Our gear is the tool that allows us to perform and do what we love, and most of us care for it accordingly. Still, we wonder why it needs to be replaced seemingly every couple of years, even though we think we are being extra careful and cautious. And it only takes once, however, for that mistake to happen-just one hurried load-out that means hundreds of dollars of repair expense.On the Case
The first step to properly protecting your investment, whether it’s a simple piece or the most important aspect of your rig, is to properly guard it from the rigors of the road. Protecting your gear from the road means storing and transporting it in some sort of case or bag. I guarantee you that no professional audio/video company will ever transport their hardware (other than speaker cabinets) without some sort of additional casing. It not only shields the gear from bumps, nicks, and in some cases drops.
There are many casing options available at reasonable prices. Amongst most mobile DJs, the traditional choice has been carpeted cases. Most find that they do less damage to seats in passenger vehicles and that they provide adequate protection. Carpeted cases are also often beneficial to those in colder climates, as the carpet on the exterior of the case can provide some insulation. Years of heavy use, however, will make most carpeted cases look shabby and worn. The carpet will then look like your old letterman jacket with a few years’ accumulation of fuzz.
More recently, the dip in price in flight-style cases (smooth sided, with heavy-duty panels) has made them more attractive financially as well as visibly. These cases have been the standard among touring production companies for decades. Everyone from TV to exhibition companies use this style of case, due their durability, their easy load-ability with forklifts, and also their ability to be tagged for easy identification. Flight cases-unlike carpeted cases-can be painted with stencils to ensure that contents are not lost and can be easily discernable from similar cases.
As I already hinted, one downside of flight-style cases is that they are typically a little more expensive than carpeted cases. Although flight cases will wear and become scuffed, they tend to do so at a less rapid pace then carpet cases deteriorate, meaning the added investment will equal more usable time.
Another style available for consideration is the molded case. These heavy-duty plastic cases tend to come in much smaller sizes than either carpeted of flight style, but the protection offered is still pretty good. Molded cases gained their popularity, ironically, in the airline industry, as they are lighter than flight-style cases, therefore allowing more cases to be loaded. A slight downside of molded cases is their inability to take as much pressure as either flight or carpeted cases. For normal DJ uses, though, they work great for consoles, mixers, and amplifiers.
Bad Weather Warning
An often overlooked factor in protection among mobile entertainers is the effect that weather has on gear. For anything that has any sort of microchip inside (controllers, computers, CD players, some mixers), extreme cold or heat is not advisable. Most other types of gear, including lighting, and PA equipment (amplifiers, speakers, mics, etc.) also have low tolerances to both hot and cold temperatures; not properly storing or transporting your gear in a climate-controlled environment can lead to early failure due to condensation or silicon-melting heat. Almost everywhere in the country has, at certain points in the year, extreme heat or cold that is responsible for gear failure, or at least temporary downtime.
It is advisable to keep your sensitive gear in a climate controlled location that does not reach less than freezing or over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Also important are fans and cooling devices when performing outdoor events in extreme heat (not only for your equipment but also for your most important piece of gear: yourself).
There is nothing worse than having an event at an upscale venue and showing up with shabby equipment. Even with careful care of your gear, wear will become evident after a few years. Options such as patching (for carpeted cabinets) or painting (for textured cabinets) may sustain your equipment for a little while longer. Painting is relatively easy and may be as simple as removing a grille and spraying or touching up scuffed corners. I would recommend covering every internal component, no matter if it is in the spraying area or not, with plastic or newspaper. Paint splatters can be not only annoying but damaging to gear functionality when in an undesired location.
When painting and patching aren’t enough, spray-on bed liner (the kind seen on vehicles) is a valid choice. Cases and speaker cabinets are perfect candidates for this procedure, as it adds about 1/4″ inch of textured protection to the outside of a surface. Besides providing a classy and sparkling finish to your gear, spray-on bed liner doesn’t wear and doesn’t affect sound quality when used on speakers. (See the Mobile Beat Gear Book, issue #111, December 2007, for an article detailing this process.)
And don’t forget the original purpose of spray-on bed liner. For those with trucks or vans, spray-on bed liner wards off dings and scrapes to your box and bed paint from metal corners and sharp edges. If you want any sort of resale value from your heavily used touring vehicle, spray-on bed liner is the way to go.
Something Smells Funny in Here
Years of abuse on the road not only leaves scuffs and scars on equipment, it also may leave an unpleasant odor. Entertainers who use the same rigs in bars that they use for weddings in non-smoking venues may not notice the odor of cigarettes due to familiarity, but non-smoking guests do. Some may even change their perception of your services if they have a close table or if they venture over to request and are offended by the aroma of your equipment (or you!).
One of the most important thins to remember, especially when masking cigarette smoke odor, is not overdoing the masking smell. Too much “pine-tree perfume” could make you and your area of the room smell like a streetwalker. A subtly smelling product not normally used in the entertainment market is Febreeze. It can be applied to almost anything, including cases, curtains, skirts, vehicles, and speaker cabinets. After rentals at frat houses, Febreeze is often the only thing that keeps me from throwing away perfectly good speakers that end up smelling like the inside of a keg.
Cabinets and cases covered in carpet can also develop lint and debris that can be hard to get off without damaging the carpet. For this, I recommend either a heavy duty lint roller or a vacuum cleaner with a hand brush attachment. Doing this every weekend, especially with rental and outdoor gear, greatly enhances the visual appearance of your gear to potential renters or audio-visual clients.
Think about it: Your gear is the second biggest investment that you’ll make as an entertainer. Behind music, nothing is more expensive-and important-than quality equipment. Long-term reliability is something that ultimately cannot be bought, but can only be achieved through taking care of your investments.
Emotional attachment is also a big reason to take care of your equipment. I have pieces of gear that I absolutely love, like my computer rack, which I will do all that I can to make sure it is in top working order. I am sure I could get by without it, but after so many events it’s become like a good luck charm-so why mess with success?
Although some of these tips may seem a bit basic, they are cost and stress-saving and we all need a reminder now and then. Have you gotten a bit lax in your maintenance routine? Following these tips will definitely save you some headaches down the road. And even in the here-and-now, for a long string of back-to-back events you need to be at your best-and that includes your well-groomed equipment.
Jake Feldman is Mobile Beat’s Gearbook Coordinator and Equipment Manager for BC Productions in Des Moines, Iowa.
Filed Under: Everything Else, Issues from 2008
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