21 Things To Remember On Tour
Julian Colbeck suggests the hi-techer's 21 most indispensable things to remember on tour.
Back up everything you possibly can. Time is irreplaceable, sounds and set-ups may be irretrievable, and disks are cheap. This applies especially to sequence data and patch data for master keyboards (where applicable and where possible), but if you can back up all your sounds to disk and duplicate your samples, so much the better. Better still, make two copies and keep one of them at home.
A recording walkman, dictaphone, bashed up old cassette machine... the quality doesn't matter. Gigs, soundchecks, waiting around in dressing rooms, travelling: these are all wonderful stimulae for ideas. So get 'em down in the easiest way possible.
Preferably, construct a little holder for a Maglite (an essential part of every tech's kit) so you always know where it is.
Pedal power is much underestimated, whether for volume (overall or per instrument), patch up/down, sustain, note on/off triggering, portamento... Think pedals, and equip yourself accordingly. It'll open up all sorts of playing and control possibilities
If you've ever tried wiping yourself down with the various pieces of used coir matting that the gig normally supplies you'll be pleased you remembered this one.
Essential both as on-stage fashion accessory and morning-after-the-night-before aid.
In spite of the fact that instruments are pretty reliable these days and that even if they did go wrong or start behaving weirdly there'd be precious little most of us would be able to do about it, a full complement of manuals at least gives you the chance to check error messages and the like in the event of what is often referred to as 'any voodoo'. And if you get thoroughly fed up you never know, you might even find time to read some of them and get to know your instruments better!
Absolutely essential for two reasons. First, if something goes wrong during a gig (tuning, wrong patch, note sticking...) at least you can have a stab at finding the fault without creating (or competing with) cacophony on stage. Secondly, headphones will allow you to get on with any programming you might need to undertake during a soundcheck without driving everyone else mad. Headphones buy you, and others around you, peace. Use good ones.
You may already have such a thing in your Filofax. If not, a useful list would include the manufacturers/distributors of your instruments; repair company; hire company; programmer/troubleshooter; local music shops. This is even more important when playing abroad even if, for obvious reasons, it may not be feasible in a country you've not been to before. Compile one for next time though.
...can be life-savers no matter what level you're at. If you look after your own gear entirely, then a small electrical toolkit of fuses, screwdrivers, a meter (very useful), plugs, soldering iron etc., is almost essential. If you have some assistance then you may feel you can rely upon someone else's thoroughness. Unless you employ your own technician (who if they haven't got this covered should be sacked) it won't hurt to stash away a small supply of electrical fixits.
See above for rationale. The list should include MIDI, audio, and mains leads. The smart people make up all their own leads, I should add. Actually, let's clarify this before technicians who have worked with me ring up to reveal that I have never made up a lead in my life (which is true!)... The smart people either make up their own leads or employ others to do it for them. Either way they don't waste money buying ones that are already made up.
For instrument cleaning purposes. Travelling and doing gigs is a messy business. Hi-tech gear is generally not happy about this. So the least you can do is give keyboards and front panels the odd wipe down from time to time with a clean soft cloth. Manufacturers always warn against the use of solvents or cleaners but I've been using good old Pledge on my keyboards for the past 20 years and I've never had any problems. Beware of polishing the keys too thoroughly, though, or else your fingers will be skidding about all over the place.
But don't mention it. The problem about being too Boy Scouty and prepared is that everyone else will take advantage of you. This is never more true than when it concerns cassettes, but they're still highly useful for: recording your own ideas; recording soundchecks; recording the gig itself; recording band arguments...
You never know when you're going to come across someone with a great game, bit of software, or sounds. Make sure you've got a box of spares.
There's nothing worse than fiddling your way through a system trying to find where it's breaking down. Commercial MIDI testers do exist but any half-way technically minded person should be able to knock up a Din plug with an LED on the end of it so that you can at least check whether instruments are receiving MIDI (plug it in the Thru) or kicking MIDI out.
A must if you're a writer. Ideas come at the strangest of times and in the strangest of places, and a pencil and paper is still the simplest solution.
There are few more irritating feelings than trying to play a meaningful solo when half your fingernails are split or peeling off. Constant playing/bashing takes its toll. Clippers and file essential.
Even if you're a leap-about merchant on stage. For all those moments of hanging around before the gig, for noodling, practising, programming, repairing. And if you use a rack of modules an adjustable drumstool needs no further justification.
It's cold, late, the gig was a fiasco, the hotel is the pits and the bass player needs a shower, badly, only there isn't a shower. You wish you were at home. But some geezer in a magazine you once read said "take a portable kettle with you, and some tea bags/coffee/whatever's your poison." And you did. You're hailed as odd. But a complete genius.
For when even the kettle won't cure the blues. So you can call up a replacement.
Be it a Walkman or, preferably, a Walkman with speakers. Nothing, on tour, refreshes more than listening to someone else playing something else somewhere else.
The SOS Guide To Going Live
Feature by Julian Colbeck
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