Is Apple MainStage, At $30, The Biggest Bargain In Music Software?

We thought Apple’s decision to sell Logic Pro 9 in its Mac App Store for $200 made it a fantastic bargain.

But the real bargain is the second app that Apple released in the App Store yesterday, MainStage.

MainStage hasn’t received a lot of attention as part of the Logic Studio bundle and a lot of people probably don’t know what it does. That may change, though, now that it’s being bundled with 19GB of software synths, sampled instruments and loops.

At that price, it’s easily one of the biggest bargains in music software.

That 19GB includes some highly regarded plugins from Logic, including:

  • EXS24 Sampler
  • Sculpture physical modeling synthesizer
  • Ultrabeat drum synth
  • EVOC20 Vocoder
  • And a variety of virtual versions of vintage synth & keyboard

MainStage basically turns a Mac into a live performance rig, with broad hardware control and a massive number of plugins and sounds. The video above takes a look at how Nine Inch Nails has used MainStage as part of its live performance reg.

If you’re a MainStage user, let us know how you use it – and what you think of the new pricing!


  • Perform live with 120 instrument and effect plug-ins or work with your Audio Units plug-ins
  • Combine instruments and live audio, such as keyboard and vocals, in a single patch
  • Design rich keyboard patches using splits and layers
  • Use 40 built-in instruments including synths, vintage keyboards, a drum machine, sampler, and more
  • Trigger Apple Loops and stereo or multitrack backing tracks using the Playback plug-in
  • Create and layer your own loop recordings with the Loopback plug-in
  • 80 effects including reverbs, delays, EQs, dynamics, amps, stompboxes, and more
  • Add backing tracks using more than 15,000 royalty-free Apple Loops
  • A huge library of more than 1700 sampler instruments

MainStage is $30 in the Mac App Store.

via reader stellan0r

38 thoughts on “Is Apple MainStage, At $30, The Biggest Bargain In Music Software?

  1. Again, it’s important to note that buying Mainstage doesn’t mean that all of Logic’s plug-ins show up in your non-Logic DAW. It’s a great value, but not in the way that some people seem to think it is.

    1. thats actually true, and it’s harder to rewire than I thought in the first place (after reading other comments) – but only the 10000+ file sample library is worth it, and converting it into something useful for Ableton Live did not even take an hour with Max (audio converter tool) 🙂

    2. yes, but all your no apple plugins will run within mainstage. you can run ableton and maschine within mainstage. i have been using it exclusively as my live rig software for 3 years now. i wouldn’t use anything else

  2. Just bought & downloaded the MainStage2 app this morning. The rest of the content & instruments will probably finish downloading later tonight. I’m not sure what the full list of Logic instruments is, but it contains about 15 Logic instruments, including Sculpture — which I’ve been lusting after — and I got it without having to buy LP9!! But yes, while Logic’s instruments & effects are available for MainStage, but not directly accessible via another DAW. Still, for a live performance rig, with Logic instruments integrated with all your other VI’s, and all those Logic FX, AU FX, etc. etc. for $30 it’s … it’s…. I’m going to pass out….

  3. Oh. And yes… biggest bargain I’ve gotten in years. Period. Can I think of a downside? Well, it’s probably gonna sting a little for the competition.

  4. Downloaded entire thing (app + all extra content).

    None of the Logic-specific effects or instruments appear in GB. It may be that the Apple Loops and instruments from the various Jam packs are available in GB from this installation, but I can’t tell because I had them installed already.

  5. Hell, even Logic Studio at $200 is a hell of a deal. If you remember, when Apple first shipped the JamPacs where $99 a piece. Logic holds its own against any of the other DAWs out there.

    One thing that does concern me though. If you remember, Apple sold a high-end visual effects package called Shake. It was the industry standard at the time and it sold for thousands of dollars. Then they reduced the price to $500 making it the best bargain by far in the visual effects software world. Then, not long after that, they stopped developing it and then stopped selling it. I may be paranoid but, this kind of smells like Shake all over again. This just may be my own paranoia, at least I hope so.

  6. @Jeff: Paranoia sometimes makes sense. What you described also happened to Opcode VisionDSP/StudioVision back in the ‘90s. But, Apple has lower prices on Final Cut Pro and Aperture when putting them on the Mac App Store, and those products are still in development and doing well.

