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How to Build a Toolkit for Broadway Keyboard Programming

tools for keyboard programming

When setting up a new show, I find there are certain tools that are absolutely indispensable for the work I do onsite. For a moderate sum of money, it’s easy to assemble a basic toolkit to bring to the theatre that will cover nearly everything you need. I usually put my tools in a small duffel bag or Pelican case so I can place the items with my checked bags and transport to the theatre separate from my personal luggage. This list is by no means complete, but it will cover some basic items that will go a long way.

Multi-Tool

You’ll need a multi-tool such as the Leatherman – Wave Plus Multitool, Stainless Steel as it will have most of the standard tools you’ll need such as a blade, scissors, screwdriver, etc. This is a great tool to have with you at all times. However, even though it has many options, I find it’s best to also have tools specific to their individual tasks as listed below.

Leatherman Multitool
Leatherman Wave Plus Multitool

 

Flashlight

For finding your way around a rack in a dark orchestra pit, a flashlight is an absolute must. I prefer a tactical flashlight such as this PowerTac E20 1180 Lumen LED Rechargeable EDC Tactical Flashlight. It’s an LED flashlight, is rechargeable, it’s incredibly bright, and extremely reasonably priced.

Powertac e20 tactical flashlight
Powertac E20 Tactical Flashlight

 

Headlamp

Every Broadway keyboard programming toolkit should also have a headlamp as there will be times when you need both hands free to work on a MainStage rig, so walking around with a bright light shining from your forehead is optimal. Something like this Pelican 2760 Headlamp is a fantastic option. Pelican products are known for being rock solid and indestructible.

Pelican 2760 Headlamp
Pelican 2760 Headlamp

Phillips Head Screwdriver

Even though your Leatherman multitool will have a built in Phillips head screwdriver, it’s extremely helpful to have a standalone screwdriver as it’ll be easier to use for reaching into hard to access places and you’ll be able to work much faster with it. Some folks prefer to have an electric screwdriver and while I’ll admit that they’re incredibly helpful and convenient, I find I’d rather not carry around the extra weight. For your screwdriver, any old model will do, so I’d suggest going with something like this STANLEY 68-012M All-In-One 6-Way Screwdriver which is well constructed, includes 6 different tips, and is incredibly inexpensive.

Stanley 68-012M Screwdriver
Stanley 68-012M Screwdriver

 

Wireless Router

It’s extremely helpful to have a wireless gigabit router to enable remote access to the computers in the MainStage rigs. Relying on the existing WiFi networks in the theatre can be quite unreliable. Setting up a local area network is easy and extremely convenient for tweaking levels from the house, doing quick troubleshooting, and file management. Something like this Linksys EA6350 Wi-Fi Wireless Dual-Band+ Router with Gigabit & USB Ports works very nicely.

Linksys EA6350 Dual Band Gigabit Router
Linksys EA6350 Dual Band Gigabit Router

 

Industrial Strength Velcro

It’s always helpful to have a supply of industrial strength velcro in packaging such as VELCRO Brand – Industrial Strength | Indoor & Outdoor Use | Heavy Duty, Superior Holding Power on Smooth Surfaces | Size 15ft x 2in | Tape, Black – Pack of 1 as this can be used for a multitude of purposes such as securing a KVM switch, securing a computer keyboard, etc. It’s a great perishable utility item to have around.

VELCRO Brand - Industrial Strength
VELCRO Brand – Industrial Strength

Velcro Rip-Tie

It’s always helpful to have a supply of Rip-Tie 1/2 x 10 ft. Wrap Strap Black Roll W-10-1RL-BK as sometimes it’s necessary to secure cables, but not permanently as with plastic cable ties. These Rip-Ties can be easily repurposed and cut to different sizes as needed.

Velcro Rip-Tie
Velcro Rip-Tie

Cable Ties

For a more permanent solution to your cable management, it’s always helpful to have a combination of sizes of cables ties such as the Cable Matters (Combo Pack) 200 Self-Locking 6+8+12-Inch Nylon Cable Ties (Tie Wraps/Zip Ties) in Black & White

Cable Ties for MainStage Programming
Cable Ties

 

Label Maker

When building a MainStage or Ableton rig for Broadway keyboard programming, it’s absolutely essential to label every element of the rig. I always carry a Brother label maker with me, such as this Brother P-touch, PTD210, Easy-to-Use Label Maker, One-Touch Keys, Multiple Font Styles, 27 User-Friendly Templates, White.

