Keys Fit For A King Of Pop

Michael Jackson's onstage keyboard rigs!
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Michael Jackson's onstage keyboard rigs!

Michael Jackson's onstage keyboard rigs!

Dave Polich here, synth programmer for Michael Jackson’s This Is It concerts. In this month’s Geek Out, I’d like to tell you how we handled two of the more technical aspects of the keyboard rigs shown here: audio routing and program changes. Click here for Keyboard's main feature on the synth sounds of Michael Jackson's musical career.

The first of these was pretty simple. We had Yamaha O1V-96 digital mixers to submix all the keyboard and audio interface outputs, and simply fed stereo outs of each mixer to the house. To switch sounds, both players had MacBook Pros running MOTU Digital Perfomer 5.13, connected to all MIDI gear in the rig — even the mixers — via MIDI Express 128 interfaces. Each song got a “chunk” in a DP project, and each chunk contained program changes for every piece of gear. Pressing a QWERTY key called up a chunk — for example, “1” switched everything to the correct sounds for “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.’” If a song got added to the set, I simply created a new chunk for it. DP was set to “Multi Record” mode so that any keyboard could control any (or every) other instrument in the same rig. I created a “Stickies” set list on each player’s Mac desktop, so they easily could see which QWERTY key was associated with each song chunk.

Click the links below for PDF files of rig diagrams for Michael Bearden's and Morris Pleasure's onstage keyboard setups!

0909 Geek Out Michael Bearden MJ Rig

0909 Geek Out Morris Pleasure MJ Rig