Sweating the Small Stuff: Your Tech Support Box by Stu Chisholm

December 26, 2006 by Stu Chisholm

A well-stocked box just might save the dayYou might call it your “tool box” or “repair kit” or maybe just a “junk box;” but most savvy DJs carry some type of Technical Support Box: an assortment of tools, supplies and other items running the gamut from those we’ll use at every gig to those we hope we’ll never need. Such a kit has saved my show on many occasions, and was developed through a lot of thought, many years of experience and many long conversations with colleagues. Having what you need when you need it is the name of the game!

Gone Fishin’

Unless you have a case specially built, there are very few case options available beyond a good fishing tackle box. Even many CSI evidence technicians use them! They’re designed to keep things organized, accessible and free from damage. Tackle boxes are also quite rugged. I highly recommend one with several pull-out drawers.


Most cases have a large bin for bigger items. Mine include:

· Digital multi-meter

· Real time frequency analyzer / pink noise generator

· Sound level meter

· Spare speaker/lighting stand parts

If you have any electronic skill, a digital multi-meter can help you track-down problems on circuit boards, provided you’ve got the time to do so. It can also show you the line voltage from an electrical outlet, check batteries and cables and many other useful functions. I originally packed it thinking I’d never need it, but find more and more uses for it all the time!

A real-time frequency analyzer helps you to optimize your sound system for each room / environment where you perform. By taking readings of the pink noise output, you can actually see your frequency pattern and make adjustments with your EQ. Mine is a hand-held model, but there are also rack-mount analyzers as well. The advantage is that an optimized system will sound better than the DJ in the next room who didn’t bother. It can mean the difference between good sound and great sound.

The sound level meter gives you a visual read-out of your actual volume in decibels (dBs). You can find potential “hot spots” in a room, keep an eye on your volume (we DJs are often used to much higher levels than our guests) and even comes in handy as an applause meter! They’re inexpensive, and I can’t think of a good reason not to have one.

If you use speaker and/or lighting stands, it is always a good idea to keep some spare knobs and plastic parts around for them “just in case.” While they have a lifetime warranty, when you drop a stand on pavement in the winter and crack the cold, plastic parts, spares suddenly become REALLY important!!! Some of my assistants have also over-tightened the knobs, stripping-out the bolts. (This can happen over time as well.)

Mo’ Stuff

In the drawers below, I keep the consumables and tools:

· Batteries

· Spare bulbs for various lighting effects (Don’t forget spares for any Littlelites, Mag-Lites, rack lights, etc.)

· Assorted connectors (RCA to RCA, RCA to ¼,” and their various male to male / female to female permutations)

· A good flash light

· Ground adaptors (to use three prong plugs in two prong outlets)

· An isoblock (to remove line hum in an XLR run)

· Electrical tape

· Wire stripper

· Spare fuses (for every piece of gear and lighting fixture)

· A soldering iron / resin core solder

· Assorted butt connectors, lugs and wire caps

· Markers, electrical tape, scotch and masking tape

· Super glue

· Assorted spare screws, nuts, wood screws, etc. (Rack screws, too!)

· Stopwatch

· Hand tools: needle nose and standard pliers, dykes, large, medium and small standard and Phillips screwdrivers

· A small parts gripper

· Circuit locator and transmitter

Most of these supplies require no explanation, but of course my kit goes above and beyond the usual. For instance, an isoblock is a good thing to keep on hand if you use a direct box to run your sound to a house PA system or into a band-style mixing console. Sometimes the differences in impedance or grounding can cause hum. More often than not, the isoblock is the cure.

Electrical and electronic tools are all good to have, but again, these depend on your own expertise.

Masking tape and markers often come in handy when you’re doing a show that differs from your norm. You can I.D. which device is on which channel of your mixer, etc.

I keep a stopwatch handy for two reasons: if I’m asked to officiate a timed event (or run a contest requiring a timer), and to grab a quick BPM. (See my complete BPM seminar in MB #104.)

I try to keep replacement screws, nuts and bolts for anything in my rig that uses them. Life on the road can loosen things up, pop screws and strip bolts. Note the type and size of those in your rig (lighting effects, road cases, tensor lamps and mic booms-everything!) and pack a few spares. I also carry a few self-tapping wood screws, for those unexpected moments, like the time a banquet hall table was about to collapse under the weight of a pile of gifts because a support let loose. A wood screw and two minutes made me the hero of the day!

Did you ever drop a small part into a nook or cranny of your road case and have trouble getting at it? This happened often to me, as one of my road cases has a “gap” that just begs small things to fall inside! I solved that problem with a parts grabber-a long, flexible wand with a plunger at one end and a small gripper at the other. Problem solved.

While tooling around the hardware store one day (pun intended), I found a very ingenious invention: a circuit locator. My DJ system requires two electrical circuits; one for lights and one for sound. Some of my colleagues actually require three or more. In some halls, this can be tricky. Plus, if you trip a breaker, you have to be able to find it…fast! A circuit locator makes this a snap. Plug the transmitter, which looks like a small AC adaptor, into the outlet you plan on using. Then go to the breaker box and run the locator up and down the row of breakers. When you pass over the correct one, an LED flashes and a beep sounds! Use your masking tape and marker to make a temporary tag.

Love for the Turntablists

If you’re one of the increasingly rare DJs who still use turntables, then you’ll also want to reserve a slot for your stylus cleaning and cartridge adjustment supplies, and perhaps a spare cartridge. I also have a carbon brush, disc cleaning fluid, velvet cleaning rod and camel’s hair brush.

Road Ready

You may have individual needs for your specific circumstance, so take the time to think about each item in your show. Note anything it might use (fuses, bulbs, connectors, etc.) and keep a supply on-hand. With a well-equipped Tech Support Kit, you’re ready for almost anything that life on the road can throw at you!

Until next time, safe spinnin’!

Stu Chisholm Stu Chisholm (52 Posts)

Stu Chisholm had been collecting music since he was about eight years old and began his DJ career in 1979. After much hard work, trial-and-error, and a stint at the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts, he studied the DJ arts with famous Michigan broadcaster, Bill Henning, at a local college. Stu interned at Detroit’s rock powerhouse, WRIF. To his radio and mobile work Stu later added club gigs at Detroit’s best venues, and voiceover work. He has shared his extensive DJ experience through his Mobile Beat columns, as a seminar speaker and through his book, “The Complete Disc Jockey: A Comprehensive Manual for the Professional DJ,” released in 2008.

Filed Under: 2006, Mobile DJ Performance Tips