Brother P-Touch Label Maker PTD210
Brother P-Touch Label Maker PTD210

 

P-Touch Tape

And of course, don’t forget spare tape for your Brother P-Touch label maker! Brother Genuine P-touch M-231 Tape, 1/2″ (0.47″) Standard P-touch Tape, Black on White, for Indoor Use, Water Resistant, 26.2 Feet (8M), Single-Pack

Brother Genuine P-touch M-231 Tape
Brother Genuine P-touch M-231 Tape

Electrical Tape

It’s always helpful to have electrical tape handy in a variety of colors. This way you can color code cables (green for main, red for backup) or use red tape to tie back cables that aren’t being used. If you pick up a value pack of a variety of colors, you’ll be covered for a long time. Try this 3M Scotch 35 Electrical Tape Value Pack (10457NA) for your keyboard programming toolkit.

3M Scotch Electrical Tape Value Pack
3M Scotch Electrical Tape Value Pack

Scotch Tape

Remember all of those labels you made with your new Brother P-Touch machine? Unfortunately, they’ll have a tendency to fall off over time unless you cover up those labels with some clear transparent glossy Scotch Tape. Purchasing several rolls in bulk is very cheap and will make your life a lot easier: Scotch Transparent Tape, Standard Width, Engineered for Office and Home Use, Clear Finish, 3/4 x 850 Inches, 4 Rolls (4814)

Scotch Tape
Scotch Tape

Wire Cutters

This is a big one. You’ll need wire cutters to remove plastic zip ties and to trim the ends off of them once you secure your cables. This will make your cable dressing much neater and cleaner. Try something like this model: IRWIN VISE-GRIP Diagonal Cutting Pliers, 6″, 2078306

Wire Cutters
Wire Cutters

 

Scissors

You’ll need a pair of scissors to cut those labels and pieces of electrical tape at some point. You don’t need anything fancy: Scotch Precision Scissor, 6-Inches (1446), 1-pack

Scissors
Scissors

Box Cutter

You’ll need a blade to open all of those fancy gadgets you just purchased for the production. You could use your Leatherman, but opening up a lot of packaging won’t be good for your blades. Better to pick up an inexpensive box cutter for such a task: Stanley 10-099 6 in Classic 99® Retractable Utility Knife, 1-Pack

Box cutter
Box cutter

Pelican 1510 Case With Foam

While this item isn’t a necessity, it’s very convenient to have for your Broadway keyboard programming toolkit. It’s great to be able to keep your tools separate from your personal items and to keep them organized. Also, if you’re flying, you won’t be able to bring your tools in your carryon due to the knives. This way you can just check your bag with all of your tools, which makes flying much easier. I’m a huge fan of Pelican cases. They’re virtually indestructible, they last forever, and they’re reasonably priced. Of course you could go with a duffel bag or whatever form factor makes sense for your situation. I just prefer my trusty Pelican case: Pelican 1510 Case With Foam (Black)

Pelican 1510 Case With Foam
Pelican 1510 Case With Foam

Summary

And that’s one way to build a toolkit for Broadway keyboard programming. This has worked quite well for me for many years and I find it’s incredibly convenient to keep everything stored together and ready to go at a moment’s notice. You might also consider acquiring a set of Allen wrenches, some gaff tape, and/or an electric screwdriver. It all depends upon how much you want to carry and what your specific needs are. Regardless, you should definitely have something ready to go which contains some staple items that you know you’ll need on a regular basis.

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Review: NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator

Neo Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator

While setting up the new Broadway production Gettin’ the Band Back Together, I needed to find a solution for an accurate Leslie emulator. Even though having an actual Leslie cabinet would be wonderful, it’s not always ideal for a Broadway show given the considerations for space, noise leakage, and practicality. It’s not always easy to find a good location in a Broadway theatre to place a Leslie cabinet, often the loud volume of the cabinet can be distracting for other departments which need to work in close proximity, microphones can easily get bumped accidentally (interfering with the mix), and there can be reliability issues. 

