I thought some of you nerds might like to see a little more in-depth stuff about the way that the Sharkbox runs. We do our writing and production these days largely in Apple Logic, which is a fun and easy, some would say “frictionless” piece of software for music composition. I’m still attached to Cubase in some ways, and I’m moving already-written tunes into Pro Tools for polishing up the mixing for our new EP. But Logic is nice, and one reason is easy porting to its sister program, MainStage.
What the heck is MainStage? It’s Apple’s somewhat amazing tool for rocking a live show, hence the name. It’s vastly different from say, Ableton Live, because it’s not specifically about loops or electronic music. A DJ or electronic artist could probably use it, but the presets show what the intent is: guitar rigs, virtual keyboard/synth racks, and even a looper (a la a Boss LoopStation type of pedal). But there are a lot of options and easy assignment to controllers, and not a ton of guidelines, so it’s a remarkably creative piece of gear.
Click the little screenshot for a big screenshot. The program starts as a layout engine, where you drop shapes and instruments onto the screen and arrange them like so. Each object either corresponds to something you can look at on the screen for information while you’re playing (like the waveforms), or a controller you can use (like the keyboards, buttons, sliders and knobs). Deb and I each have a keyboard, shown at the bottom. I have a 3-button footswitch, shown next to my keyboard. The rest of the knobs and sliders are on my Korg nanoKONTROL unit, a nice compact little guy.
The great part about MainStage is that it doesn’t dictate how you should work. Once you figure out what you need in a set, each song can be different. Some, where I play guitar or bass, use a single song-length backing track. Others have loops that I can turn on and off, add effects to, and generally “play” more than “play back.” Some acoustic-based songs don’t have any backing. On our cover of “Flume,” I actually play MPC-style drum pads on my Akai keyboard controller.
I feel like we’ve barely scraped the surface of MainStage: there are tools for improvisation, tools for building drum loops in real time a la Maschine or an Akai MPC, and great stuff if you want to run a guitar through your computer. If you have a multi-out audio interface, you can do some creative routing, like sending the backing track by itself to headphones for a live drummer to play along with. So in the future, look for us to be doing some very interesting things, and drop the notion that an electronic band is just playing over a backing track!