When playing a live show with backing tracks and a live drummer, it is imperative to get a headphone mix to the drummer that is custom-made to keep him/her on time. Drums are plenty loud and a clean, well-balanced mix is not likely to compete with a snare and cymbals. Click tracks are also very useful in a live situation, as long as the audience does not hear it!
Our audio interface is going to provide us with the flexibility needed to send a separate mix to the drummer. Even the smaller interfaces often allow for a headphone mix that is separate from the main output of the interface. An interface that has at least 4 outputs so that we are able to send a discrete mix is mandatory. We should also be sure that it includes software that allows for routing a different set of outputs to the headphones.
Even if the audio interface does not allow for a separate mix to the headphone outputs, we can get a headphone distribution system for about 50 dollars, and tie it to the physical outputs used for the drummer.
Every channel strip in MainStage needs to be able to send to output 3-4. To achieve this, click and hold on the send section and choose ‘Bus 1’. After this, click and hold on the send again, and choose ‘Pre’ so that our signal leaves this channel strip before being attenuated by the volume fader. When set properly, the send will turn green to denote that it is in ‘Pre-fader’ mode (see Aux 1 below):
At the newly created ‘Bus 1’, set the output of the bus to ‘3-4’. Now output 3-4 has a discrete mix. I would suggest adjusting the volumes of the more percussive Playbacks so that they are sending to this bus slightly hotter than the keyboards and vocals.
After pushing the volumes a bit, be sure that the auxiliary that is assigned to Bus 1 is not clipping. Then assign a Limiter to the Aux.
The limiter will allow us to push the volume even further before clipping. This way the drummer, who is usually struggling to hear the mix over the drums, will have a fighting chance to hear the rhythm tracks.
In MainStage’s preferences pane, go to the ‘General’ tab, and select the output for the metronome here. Under the metronome settings, push that volume as high as it can go.
There are rare occasions when a song might actually have (*gasp*) a tempo change. Tempo changes can be confusing to the rigid idea of time that Playback seems to have, but you can still get a click to the drummer that behaves with the music.
Simply open the original song in Logic, mute all of the tracks, and turn the metronome on while in playback mode. Bounce the click so that it is the same length as all of the other stems.
Import the click into playback in MainStage, and route the output directly to 3-4. No need to send it to the bus, since it is never going out to the main output.
Ok, so I’ve pretty much written this whole article focusing on getting a headphone mix to the drummer, but as you can surmise, this technique can be used to send any band member a mix that is custom-tailored to them. Singers can get more vocals, bassists can get more bass, etc. You are only limited by the number of outputs of your audio interface.