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Do I Really Need A UPS?

An issue that comes up frequently when I’m setting up new theatrical productions is whether or not to use a UPS for the keyboard and backing track rigs. There are several ways of approaching this issue, and after setting up shows both with and without UPS units, I have some insights on the matter that I believe are worth sharing.

A UPS (uninterruptable power supply) is typically used to provide emergency power via an internal battery when the main source of power is interrupted. This protects against damage to your computers and loss of data. Many UPS units also provide some degree of power conditioning.

In the orchestra pit in a live theatre situation, the keyboard rigs are always connected to power that is supplied by the sound department. This power source always has independent UPS units and power conditioning. Therefore, one could make the argument that a separate UPS for the keyboards is unnecessary. However, there is a strong argument in favor of using a UPS anyway and that is the following. During tech and previews, there are changes being made frequently to the keyboard programming as well as to the sound design and related equipment. It’s entirely possible that the sound department would need to shut down their power unexpectedly without having the opportunity to warn the keyboard programmer. Without a UPS, this would leave the keyboard programmer in the unfortunate position of seeing their rigs power down without the opportunity to save their work. Therefore, it can be an excellent idea to keep a standalone UPS in the orchestra pit throughout the tech and preview period. Check out the APC Back-UPS Pro 1000VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector (BR1000G)
The unit is perfectly fine for this and will give you just enough power to save and properly power down. However, you’ll want to measure the power output of all of the items in your rig and use a unit that will provide enough power to function properly in the event of a power failure.

Once the tech and preview period is over, I always choose to cease using a UPS and instead to use a simple power conditioner in each rig or a power distribution unit with surge protection such as this Furman D10-Pfp 15A Rack Power
As the sound department already has a UPS unit on the power feed going to the pit, an additional UPS in the pit is redundant. More importantly, as a synth programmer, I’m not in the theatre every performance so there’s no way to know if a UPS has been powered down. If the UPS isn’t powered down on a regular basis, the battery is constantly getting drained and the unit loses its efficacy. Eventually, this can cause the UPS to malfunction and not power up the rig, which can be rather inconvenient just prior to a performance.

By using only a power distro unit without a UPS, I can have the players power down the computers and let the rest of the rig power down on its own when the sound department turns off their power. This is actually much easier for all involved and just as effective. Additionally, if the show is a touring production, using a power distro unit instead of a UPS makes the keyboard rig MUCH lighter and easier to move. It’s also much more cost effective.

If performing in a club, community theatre, or place of worship, it can make much more sense to use a UPS as there tend to be few, if any, protocols in place in these situations, thus making them somewhat unpredictable. On a rig in your home, I’d suggest always using a UPS to protect against power failure.

So it’s not necessarily a clear answer on the UPS issue. It all depends on the situation. Hopefully, this article shed some light based based on my personal experience in the field with UPS units and power conditioners.

APC Back-UPS Pro 1000VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector (BR1000G)

Furman D10-Pfp 15A Rack Power

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:



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MOTU Audio Interfaces on Broadway

As a synthesizer programmer for Broadway productions, I’ve been a longtime user of MOTU audio and MIDI interfaces. At times, I’ve tried other products, but have always been disappointed in one way or another, and whenever I’ve returned to using MOTU I’ve been fully satisfied with the quality of the products, reliability, and the excellent customer service I receive from the company.

My first exposure to using MOTU products on Broadway was while working as the Associate Conductor and synthesizer programmer for Priscilla Queen of the Desert. For the synth rigs everything was hardware based, though we also ran backing tracks through MOTU’s Digital Performer.

We sent audio to front of house using the MOTU 896mk3 Hybrid

Digital Performer worked absolutely flawlessly for us. We recorded sweetener tracks of double-tracked strings and horns directly into Digital Performer and ran it in “chunks” mode to trigger sequences during the show. In 18 months on Broadway and a year on tour, the combination of Digital Performer and the 896 sounded fantastic and never once did we have any malfunctions or crashes. The system was completely rock solid. It’s no wonder that Digital Performer is the go-to sequencer of choice for so many folks who run backing tracks in live performance.

I occasionally rent equipment to live theatrical productions to provide rigs for MainStage and Ableton Live

In my rental rigs and my own personal rigs, I always use MOTU interfaces for several reasons. First, MOTU offers the largest variety of products of any company in the industry and offers an audio or MIDI interface for any need. Second, they sound fantastic, and at a very reasonable price. Third, MOTU products are rock solid. While some other competing interfaces have known issues when interacting with various USB connections, the MOTU products never produce any issues. I know that when I’m working on a project, their products will work totally reliably without any problems.

Here is a rearview peek at one of my rental rigs using the MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid Firewire Audio Interface

You can see 2 of the mk3 Hybrid in the middle of the rack:

MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid

My MainStage/Ableton rental rig revolves around redundant setups running in tandem using two MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid Firewire Audio Interface

With 8 outputs, this provides more than enough for live performance. If I need more outputs for running backing tracks, it’s an easy matter to create an aggregate audio device to combine the two interfaces to send 16 outputs. I’m now using the MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid on nearly every production of Disney’s Aladdin worldwide, my personal rig, and my rental rigs. It’s also been used on 4 Broadway cast recordings, several Off-Broadway productions, the Tony Awards, various regional productions, and has even been shipping back and forth from New York City to Tokyo for recording the cast album for the Tokyo production of Aladdin. Always rock solid, always great sound, and a fantastic value.

