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I'm writing this from the Minneapolis / St. Paul airport, where I have finally arrived after boarding and de-planing my flight from Denver this morning a grand total of 3 times (well, I only de-planed twice, since we actually left on the 3rd attempt). I should be home in Orlando later this evening, but it got me to thinking about backup systems. I know that airplanes have redundant backup systems on board, but when a plane can't function before it leaves the ground, they usually don't let it take off (something for which I'm thankful). However, they don't always have a backup plane on hand for those situations. It got me to thinking about spares for our shows... why do we have spares for some pieces of gear or entire systems, but not others?

 

I am still doing events for a few production company clients that feel that redundancy in equipment on show site is unnecessary. Now, I know that if my airplane fails, it has much more dire consequences than if there is a failure of gear on a show - but try telling that to the producer or end client. We have a saying after a tough show - "At least no one died". But sometimes death would be preferred over enduring the wrath of a client whose show went pear-shaped.

 

So what gear needs to be backed-up on a show, and what can be trusted to either a) not fail or b) find a quick replacement if it does fail? I wonder about this all the time on show site, since some shows back up almost everything, while others cross their fingers and say a few prayers.

 

Some things I almost always see backed-up on shows, whether hot (able to switch to it immediately if there is a failure) or cold (sitting in a case backstage, but ready to put into use if there is a problem). Oh, and just having one in the city at the local wholesaler doesn't count:

Lighting Consoles (this comes from as far back as my Vari*Lite programming days)

Projectors (almost always 2 projectors hot, in case one fails)

Moving lights (some brands / models more than others)

ImagePRO's (they are not really backups, but more like Swiss Army knives for any video related emergency)

Computers (especially if they are for presentation graphics)

Microphones

 

Some things I seldom see with an on-site backup, even though these are all show-critical items:

Encore or Spyder controllers or processors

Cameras

Camera switchers

Audio consoles

Speakers (maybe not, but it sure seems like the audio guys usually have more db than they actually need...)

 

When I was in the lighting world, we almost always had spares for everything - from the consoles to the fixtures, lamps, DMX splitters, etc. But in video and projection, the main thing we bring as a spare is the projectors, and quite often, even they are doubled up and expected to ALL perform properly in order to maintain the expected screen brightness. Does video gear not fail as often as lighting? Are we more capable of recovering from a failure of a piece of gear? Or perhaps we think our gear will only fail during load-in, but will work flawlessly once the show is up and running? I just don't know...

 

Is it just me, or do you also wonder why some things almost always have an onsite backup, while others don't? I can understand that an item that is more likely to fail is also more likely to have an onsite backup. I can also understand that budgets don't often allow the big-ticket items (like an Encore system) to have a backup sitting "just in case". But without some sort of backup system, especially on the high-failure-rate items, you risk more than just having a show fail - you risk losing a client.

 

What systems do you ALWAYS back up, and what systems do you NEVER backup with onsite gear? Why? I'd love to hear your answers.

 

Meanwhile, I still don't understand why my airline of choice doesn't keep a backup airplane ready for days like today - perhaps it is considered a high-dollar item? Maybe if I ask nicely, they will start backing up their airplanes nationwide... yeah, right.

 

Salud!

Kirk

 

 

Views: 18

Tags: backups, show spares, spares

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Comment by Kirk Garreans on August 8, 2011 at 10:24am
Brit, you bring up a good point - without electricity, almost NONE of our gear works (Genie towers don't count). Even if the venue has sufficient power, is there a backup plan in case the power goes down? Spare power? Not sure it is necessary, but it would be if you lose your main source of electricity!
Comment by Brit Manning on July 29, 2011 at 4:00pm

Generators!  Whether they're for a festival out in the middle of a field or a building that simply doesn't have enough power, having a "genny" die can mean instant death to the show.  A lot of the companies I work for will have a second backup sitting right beside the live one just in case.  But not everyone wants to spend the extra cash.  

 

I also don't think I've ever seen a tour come through my venues (or been out on a show myself) with a spare dimmer rack.  Maybe a few parts for repairs or extra modules.  But never an entire rack.  In fact, once I actually helped rebuild a rack during the load in for a big country music tour.  Their neutrals had gotten crossed in the last city and toasted the entire thing.  They had to send a runner out looking for fuses.   

Comment by Kirk Garreans on July 27, 2011 at 3:24pm
Good point, Justin - a backup of the show file (actually, multiple copies) is critical - especially to keep one off site in case of a theft of the onsite gear.
Comment by Justin Lang on July 25, 2011 at 2:11pm

It's an easy one and most times we always have one some where, a backup of the show file.  I ALWAYS have a backup on my lanyard. The Lanyard that I use everywhere. 

Kirk, you do ask a good question! I too want to know what people are not "backing up" on the road.

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