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The Anatomy Of A Worship Keyboardist’s Rig

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Throughout college, I had the privilege to play at many different venues, churches; as well as helping others constructing their keyboard rigs so that they were usable and reliable.  Personally, I’ve had my fair share of controllers, keyboards, stage pianos, vintage boards, and effects.  I have come to be content with what is involved in my rig.  Why? Because it works for everything I need, and it can do more than I sometimes need it to.  I will, in depth, break down my current rig, and explain the parts, and why and how I use them.  As a disclaimer, this is what suits ME as a worship keyboardist, and is strictly my opinions as well as my personal preferences as to why it makes a great rig for me as a keyboard player.  There is no “be all end all” rig.  Let us begin.

The Brains Of The Rig

Macbook Pro

I used to hate Apple products.  Then I bought my Macbook, and my world changed.  This is the center of my rig.  I run a 13”, Macbook 7,1.  I have  upgraded my RAM to 8 GB.  I highly recommend doing this, it makes your  computer run faster and better to support the use of many programs and plug-ins.  My Processor is the 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo.  I plan on getting a new Macbook soon, but mine is still running strong.  ALWAYS MAKE A BACK UP OF YOUR HARDDRIVE!

Western Digital 7200 RPM Hard Drive

 I use this for a few reasons.  One of them is simply I have so many  samples in my programs, that I needed more space to keep them all.  This has more than enough room.  It is a physical spinning hard drive, so I only have about 20% used on it and keep it low because seek time is less when my MBP searches for samples that I call up.  The next reason I use this is that it runs at 7200 RPM, where most internal hard drives in Macbooks spin at 5400 RPM.  This, in return causes my computer to search the better, external drive first before going to the internal, creating faster transfer speeds.  The hard drive is connected via a Firewire 800 cable.

In The Rack

Technical Pro Power Conditioner

This power conditioner makes every thing in the rig stay on safely.  It has about 8 outlets on the back and then another 4 on the front.  It’s simple, and it was very affordable.  The switch also glows blue, which is a nice touch.  It really is a no frills and thrills power conditioner, but if the power ever blew, it is going to protect all my gear.

Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 Interface

I absolutely love this interface.  It has multiple in’s and out’s so I am able to route whatever I want, wherever I want.  This rack also doubles as the integral part to me running loops.  It was not too long ago that I was able to run loops in surround sound! Routing different parts of tracks in between about 4 to 5 speaker sends.  I was able to do this because I had all these separate outputs to split whatever I wanted and send it to FOH.  On the recording side of things, the preamps in this piece of equipment are pristine sounding.  With two direct inputs on the front of it, as well as padding, phantom power, and gain control capabilities.  It’s very simple for me to record and playback on the fly, or do a quick setup or demos and  such.  The sound is also pristine as well coming out of the interface, and  there is absolutely no latency.  This interface is daisy chained to my hard drive, and runs from a Firewire 800 to 400 cable.

Alesis Multimix 8 Line Mixer      

 This is where everything is summed together to send to front of house.  The mixer features Volume, FX Send, and Pan for each channel.  If I am  at a venue that only has me mono, I still run all sound stereo, and then just pan each channel hard right or left, and take the respective output to front of house.  I use all my own direct boxes.  I have two, Rapco Stereoline Direct Boxes.  They’re solid, and have the ground lift feature just in case of  the dreaded buzz.  The ability to mix my own sounds and keyboards and send one mix to FOH is very accommodating not only to what I hear in my ears, but also to the engineer who only has to tell me what should come up or down, and not figure out what should be done on his own.  And it uses less channels, and that’s always a plus.

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The Keyboards

M-Audio Axiom 49

This has been my work horse of a controller for the past six years and it is still running strong.  I love it for the faders and trigger pads.  I’ll control scene changes within my programs, and map the faders to volume sliders within my DAWs.  49 keys is the perfect amount, I prefer the number of keys to purposefully limit myself in how I play chords, especially on pad sounds.  Not being able to spread my hands out so far is very good for the mix, and it keeps the tonal options for myself in one play for the most part so I don’t step on the toes of the other musicians in the band that are  carrying the different parts of the songs.

