Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cables On Stage

I'm going to go off on a bit of a rant here. There isn't much that really irritates me in the world of audio but cables are one of those things that can eventually get to me. Specifically, improperly coiled cables and a messy stage.

Let's start with the cable coiling. To the uninitiated it can be a puzzler as to why this is a big deal. Well, if you're "helping" me coil up cables at the end of the night and don't get all the twists out of them, they're not going to go in the box nicely and if they stay that way too long they'll never coil nicely again. (Or lay flat, but we'll get to that.) Then at the next gig, instead of grabbing coil after coil and having them play out nice and neat, I'll have to spend additional minutes untangling the spaghetti that you made. It's not that hard to learn to coil over-under. Look it up on YouTube and practice at home. This is one of the leading things that will have me saying, "Look, this will take me half an hour by myself or an hour if I have 'help'. So just let it be please."

The second thing is having a neat stage. Even if I'm running late there are a few things I will do because they promote safety and save time in the long run. The first thing is to use cable that's long enough to run around the perimeter of the stage so you don't have lines crossing all over where the band will be walking. Sub snakes are a great way to do this so you don't have to invest in a ton of long cables. Also, this is where nicely coiled cables come in, because they come off a coil nice and neat, they will lay flat and not leave loops and humps laying around for people to trip on.

Beyond that there's the way you run the cable. Start at the snake box and leave a loop or two of slack coiled up right there. That's for two reasons. The first, is that if you have to re-patch, you've got some slack on hand. The second is that if there's a "trip loop" right there and somebody snags a cable, there's a better chance they won't go down and/or test the strain relief on your cable. The other end is where you should leave the rest of the slack. If it's all piled up at the box, you'll have spaghetti for sure. If there's a little extra by every mic on stage, moving a guitar cab or vocal mic is easy. Not to mention that on vocal mics in particular you want to have the slack right there ready to go so your singer can wander around.

For additional safety measures, any time cables cross a walkway on stage, like where every band will load in and out, cover those suckers. Throw a door mat over them or tape them down at least. There are also some bridge type devices you can cover them with that are even ADA compliant. You need to be even more careful if you have cables in an audience area. A fire marshal can shut a show down if he doesn't like what he sees. 

One last tip Brethren of the Knob and Fader. When you're taping down a run of cable there's a better way than just strips of gaff or (eeesh) duct tape every foot. And don't let me catch you making a big "tape tunnel" because that won't hold cable down and it's a pain to get off at the end of the night. Take that same six inch piece of tape and rip it in half length wise. Then make an X over the cable. Because the pieces are holding on a diagonal they're much more likely to hold when people scuff on the cables and cause them to try and roll. If a venue requires a tape tunnel then do Xs first, then cover it. Your cable will hold for days at a stretch with no worries.


  1. ha :) i learned over runder just the other day, and have been doing it ever since. i feel it helps keeping everything neat and tidy and tangle-free. plus people now seem think i'm some kind of cowboy, which is a big plus :)

    i have all my longer mic cables on reels though, its maybe a little harder on the jacks, but i feel that overall that method is a lot less harmful. plus it saves a lot of time at the end of the show :) you can even roll up and clean cables at the same time, which i like.

    for my shorter cables i've recently been using what has quickly become my new favorite cable helper: self-adhesive bandages! they're almost like a mixture of tape and velcro: you can tear off pieces of it in whatever length you need, and they're reusable and don't leave any sticky residue.

  2. and thanks a bunch for that X-tip! I'll try that for sure!


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