Mainstage 3 Tutorial | Terminology


Mainstage 3 is an Apple software, designed specifically for the live musician looking to add studio-quality sounds and features to their live performances. For me, it’s best the best $29.99 I’ve spent in a long time and has become the central part of my new keyboard rig. It delivers and easy-to-use layout designer with up to 35 GBs of really fantastic sounds, loops, and effects. The samples and patches rival some single-use plugins that cost hundreds of dollars (just check out the Rhodes, Vintage B3, or even the guitar amp modelers).

This tutorial will overview Mainstage 3’s basic terminology. And, while I found most of the workflow to be intuitive, I realize that intuitive is a very relative word. Hopefully this short breakdown will assist in understanding how the program thinks and get you up and running quickly.

The Interface

This section is where you control the look and labeling of your screen. Add keyboards, knobs, buttons, meters, and parameter text to your heart’s content. You can work with formatting options, grouping objects, and layering with each element you add.


The Edit section is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. Here, you set up your Concert by mapping buttons and faders to control your desired elements, set up your patches with either single sounds or layers, and add effects to fine-tune the production. Everything here is “Live,” so hit buttons on you’re keyboard or play a rhythm on the guitar and it will produce sound.


This view takes the visuals you’ve tweaked in Layout and the sounds you’ve developed in Edit and gives you a complete full-screen experience, perfect for life playing. You navigate through the Perform space using any input device you have: mouse, keyboard, or MIDI controller(s).


Basic Concepts

The Concert is the highest level of MainStage. Think of it as your entire file or project. Anything you set up here is the default for everything you do underneath it. Set up default tempos, standardize effects tracks, and set your master MIDI controller assignments.

A Set is a group of patches. Often, we think of a Set as a list of songs, but I’d encourage you to think of it simply as a grouping in MainStage. It allows you to establish a subset of controls for a specific group of sounds. For using MainStage in worship music, I generally create a Set for each song in the worship list.

A patch traditionally refers to a single sound generated by the device. In MainStage, while this concept is true, it is much more expansive than just a single sound. A Patch in MainStage is a grouping of channel strips and effects, so you can layer multiple sounds and a handful of effects into a single Patch. It’s almost like having your own GarageBand or Logic project for every Patch.

I trust that this short overview has been very helpful to lay the foundation for your work in MainStage. The next tutorial will cover the basics of working in Layout mode, where we’ll customize what we want to see in our live performances.

18 Responses to "Mainstage 3 Tutorial | Terminology"
  1. Hi Brian: Thanks for the info on Mainstage. I have Mainstage 3 myself at the moment and was hoping to replace my heavier rig with a lightweight MIDI controller and laptop solution.

    Can you talk a little bit about how you switch from “song” to “song”? Is there a key on the keyboard that triggers the patch switching or do you physically click on the laptop?

    • Hi Fernando…

      I’ll do the response full justice soon, as my next tutorial will cover my approach to designing a layout in MainStage. To answer your question briefly, the answer is that you can do both. It is admittedly rather awkward to have to use the mouse, though, so if your keyboard has midi capabilities with knobs, faders, or buttons, you can assign any and all of those functions to control MainStage.

      I use my Akai MPK mini’s pads to switch from patch to patch, with each song being a “Set” in MainStage.

    • One thing to check would be in Layout mode…that’s where you have your visual keyboard, but also the controls for which MIDI device corresponds to it as well as what channel it receives on. You can have it receive on all channels or just a single one – try adjusting that first and see if it resolves the issue.

  2. Great tutorial! I have an MPK88 with a similar layout, but have been unsuccessful in assigning the pads to be screen controls for things like tap tempo or switching patches. I assume this has something to do with the MIDI channel — How did you pull that off?