After much research, we found a great solution in the combination of the Hammond XK5 single manual organ and the NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie emulator. While the Hammond XK5 has a fantastic sound, action that feels like a real B3, and great drawbar response, its Leslie emulation leaves much to be desired. As soon as I heard it played through the NEO Ventilator 2 I was hooked. The Hammond XK5 sounds a bit warmer through the Ventilator and the Leslie effect sounds significantly more accurate.

NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator
Ventilator on top of a Hammond XK5

The most tricky part of using the Ventilator is learning how to program it. Certain functions can only be accessed via pressing certain buttons in specific combinations. Once I figured this out, I realized that the manual is quite thorough. That said, the information in the manual could be spelled out a bit more clearly. We selected the Ventilator settings that correspond to a Leslie 122 cabinet, though there are instructions for how to emulate various other models of Leslie cabinet. The only thing that needed adjustment was the speed of the Leslie acceleration and deceleration along with tweaking the EQ on the Hammond XK5 itself. Once this was adjusted, the unit sounded beautiful both in headphones and in the overall mix in the house.

NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie Emulator
Ventilator rear view

Although there is a custom remote switch that’s made specifically for the Ventilator, we decided to use a Hammond CU-1 half-moon switch to control the Leslie effect. This connects directly to the Hammond XK5. When using this switch it’s necessary to select the correct remote mode on the Ventilator, which required a bit of digging around and experimentation as the manual was a bit unclear on this. Once I figured out the settings, it worked beautifully. 

Customer support from the manufacturer has been consistently responsive, friendly, and helpful. The unit feels solid and well built, and most importantly, it sounds amazing! I highly recommend the NEO Ventilator 2 Leslie emulator. You can’t beat the price, size, and stellar performance.

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Review: Rowin Mini Guitar Pedals

I recently had the opportunity to check out some really cool Rowin mini guitar pedals from China. Rowin has been manufacturing mini guitar pedals for years. They have a pedal for just about every effect and need, including many varieties of distortion, delay, chorus, and even various looper pedals.

The pedals are rugged, well made, sound great, and simply look super cool. Also, they’re of a size and weight that make them extremely portable, and they’re inexpensive enough to feel confident bringing them on any gig without having to worry about damage or theft to a super expensive pedal.

As you can see, these pedals sound awesome and are an amazing bargain!

In the videos below, three of the most popular Rowin pedals are reviewed by Jake Schwartz, guitarist for the Van Davis Band and The Book of Mormon on Broadway.

These pedals are all available on Amazon:
Rowin Analog Dumbler Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin Analog Chorus Guitar Effect Pedal

Rowin LEF-614 Delay Pedal



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Review: The Pelican Case

So it’s time to share my love affair with one of my favorite products: the Pelican case. As you already probably know, Pelican makes ultra sturdy watertight equipment cases that have become the standard in audio, video, and military use. They’re virtually indestructable, come in all different shapes and sizes, offer excellent protection for your equipment, and are completely customizable.

As an example, let’s look at the Pelican 1730 Large Transport Case
This case can hold a basic assortment of audio or video gear (or whatever else you need), the foam is totally customizable, and it’s easy to check on an airplane. I have several cases very similar to this one and they’ve flown all over the world with me. I’ve taken Mac Mini computers in it to Italy, MacBook Pro laptops and RME interfaces to Japan, and hard drives to Sydney. I’ve checked it under the plane ever time and even shipped it once and have never had any issues.

The only issue I’ve ever had with the Pelican case is that some airlines treat is as an oversized or odd shaped bag when unloading luggage. More than once I’ve found myself waiting at the luggage carousel for over a half hour only to discover that my trusty Pelican case was unloaded with all of the sporting goods equipment and waiting for me in a separate area.

Pelican makes cases of all shapes and sizes and for all different purposes. They’re highly portable, indestructible, watertight, functional, and very reasonably priced. Another Pelican case that I’ve had in my collection is the Pelican 1510 Case With Foam (Black)

My Pelican 1510 has traveled with me all around the world, and has reliable protected computers, audio interfaces, and other delicate equipment even after being handled by baggage handlers on the tarmac.

I highly recommend added a Pelican (or several) to your collection if you haven’t already done so.

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

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427

 

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Do I Really Need A UPS for MainStage Keyboard Programming?

MainStage Keyboard Programming

An issue that comes up frequently when I’m setting up MainStage keyboard programming for 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:

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427