A while ago I purchased Mainstage 3 with the intent of incorporate it in to my live set. I’ve finally got around to setting it all up and have it working as a live looper. But this wasn’t without its frustrations, which highlighted some integral flaws in using Mainstage. Luckily I’ve been able to work around this.
I started playing around with Loopback, the loop creation plugin shipped with Mainstage. It works pretty well for the most part, its easy on the eye and ties in perfectly with the Mainstage Layout. There are however some major flaw.
Mainstage runs a master internal beat clock to keep everything in sync. If you’re working to a click and starting your loops on beat count 1, everything works fine. The problem with the Loopback plugin is that it’s stop and start controls don’t stop the Mainstage internal beat clock, it keeps running unless you tell it to stop outside of the plugin. So if you record a bunch of loops then stop, clear and start again, you’ll probably end up coming in on beat count 3 in Mainstages clock when you’re actually at the start of a beat. You might think this doesn’t really matter, as long as you can hear the start and end of your loop, but this miss match causes things to go wrong in Loopback, espicially when you have the plugin set to start from “relative position” mode.
Another weird bug I found was if you have “Set Concert Tempo After First Take” turned off in Loopback, you can record a loop, press play to stop recording and have that loop continue under you. If you have this option turned on, the plugin will continue recording instead of allowing you to simply play over what you have just recorded. Why???
The plugin has the ability to Sync but only to the Master Beat Clock. If you could have one looper set as the master and others as slaves I feel like this would fix a lot of problems but this is not possible.
My solution to all this was to use an open source plugin called SooperLooper. It doesn’t looks a sleek as Loopback and being open sources its a little more work to tie your layout in with the plugin. But it works really well and boats a lot more features.
Firstly you will notice the “Sync To” option at the top left. You can have one iteration of this plugin as your master loop and sync subsequent iterations to that loop. This is exactly what any live looper needs and is not reliant at all on a beat clock, it works of the length of the loop that you initially set.
You have the flexibility to set a tempo or tap a tempo for the plugin if you desire. This tempo can be individual to the plugin or you can pipe this tempo to Mainstage if you want to integrate it with other plugins.
You have the option to mute and un-mute loops plus the option to stop and play from the start which works perfect. Trying to do this in Loopback chops up your loops for some reason.
There are a bunch of other cool features that Loopback doesn’t have such as scratch, pitch shifting, speed, loop replacement, quantizing and so on. Its really full featured and to have that open source community support behind it is great. It can be installed as an Audio Unit plugin to work with a rage of DAW’s or you can run it independently on PC or MAC. This is fantastic if you want to have a play around before spending some serious money on hardware and software.
To control all this I’m using a great piece of kit called the Behringer FCB1010.
Programming this thing on its own is a pig but again thanks to the open source community you can grab a piece of software called FCB Editor (for Windows) or iFCB (for Mac). By programming each numbered button on the FCB to a different control change midi message you can trigger buttons in your Mainstage layout which then triger the functions in SooperLooper.
My Mainstage layout and looper performances are still developing but here is how I currently set my layout. Each button basically does as it says underneath. The yellow circles spin around in sync with the length of the loops to help give you a visual guide.
The larger yellow strips were used to show a wave form of the loop you have recorded. Unfortunately SooperLooper does not pipe the waveforms but I’m sure there is a way to work around it if you really wanted to.
SooperLooper – http://essej.net/sooperlooper/
FCB Editor For Windows – http://host.mtnsys.com:81/faq-fcb/PCEditorBeta.htm
iFCB for Mac – http://www.wabbitwanch.com/iFCB.html