    • Could be – the first thing I’d look at is MainStage’s Layout screen where, if you select your keyboard, one of the settings is for which channel it transmits on. I typically keep mine on All Channels (1-16), as I haven’t had a need to differentiate….yet. 🙂

      • Hi Brian! Thanks for the quick reply! That’s what mine was set at as well. I also figured out that the MPK88 button functions need to be edited on the unit itself or in the free accompanying Visex software. I needed to change them from “notes” to “controls”. They still aren’t quite right, but I think I’m getting close. Now I just need to figure out how to sync the clock! 🙂 Thanks again!

  3. Nice Tutorial!!! God Bless You!
    How did you do for add this toolbar i can´t add it on my mainstage 3
    Do you know how i do that?

    • Not sure I understand what you’re asking – are you talking about the toolbar at the top of my layout that contains the MIDI activity monitor and other info?

  4. Hi I have an AKAI MPK 88 controller using main stage 3 but it is 1/2 note off tune. Can you please help me?

    • Hi Jose…

      I’ve seen this happen before when the sample rate in MainStage is different than the sample rate used by your audio interface. I’d doublecheck those settings first.

      Next, make sure there’s no transpose option selected on either your MIDI keyboard or in your patch settings.

  5. hello, i have had the same trouble the last two years, im playing with different patches, and in sometime the sound is out of tune….my mac is mid 2012, 8 gb ram, i7 2.9 ghz, solid state disk, i use a focusrite scarlett 6i6, and a nanokontrol, and a korg piano like controller, i have installed mainstage full several times, and cleares de midi drivers, … and the trouble is the same…any idea how can i fix it??

    • Hi Jorge…

      There is a tuning preference in MainStage > Preferences > General. Make sure that’s accurate for you.

      The other thing that I’ve seen is if you have a different sample rate in your interface vs what MainStage is producing. I would double-check that as well.

      I hope that helps!

  6. Hi Brian,

    First things first, this really helped me out getting started with Mainstage 3 when I bought it a couple of months ago, thanks!

    Now that I know the software a little better and want to experiment new things, I bought an Akai mpk mini (mk2) myself to be able to play samples and drums anytime during a song (at first I wanted an LPD8 but then I learned that for 30$ extra it would come with a small keyboard).
    But I had issues setting it up and sInce you are the only pro of Mainstage I found using the same hardware/software match as mine, I thought you might be the only one who can proprely help with my setup issues.

    So, here comes my case…
    I want my pads and keys (both on the same hardware ”MPK mini”) to play on 2 different channel strips (different software instruments). How do I seperate the pads from the keys?

    I went in the MPK mini Editor software and assigned the pads to midi channel 2 and the keys to midi channel 1. Now, when I open Mainstage, the sofware recognizes the Mpk as ”Keyboard 1”. I also have all the virtual pads and the keyboard keys (layout mode) assigned to their harware equivalent and their midi signal is recieved proprely by Mainstage. So far so good, but when it comes to select what keyboard/midi source I want to use for a channel strip (edit mode), I only have Keyboard 1 as an option (also ”None” and ”Multitimbral”…I’m not sure I understand what it does). When I select it (Keyboard 1), its eighter the drum pads or the keys that plays (depending on what midi channel is selected for Keyboard 1 ”in layout mode”).
    So, I assume that I have to make Mainstage see the MPK as two different keyboards (pads and keys) and then have midi channel 1 for Keyboard 1 and midi channel 2 for a Keyboard 2.
    If that is the case, how do I do that? Or is there a way for Keyboard 1 to receive from both MPK’S midi channels and then select what midi channel I want to receive signal from for each individual channel strips.

    I’ve read every forum I could find on the internet and even had a friend who has a diploma in sound engineering and studio recording to help me out, but I still can’t make my Mpk work the way I want. Is there anyway to send you screenshots if it can help you understand what the issue is?

    • Hi Michel…

      Since writing this post, I’ve upgrade my main keyboard to a Nektar Panorama P6, but I think the concepts should be the same as what you’re looking to do – and I think you’re on the right track. Keeping the channels separate is the easier approach, and you’ll want separate layout controls for each section, as this will allow you to assign the separate channels. You’ll then need to set up different Channels in your Edit screen for what sounds you want to control.

      Screenshot of the Layout screen:

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