Wires tangled everywhere… As music directors, pit musicians, and keyboard programmers, we’ve all experienced this phenomenon. Luckily, there’s a way to reduce the headaches involved with setting up a keyboard rig while cast members run around frantically trying to get dressed in time for the first run-through. A portable keyboard rack cuts down on setup time, reduces messiness in the pit, and makes you look cool with all its flashing lights. In this series titled Building a Keyboard Rack for Musical Theatre, I’ll talk about what a keyboard rack is, how it can make your life so much better, and how to build your own rack.
There are several components in a typical modern musical theatre keyboard setup. Besides the obvious keyboard and pedals, a computer, audio interface, DI box, and a power conditioner are all pieces of gear that need to be considered. Connecting all of these devices together before every single show can be a huge time waster, and cables getting tangled together is inevitable. Mounting the majority of these devices into a rack case solves both of these problems. Before I continue, here’s a photo of my keyboard rack for a production of Les Misérables I played in and programmed for last year.
From top to bottom, there’s a power conditioner, three audio interfaces, a Yamaha TX-802 FM synthesizer, DI rack, and a power strip. This particular rack was placed in the between the two keyboardists. There was one audio interface for each keyboard book, and the large audio interface was used as a standalone sub-mixer to combine the two keyboard signals to send to the pit keyboard monitors behind the orchestra. The DI rack has two pairs of stereo XLR outputs to send the two keyboard signals to the house. There are also two pairs of 1/4″ thru outputs for each keyboardist’s personal monitor. Imagine how messy all of this would be without all the gear mounted in the rack case! In this situation, there were only two FireWire cables running from the audio interfaces in the rack case to their respective computers. Outside the rack case, there were two USB cables between computer and keyboard, and two power cables for the computers. So, everything was wired internally and there are six clearly visible cables not counting the cables going to the house and to the personal monitors. Much better than seeing a million tangled cables.
In the next part of of Building a Keyboard Rack for Musical Theatre, I’ll go in depth about the gear in my keyboard rack and give suggestions on what gear to choose to build a new rack.