Among many of the recent entrants into the sound profession, I’ve noticed a lack of knowledge when it comes to wiring a stage.
Perhaps it’s due to a lot of sound engineering schools being essentially studio-based courses. Or maybe it’s simply that it’s difficult to get a young mind to concentrate on something as mundane as running cable when there is a digital board with loads of lights and buttons sitting in the corner of the room!
Improper wiring of a stage makes for more work when it comes to wrapping up at the end of the night, makes it difficult to trace any faulty cables that may arise during sound check or during the gig, and can cause trip hazards for artists and crew on- or back-stage.
This is the way I was taught years ago, and the basic method is the same on every stage right up to the top level. Before we begin our little primer we should clarify a few terms:
Upstage—The part of the stage furthest from the audience.
Downstage—The part of the stage closest to the audience.
Stage Left—The side of the stage to your left as you stand onstage and face the audience.
Stage Right—The side of the stage to your right as you stand onstage and face the audience.
Heavy mains cable such as 3-phase feeder cable should always be kept off-stage. Excess mains cable should never be left tightly coiled but left in a neat figure of eight pattern under the stage if possible but certainly out of the way of walkways.
When running lighter gauge cable from the mains distro to amplifier racks, use the shortest length possible to avoid having large coils of excess cable in areas where monitor engineers, guitar technicians and other stage-hands are likely to be working. Leave short lengths of surplus cable under amp racks or in the dead space often found behind the amplifier racks.
Try to ensure that all mains cable to amplifiers follows a similar path, to avoid tangles during load out. Make sure it looks neat; if it doesn’t, you probably should re-do your work.
When running electrical cables to on-stage power drops, best practice is to have at least an upstage and a downstage feed.
Try to run mains cable upstage on the drum riser, following other cable runs for monitors and signal cables if possible.
The upstage line will feed mainly guitar and bass amps (backline). The downstage power feed should be downstage of the monitors, and again should follow monitor and signal cable runs. This feed will generally be required to power guitarist’s tuners and pedal-boards and keyboards.
Again, avoid using cables that are too long. Tuck any excess cable under on-stage risers or off-stage where possible. That way, if you need to move the power drop, the extra cable is reasonably accessible. The key is to never cross the performance area (ie: the space between the drum-kit and the monitor line) with cable.