Many of us are masters at the logistical side of loading and unloading trucks and moving gear. Correctly positioning and tuning the PA for the best coverage is almost second nature. After years of doing our jobs, we’ve become decent (or better) mixers, getting musicians to sound great in the PA. We’ve even acquired the skill of dealing with diva performers and smarmy promoters.
And when problems arise on a show like they always seem to do, our troubleshooting and problem-solving skills come through to save the day. But many of these problems can be avoided with more attention to pre-planning. The period between the first phone call or e-mail about a show to when the truck is loaded is the best time to identify and solve any problems that may rear their ugly head come crunch time.
It all starts with the details
Find out everything possible about the event, not just when it starts, who’s onstage and what’s on the rider. Probe to learn what the client has in mind and what is expected of you and your crew.
Further, find out what other production companies (like lighting or video) will be working the event and get their contact information. Give them a call to discuss key issues, such as if you’re going to be forced to share power with the lighting system or if your stacks are going to block sightlines for video screens.
I also touch base with catering companies because it’s way better to know in advance if they plan to block the loading dock with a refrigerated truck or need to roll heavy food carts through certain doorways in the venue. Even providers as seemingly innocuous as a balloon decorator or still photographer should be contacted – I’ve had both create headaches that could have easily been avoided with a simple phone call.
If a local crew is to be provided, communicate with their leader. Coordinate your needs with them, and give them a heads-up on other happenings at the gig.
And don’t leave out the venue itself!
At the least, round up as much information as is available, and if possible, do a walk-through with the client and/or venue staff. A small banquet hall where we’ve long supported an annual corporate event underwent a renovation, and I arrived to find that some ceiling rigging points we’d always used before were now blocked by a nifty new chandelier. A simple walk-through would have headed off the problem…
It’s also a good idea to pre-plan for emergencies. Always have extra stuff on hand. Sure, moving extra gear is a pain, but what’s more of a hassle: lugging around some spare cables and an extra loudspeaker or trying to line up more work to replace the client you just lost because a simple piece of gear failed? Extras like cables, adapters, microphones and stands don’t take up that much room, and even larger gear like a backup amplifier or loudspeaker isn’t that difficult to fit into the truck pack.
I’ve mentioned this one before but it bears repeating: carry a thumb drive loaded with the manuals for your gear as well as other common equipment. While most of us know our own stuff well enough to not need the paperwork, there are times when a check of a manual will deliver a quick solution. And if you’re using house and/or rented gear, the manual might just save the day.
The thumb drive (or your phone) should also have a list of contact numbers for area rental and production houses in case you (or the client) need to arrange for a service or rental at the last minute.
Begin the pre-planning process again right after each show by doing a review with your crew, going over everything that just happened to see what could have been done better – and will be done better the next time out.