    There’s a certain indie plug-in developer who swears that Logic won’t make it to version 10. I’ve asked him why he thinks this several times, only to be met by silence. It should be noted that he hates Logic with the white-hot fury of a thousand suns, so it would clearly be a happy day for him if Logic were to be killed.

    1. I’m gonna say that most of the price drop isn’t necessarily a price drop, i.e. $499 for Logic, Mainstage, Compressor, Soundtrack Pro, Apple Loops Util, loop-packs, etc. feasibly becomes $199 when you take away mainstage, compressor, stp, content discs and, let’s not forget the superb packaging. That box was built like a tank!

      Im also hoping for some sister iPad apps for mainstage and perhaps even Logic (perhaps a controller software which functions with both?), but that’s mostly wishful thinking.

    2. I think people are just so stuck on the upgrade treadmill that if their DAW doesn’t come out with an update every 16 months they assume it must be discontinued! Too me the slow updates are what signifies a “pro” app. How can take something seriously that seems to come out with new versions constantly making you waste time upgrading and testing and relearning? This is why I’d rather use a DAW by a company who has other revenue streams besides music software. They don’t need to rush things out just to turn a profit for the year. Apple has tons of money coming in from all over the place. They can let the Logic team do their own thing for as long as it takes to produce something awesome. This is what kills me about Adobe. Adobe CS is basically they’re only income stream so if they want to meet quarterly earnings they have to have a new version in the works constantly. Sounds good in theory right, they always have to be innovating. The problem is there isn’t always that much to innovate so they just end up switching around the interface which just wastes everyone’s time relearning it. I wish Apple had bought Adobe back in the day or had a product that competes with Photoshop because 1) Photoshop would be way cheaper and 2) it wouldn’t be like MS Office with new versions every two years with pointless UI tweaks.

  7. Can’t get it to work, sadly. On first run it triggers a 2GB download of “basic content” (essential collection of instruments etc). At the end of the download, Mainstage just exits. If I restart it, it starts downloading the same thing again, from scratch.

    Anyone experiencing the same problem? I’m running Lion on a 2008 unibody MBP

    1. When I initiated the download (all of them at one go), there was an occasional error message which interrupted the download, but hitting “ok” took up where it left off. At the end of all the downloads, I got a crash notification related to having SmartScroll installed. But everything worked fine after that.

      I can give you the usual stock advice: restart your computer, run disk utilities and repair permissions, run the Verify Disk function to see if you need other repairs. I’d also suggest (if you haven’t already) trying the download from a different location (ISP).

      1. Thanks for the reply,

        I’m not sure what you mean by “initiated all of them in one go”. My problem concerns the initial “Basic Content Download” (2GB), which launches automatically the first time you run the app. I can’t access the app to download additional content because it won’t get past that stage. I don’t get the choice to run the app without doing this initial download either.

        I’m not getting any download errors, all seems to work fine except that once the download is over, MainStage quits and when I relaunch it it starts downloading the same thing again.

        Anyhow, I’ve posted a message on the Apple support forums, hopefully someone will know what the issue is.


    2. I have exactly the same problem with the Basic Content DOwnload lauchning automatically over and over agaiun with seeming to succesfully finish the process. No solution yet!

      1. I’d like to know if Mainstage can function as a ReWire slave to a ReWire host such as Ableton Live or Reason. I did some googling and as far as I can tell, Mainstage can only function as a ReWire host, which would mean you can have Mainstage use Live (as a ReWire slave) but not the other way around.

        I assume DP refers to Digital Performer, which I don’t know. I do know Ableton Live however and the Ableton site describes how to use Live as a ReWire slave for DP, so using Mainstage as a ReWire slave to DP would likely be similar.

  8. Well there’s certainly not much to loose on a 30$ download. Hell you could even just buy it to see if it’s worth it.
    I might even buy it, though I really have no need for it.

    On the other hand, apple is perhaps not doing us such a big favour on the long run. They’re clearly going for a dumping price strategy here, and I can’t think this might be doing much good to the market.
    developing software costs money, time and resources. If we want companies to produce a high standard in software we need to live with the idea that that software will cost money. I mean… music software already is pretty affordable.
    Compare it with the above mentioned Adobe Creative Suite. In Europe Photoshop (basic version) costs 1500 euro. I got Ableton Suite, with Max for Live for about 500 euro. I could have had Live alone (without all the extra content and instruments) for 250. That’s a reasonable price. Admittedly that was a discounted offer. The current price of a softsynth from a mainstream developer is about 150 €, you can get good plugins from indie developers for 50 €, but that’s it!
    Selling something like Mainstage 2, which probably is worth at least 200 € for 24€ is clearly dumping I mean it’s a 90% discount!
    I’m really wondering what Apple tries to do here. Kill the competition? Get people to use the App Store and start to depend on it? Not even indie developers can keep up with such low prices.Do they really only make money on hardware, or is there something else behind it.
    I know some people will say: who cares as long as we get a good bargain. But then, it might prove to be a bad bargain on the long run… so I’m suspicious.

    1. Thanks for your post. You raise interesting and valid points, for sure. I can’t pretend to understand such things. I’m guessing the low price will mean a bump in volume of sales, and might also attract more users (and perhaps younger users) who might not otherwise be willing to invest in this complex (and now sprawling) set of sounds & features. It also guarantees that these users will be married to the hardware for a longer hunk of time.

      It is interesting to consider how Apple strategizes such things. One would think that they would want to keep a vibrant 3rd party software development community– and not undersell the developers of soundware, VI’s, fx, etc.

    2. I wouldn’t call it dumping. Everything that comes with MainStage has been developed over years and years by Apple and most of it is as old as the original version of GarageBand. They are just taking those tools and bundling them with a new paradigm that they want people to jump on. From there the possibilities are endless. They could create a whole new store within the framework of MainStage dedicated to selling softsynths and kits and V-boxes and samples straight from third-party developers and make money off that and at the same time provide license security for them which will drive down their costs and ultimately lower the price for the end user. At first, GB users, amateurs, will hop on to MainStage and from there they can graduate to the Logic Suite. In the end, it increases their sales many-fold.

  9. Easily the best bang for buck musical software purchase I have made this year. Someone above asked about JamPacks? Six Jampacks showed up in GarageBand (free) after loading them into Main Stage. Free = good. Amazon has these six, selling for anywhere from $60 to $140 a piece, if you were to buy them for GarageBand. I am new to the JamPacks so I don’t know if these are a subset of the ones that are sold individually. I can say — that they add a boatload of instruments to both Main Stage and Garage Band. I have only spent an hour or so fiddling around with Main Stage, and can see that the documentation is going to come up short. Other than that though — this is a great deal.

  10. Last month, I played some out of state gigs and need to replace some hardware synths in software. So in October, I bought Audiofile Engineering’s Rax for $79 which serves the same purpose as MainStage. Though the software has a few bugs, I managed to work around them, and get something workable for my gigs. I’ve been in communication with AE’s support, but I have no idea how committed they are to fixing the issue. But I can see how this MainStage2 release will really take the wind out of AE’s sails for fixing Rax.

  11. Full disclosure: I work for a store that sells music gear, including software. One thing that may not be obvious to the general public with this release (similar to the Final Cut Pro changes a while back) is that Apple is only selling its software direct now – meaning that music stores can’t sell it now. Now I won’t argue for a minute that Apple isn’t great at selling Apple stuff – they obviously are. As for what it says about their overall strategy, who knows, though it definitely gives them control over the customers’ shopping experience.

    1. Yea, what will it mean if software is always delivered via internet, and if hardware is always delivered via shipping company?

      I make a pretty consistent effort to buy music hardware locally at locally owned shops (never GC!) I will sometimes do this for software, but it is rarely available locally. I am lucky to have two local retailers that are honest and appreciate my business, and another one that is a little more snaky, but not terrible.

      Might be that buying software in a brick & mortar place is going to become less commonplace. OR, if local shops can do something value-added by offering personal training/Q&A to their software customers, that might help. Or perhaps, that would be the new product for stores– software education.

  12. Apple is taking a very wise approach to it’s whole product line, and that centers around the question, “What is Pro?”.

