Learn Live | Damage Control

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An army of roadies scrambling in Woodlands, TX, for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Trouble, as the lyrics of almost any blues tune will tell you, is a part of life. If you''re a performing musician, trouble can take the form of equipment failure that can ruin a show. In an ideal world, all musicians would have expert tech staff to repair and maintain their gear, but the reality is, most bands and solo performers, especially during the up-and-coming phase of their careers, have to deal with on-the-gig gear troubles themselves. There''s never any guarantee of a show going off without a hitch, but if you take these simple preventative steps, you can minimize your risk of a meltdown.

Don''t blow things up! Hooking up amps and speakers correctly is critical. It''s the one area of audio in which significant amounts of power are transferred. If you hook up a mic incorrectly, about the worst that can happen is that it won''t work well. But if you err in connecting speakers to amplifiers, the resulting smoke may signal serious, costly equipment damage. Always check the amplifier''s instruction manual when hooking up unusual speaker loads.

Once you have your equipment setup dialed in, write it down! You can make simple connection diagrams for the P.A. system, instrument amps, and keyboard setups, including all cable routing and the basic settings of knobs, switches, and faders. If anything is accidentally changed between gigs, you have a reference point from which to proceed. That can save critical time before a show.

Lighting equipment that uses dimmers has a bad reputation for causing noise and buzzing in audio gear. If you can, power the lights from an AC circuit that is separate from the one you''re using for the audio gear.

Do not cut off, bypass, or disable the ground prong on AC power cables. When present, the ground prong performs the function of isolating human beings from dangerous voltages when certain types of internal equipment malfunctions occur.

Create an equipment checklist to be used prior to loading out for the gig so that you can avoid leaving some critical widget behind. Also, make photocopies of important sections of instruction manuals for all equipment, and put all this information in a three-ring binder with index tabs for quick access.

Keep audio cables separated from AC power wires and transformers. Power cables, motors, and transformers generate magnetic fields, which can induce hum in nearby audio cables. Keep audio cables at least half a meter away from power cables. If the audio cables must cross a power cable, they should do so at a 90-degree angle to minimize hum pickup.

If you must use AC power extension cords, make sure they have the proper rating. The ubiquitous 6-outlet switched “power strip” should be used only for devices with small power requirements (rack effects units, keyboards, CD players, and so on) and must be used with care to avoid overloads. The maximum rating for many small power strips is only 10 amps. (And that doesn''t mean 10 guitar amps!)

Arriving early at the venue is essential; it gives you time to familiarize yourself with the layout and scope out the best stage setup for your equipment. If the setup and soundcheck go smoothly, small problems are less likely to become gig-threatening experiences. Reduce the possibility of turn-on transients damaging speakers by applying power to mixers, processors, and effects units first; turn on power amps as the very last step. Reverse the sequence when powering down.