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Buying a Used or Refurbished Apple Computer for MainStage

I often see posts in Facebook forums concerning which Apple computers could work well for Apple’s MainStage software for live music performance. More specifically, which Apple computers could function well if purchased used or refurbished.

This is a tricky proposition as there are a number of things to consider. First, you’ll need to consider whether you plan to run 3rd party plugins. Generally, I’d advise against it when using an older computer unless you can find something already loaded with 16GB of RAM. As the recent models don’t allow for RAM upgrades, you’re stuck with what you get unless you purchae something several years old. But then you run the risk of getting a processor that’s too slow, or running into hardware issues if it’s a used unit and not factory refurbished.

If you plan to run MainStage without any 3rd party plugins, you should be fine with a Quad-Core machine and 8GB RAM. Just don’t get too hopeful about running all of your favorite Native Instruments libraries. You’ll want to stick to EXS24 and other formats native to MainStage and you’ll need to optimize your programming to put as little strain on your processor as possible. You’ll do this by using aliases as much as possible, limiting the use of processor intentive plugins like convolution reverbs, and using aux busses for your effects. You might even be able to get away with running Synthogy Ivory Grands too depending upon your programming.

A great option for MainStage is Apple MacBook Pro MD104LL/A 15.4-Inch Laptop (Intel Core i7 2.6GHz, 8GB Memory, 750GB HDD, Mac OS X v10.8 Mountain Lion, 2012 Model), Silver. Something with a Quad-Core processor, 8GB RAM (which is an absolute bare minimum), and an SSD drive would work great. If you’re looking for something for your personal home rig, you’ll want to look for similar specs in an iMac. Although it’s best to find something with an SSD drive, you’ll be find with a mechanical drive for home use. And if you find a great deal on a MacBook Pro model without an SSD drive, you could always purchase a DIY kit to remove the optical drive and replace it with an SSD. I’ve done it myself and it’s fairly straightforward.

While purchasing a used Apple computer for MainStage isn’t necessarily ideal, it can be a fantastic way to complete your live rig without having to lug around a $3,000 machine. And if you already own a $3,000 machine, a used computer can be an excellent way to keep a backup on hand just in case you need it.

If you have any additional questions, you can contact me anytime at:

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427

 

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Can I Use A Windows Computer For Music Production?

I’m often asked whether it’s absolutely necessary to use an Apple computer for music production. This question is certainly understandable given how much Apple products tend to be associated with creative professions and the tendency for content creators to gravitate toward the Apple ecosystem. However, I would argue that the answer to this question is a resounding “no” – it’s not necessary at all to use an Apple computer for music production and there are many great software options that exist for Windows based systems.

Why do so many music professionals use Apple computers? Originally most of the software created for music production was only available on the Apple OS, so many people simply started with Apple and never considered alternatives. Then when their friends, students, and colleagues were ready to purchase computers, they simply bought what they were familiar with. This makes perfect sense as I always advise people to use the same software and hardware as their friends and colleagues so that they have a network of peers who can help them with tech issues. A strong community built around a piece of software can be extremely beneficial to all of its members.

But what if you primarily use software that’s also available on the Windows OS? Is there any reason to use Apple products? I say not necessarily. Though there tend to be subtle differences between the Apple and Windows versions of the same software, the functionality is essentially the same between the two. Therefore, there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one brand of computer. Also, Windows based computers are often much more customizable, are available with much more variety, and can often be upgraded post purchase. And if your needs are very easy on CPU, it’s easy to find many inexpensive Windows based options.

It should be mentioned that an Apple computer and a Windows computer with the exact same specifications tend to cost exactly the same amount of money, so when comparing “apples to apples”, there’s no savings in purchasing a fully spec’ed Windows machine, so cost is only a factor if you don’t need an extremely powerful machine.

Several advantages to purchasing a budget Windows computer for music would be if you need something for music notation. Unless you’re using large sound libraries for playback, software such as Finale and Sibelius don’t require much processing power, so for this purpose a Windows machine is perfectly suitable. A budget Windows machine can also be excellent for travel so that you don’t need to be too concerned about loss, theft, or damage to your brand new top of the line MacBook Pro.

There are also many excellent digital audio recording software options available for Windows, such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, Ableton, and much more. And for live performance, a fantastic alternative to Apple’s MainStage software is Brainspawn’s Forte. In fact, for someone with very basic audio production or editing needs, a Windows computer can be a great money saving option. Many musicians don’t necessarily need a DAW for producing albums, but rather just to make occassional edits to audio they’ll be using in other situations. I would argue that for these types of users, there’s absolutely no reason to spend a lot of money on a top of the line Apple computer when a perfectly suitable Windows computer can be purchased for a fraction of the price. That said, should the user’s needs become more complex, the cost benefits become less apparent.

So it’s not quite so clear cut. That said, I would still argue that for the right user with a certain set of needs, a budget Windows computer can be an excellent option for music production.

Feel free to contact me anytime with questions at:

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427

 

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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 16A

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

MOTU 16A

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

jeff@mardermusic.com

+1.917.338.7427