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73 Key Korg Stage Vintage Piano

This is the newest and most impressive addition to my rig.  I wanted some hardware, and looked hard to find what would suit me.  Personally, I don’t play a lot of organ any more in my worship sets, so quality B3’s were not necessary for me (please don’t smite me).  I wanted great sounding pianos, and amazing Rhodes and Wurly samples.  On top of the that, the weighted keys of the SV-1 made it an easy decision.  And as a lot of  people will say, it is an inspiring instrument to play.  With the analog feel of the knobs, no menus, its very user friendly and gets up and running in a matter of seconds.  This is also my safe haven because if my computer ever fails, I can still always get sounds from the SV-1. 

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Software

 I have a lot of different software, but only use what I feel I need to in a gig. I will go over what I have and the different uses.

 

Ableton Live 9 Suite – This is my host for all my plug-ins.  I use to create loops, click tracks, as well as to play sounds in general.  This is the center of my software rig.

 

Spectrasonics Omnisphere – This synthesizer is incredible.  It is not just a soft synth, it truly is an intuitive synthesizer.  Pads, leads, bass, effects, spacey, it does it all  It also has incredible expressive string patches which I have come to love.  All the samples of vintage synths like Moog, Oberheim, Juno, are incredible.  I do 90% of tracking as well as live patches with Omnisphere.

 

Native Instruments Massive – Another great synthesizer plug in.  I use this especially for more abstract sounds.  I usually go to Massive when I need more sounds, than tonal patches.  Some of them can be very eerie and create lots of tension, it is perfect for doing things such as scoring for short films (or long ones!).

 

 

*when I produce more, I use other software including but not limited to

            Logic Pro X

            Mainstage 2

            Waves Effects Bundle

            Lounge Lizard EP-4

            Arturia Analog Factory

          

How it all connects

On this page, you will find a diagram that I have created.  Though simple, it shows where everything goes, but here is a detailed write up.

The M-Audio Axiom 49 is connected via a MIDI-to-USB cable.  The cable then goes into a USB port on my Macbook Pro.  Here it controls any software that I want it to, lets say Ableton Live.  My Hard Drive is connected via Firewire 800, and streams samples to my Macbook.  Audio is passed through the Firewire 800 cable, through my hard drive, through another Firewire cable to my Interface.  It is my interface that spits out the sounds through any of the multiple outputs that it has.  For now, lets say I am only using one set of stereo out puts, so I will route my Omnisphere Plug-In in Ableton Live to channels 1 and 2 of my Saffire Pro 40.  From Channel 1 and 2, I will send stereo signal (2 mono cables) to a stereo input on my Alesis Multi Mix 8.  Then I will take a stereo signal (2 mono cables) from my Korg SV-1, and occasionally send signal through my Strymon Timeline (not in the diagram), then stereo out (2 mono cables) into a stereo input on my Alesis Multimix 8.  It is at the mixer that I will mix signals to equalize my levels, and then there will be one stereo feed sent to front of house.  And that is my basic connection for my keyboard rig.

 Keys Diagram-page-0

*click on images for bigger view*

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15 Responses to “The Anatomy Of A Worship Keyboardist’s Rig”

  1. Dude… great information. I need help with building a rig that’s going to serve well for our worship team, please!

  2. How do you run loops as well as play keys from your MacBook Pro? Do you use multiple outs from your interface from ableton? I.e. Send loops and click from 3 outputs and run patches from outputs 4-5? It’s kind of a confusing topic for me

    • Johnny, depending on your interface, you can route any signal to any output. So my usual worship set will ask for 5 outputs:

      A set of stereo outputs for keys
      So that is outputs 1 and 2

      A set of stereo outputs for tracks
      So that is output 3 and 4

      And an output for click and guide cues
      That is output 5

      Once you tell Ableton which audio interface to use via the preferences>audio menu, each channel strip can be routed to an individual output, or stereo set of outputs

      Great questions!

