“At times during a live performance it has come to where I just actually cut the track because I couldn’t skip to a certain section without triggering the whole show. With Playback, though, I can just let it run, and if I need to skip anything I have the option; it’s great to have that option.”
Roberts is also excited about MainStage's new sync mode, which lets him store song tempo within a patch so that the backing tracks within each song are easily synced to the right tempo. “With MainStage 2 I’ll be better prepared for anything,” he says. “Because even as we start learning a new record to perform live, John is the type of artist who will say I want to speed this up three beats per minute, or change this key to that. In the past I would have to take a list of whatever he wanted changed and by the next rehearsal I could have it all done. Now, with MainStage, I can do it on the fly.”
Although he’s played with Legend for several years, Roberts toured previously with Teddy Riley and Kanye West. Like many touring musicians, he sees MainStage as a viable and flexible alternative to using hardware synthesizers. In fact, Roberts has been able to gradually eliminate hardware modules while still managing to expand the band’s live sound using his MacBook Pro. “I used to carry a rack of modules to my gigs because I didn’t want to carry so many keyboards, but with MainStage I don’t need them,” says Roberts. “It’s like, if I have my MacBook Pro, if I have my session, I have my show.”
Largely because of his long, happy history with Logic Pro, Roberts has never considered an alternative to MainStage: “Honestly, MainStage is the only software I would use in performance, period. I’m not going to use a bunch of standalones. MainStage has all the original Apple sounds in it already, so I’m fine because that’s really good stuff. Anything I need to sample in, I just sample it in ESX24 and keep it grooving.”
Keeping the entire band grooving is the responsibility of Irv Washington, the band’s programming technician, who makes sure that all of the programming for the onstage keyboards just works. “We have done a whole year on this tour alone, and not once did we have a malfunction,” says Washington. “We’ve been using MacBook Pro laptops running Logic and MainStage, and everything has been absolutely solid and consistent.”
Bass player Kenny “Dubya” Wright, who’s played with Legend for five years, uses MainStage to play synth bass patches on a keyboard through MainStage. “I’m used to the show, but since we added new musicians and Eugene began music directing, a lot of things have been changing,” he says. “And that really allows me to play differently. I now play half the show in key bass, half in regular bass.
“What makes playing key bass in MainStage perfect is that I have pretty much an unlimited source of sounds, so I’m not stuck with just a regular bass sound. I can experiment, going from the 70s to the 80s to the 90s all in MainStage, all programmed in. That’s really, really big for me. Everything runs fast and smooth in MainStage. And with all the extra plug-ins, it’s just so vast.”
Amps and Pedals
Easy, fast access to massive new sounds has also inspired the band’s guitarist, Shon Hinton to explore MainStage. “What impressed me immediately about MainStage were the visual representations, just seeing the cool old amps and the analog pedals while I’m creating music,” says Hinton. “I know it probably sounds elementary, but that’s a dream for me as a guitarist, whether I’m doing session work or performing live.
“And the option to create your own pedals is awesome. I used to bring so much physical stuff to sessions just to try to get the tone that I was looking for, but with MainStage I can easily explore these different tones using Pedalboard. In a recent session I was able to go from a tube amp that gave me the soul sounds I was looking for to an amp that gave me distortion and a heavy metal feel when I wanted something to growl very, very hard. My guitar chords popped through that whole song: not overbearing, just a great sound. My friend asked what pedal was I using, and I told him I was using MainStage and Logic. It’s ridiculous.”
As the tour winds down, Roberts says he’s enjoying playing and producing in equal measure, noting that “producing the show is even more of a challenge than just being a band mate, because at this point I’m responsible for the live sound of this artist.”
To better meet that responsibility, Roberts hopes soon to be generating as many of the show’s keyboard sounds and effects as he can through MainStage. “We’re steadily moving everything over from Logic to MainStage,” he says. “In the meantime, something I really like about both Logic and MainStage is that there’s no wrong way to make a sound in either one. Maybe four great ways to do it, but no wrong way.”