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Buying a Used or Refurbished Apple Computer for MainStage

MainStage Keyboard Programming

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:



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Can I Use A Windows Computer For Music Production and Keyboard Programming?

Keyboard Programming

I’m often asked whether it’s absolutely necessary to use an Apple computer for music production and keyboard programming. 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:



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KVM Switches for MainStage Keyboard Programming

MainStage Keyboard Programming

I’m often asked about the best way to create a redundant computer rig for live theatre. Specifically, for use with MainStage keyboard programming and Ableton Live. A redundant rig with a functioning main and backup scenario would always include two computers, two audio interfaces, a MIDI splitter box such as the MIDI Solutions Thru, an audio switch such as a Radial SW8 and a KVM Switch. While the audio switch allows audio to be sent simultaneously from both the main and the backup interfaces so that with the push of a button the operator can choose the source of the audio that will be sent to FOH, a KVM switch allows the operator to control either the main or the backup computer from the same keyboard and mouse and to choose which computer to view on the video monitor.

It’s often tempting to purchase the fanciest KVM switch available and to utilize HDMI connectors for their superior video quality. However, I’ve found that this is one of those situations where often the simplest solution works the best. After trying many different KVM switches over the years, I often choose a simple IOGEAR 2-Port USB DVI Cable KVM Switch with Cables and Remote, GCS922U for its reliability, ease of use, and excellent price point. Often when using HDMI switches, there’s a considerable lag time when switching from one computer to another. With a VGA or DVI switch, the latency is minimal. The IOGEAR switches are generally “plug and play” with zero setup time, they’re bus powered, and are easy to fit into a rack full of gear.

For live performance, I advise against programming a hot key for switching computers just in case there are any issues with the USB port or bus, or if one of the computers should crash mid-performance. Always use the switch button on the KVM switch for safety purposes.

I highly advise checking out the IOGEAR 2-Port USB DVI Cable KVM Switch with Cables and Remote, GCS922U I’m always happy to discuss options with anyone who is looking for something with more features.

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



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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:



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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:



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Networking for Live Theatrical Productions

MainStage keyboard programming

With the increased use of MainStage keyboard programming 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.

What you’ll need

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.

How to make your connections

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)

When using MainStage keyboard programing 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.

Here are some handy links to the equipment needed:

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: