As news of vaccines in the UK and beyond bring in a some optimism for future shows in 2021, its probably as good a time as ever to begin thinking about your live kit, dusting it off and getting ready for gigs in the summer (hopefully!)
Many stage/band instruments might have been in storage for a while and will need a thorough inspection before being truly ready for a live show. Just expecting your equipment to work after prolonged storage is simply asking for trouble, so it’s worth spending some time checking the condition of synths, drum machines, controllers, desks and all associated cabling as well as firing up laptops and checking their interfaces etc ..
Here’s some quick tips to get you started..
Plug In and turn on your gear:
Keyboards , Synths, Drum Modules etc. Leave them on for a prolonged amount of time to bed in, warm up and settle. If components are going to fail you’ll only know by running mains through the unit! Especially with older analogue units a degree of bedding in time is required for tuning stability anyway, so power up and soak before testing is recommended.
Use a brush + lint free cloth (a micro-fibre cloth is great and doesn’t leave scratches ).
A new paint brush is really handy for getting between the pots of a mixer desk or synth controls and can reach into hard to access places. Dust build up can affect the calibration of some controls with values jumping due to dirt gather and of course on a mixer or other audio control, dust or dirt on the pot or fader can result in audible noise or scratching, so removal of dust is important. Also especially during festival season, when outdoor stages can become dust magnets, this is good practice periodically anyway. Deploying ‘Switch Cleaner’ allows you to keep controls dirt free and quiet. In tandem with this, using an 'Air Duster' will be effective. Essentially compressed air in a can, Air Dusters literally blast dust and dirt out of those hard to reach places. Here are some useful tips here regarding switch cleaner and air duster use:
Other areas to look at for cleaning are the heatsinks of some equipment or fan inlet/outlets. As both of these are designed with equipment cooling in mind, keeping them free from dirt or blockage is super important to prevent gear overheating and allow airflow/cooling.
Once you’ve cleaned, check the actual controls of your instruments. Volume pots or faders and other controls, pedal inputs and pedals (volume, sustain or expression) all need a workout to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Also listening to the audio outputs of units rather than just headphone outputs when testing is required here, as these O/P's are what you’ll be plugging in come show time. A unit might have a healthy headphone output but an audio output not functioning so its important to know these work correctly. Especially with repeated unplug/replug when gigging, connectors like instrument jack outs can eventually become loose or develop faulty contacts or solder joint failures, through this constant action, so it's worth a quick check in this dept, both audible and physical.
Mixer controls will need a wiggle whilst connected to a speaker too to make sure pots and faders are quiet and outputs are noise free. If once plugged in, you are experiencing noise issues with instruments connected to the mixer, you can be safe in the knowledge that the desk is not the fault, if previously cleaned and tested.
In a similar fashion, trigger devices over MIDI if they will be used that way live and if you rely on clock sync units for clock generation, then check that devices sync OK. A really useful tool in the MIDI test dept is 'MIDI Monitor' by Snoize:
We touched upon another of their free utilities in a previous post about Sysex here https://www.buymeacoffee.com/musos/sysex-friend-honest but 'MIDI Monitor' is another excellent testing weapon. Once installed it can show you exactly what MIDI Data is coming down a cable into your computer. Very useful .. as another job you should be doing here is testing the keys of all synths, drum pads of drum machines and controller keys/pads/pots.
MIDI Monitor can show you exactly what they are sending when pressed/tweaked. Especially with older synths and keyboards that get constant use in the central area of the key-bed, keys can eventually not make contact correctly (or at all) depending on the hardware, so in the case of MIDI devices a monitor is useful. Whilst doing this you can be listening to the audio of synths or keyboards too and make sure that all notes/sounds actually sound out correctly. Listening to audio out might also flag up voicing issues with older analogue synths.
Another useful MIDI tester that looks supercool and fits in a pocket is the Innerclock Systems TT-5 'Test-Tube':
We’ll hopefully be covering this in a more in depth review in future, but if you use MIDI Clock, Din Sync or MIDI notes in a rig this is essential. It glows in the dark and gives you instant feedback on those signals. Left in an output it can give constant mid show feedback of course, but during prep it's equally as useful … did I say it looks bloody cool too? !
There are probably battery driven devices somewhere in your live setup, so now is the time to swap out for new, or at least meter the existing batteries to see what charge they contain. The opposite is of course true when storing items for a prolonged period. It’s always a good idea to remove batteries from any devices containing them, as they can over time, leak and potentially cause damage to circuits and contacts. The same is true of larger batteries like those found in uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). These device are handy for festivals when you need to keep gear powered during a changeover. They provide battery backup to an entire rig. If stored long term, their batteries will need disconnecting or removing and potentially replacing . Also testing the UPS under load plus metering the power O/P and timing the power it can provide on battery, will show whether the batteries are functioning correctly or not and if the unit is sound.
Its worth cleaning and testing all your cables during this prep period and we’ve already touched upon good cabling practice in our post ‘Cabling like a Pro: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/musos/quick-tips-cabling-like-a-pro
Cleaning is useful in a couple of ways. Firstly the act of cleaning itself, will reveal any damage to the cable or connectors and warrant further inspection, but also because you can improve signal quality by cleaning contacts or connector ends. Removing dirt from connectors will improve signal flow, so checking that old cables don’t have dirt or rust on them is recommended.
‘Deoxit’ makes a great cleaner to help here:
Having a cable tester to hand is a real time saver too and will allow speedy testing of all manner or cable varieties. You’ll be safe in the knowledge that any spare you grab mid gig will be working if tested ahead of show day. Some testers are cheap and a worthwhile investment: This unit by behringer is a no brainier at the price:
Once tested its also worth wrapping cable correctly as it will also prolong its life. Being able to deploy a cable quickly is also essential and if its a coiled mess, that just aint gonna happen, plus it might be damaged. Find some coil tips here:
Other basic tests you could do in this phase :
Plug in and test power supplies and make sure you have enough spares of them and of the swappable 'ends' if the multi-voltage variety. Multi-selector PSU's with a variety of output voltages make handy backups, but are no good if the ends you have don't fit anything! Some instruments are quite specific about the connecter end and polarity so being armed with sufficient ends to swap out if a psu fails or is lost is also useful.
It's probably a good time to re-mark any instruments or pedals that have settings marked for recall or safety too.
There’s no point having a load of fancy gear if it’s broken or not working due to poor casing and damage during transit. Its amazing how many times this is over looked by non touring people ( Management!) and not seen as a priority. Making sure you have enough casing and that the interior and exterior of cases are foamed out correctly or that external corners, catches are wheels are sound is a must. Its actually worth looking at casing first in the whole scheme of things, especially when ordering new cases, as things can take time to fabricate or fix so allow for this.If you start this a week before the first gig, you are not gonna make it happen, so checking flightcases and allowing time for repairs in recommended.
Also housing and pre-wiring kit into cases is worth considering here. It will improve setup time hugely, reduce the risk of losing small individual items and will protect them better. Several items in a case together are probably better protected that a single small item that's easier to drop or get thrown by crew. See this ‘Bicep’ setup pic for a great illustration of pre-setup / pre-cased ideas.
(designed by GravityRigs UK https://gravityrigs.com )
This really warrants a post of its own so our next prep post will focus on computer prep, maintenance and testing, which will carry over to both studio and live use.
Hopefully some of the ideas we've mentioned here will help you prep correctly for performances and be ready when tech failures occur .... because they do!
Until next time ..
Need more prep advice ?? visit https://musos.tech for direct 1:1 tech assistance from the MuSOS hive :)
//MuSOS - 'We Can Help'