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.Continue reading How to Build a Toolkit for Broadway Keyboard Programming
I created an earlier post providing step by step instructions for building a redundant rig for MainStage. While this setup works incredibly well, it’s not necessarily within the budget for all productions nor is it always portable enough to be easily transported. In this post, we’ll take a look at how to create a redundant rig when budget or space is a consideration.
The premise behind this type of backup system is that you’ll use MainStage as your main rig, but your controller keyboard will actually be a synthesizer that will have most, if not all, of the sounds you’ll need for your production. Your controller/backup keyboard could be programmed to be a near exact reproduction of the MainStage programming if your keyboard has the necessary sounds available. Otherwise, you’ll need to just do the best you can with what you have, but in an emergency, it’ll do. Another option is to simply have some sounds ready to go on the backup keyboard that you could access quickly to reproduce the standard sounds you’ll need in your production (piano, strings, brass, etc).
Pros and Cons
Pros: Portability, easier on the budget, simple to put together.
Cons: Backup isn’t an exact match of the MainStage programming, limitations of what keyboard you can use, more time consuming to program, more difficult to match levels between main and backup.
Here’s What You’ll Need
In addition to your regular MainStage rig (computer and interface), you’ll need the following:
A keyboard that has the features you need in a controller PLUS the internal sounds you’ll need to recreate the programming you’ll need. A good example of this is the Yamaha MX88 which is available for around $999.99. This unit only has two pedal jacks, so you may need to improvise to make it work as needed.
Coleman Audio LS3 Line Selector This will function as your audio switcher, and is available for about $130. It’s limited with regard to inputs and outputs, but if you only need a few outputs, it’ll work just fine and at 10% of the price of a Radial SW8, it’s a great option.
How to Connect the MIDI and Audio in the Rig
MIDI: Run a MIDI cable from the MIDI out of your keyboard into your audio interface
Audio: Audio outs from audio interface to Coleman switch, audio outs from keyboard into audio switch, audio outs from Coleman switch to front of house.
How to Program the Keyboard
As mentioned earlier, if your keyboard has enough functionality to faithfully reproduce your MainStage programming, you’re in great shape. However, depending upon the show and which keyboard you choose, you may need to make some shortcuts. For example, you might need to leave out some sound effects or complicated splits and layers. If you want to keep your MainStage rig and the keyboard perfectly in sync, then assign program numbers in MainStage and advance patches using program changes. Otherwise, you’ll need to advance to whichever patch you need on your keyboard should you need to switch to your backup.
A simpler approach, but one that won’t work with every situation, is to only program a few patches on the keyboard that can be quickly accessed just to get you through to the end of the act or the set. For example, have a piano patch, some strings, Hammond organ, etc ready to go on the keyboard. This approach will only work on some shows and some types of keyboard books. However, this is a great option if you’re using your rig to play with a rock band in a club or concert. It allows you to bring a minimal amount of gear and to keep things very simple.
A drawback of using your keyboard as your backup is that it will be quite difficult to match your levels exactly between the MainStage rig and the backup. Even if you take measurements in dB, the volumes will still vary due to how the different types of sounds will be approached by you as a player. Also, the difference in the quality of the sounds will create perceived differences. Again, for an emergency situation, this is fine. For a long running show, it may not be the best option.
I’ve used this type of backup for situations such as playing in a wedding band, doing a reading or workshop, and cabaret shows. For such situations, it’ll work perfectly fine and will save you thousands of dollars on the cost of your rig. It’s also MUCH easier to transport. As long as you’re aware of both the pros and the cons of such a rig, you can decide when it will be a solid option for your situation.
I’m often asked how to build a rig with a redundant computer and interface for using MainStage live. While there are a number of ways that this could be done, I’m going to detail how I’ve done this many times in the past successfully and reliably. Building your rig carefully and with attention to detail can often make the difference between being able to troubleshoot effectively onsite or having your rig crash and burn. If you can clearly see the signal path and can tell where every cable should go thanks to detailed labeling, it’s much easier to troubleshoot.
2 x MOTU 828x (or your audio interface of choice)
1 x MIDI Solutions 2-Output Active MIDI Thru Box
1 x Furman PL-PLUS C 15 Amp Power Conditioner (or your rack mount power conditioner of choice)
1 x KVM Switch (DVI or VGA)
1 x Radial SW8 audio switcher
1 x Sonnet Technologies RackMac Mini
1 x VESA compatible video monitor (DVI or VGA)
2 x TRS snake (preferably 8 channel, TRS to TRS)
2 x MIDI cable (3’ in length)
1 x MIDI cable (20’ in length)
2 x Apple HDMI to DVI Adapter
1 x 8U Rack with Wheels
1 x Container of rack screws
As creative professionals, we’re often sitting at our workstations for many hours on end, sometimes to the detriment of our health. Our posture suffers, we get tight quads and hamstrings, IT band issues, and fatigue. I often solve this by keeping a kettlebell sitting out in the middle of the room and taking a break every 45 minutes or so to perform a kettlebell complex. This way, I’ve done a complete workout by the end of the day, I have opportunites to move my body, and I can stay energized and productive much longer. However, I often wish I could do my work standing up. Now, there’s a solution with Loctek Ergonomic’s Sit-Stand Adjustable Workstations.
Loctek makes workstations that are easily assembled and sit on top of an existing desk. When fully collapsed, their workstations allow the user to work in a sitting position. However, the workstations can be extended to allow the user to work from a standing position as well. The workstations are solidly built and come with a tray for a computer keyboard and mouse. Many models have more than adequate room to also hold a laptop computer or other office items. As an added bonus, they’re priced quite reasonably too!
If you’re like me and choose to use more than one video monitor, Loctek has many great solutions. They manufacture a full line of articulated monitor arms, all VESA compatible. One of my favorites is the Loctek 2-In-1 Full Motion Gas Spring Dual Monitor Arm Desk Mounts for Laptop & Monitor (D5DL) which allows you to mount both a video monitor and a laptop computer on two separate articulated arms. This can easily attach to the FlexiSpot Standing Desk – 35″ wide platform Height Adjustable Stand up Desk Riser with Removable Keyboard Tray (M2B-M-SIZE) sit-stand adjustable desk.
I believe that the Loctek line of products will be extremely useful for anyone who spends long hours at their computer, especially those in the creative professions. I can see these being very helpful for composers, orchestrators, music producers, video editors, and graphic designers, just to name a few.
There are enough options to allow for access to all of the usual equipment, and I believe that the Loctek product line will grow to be an essential part of the workflow for any health concious creative professional.
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:
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.
If you have any additional questions, feel free to contact me anytime at:
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.
The motivation to switch to the Yamaha U1SH
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.Continue reading Yamaha U1SH Silent Piano Review