As a “Front of House” live sound engineer, you’re often expected to be the saviour of the show when something goes wrong. Wave that magic wand, perform some sort of wizardry and on goes the show with punters non the wiser. Having a few tricks up your sleeve and tools in your kit can be gig savers. We’re going to look at a few essential tools to keep you out of trouble and also look at a couple of extra toys for special occasions.
Check One, Two
There’s nothing worse than having a cable go dead on you halfway through a gig or walking into a venue and wondering what cables are going to work or that might spit the dummy. Luckily, DBX have a nifty little gadget for all your cable checking needs, behold the DBX-CT2 cable tester. A clear LED indicator and beeper give you instant feedback and there are connectors for XLR (male and female), 1/4” TRS, RCA, Speaker Twist, DMX, BNC, MIDI and banana. Having this handy tester in your backpack could save you from some serious cable headaches.
DI’s for Days
We’re sure most engineers have had the unlucky experience of getting to a gig and finding only one or worst, no working DI’s at a venue. Having a couple of reliable ones of your own can save you from copping it from any disgruntled keyboard players. There are plenty out there to choose from, a few winners would include the super rugged and reliable BSS AR133 active DI, an industry standard for production houses and a regular on tech riders. Having a nice passive stereo DI is always good too and the Radial Pro D2 is a superb choice. For those on a slimmer budget but still wanting solid reliability the DBX DI1 is a great, cost effective option. It’s also compatible with Harman’s Connected PA system, which is an added bonus.
In the Zone
Having a nice set of headphones as an engineer is pretty invaluable. Preferably closed back for the best isolation (especially in particularly noisy rooms) is generally recommended so you can take a listen to the main mix or isolate individual channels for a more detailed listen. The AKG K-271MKII headphones are super comfy and have a great extended frequency range for incredible detail. The removable mini XLR cable is a handy feature with both straight and coiled cables included plus a choice of velvet or leatherette ear pad choices are nice extras too. The Sennheiser HD-280PRO are another solid choice with good isolation and a snug over ear fit.
Mic Me Up
Having some favourite mics that you’re familiar with is a safe and sure way to know what you going to get at each gig. We’ve definitely covered off live vocal mic choices in previous articles so we’ll let you dig into those separately. If you have the budget for it, having a drum mic pack in your arsenal can be an invaluable ally. The AKG DP-CONCERT pack is a superb option which sports the famed D-112MKII for kick drum (or chuck it on a bass cab to blend with your DI signal), 2x C-430 for overheads and 4x D-40’s for snare and toms. This is especially great if you have a drummer with a single rack and floor tom setup, so you can have both snare top and bottom covered. Another popular choice would be the Sennheiser E600 drum pack which includes the E602-II for kick, 4x E604 for snare, toms or other percussion and 2x E614 super cardioid condensers for hi hats and cymbals.
No Stand, No Problem
Both drum packs we’ve mentioned above have the relevant clips for quick and easy mic placement around the kit and having these saves time, space and resources. But what about guitar amps, cabs, percussion? Or hard to reach places where a mic stand just isn’t practical or in the worst-case scenario, there aren’t any functioning stands available, heaven forbid! Enter the trusty Z Bar, LP claws and universal mic clips. Having a few of these dependable units as part of your kit will give you peace of mind and help keep things much tidier on stage.
Tape, adaptors and more
A live engineer’s best friend is arguably a trusty role of Gaffa Tape, there’s always a use for it, whether its you or the band. Speaking of tape, some white masking tape accompanied with a Texta will help keep channel labelling in check. For those really dark stages a small torch will make navigating on and around the stage a heap easier. Aside from being the beautifully quaint, vastly mountainous, landlocked country that it is, the Swiss sure did a good job of making themselves famous with the universally useful Swiss Army Knife. As an engineer it might be a stretch to find a use for the built-in tweezers, but pretty much every other component will be rather helpful. You’ll be a guitar players best friend if you happen to have an extra multi power board or spare 9V power supply that they forgot to bring. But keep a close eye out for these disappearing though. Some other extras that will definitely make your job easier is firstly, the trusty aux cord. Probably to no one’s surprise these can mysteriously vanish into thin air, who would have thought! Adaptors and patch cables can indeed make or break a gig, especially if you plan to be patching in some external processing or effects units and you’re not 100% sure what connections the console has. XLR male or female to 1/4” TRS adaptors can really come in handy.
Speaking of external effects, if you want to get a little crazy and have some tactile control in getting some lush reverberation vibes going, the Strymon Big Sky reverb pedal has proved to be quite popular. Its studio quality algorithms will give you endless hours of effects tweaking and melding and with a small enough footprint to simply sling into your backpack.
Hopefully we’ve given you a few things to think about and consider adding when looking to build up your sound engineering tool kit or if you’re wanting to add a few sneaky extra toys to your already well stocked collection. It’s both practical and fun to have a wide variety of tools at your disposal. It will make for a smoother setup, a less crowded stage and you’ll have less headaches by knowing you’ve got reliable, working gear. In turn you’ll have happier musicians giving it their best and inevitably a crowd that enjoyed a seamless night of quality entertainment. Everyone’s a winner!