Here is a look at the back of the keyboard one rig from the Australian production of Disney’s Aladdin, which uses the MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid:

MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid

And here is a look at the front of one of the keyboard rigs on the US tour of Aladdin, which is nearly identical to its Australian counterpart:

MOTU 828mk3


When running backing tracks in Ableton, I often prefer to use the MOTU 16A

With 16 TRS analog outputs, it’s ideal for running backing tracks. Like all of the other MOTU products, it sounds fantastic and is 100% reliable. However, the audio matrix feature is absolutely indispensable. I can create customized routing for different situations. For example, I can route audio from Ableton to send to a general stereo mix for rehearsals while continuing to send click to its own channel, but can load a separate mix for show situations that utilizes all 16 outputs to send a complete mix to front of house. This avoids having to create multiple versions of the audio routing in Ableton, so it’s much safer not having to have multiple versions of the Ableton session floating around. At the moment, I’m using the MOTU 16A on the national tour of Finding Neverland. It’s worked brilliantly for us providing fantastic audio quality, flexible audio routing, and rock solid reliability.

Here is a look at the Ableton rack for the national tour of Finding Neverland, which uses the MOTU 16A audio interface:

MOTU 16A audio interface

And here is a front view of the same rig in the orchestra pit:


MOTU also provides some of the best customer support in the industry, which is absolutely essential when working under the tight deadlines of mounting a live theatrical production. The MOTU tech support team has always been there for me, even when traveling overseas. I’ve received quick responses to my queries even when dealing with multiple time zones and emailing back and forth from onsite in Germany, Australia, and Japan.

With a product to suit every possible need and budget, competitive pricing, top notch sound quality, rock solid reliability, and the industry’s best customer support, I see no reason to consider any MIDI or audio interfaces other than those offered by MOTU.

MOTU 828mk3 Hybrid Firewire Audio Interface

MOTU 896mk3 Hybrid


If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:



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Networking for Live Theatrical Productions

With the increased use of computers in live theatrical productions, it has become essential to be able to set up a local area network onsite when setting up a new production. There are three major uses for such a network:

1. Mixing keyboard and track outputs and making quick edits remotely from the house so that these edits can be completed in real time while listening from the audience perspective and while receiving feedback from the sound designer, orchestrator, and music supervisor.

2. File management. It can be a huge time saver to be able to sit at one keyboard rig while making edits on another and to be able to save files and load samples across the network.

3. When connected to an internet connection provided by the theatre and in conjunction with VNC software, providing the ability to make edits remotely from a location outside of the theatre.

The key to setting up a local area network (called a LAN for short) in an orchestra pit is having an ethernet switch and some Cat5e cables. Oftentimes, switches are mistakenly called routers, but those are something entirely different. You’ll want to use a switch that has several extra ports (just in case one port should fail or your needs change), and it should be what’s referred to as a “Gigabit” or high speed switch. I often use something like this NETGEAR GS108 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

It’s incredibly easy to set up, has an adequate number of ports, has good data transfer rates, and fits easily into a rack of gear.

You’ll make your connections as follows: run a Cat5e cable from the ethernet port of each computer to the ethernet switch. Connect the computer you’ll use for remote access to the ethernet switch via Cat5e cable, and connect the ethernet cable provided by the theatre (if they’re provided internet access for the pit) to the switch as well. For remote desktop connections from offsite, I’ve discovered that you don’t want any connection slower than 10mbps. That’s still not a very impressive speed, but it’ll let you get done what you need to do. Oftentimes, your speed will be very limited by the IT limitations of the theatre, so it’s good to know the bare minimum you’ll need to get by.

If you want to make your wiring really slick, you could install a patch panel on the back of each rack such as the Tripp Lite N052-024 Cat5e Patch Panel 568B 24port (N052-024)

This would allow you to wire any devices in your rack to the panel so that you don’t have do deal with loose wiring coming out of your computers.

The simplest way to log onto your computers remotely when on the LAN will be through the Finder in Mac OS, though I usually prefer to use Apple’s Remote Desktop app. You’ll need to set your system preferences properly, but once you’ve done so, logging on is a breeze.

At this point, you can use a 50′ Cat5e cable to connect to your ethernet switch and after running the cable out to the house, you can log on with your computer to make edits to the computers in the orchestra pit remotely. You could use a wireless router such as this NETGEAR Wireless Router – AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit (R6300)

In a live theatrical situation I always advise going with a wired connection. Often, there’s so much radio interference in a crowded theatre during tech that it can affect the connection speeds. Additionally, some productions utilize WiFi to run automation for set pieces and any additional WiFi signals can interfere with it.

I’ll cover remoting in from offsite in a later post, but this information should get you up and running while onsite at the theatre so you can get your work done with efficiency.

NETGEAR GS108 8-Port Gigabit Ethernet Network Switch

Tripp Lite N052-024 Cat5e Patch Panel 568B 24port (N052-024)

NETGEAR Wireless Router – AC1750 Dual Band Gigabit (R6300)

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:


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Review: Yamaha U1SH Silent Piano

Several months ago, I did something that most of my peers would consider to be crazy. I traded in my Steinway Model M grand piano for a Yamaha U1SH upright piano with Yamaha’s Silent feature. I absolutely love Steinways and especially loved the Model M that I owned for the past twelve years, but several months into my switch, I stand by my decision and strongly believe it was one of the best things I could have done.

As a professional keyboardist an synthesizer programmer actively working on Broadway, and as someone from a deep classical and jazz background, I consider it essential to own a quality piano for practicing and learning new repertoire. The Steinway M is a wonderful instrument, but not always the most practical in a tight New York City apartment. For years, I’ve maintained separate workspaces in my home for piano practice and for synthesizer programming and composing. In the interest of space and better organization, I decided that it was time to combine these spaces into one.

I contacted Dmitri Shelest of Faust Harrison Pianos in NYC as he was incredibly helpful in assisting me when it was time to purchase a new piano for the orchestra pit of the Broadway production of Disney’s Aladdin at the New Amsterdam Theatre here in town. Dmitri made time for me to test the various Silent and Disklavier options in the Faust Harrison showroom. Once I decided on a model, he worked with me to decided on a fair price to trade in my Steinway and purchase the Yamaha. The process went as smoothly as it possibly could go.

Yamaha U1SH

Upon delivery, I went about setting up my new rig. Here’s how I did it. I run a MIDI cable from the MIDI out of the Silent Piano control box to a MIDI Solutions Quadra Merge

MIDI Solutions Quadra Merge

I also run a MIDI cable from an Akai Professional MPK49 keyboard controller to the Quadra Merge box. I connect the MIDI out of the Quadra Merge to the MIDI in of a MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid FireWire/USB2 Audio Interface

The MOTU is connected to my Apple Mac Mini computer housed in a Sonnet Technologies RackMac Mini housing.

MOTU UltraLite mk3

I run audio outputs from the MOTU UltraLite to my Mackie 1202 mixer, which sits on top of the Yamaha U1SH, and run a pair of outputs from the Mackie to my Adam A7 near field monitors, also sitting on top of the U1SH. This way, I can use the Yamaha U1SH as my main MIDI controller, but I have the option to use the AKAI should I need aftertouch, pitch bend, or mod wheel. I also run an expression pedal through the AKAI just in case I need that too. I have a video monitor connected to a Loctek D7L

On the Mac Mini I have Apple’s MainStage software, Logic Pro, and Sibelius. I find this setup is incredibly ergonomic and flexible. I can easily switch between composing, synth programming, and practicing and the rig adjusts according to my needs.

First of all, as a NYC apartment dweller, it’s very practical to be able to use the Silent feature on the piano for when I want to practice early in the morning, late at night, or while practicing extremely repetitive figures so that I don’t test the patience of my neighbors. The internal sounds of the U1SH are shockingly good, and I find that I really enjoy practicing with headphones sometimes.

When learning music for Broadway shows, it’s often helpful to practice along with a recording of the show. I have a template set up in Logic for this. For example, when preparing to play the Keyboard Two part for Book Of Mormon recently, I loaded the audio of the monitor mix into a track in Logic and set up a piano sound on another track. I placed markers throughout the file so that I could identify specific locations in the score, and I could practice along with the monitor recording while adjusting the balance between my playing and the track.

For composing, it’s very helpful to be able to jump back and forth between the AKAI controller and the Yamaha depending upon what the part calls for. I can use the Yamaha for keyboard instruments, drums, and guitars, but the AKAI is great for synth patches and strings, just as an example. And the pitch bend and mod wheel are right there when and if I need them.

And for synth programming, it’s so nice to be able to start my work using the Yamaha as my main controller. As most Broadway productions use fully weighted action controllers in the orchestra pit and most of the players come from a strong acoustic piano background, it’s helpful to experience the MainStage patches as the players would approach them.

For backups, I constantly keep a LaCie hard drive connected to the Mac Mini for Time Machine backups, but I also back up to a Glyph drive and to a Dropbox folder.

Though for playing, there’s no substitute for a Steinway Model M (except for a Steinway Model B or D), I find that with the Yamaha U1SH I get so much enjoyment out of the piano and the increased boost to my creativity that I actually don’t miss having the Steinway at all. I can now play piano any time day or night, I can use my rig in ways I couldn’t before, and my workspace now takes up half the amount of space in my apartment. I’ve been so much more productive and creative since making the move.

My thanks go out to Dmitri Shelest and all of the other folks at Faust Harrison for making this such an easy transition. I’m absolutely thrilled with my new piano and can’t imagine working any other way now.

MIDI Solutions Quadra Merge

Akai Professional MPK49

MOTU UltraLite-MK3 Hybrid FireWire/USB2 Audio Interface

Loctek D7L

If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at: