The corporate world calls it “workflow,” and in audio, we generally call it “prepping the show” as well as “load in-load out” and “set up-strike.” But none of it is quite adequate in describing effective practices in our overall approach to every show.
In running a small sound company in Texas for almost a decade, it occurred to me that there might be a lack of information about how to go about these common yet vital aspects of working in sound reinforcement. A look around the internet pretty much confirmed this.
Another way to learn, if you’re lucky, is via more experienced professionals. Alas, many of us aren’t fortunate enough to receive the attention and guidance of mentors, or if we do, the experience is all too brief.
As a result, I’ve put together this overview of the practices and procedures I’ve developed over years of being a solo proprietor providing sound reinforcement to one-off gigs, local events and regional music festivals. This isn’t intended to be definitive, but it’s my hope that there are some ideas here that will benefit your own efforts.
Transport & Load-In
If you’re going to be hand-carrying anything into a venue – stop right now. Figure out a way to make it roll. Everything that goes into, and comes out of, my trailer rolls, whether it’s on a hand truck or in a road case. Just as we should be protecting our hearing, we have to take care of our backs and knees, or we won’t be around for long.
Now that everything rolls, build or buy a couple of ramps to make the rolling even easier. I have a folding 6-foot aluminum ramp, originally intended for wheelchairs, which is plenty strong for all of my needs yet light enough for one person to move easily.
My trailer doesn’t have a ramp-style door (I actually prefer it that way), so I’m able to use this ramp to roll everything from the trailer to the ground, or, more commonly, from the trailer straight into the venue or portable stage. Whenever possible, I look to back up to the venue door and lay the ramp over the threshold.
Inside the venue or on the stage, I use the same ramp to get items up on risers and to hop those pesky 2-step stairs that are inside so many multi-level facilities. Another 2-foot wooden ramp also comes with me for those times when I’m unloading on the street and have to hop over a curb to get to the venue. This little ramp is worth it’s weight in gold. It also helps give electronic gear a longer, happier life because it’s not being bounced over curbs and steps.
A trailer-pack chart can come in handy.
Most of the items in my trailer are placed according to weight. It needs to be relatively balanced, with most of the weight over the axle, but with at least a 10 percent bias toward the tongue. I recommend consulting the manufacturer or reseller of your trailer if you have any doubts about the load you’re carrying. Having said that, there are some things I like to pack in a particular order.
Locating the PA tops in the front of the trailer and the subs behind saves time. As the subs come off the trailer, they can be placed for the show right away, and then the tops come out directly and are stacked on the subs. (The reverse happens at the end of the night.) I also keep things like microphones, DIs and cables at the back of the trailer for easy access, particularly at smaller gigs – just open the door and grab what’s needed without having to unload half the trailer to get to it.
After arriving at an optimum trailer-pack strategy, with items arranged logically and weight evenly distributed, make a chart showing where everything goes and tape it inside the trailer. I use a simple graphics program to make the chart and keep the file stored on my laptop, so I can print out a copy for anyone helping me who is unfamiliar with how I want it done.
The chart also serves as a handy checklist to make sure I leave nothing behind. One other thing included on the chart is where the straps that hold everything in place within the trailer should be positioned.