By Martin Frey
This bit is all about connections. Connections of the literal sort, not the personal or business sort. Let me start by fully admitting this may be nothing more than a rant on my part however, nonetheless every bit as important and relevant as everything else connected to (pardon the pun!) everything we do on a daily basis.
On a very recent multiple-show, multiple-city road trip to Mexico, I was one again reminded as to the importance of the maintenance, care and consideration of audio cabling. Whether it’s AC cable, signal cable, multi-core cable, analogue cable, digital cable, XLR cable or hi-Z instrument cable, they all have one important thing in common; they are all in fact, the ties that bind.
Cables constitute the glue that holds our entire professional existence together both literally and figuratively.
Cabling is certainly the single least expensive element (on a cost-per item basis) by far in a PA system. Yet, it remains the single most important element which allows us to both interface and/or interconnect absolutely every single piece of equipment that we use on a daily basis.
Back to my Mexico trip…
So, The PA system sounds fine, both the house and monitor consoles are exactly what we had advanced. Everything works and the backline seems to be everything we had asked for on our somewhat extensive rider. So far, so good.
Fast forward to line check…
Well, it shouldn’t seem too much to expect to get 48 inputs, split them two ways to get it all up and working, should it? It shouldn’t, no. You wouldn’t think so, or at least I didn’t after getting past the first hurdle of having both a PA and a set of digital consoles in seemingly good working order. OK yes, I do know better (from experience). Let me point out that we (of course) laboriously labeled each DI and sub-snake box in great detail. …Much to the astonishment of both the local PA
and backline vendors.
Line check turned into a long, long, long chore that was fraught with both failed XLR and ¼” instrument patch cables. Not to mention one or two non-working sub-snake and snake split channels. Good thing we build in plenty of extra time into our day, simply because we do know better from experience. Thank the stars this was not a proverbial “throw and go” festival!
I would say that by the end of line check, fully 25% of the cables provided by both the PA and back line vendors were non-functional. Inevitably, this turned into delay after delay, channel after channel, line after line. Eyes rolling into the backs of our heads, biting our tongues, all the while endeavoring to remain calm and retain our professional demeanors. A tough call for even the most experienced of us.
I know what you’re thinking, suck it up, get out your cable testers/Q-Boxes and figure it out. Not so simple when you have a crew language barrier to start and two vendors that have neither device onsite, much less know how and what they’re used for… We, fortunately, did.
Between our stage manager, myself and our monitor engineer, we did finally manage to get a complete working set of both stage XLR and backline ¼” patch lines working for us (for that show). Eventually. We had to do it all on our own. As I mentioned, we also had all of the aforementioned cable testers with us.
With sound check finally successfully completed, we turned the deck over to our “equally famous” support act.
With unimaginable pain, we were forced yet again to watch an entire repeat episode of this day’s patch nightmare forced upon our support act compatriots who, luckily, had less than half of our meager 48 inputs.
Naturally, since our support had only one crew person with them, we did the right thing and helped them get through this nightmare. Again.
OK, so we made it this far. Support goes on, finishes and it’s turnover time. Plenty of time for a complete pre-show line check, right? Imagine our surprise when previously clean channels now had buzzes and one split channel ceased to function as such. We did get it all working though, ‘cuz that’s what we do.
Show’s done and we converge upon the stage to pack it all up. Imagine our horror as we watch local crew folks grabbing up 1/4” patch cables by the bunch and pulling them out by the cables, rather than by the connectors! And of course, then yanking cables apart by force, rather than untangling them one at a time. Same with all of the XLR, naturally.
Three cities, three shows, three repeat patch cable nightmares between two experienced acts. I won’t lie, it sucked for all of us.
I can’t fault the locals though, I really can’t. They obviously haven’t had the benefit of either good training and/or leadership from the get-go. This is a skill set that we often take for granted because we’ve had the benefit of years of good training and good cable patch/labeling/care/maintenance habits ingrained into our very existence.
What we can do however, when put in a less than ideal situation such as this is:
Set an example! Remain calm and professional.
Work through these issues one at a time using proven and time-tested trouble-shooting techniques.
Show how you use your Q-Box and/or cable testor and why it’s so important to carry one with you at all times.
Show and explain why we label everything to death, even when it’s not our own gear. Most especially failed cables! It will save your gig and your sanity!
And you know what? It might even result in some young crew guy somewhere learning something positive and going out to spend his or her hard-earned money on a cable tester!
There is only one way to do it, the right way. I learned it because somebody showed me how to do it the right way. By the way, wasn’t that both you and me at one time?
The ties that bind…
Have a cable horror story? Share it in the comments and we’ll give the most horrific story sharer and L2P/SPL T-Shirt