16 Essential Items For An Entertainment Technician
By Tom Warneke
What are the essential items for an entertainment technician? I was on a job site last week and we were mid-show. The bands were changing over onstage and we were getting into the final stages of the night when all of a sudden one of the network racks started beeping incessantly. The headliner was next and we were under the ten-minute mark. Time pressure builds and the beeping won’t stop. Going one hundred miles an hour like trying to dispose of a bomb, what’s the problem and how do we fix it? Is there power? Is it the breaker? Is the UPS running? Are the batteries dead? If we don’t get this fixed, all the DMX fiber converters and switch racks will be offline, no data network means no show. In short – if we don’t get this right, show’s over.
The UPS won’t quieten. Beeping, we just can’t get it powered. We try everything until we bite the bullet and take the high stakes but necessary move – bypass the GPS.
Easier said than done when you realise the first technician onsite is carrying a flashlight but no screwdrivers, the second technician has a multi-tool but the Philips bit is busted leaving the rack screws mercilessly secure and the third technician has a working multi-tool but has to climb out of the spot truss to deliver it.
Thankfully it wasn’t that awful. But the first two on the scene were without tools meaning it took three technicians to unscrew a UPS and re-plug a cable.
This led me to think a lot this week about what is the standard for a technician (regardless of discipline – sound, lx, video, auto etc.) to carry to be appropriately equipped for any and all possibilities during their shift.
I’ll agree – there are specialities for shows, venues and disciplines, if your show has performer flying, you’re most likely doing everything in a harness, whilst if you’re a rigger on an outdoor festival, a pocket anemometer may not be out of the question. While we might deal with these in the future, this article is about the immediate kit you keep on you.
Without further ado and for humble submission – here is what I keep on my essentials list.
What I carry on me…
1. Hard Hat
Quickly becoming a must in a lot of environments, I carry a Blue Petzl Vertex Vent with a headlamp permanently on the front. A good Hard Hat is worth it, not just because it’s more comfortable than a cheap one that doesn’t breathe but also will probably hold up better if there’s an impact. Dorky as it is, Chinstrap helps keep it on your head. The Vertex Vent is great because as the name suggests, there are holes inside to let air in.
2. Hi-Vis Vest
A no-brainer, helps you be seen in the dark. May not be needed all the time so if not on you, make sure there’s one in your toolbox.
3. Torch / Flashlight
Technicians work in the dark for a majority of their lives. Seeing is vital. While the headlamp is great for handsfree working, I also carry a Led Lenser P7 on my toolbelt – super bright LED for seeing up into Grids or into Truss structures at a distance.
Leatherman or Gerber? I’ll let that debate continue but needless to say – carrying some kind of multi-tool that can cut, screw, file and saw as well as ply is pretty damn useful. I carry a Black Anodised Leatherman Supertool in a pouch on my toolbelt.
This is something that could save your life or at the very least, save you a lot of time. A voltstick or a Non-Contact Tester is a tool that lights up when it senses voltage. While you should never trust it solely, it’s good to troubleshoot or as a first pass test. Buy a real one. Don’t buy a cheap discount store one – spend some real money and buy a Fluke Voltstick. I carry one all the time. Trusted because they work and are less likely to give you false readings, particularly when dealing with High Voltage, Mains and Tails.
No explanation needed. Sometimes people want you to prove who you are, generally venue security or a hotel front desk person.
7. Sharpies, a pen and some kind of paper
No explanation needed. Labelling and writing notes are part of your life.
You’re gonna carry stuff right? Get some nice fitting, comfortable but tough gloves. Put them on a carabiner for hanging on your toolbelt when you don’t need them, but always carry them with you.
For playing angry birds while you’re waiting – for using a DIP switch calculator or an SPL meter when you’re working – and for checking your email to find the next gig. Smartphones are truly an ingrained part of all our lives now. You’re probably reading this article on one.
10. Flash Drive
I generally carry at least one on a key ring in my stuff bag for when people need to transfer video files, show files, documents, whatever really…
11. Adjustable Wrench
Everyone needs to undo bolts, not just lighting guys. I carry two (because most of the time as a tech, I am a lighting guy) – 2x 10” shifters (Aussie for Wrench) on lanyards attached to my toolbelt. Wrenches live in the stuff bag. Don’t buy expensive ones because you’ll leave them somewhere but definitely have two with you.
12. Jewellers Driver
Because tiny screws are everywhere. Buy one and keep it in your stuff bag. Preferably one that fits terminals and is rated for mains electricity (Red handled)
13. In Ears or Headphones
Because either listening to YouTube vids on your phone or listening to in-ear comms onstage, it’s nicer with your own ears on. I carry a pair of Shure SE102s with me all the time and they have a handy belt clip pouch.
14. Electrical Tape
Carry some. Always a quick way to clean up cables.
Leave at least one or two on your tool belt. Proper Carabiners too because you may need to haul something or tie something off. You may need to hang up laundry or you may need to clip something secure in an emergency. Either way, carry one or two standard carabiners – double locking if you’re dealing a lot with rigging or performer handling, just because..
16. All of this is on a tool belt with a stuff bag
I use a CAT tool belt with 1.5” wide webbing – it’s padded and has a standard plastic heavy duty clip. All of the above stuff is on it, in the places and sides I like to keep it (tools on the right, gloves at the back, stuff bag on the left – OCD much?). I have a Yates chalk bag on my left that I can throw stuff in as well as tape, my phone, wrenches, sharpies, whatever might be loose.
A tool belt may be the most important of all because yes, you need to carry all that stuff… but not to lunch…
Cover Photo Credit: Janusz Ciechowski
Have you any essentials to add to this list? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us! We look forward to hearing from you.
Also by Tom Warneke:
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