What’s your backup plan?


SOS - EmergencyOne of the folks on the Hillsong Omnisphere Sounds group recently posted a Sunday horror story – he got to church and realized he had forgotten his laptop, portable hard drive and audio interface at home! Sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it, but it could happen to any of us. This is a great reminder for us to consider what we will do if we run into an equipment failure. Let’s look at some of the challenges a good backup plan presents and then some of the strategies to keep the set going.

You can’t clone yourself

Or your gear. It’s just that “You can’t clone your gear” didn’t seem as catchy – but seriously, most of us cannot afford to have an equivalent backup rig available all the time or left at church just-in-case-we-need-it. If we are going to have an effective back-up strategy we are going to have to make some compromises and we will have to decide what is really important in our rig, and what we can afford to duplicate.

Gear you can’t get to isn’t going to be helpful

Sounds obvious, right? But how often do we think “Oh I’ll just grab that synth or this rack unit” in case of emergency only to realize when the moment hits that you’re at church and that piece of gear is at home or in the studio or loaned out. Your backup gear needs to be something that you can get to when you need it!

Some gear just goes bad

Cables. Sooner or later that cheap cold solder joint will break and your cable will die. Some gear simply has a known life span and can be expected to quit at some point. Fortunately most performance keyboards are highly reliable but many of the other pieces of gear we use are not – USB midi interfaces, cables, power supplies. If you have gear with questionable reliability you should be planning ahead on how to get by when it travels to the great junk heap in the sky.

So how can we realistically plan a backup rig that will work? Ask yourself these questions:

What do I really need?

What sounds do you use over and over again? You won’t know what kind of backup rig you need until you know what your rig has to do at a basic level. Perhaps you find yourself running Omnisphere every week. If you step back and look at what you are doing, you may realize that all you really need is a solid pad patch or two to make it through a Sunday. How basic can your rig get and still get the job done?

What extra gear do I have available?

What extra gear do I keep around and can I use any of it in my rig? Older hardware can be a great backup for those who have moved on to software based setups. This could be an actual keyboard synth or simply a rack unit you keep around. Remember – it just has to get the job done for a Sunday, you don’t have to live with it forever! For those of us using a hardware live setup consider keeping some soft synths ready on your laptop in case you run into a bad output on your board or have another minor hardware disaster.

What other sources for gear are there? 

Take inventory of the gear that is already at church that might serve in an emergency. Maybe there is a board in the youth room or in the closet you could borrow on a Sunday morning. Check ahead of time with friends to see if there is a piece you could borrow at the last minute. Maybe you have an older laptop at home you could load a light software rig on in case of emergency.

Putting it all together

Once you know what is available you need to prepare the rig. It’s not really a backup rig unless it is ready to go for the gig at short notice. This is probably gear you don’t use that much. Unless you are diligent at duplicating patches on this gear it is unlikely you can hit the power button and be ready to go. Keep the following in mind:

  • Program several “general purpose” patches that are easy to find (user program 1, 2, 3, etc.). These should meet your needs but may not be as custom as your usual Sunday patches.
  • Know how to get to your backup rig — only you can decide what is appropriate. I personally have a software and hardware rig at all times on the gig.
  • Be willing to make compromises.
  • Know how you will connect to FOH. If you usually have XLR out of your interface but your backup rig will come out of a ¼ inch or ⅛ inch you should plan for that with the appropriate adapters.

Planning ahead is a major mark of professionalism and can decrease your stress level. Being highly reliable is one of the defining features of great band members and really increases your value to the team. Let us know in the comments how you work out your backup rig or share a horror story about a rig fail! As always thanks for reading, and keep on worshiping!

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One comment

  1. This great stuff.. I always my main controller (which happens to be a Yamaha s90) plugged into the system as well as my mainstage rig and I have it unmutes but the volume down with an analog pad loaded just in case mainstage crashes during a service (which has happened!!)

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