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A Few Common Pitfalls to Avoid at Your Next Gig

Steve LaCerra • December 2020On the Digital Edge • December 10, 2020

Overloaded Electrical outlet with no room for more plugs

Overwhelmed by all those nitpicky details you have to remember before a gig? Every once in a while, something slips past that’s really silly, and the result is aggravation. Here are a few things to put on your checklist so you don’t stub your toe.

‡‡         Bring a Router

If you plan to control a digital mixer using an iPad or other device via Wi-Fi, bring your own router to the gig. It may be tempting to use a venue’s in-house Wi-Fi, but that’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons, only one of which is that the password could be “12345” and you don’t want wannabe engineers playing around with your monitor mixes. Set a strong password for your network and only give it to people who need it. Make sure that network encryption is activated and turn off the router when you aren’t using it. You might even consider the idea of changing the router’s default IP address to make it more difficult to hack. Security issues aside, using your own router ensures that your control network isn’t bogged down with traffic from patrons trying to access the net or folks in the front office printing a box office statement.

‡‡         Check the Electrical Service

Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson at an outdoor show. We sound checked early in the day and everything went fine. When the band started playing the show, it was still daylight. The P.A. sounded horrible — lots of distortion and no headroom. We stopped the show and went through all of the lines but couldn’t find anything wrong. The band started playing again and the problems returned. As the sun started to set, I could see that every time the kick drum was hit, the lights in the beer tent dimmed. Turns out that the beer tent was using the same AC service as the P.A.! I measured the voltage from an AC outlet at FOH and it was something like 108 volts. Great! Pro audio loves low voltage. (Not!)

Whether it’s permanent AC service or a generator, the P.A. should not share an electrical feed with lighting or anything else. At sound check, crank up the P.A. louder than you think you’ll need during show time, just to see if the power sags. And stay away from the beer tent until after the truck is packed.

Speaking of packing the truck — put your tools onto the truck last. You don’t want to have to unload two tons of P.A. speakers in an emergency just to reach the tool box.

‡‡         Have an Extra Audio Feed Ready

There’s nothing more annoying than someone coming to you five minutes before showtime and asking for an audio feed to the video truck. If you’re working an event that has a video component, anticipate that last minute request and have a line ready. You can route the L/R mix into a matrix (or two), and patch the matrix to an unused output on the desk. If you really want to annoy the video guys, send them a 1 kHz test tone at 0 dBFS to check levels. And by the way, I lied. There is something more irritating: that crazed fan who asks if they can have an audio feed from the FOH desk to record the show.

Fig. 1 – A nice way of miking the ceiling

‡‡         Watch Where You Point That Thing

Sometimes my tour managing duties get in the way of my sound engineer duties, and on occasion, I won’t have time to check the house crew’s microphone placement on stage. You’d be surprised at how many times I listen to the overheads and think, “Wow, those sound really dark.” Then I take a closer look at the overhead microphones and realize that they are side-address mics (AKG C414s, Audio-Technica AT4050s, Shure KSM32s) set to cardioid, and the front of the mics are pointed at the ceiling, as in Fig. 1. No wonder the cymbals sound so dark. (Think I’m kidding?)

Then there’s someone who is too lazy to put an SM57 on a mic stand, opting instead to drape a cable over the front of the guitar amp and suspend the mic in front of the amp’s grill (Fig. 2). That’s a wonderful technique when you want to mic the floor, but doesn’t work very well when you want to actually get some tone from the guitar amp.

Fig. 2 – A nice way of miking the floor

‡‡         Bring Something to Eat

When we were kids, the grow-ups told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. They were wrong. The most important meal of the day is the next one. Don’t assume that you’ll be able to get a meal break, and if you’re on a union gig and don’t get a meal break, make sure that you get a meal penalty per IATSE rules. No one ever told you this, but things at a gig may go wrong, and you may not have time to get a bite to eat. Joking aside, the only thing worse than being hungry is being hangry, so if you’re the only tech on the gig, pack food with you. Personally, I prefer to bring along a local hero sandwich, but carrying stuff like nuts or fruit can help get you through until you can get a runner to find something substantial. If you’re responsible for crew meals, have a plan in place for feeding them. Nothing spells mutiny like “I haven’t had anything to eat since load-in.”

‡‡         What Happens when the Lights Go Out

Stages that appear perfectly harmless during daylight hours or when the lights are on can be treacherous in the dark. Use glow-in-the-dark tape to mark the edges of stairs and the boundaries of the deck, even if they’re lit. It could save someone from serious injury.

Also, think about the way your work surface at FOH or monitor land will look when the venue goes dark. It’s surprising how many digital consoles with built-in screens and backlit scribble strips are difficult to read in dim lighting. The gooseneck lamps that come with many desks are usually sufficient, but verify early in the day that they actually work, so that if the lamps need replacement you have time to send out that runner who’s rounding up your dinner. Absent that, a small desk lamp can help — and don’t forget to check the batteries in your Mag-Lite.

On a far more serious note, pack extra masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Steve “Woody” La Cerra is the tour manager and front of house engineer for Blue Öyster Cult

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