Fly commercial

Hi Mike,

I need to build a rig that I can fly commercial. It needs to have 8 outputs, and needs to be able to read and generate time code. Plus I need an audio switcher to switch between rigs if one of them goes down. I will be using Digital performer for the live show but will still want to have Pro Tools LE with me on the road for edits, and transferring new files from the studio to DP. I already own 2 fast Mac laptops. What do you recommend for the rest of the rig?


Hi John,

If you want to fly commercial you need to try and keep the weight of your rack fully loaded at 50 pounds if possible. Some airlines will allow up to 70 pounds, and if youíre flying business class or better wonít charge for the extra weight. If youíre flying coach, then be prepared to pay more if youíre over 50 pounds, and if itís over 80 pounds they wonít fly it at all. I would get the best three-space rack you can afford, with 1î shock mounting foam. Jan Al Innerprizes makes the best racks on the market in my opinion. Here is their website I would fly my laptops and hard-drives in my carry on bag, and any additional large cables or power strips in my suitcase.

For audio interfaces in a small system you have to go with the MOTU Ultra-lites. They have plenty of ins and outs, and sound really great. Since youíre using DP itís really easy to read and generate code with the MOTU SMPTE setup console. If you need 8 analog outs for the show, then you should use the main outs L&R for audio instead of the analog 7 or 8 outputs which youíll need for generating code, as you have to use one of the 8 analog outs for SMPTE. If youíre receiving code any input is fine, but it would make sense to use input 8 if output 8 is being used to send code. The Ultra-lites are very good on the road, but sometimes the attachable rack ears will crack if someone throws the rack around so be sure and get a couple extra sets from MOTU. The units themselves are rock solid, and in one rack space youíll have an incredible amount of inputs and outputs. Remember, on your laptop always use the 400FW port for the audio interfaces, and the FW800 ports for the hard drives.

Another must have if youíre using time code live is a Brainstorm Electronics SR-15+ ( This 1 space unit will take your time code that you are sending or receiving, reshape the code, amplify or lower the level of the code, and give you an additional 5 outputs of code if you need to send code to video, lights, sound, and have a couple lines for spares. Each line has a ground lift switch, which comes in handy when sending code to departments that have different power to avoid ground loops. It also has an easily accessible switch in the front that can switch which of the 2 inputs (front or rear) is receiving code. This is essential if your audio switcher only has 8 ins and outs and you need to be able to switch code sources quickly during a show.

The most important part of this small rig is the audio switcher. The Radial SW8 is absolutely the best switcher out there for a rig of this size ( You can chain them together if you have a bigger rig. To switch between rigs you can either manually hit a switch on the front, use a footswitch, or you can have it auto-sense when to switch. If your code is being sent out of output 1, and thereís code on both input 1ís, then it will stay on the A system. If the code on the A system stops it will immediately switch to the B rig. This is very powerful for situations that require immediate switching in case of failure, but I prefer to switch things myself. The SW8 has 16 inputs (DB25 or 1/4î), and has 8 outputs in the front that are transformer isolated XLR mic outputs. There is also an additional DB25 mirror of the front 8 outs on the back that you can use for editing on your external mixer. It also has a ñ20 db pad for the XLR outs. It sounds great and I have flown it all over the world with no problems.

I also carry along a Digidesign Mbox2 (although the new Mbox 2 Mini looks very cool) for doing my Pro Tools transfers on the road. You can do transfers pretty easily from PT to DP by simply consolidating the audio so that everything starts at the same place, save a MIDI file for tempo and location information, then drag the audio into DP and import the MIDI file. The problem with this is that you have to rename the tracks in DP, and rebuild your mix, unless you did a bounce to disk in PT which can be very time consuming if there are a lot of separate tracks, that need to stay separate. I use Digi-Translator to save the PT file as an AAF or OMF file, then again save a MIDI file for tempo and location points, then open the file in DP. The files are all named just as they were in DP; the volume automation is there as well. The only issue is that I have to redo my panning. For some reason that is still not transferred properly. If anyone out there knows what Iím doing wrong with the panning please let me know and Iíll pass it along to everyone in Keyboard-land.

So, now you have a very powerful rig that you can do almost everything with in a three-space rack, carry-on bag, and a small suitcase. Honestly, this has been my primary rig for all of my TV work I do in LA for some time, and it works great. My G5 towers that I used to tour with are sitting in my studio, although my G5 tower with PTHD is still getting a lot of use! That may change in the future though. Please keep the questions coming! Mike

Mike McKnight Sounds Inc.

34145 Pacific Coast Hwy, Suite #302
Dana Point, CA 92629