends on (1) what you like for the feel of the keys and weight action and (2) what controller features you want it to have (knobs/pads/faders).

  41. Hi Brian,

    I just want to verify how I would connect my rig that I’m working on (I’m new at this). Have a MacBook running MS3, an Akai LPD8, a Yamaha s80 (no USB, only midi in/out), and I got a used 6i6 that’s on its way from guitar center.

    I’m thinking: Connect the s80’s Midi in/out to the 6i6’s midi in/out, and connect the 6i6 to main stage via a USB cable. The LPD8 connects to the computer directly via USB as well. Am I correct in thinking that all the audio from mainstage goes through that USB cable from the 6i6? As in, I do not need any connection from my computer’s 1/8″ jack?

    Thanks for your faithful responses to all these posts!


  42. hello!!

    can i use my old keys in playing songs like endless praise by planetshakers? the keys model is casio ctk-501

    • Hi John… that keyboard does has a 5-pin MIDI out, so as long as you either have an interface with a 5-pin MIDI In or a MIDI-to-USB adapter, you’re in business if you’re looking to get into MainStage.

    • Hi John…if you’re just using the built in sounds of the Casio, I would say no – but if you’re getting into the MIDI world with MainStage (and others), absolutely.

  43. Hi Brian, I have an interface (m-audio profire), MacBook pro, m-audio axiom controller, and a Yamaha motif as well, I saw that you have a very similar set up, can you guide in how to set this up so Id have the functionality of the motif through mainstage as well as the controller? I would really appreciate this

    • Hi Marvin…

      Your basic setup would be: interface into MacBook Pro (check MainStage preferences to send audio in/out of it), connect each keyboard to the computer either straight to USB or through 5-pin midi port on interface (if available).

      From the software side, I personally only use software-based sounds rather than external, which is why I’d use both keyboards as midi instruments. You can account for this in your Layout screen.

      I’ve seen some folks route audio from the motif as a channel strip in MainStage so you can control the volume/FX routing with the software, while others set it up as an External Instrument to use its onboard sounds as an additional instrument.

      Hope that helps!

    • You may be able, to a certain degree…I don’t think you’ll find the performance options or quality of sounds in FL as you do on the MainStage side, but just running basic software instruments and maybe a loop or two? You may be able to pull it off.

  44. Hi Brian, dragging up an old post here, but I see you still replied to ‘recent’ comments and questions.

    I’m new to keyboard and definitely new to MS and MIDI stuff. I have a Clavinova Digital Piano here at home, which has MIDI I/O connections on the back. So I bought a Scarlett 2i4, which I plan to connect to a (yet to be purchased) Macbook Pro ~2013/2014. Based on YouTube tutorials I’m watching, I plan to add a Korg NanoKontrol2 into the mix to help control MS sounds. This will work out fine…piano to 2i4 via MIDI cables…2i4 to MBP via USB… KNK2 to MBP via USB.

    My issue is that I plan to use much of this setup, except the piano, at my church, where we have a Yamaha keyboard that doesn’t have MIDI I/O ports on it, but only has a USB out option. How do I connect this third USB plug to my MBP?

    I’ve seen basic USB to MIDI I/O cables online (and you even mentioned an EmuX? branded one above). However, most usage cases seem to be for a keyboard with MIDI I/O going to a USB port on a computer. I plan to use it the reverse way…USB from the keyboard, to MIDI I/O on the Scarlett 2i4. Will this work? If not, what is my next option? The MBP only has two USB ports, and there are no cheap ways to go from USB to Thunderbolt (other than the AUD$80 Kanex adapter).

  45. Hi Brian,

    What a great post for someone very new to the world of MIDI!

    I currently have a Yamaha P-255, Akai MPK225, and a MacPro. What would your recommended setup be?

    • Hi Hana…

      My apologies for the late reply! You have some nice starter equipment. The next piece I would say would be to get an audio interface, ideally one that has multiple outputs for future flexibility (the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces are excellent) and MainStage for your software.

      You can then either run the P255 as real audio and use the Akai as a secondary keyboard in MainStage, or go completely MIDI with both keyboards…the interface is what you’d use to send the audio to the soundboard.

  46. Hi Brian, I’m using a Nord Electro 3 and a Focusrite 2i4 into my Mac Book Pro and a Korg Nano Kontrol 2. I was able to map the Nano Kontrol but I can’t seem to get my Nord mapped on MainStage. Would you be able to help? I hope this makes sense. Thanks

  47. Hey Brian! Could you explain the signal flow of the setup. From each piece of equipment: controller, interface, computer, and sound board. Thanks!

    • Hi Jarrett… here’s the flow: Controller via USB to computer…computer sound output via audio interface (usb)…interface 1/4 inch stereo to DI Boxes to soundboard.

      One less connection possibility would be to use a 5-pin MIDI from controller to interface (if supported).

      Hope that helps!

  48. A worship team newbee here. I have a korg kross 2 keyboard. Looking to set it up for a church plant (in home at first then moving to new location in next month or so). What cables/speakers would you suggest for this environment? With is being a church plant, $ matters but we also don’t want it to sound cheap. 🙂

    • Hi Heidi – best of luck as you get started! If you’re going the MainStage (MIDI) route, you’ll be looking for an audio interface for your computer setup that ideally outputs stereo to Direct boxes to your mixer. If you’re going straight audio from the keyboard, look to get Direct boxes to go to the board. If you need more specific advice for a PA system for the room and next steps, let me know.

  49. Hi Brian,

    I just bought Main Stage 3.
    I’m trying to connect my Yamaha p-95 to my MacBook Pro but am having some trouble. I’m a worship leader and will be using main stage during our worship sets. So far I have the midi to USB cable connected to my Mac and I’ve tried several times to switch around the audio settings but nothing seems to work. Any idea about what might be wrong?

    • Hi Megan – Assuming you’re using Mainstage? The basic gist should be as follows:

      (1) Connect the MIDI cable from the MIDI out of the keyboard and the USB to the laptop and be sure the keyboard is powered on.

      (2) In Mainstage, go to the Layout tab of your Concert. Select the on-screen keyboard. If necessary, add a Keyboard layer by dragging one from the bottom.

      (3) Click the “Assign” button on the left sidebar and press a key on your keyboard for it to map to the on-screen keyboard. Click the Assign button again when done.

      Hope that helps!

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