May 26, 2011

Seven Survival Tools for the Live Sound Intern

Let's say you've nailed the interview, gotten the internship, and your mother is already stitching up your superhero costume with “Live Sound Intern Man/Woman” emblazoned across the front. (All the cool superhero names were taken, apparently.) You're ready to do battle against the forces of evil – and probably make runs to Guitar Center.

Just like every superhero from Batman to . . . Robin . . . you'll need an arsenal of useful gadgets to compensate for your utter lack of real superpowers. You probably have most of this stuff lying around already, but it does you no good unless it's within 50 feet of you at each and every gig. If Indiana Jones can have the foresight to carry an idol-sized sack of dirt in his adventure bag, you really don't have any excuse not to have at least the following basics:

1. Ear plugs. It amazes me – amazes me – that so many live sound folks don't own or use ear plugs. These otherwise conscientious people, who will quite literally rip your head off for setting a drink within thirty feet of their precious consoles, see no problem whatsoever with deliberately trashing the one tool that no amount of money can replace: Hearing.

2. Flashlight. Don't be That Guy trying to find something on a dark stage by the light of a cell phone. Buy a bright, sturdy LED flashlight and keep it with you at all times. Superhero bonus: Nothing will get you through a dense crowd faster than 137 lumens of “Excuse me” power. (Having a heavy metal tube in your hand doesn't hurt, either.)

3. Headphones. Maybe I'm still stuck in kindergarten, but I'm pretty big on sharing. You can borrow my kick drum microphone, my car, my girlfriend, whatever . . . but there is nothing in this world that makes me cringe like hearing the words: “Can I borrow your headphones?” No matter how nice you may be, my brain is immediately filled with a high-definition, 3D montage of you foregoing today's shower time to instead paw through your pile of greasy, dirty clothes and sweaty footwear, and maybe shove a few Twinkies in your mouth for good measure. (Remind me, I'm out of Twinkies.) Buy a quality pair of can-style headphones with a 1/4” adapter (I use Extreme Isolation EX-29s) and keep them out of sight – and off the mooch radar – as much as possible.

4. Swiss Army knife. It slices! It dices! It cooks your food! Find a quality knife with two blades, scissors, screw drivers, and a bottle opener. (Live sound can be thirsty work.) Keep it sharp, and keep it in your pocket. If a day goes by that you didn't use your Swiss Army knife, you probably didn't get out of bed.

5. Tape. Just like the space shuttle, the live sound industry is held together with lots and lots of adhesive tape. I carry gaffer's tape (in black, white, and Steve Vai green), painter's tape, electrical tape, and . . . wait, no, that's it. Guard this stuff with your life, or you'll have lots of very friendly roadies – and no tape.

6. Sharpie markers. Trust me, you'll use them. And no, a pen/pencil will not cut it. See previous item regarding the dangers of friendly roadies.

7. Canned soup. A typical live sound day can range anywhere from 10-14 hours. You'll get hungry, and rarely at a convenient time. Keep a can of the “DO NOT ADD WATER”-style soup (these usually have pop tops) and a plastic spoon in your bag, and you'll be the envy of all the hungry loaders. Better yet, bring two cans, in case your “audio mentor” forgot his.

These are the bare essentials. We'll cover more goodies further down the road.

Rock on,

Nathan Schied
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