    A few years ago, a “professional” video editor had tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, which gave him capabilities most people didn’t have. This let him do work that others couldn’t, and so he was seen as “professional”. But then Final Cut Pro became available at $1000, then $500. Suddenly a huge range of people could do those same “pro” things. Turned out to be access to the tools, not skill or need that drove content creation. Now at $300, and with a much easier to use interface, Final Cut X lets pretty much anyone be a “pro”, and honestly, that’s the way it should be. The person working the front desk of a non-profit is just as capable and has the same level of need for editing and uploading video as a guy who works for National Geographic or MTV. Apple is choosing to empower everyone rather than allowing only rich people/companies to be “elite professionals”.

    This is happening with Logic too. Same path. And before you get all bent about being a “pro” while others aren’t, seriously examine today’s needs for music and audio production. People can win awards by using purchased samples and sound libraries. They didn’t bring those skills with them, just the performances. If someone hadn’t made tools readily affordable and easy to use, you could completely eliminate virtually every “top band” or “top dj” making money today.

    So when Logic X shows up and it’s really cheap, and super easy to use, and you have that sinking feeling in your gut that says, “Damn! Now anyone can do what I do”, you know it’s time to rely on your skill and application again, and will no longer be able to claim elite status just because you had a few hundred dollars more than the people around you.

    1. Good points.

      However, this mention of some relationship between “Pro” and “Price” misses the point. There never was more than a hazy relationship. For example, comparing GarageBand to Logic Pro, one can see the difference between consumer & pro apps. It is in the feature set and interface, and not in the price. Garageband is friendly, but very limited. Logic is complex, and it’s limits are only noticeable to a pro.

      Apple is a behemeth that was able to pour resources into Logic’s development after buying it from Emagic. I’m sure they have made good profit from that investment. Now by selling in the App Store, they remove packaging costs– and seem to be able to deal with the bandwidth of the download, by dropping the price and putting it in the App Store, they add a volume of users. It might be that sales were affected by iOS sales. This just keeps the Logic suite in the game, which is very good for Logic users, and good for folks who need the features of MainStage.

      Apple is in a unique position to offer this high-value product at a competition-destroying price.

      It’s not enough to make me want to drop my DAW, nor do I feel particularly sad about any VI’s I’ve purchased in recent months. Perhaps in the long-run, it won’t hit the competition very hard– that is, unless they have a major push to develop Logic further.

  13. I’ve been using Apple MainStage for a few years now, mainly for musical theatre productions. At $30, it’s a total no-brainer. I can’t believe Apple’s actually selling it for $30! I used to program shows on hardware – it was much more time consuming than doing it with Apple MainStage. Nowadays, I can program a show with ~150 patches in an hour or two…compared to a few working days with hardware.

  14. at first I thought it is a bargain with the loopback plugin, that is why I bought it. but after awhile, the plugin is so slow to react , you cannot even use it properly, mainstage should have not included that loopback plugin, basically just ok for clean for sound, jazz and bluesy guitars.

  15. the sounds are great..however i would NEVER NEVER NEVER use this in a live setting (what it is meant for)it freezes, glitches and will hold notes after they have been released for eternity. come on apple!? wtf!

  16. I know that this is an older post, but I thought that I would chime in.

    We use MainStage 3 for all of our live performances because it will allow us to two simultaneous tracks:
    • We use one track with some pre-recorded synths that goes out to the house
    • We use the second track with some of the synths and as a click track for our drummer

    This was easily the simplest, most affordable way of performing our music live. We have never had any issues with freezing/crashing or what have you. I can say, however, that the external audio interface can overheat (Scarlet 6i6) and will freeze up upon occasion. We switched to a new one and this hasn’t happened as much. MainStage will use a LOT of resources, essentially whatever it can get. This will cause your laptop to potentially overheat and if you’re playing for more than 2 hours, I would start to worry. We circumvented this at least for live (Not really playing much more than an hour) by having the laptop sit on a cooling board.

    Another thing I must add is that we do not really use this as DAW for production, I do not believe that MainStage can really compete when it comes to that. Most of what we do is predominantly written using Propellerhead’s Reason, Logic Pro X, and some Ableton.

    We are just now getting the hang of using some of the triggers on our control surfaces to interact with MainStage, however we have not yet road tested it.

    1. Here’s John Mike’s settings for MainStage CPU management. I’ve found it works. During 2 church services plus rehearsal up front, my MainStage (which is extensive with Hammond B3 voices and Omnisphere) has never overheated or quit in 1/2 years of performing.

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