TOOLS EVERY AV TECHNICIAN SHOULD OWN
by Nicholas Voss
A couple of years ago I was working with a university professor who chaired a week-long scientific conference in Arizona. On the first day she told me horror stories of how the AV had gone poorly in the past and asked what could be done to ensure that this conference would not repeat the same technical difficulties.
I pointed toward the tech table in the corner and said, “Doctor [so-and-so], you see those three black cases in the corner? These boxes contain all the things I need to solve any technical problem that exists.” She scurried away unconvinced, looking tense as before.
At the end of the week she announced from the podium that the Resort was the best-run conference facility they ever visited (including those in Europe), that the food was great (it was a standard buffet), the weather in Arizona was wonderful (it was 110 degrees at 10:00 AM!), and then shouted … we had the best AV ever! At this point the audience joined together in a hearty applause (click PLAY icon below to follow audio):
I later thanked Doctor [so-and-so] for the heartfelt kudos. She replied, “On the first day you tried to calm my shattered nerves with empty promises. I initially believed you were full of BS. I thought you were merely bragging. But you came through … and you know what? I think you really can solve any AV problem that exists.”
At this point I realized I had stumbled upon a clever and unique marketing slogan, and I have used my gimmicky AV Bag-of-Tricks story as an ice-breaker ever since.
To be frank, Dr. [so-and-so]’s conference was not complex. To this day I do not know why she had so many problems with audiovisual in the past. While it is true that the session changed speakers every fifteen to thirty minutes and each presenter had unique needs, I can only attribute the past horrors to the AV technician’s lack of experience or his inability to cope with rapid change. All this is to say that if a technician puts forth an effort to efficiently solve everyday problems and is willing to step up by investing in his career (more so than the next guy), the reward will be great.
I started my AV career with a few hand tools and now my AV Bag-of-Tricks has evolved to three boxes of devices, special adapters, and miscellaneous “gakk” by which I can overcome any audiovisual difficulty you can imagine.
What’s in my AV Bag of Tricks? There are basically three kits, depending on the project. For the most part I bring everything with me, regardless of how small is the project.
On-the-up audiovisual technicians may find this check list useful and will want to build their own. You career will prosper because of it.
ON-THE-GO KIT (18” x 16” x 10” soft-bag on wheels)
This is the first bag I grab when I am running to an emergency:
- SM58 microphone with clip
- Gooseneck with flange
- Gerber tool kit (or the Leatherman)
- Collapsible desk stand for microphone
- 30’ tape measure
- Bright green laser pointer
- Presentation remote
- Laser distance measure
- Radio Shack sound level meter
- Digital camera (I frequently take pictures of the client’s event from the back-of-house for no charge)
- Mini Maglite
- Direct Box
- Dell laptop power supply (you’ll be a hero if you can provide this on site in an emergency)
- Bag of 10-15 flash (jump)drives
- Fluke voltage meter
- GRT-3500 outlet tester
- VGA-Plus Computer Monitor Tester
- Tascam DR-07 Digital Recorder
- RapcoHorizon LTIGLBLOX (be sure to use the one with the ground lift switch!)
- AC ground lifts
- 3.5 mm stereo – Two ¼” phone plug adapter (for laptop, ipad, etc. audio)
- Spare AAA, AA and 9V batteries
- AC Tri-tap
- 5’ XLR cable
- 3’ VGA cable
- UPC cable
- Source Four Gobo holder
- Blank CD & DVD disks
- Velcro, black tie-line, hooks, screws, and clips for hanging client’s banner anywhere imaginable
- Clip-on LED battery-operated podium light
- Sharpie and white tape for marking mixers and switchers
- Electrical tape
- Snacks (in case the client does not provide meals)
THE BIG GAKK BOX (24” x 16” x 17” on wheels)
- RapcoHorizon PADBLOX inline pads (-20 & -30 db)
- Camera card reader
- VIDBOX video converter
- guideCAST speaker timer
- Behringer U-Control UCA200 sound card
- Sony MP3/CD Walkman
- Bag of flash (jump) drives
- Laser plumb tool
- Dell laptop power supply
- Universal AC adapter (sold in travel stores)
- LED battery-operated work/backstage lights
- Soldering kit
- USB lights
- Cell phone recorder (to record a presenter for playback if he/she is stuck at the airport!)
- Quantity of 10 RapcoHorizon LTIGLBLOX (be sure to use the one with the ground lift switch!)
- Quantity of 10 Presentation remotes w/ bright green laser pointer
- Bright Green professional laser pointer
- VGA switcher (Bang Box)
- RF demodulator
- VGA distribution (1 x 4)
- Quantity of 6 direct boxes
- Small computer speakers (for emergency laptop sound in breakout room)
- Flipchart markers
- Small network switch w/ spare ethernet cable
- Phantom power supply for condenser microphone
- RCA AV switcher
- Small video camera with output for spycam or emergency imag
- Spare batteries of every sort
THE BIG PATCH BOX (24” x 16” x 17” on wheels)
This list is extensive and too detailed to itemize; however, I would like to mention that it is important to carry the full line of Mac-VGA adapters. Be sure to mark each one with your name and secure it to the VGA cable with GAFF tape so the clients do not wander off with it after the event.
The point is to build an inventory of hard-to-find AV adapters in your Bag-of-Tricks. I estimate that my patch kit has a street-value of $3,000 in all. This is a costly undertaking, but if you start out small and build up the inventory over time you’ll soon be on your way to solving “any AV problem that exists.” It took many years to accumulate the proper adapters my targeted client base (small-medium size scientific and medical events), and if you are working in the entertainment or IT industry you will need to collect specialty adapters different than mine.
It is important to organize your adapters so you can find them in hurry. I use canvas bags located in Home Depot’s tool department.
THE LAPTOP (NOT PART OF “THE KITS”)
My basic field laptop is equipped with the following applications:
- iTunes for walk-in and bumper music (every genre that you can think of – as of this writing I have nearly 13 continuous days of music).
- Extron Universal Switching Control Program
- Room Viewer
- Turbo Cad (converts multiple drawing formats)
- LitePrompter (Yes, clients add teleprompters at the last minute. And you can make a lot of money when they do! Use 42” flat screen displays on the floor for last-minute requests)
- Sony Sound Forge Audio Studio (the Swiss Army knife for audio editing and file conversion)
- Roxio Creator Pro (the Swiss Army knife for video editing and file conversion)
- Microsoft PowerPoint (you need multiple versions installed 2003, 2007, and 2010)
- Microsoft Picture Manager
- [ADDED December 2012]: Entire Adobe Creative Suite (CS6) : Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects, Illustrator, etc.)
Finally, I would like to point out that IATSE Local 122 (San Diego) has a list of basic AV gadgets to get you started.
Remember to be on the hunt for useful gadgets and devices the next time you are at the hardware store, Fry’s Electronics, or any other place that potentially sells useful things the AV technician could use to make the job better, faster, and more professional.
Possessing more tools and skills than the next guy will make you valuable to your client or employer. Investing in yourself will advance your career and better our great industry.