      Jeremy

  3. I’m new to the worship/performance keyboarding scene, and I’ve just began to use both a midi controller and a keyboard. So if you don’t mind me asking, what is the purpose of the Focusrite Saffire Pro? Thanks!

    • Kyle,thanks for the question! So the Focusrite Saffire Pro is an audio interface. The headphone jack out on a laptop is inherently not that great quality. Audio interfaces serve a couple of purposes, heres how I utilize mine.

      It sounds awesome! Audio travels via firewire to the outputs of it.
      It has multiple outputs, so I can send stereo and mono mixes of what ever I need, i.e. Keys, tracks, clicks, guide cues, etc. I also fire midi message in and out of it, so I use it to plug midi controllers to control software and what not, but also send out midi messages to capable pedals.

      audio interfaces are one of the first things to look into when setting up a rig, theyre a great thing to have!

      Hope that helps!

  4. Jeremy,
    Great article! I was wondering what you use to house all of the equipment? What does your Macbook sit on?
    Thanks

  5. Awesome Info Bro…God bless you loads 🙂

  6. Hey Jeremy! Thanks for this post.

    I was wondering, as a new keys player, what kind of rig you think is a good place to start?
    I currently have a M-Audio Oxygen 49 as my Midi Controller, and Ableton Live 9. What Audio Interface should I get, and also should I purchase Omnisphere?

    Thanks!

  7. Hey, thanks for the Insight view!
    Ohne question:
    How so you Keep all your Songs Organized in Ableton?
    Because this Turns out to be challenging for me..
    And are you also tweaking Sounds during the Performance?

    • Hey Jonas, so if I have a big Ableton Live set, I would have all my songs in it that I would ever do. So it can get fairly large. But the glory of Ableton is that you can click and drag multiple scenes at a time. So I would usually just move the set list into order by doing that and keeping it at the top of my session view. And as for tweaking sounds yes I do. I’ve stripped down my workflow to only using 3-4 different sounds for say a set of 5-6 songs in a worship set. So that’s with some great use of verbs and mod wheel things, and that usually gives me a bit of room to be creative during the set, but not getting to flashy or busy. Hope that helps!

  8. michael morgan March 9, 2016 at 5:36 pm Reply

    thanks Jeremy. We have been using the SV1 as well. Problem i have been having with it is that there are no good pad sounds, or Pad & Piano mixed. Do you ever use midi out of the SV1 to trigger in omnisphere to have pad and piano? How do you handle sounds like that?

  9. Grace Nathaniel September 9, 2016 at 7:18 pm Reply

    Hi Jeremy!

    Thank you for the article! I was wondering, did you build up the rack yourself or did you buy a custom rack? My church is looking to build a rack for the keys interfaces that we are currently using.

    Thank you in advance!

  10. How would i learn how to connect all these things and learn what i need for what i need? I am new to the software business. Growing up in a tradition gospel church we had a Hammond B3, 2 keyboard players hooked up to amps, and a few singers plugged into speakers. All this new technology is confusing. I am a good piano player, but with the way church music is going, I feel like I am going to have to learn all about this stuff.

  11. What is your advise for someone who has little knowledge of anything you said here… and is also the worship Pastor who plays keys and leads? Is there a smaller scale of things I could try? All I want to do is bring more sounds to the table. I have a fantom x8 and a Mac and a midi cable for Mac to keyboard connection, and mainsatge 3. But, I can’t get all my controls on my keyboard to work when my Mac is plugged in? Volume Or any if the knobs don’t work, and if I turn the volume up too high on the Mac to even hear myself there is static when I hit the keys. To get the sound to go to the mains I unplug my keyboard 1/4 inch cable and put that into a headphone sized invertor to plug into my Mac. I assume that’s a main issue, but I’m just not sure! Any help is appreciated!

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