February 19, 2013, by Dan Laveglia
The idea of setting up a complicated audio system every day, in constantly changing venues and in the time limitations of a few hours is daunting, to say the least. Yet it’s the inevitable reality of touring sound.
Thousands of pounds of hardware, miles of cable and hundreds of connections are required for system operation. All of this must be done in a timely manner, to allow for the “black art” of tuning the rig and mixing the music. Multipin connectors can help alleviate some of the connection challenges, and looming can keep the cabling to a minimum.
If you’re like me, and enjoy this kind of thing, perhaps it’s not so daunting, but to be sure there are many things that can be done to make the work go faster, allowing more time for the “art” portion. Let’s take a look…
The Right Stuff
As the system engineer, it all starts long before your bags are packed. When you know what gear you need for the tour, a conversation with the operations personnel at your audio provider’s shop is “numero uno” on your list.
Organize the information, draw pictures, diagrams - whatever it takes, so that it can be conveyed to them thoroughly and completely. They will appreciate your efforts and you’ll end up with the right stuff.
I’ve developed a simple (Microsoft) Excel spreadsheet to document rack layouts (Figure 1, below) and wiring schemes (Figure 2, also below) so that when it’s time for them to build racks for me, they have a good idea of what I’m expecting.
Figure 1: Simple Excel spreadsheet showing equipment positions in processing rack (click to enlarge)
Of course there are going to be changes and things that are out of your control. This is to be expected. But try to keep them to a minimum. It’s all in the details!
Before you leave home, have a complete equipment inventory on paper or your hard drive.
This document will stimulate and answer many questions before the first load in. If your equipment provider cannot supply this information, you may be using the wrong company!
Don’t forget to arrange for an early load-in on your first date and prepare to mold the rig into something you can live with every day. Hopefully you’ll be in a venue that has the space to organize your equipment and cases. Be sure to have plenty of colored e-tape and a good Sharpie.
Loom, Loom, Loom…
The single most important thing to make your “in and out” fast and accurate is to assemble proper looms for all of your cables.
By strategically planning what needs to go where, and how the cables will be routed, a scheme to wire your entire stage can be devised on one or two looms.
Using your cable inventory, plan well before arrival and put it on paper. With good supervision, two or three stagehands can have the job done in short order.
Looms should include multi-cable for input sub-snakes, AC drops for power, and stage monitor speaker cables, along with any other special cordage you may need.
All of these are bundled together to minimize the number of “pulls” to install or strike the wiring for the stage.
Figure 2: Excel spreadsheet specifying wiring scheme for outboard processing with Yamaha console (click to enlarge)
Allow any stagger required to maintain orderly connections to your equipment racks but be aware, sometimes it is easier to use extensions in lieu of having to coil a loom with widely varying end lengths. Use the e-tape to color-code all of the connections and the many wraps that hold the whole thing together.
Different branches of the loom carry different colors, with one color being the overall scheme for the loom. Be sure to include special marks for things like center stage and riser locations. In this manner, you can quickly and easily lay out and identify cables on the stage.
Another key for a successful scheme is to have plenty of length from the offstage terminations to the first onstage connection.
I allow 50 feet for the first one because I’m likely to end up on a large stage at a festival somewhere and need to have the length to locate the monitor rig in an appropriate position.
If the band is utilizing rolling risers, 50 feet will give you enough length to be flexible in their movement.
If you’re working in clubs, perhaps only twenty feet is necessary, but if it’s a stadium tour, you may need an extension loom.
Store and travel the stage looms in a case with the stage mic cables (also color coded and loomed), stage input boxes and other items used on the deck every day.
When the stage is set, the trunk is empty. Find a convenient spot nearby to store it, so that you can get the stagehands working on getting the cables up right after the show ends.
Removing the stage looms is key to getting out of a venue in a hurry.
The loom concept is also applied to the cross stage runs for the main PA system, and the FOH snakes.
All of these cables come together at the monitor position, where the main system interfaces are located.
Upstage and downstage loom excess coiled behind racks on the floor at an arena date. Note the ends coming over the top from behind the racks, keeping the floor clear as possible in the working area (click to enlarge).
At the end of the show, the first thing I do is systematically disconnect the various looms and clear them from the immediate area.
The front of house snake goes to the downstage edge. The upstage loom goes upstage near the first riser, clearing a path for the backline.
The downstage loom goes to the downstage wedge line, and the cross stage loom is pulled toward downstage center.
In this manner, they are all independent and ready to be coiled into their proper trunks. This also clears most of the cable from the floor in the monitor mix location, where most of the gear is located, making it easier to strike the racks and console from there.
Another facet of your touring set up might include a carpet for the stage, if this works for the band.
Meticulously mark the places for various mic stands, wedges, instruments and risers. In this manner your setup is extremely quick and consistent from day to day.
I like to use a Sharpie to mark the outline of everything instead of tape. This keeps it all neat and clean looking as the marks disappear when the pieces are put in place.
Take the extra time to precisely spike the places where monitors wedges will sit. The ability to duplicate the loudspeaker/microphone relationship will help immensely when tuning the wedges, particularly when you are utilizing more than one enclosure in an individual stage location.
Small changes in angles and distance can have big effects on the results at the microphone position.
Color-coded connections on the business side of monitor amp racks. Note the AC connections in the background carrying the same colors to the stage distribution scheme (click to enlarge)
The load-out begins as soon as the truck doors are opened for load-in. Live by it! The minute your gear rolls in to the venue you should be thinking about how you will take advantage of any opportunity to make the installation and strike easy and quick.
Ramps are very convenient, but they require extra work to move heavy pieces up and down. They may create bottlenecks or hazards that might not be necessary.
On the other hand, forklifts require less muscle, but are notoriously slow in most circumstances. Of course there are always exceptions. Review each situation individually.
Try to keep the bulk of your gear on the same level that it enters the venue. Do not move heavy amp racks up onto the stage, if they roll in at floor level and there is ample room for them to operate there.
Utilize storage space wisely. Keep your accessories (dollies, etc.) and work trunks close to where they are needed for the strike.
Evaluate every situation with safety in mind. Work smart, and it will be plenty fast!
Dan Laveglia is a long-time system engineer who has worked with Showco and Clair Brothers, working with top concert artists.