So this is fresh on my mind as I've been doing a fair share of troubleshooting recently (hopefully not a reflection on my engineering skills!). But I have been in a lot of situations where I am troubleshooting some one else setup, or system and it has brought back to my attention why I have a lot of the habits and practices that I do; namely, LABELING.
WHAT TO LABEL.
Everything! Okay well just about. Basically, it can't exactly hurt you to label. And even if it doesn't help you, it might help someone else. So what do you label, here are the guidelines I follow:
- If it's sending signal, label it.
- If it's receiving signal, label it.
- If its carrying signal label it.
The nice thing is that, as I'm sure you have noticed, most devices that send, receive, or carry signal come already labeled to a certain degree from the manufacture. Your job, is to label it specific to your use of it. Practically this means that I always label, with very few exceptions, all of the following:
- XLR cables (Both Ends)
- Snakes & Sub-snakes (More than just the printed numbers, actual input names)
- DI Boxes (In addition to the XLR connected to it)
- Console Input Channels
- Console Outputs
- Storage Drawers
Before I got into this habit, I can't tell you how many times I felt like i was chasing my tail when things went wrong. Since I got into this habit, I always seem to be the guys that "everything just works when he does it." Its no big secret really...It's just because Ive gotten in the habit of staying organized.
This may seem like a silly question to some, and to others the question may be why wouldn't you label things?! But I feel like I have found myself in enough scenarios that this question deserves a valid answer. So, why do we label things?
The number 1 reason is to get that info out of your head. Labeling makes troubleshooting go by in a fraction of the time it would take otherwise. Part of this is because it's easy to see what is what, and I'm also convinced that it allows all of your brain power and memory to go to actually solving the problem instead of remembering what cable you ran where. Also, maybe you do have all of the cable runs in your head and you remember where you plugged stuff in...but I hate to break it to you; your head is the least safe place for a patch sheet! Get it out of your head and out where other people can see it. This also means other people can understand it and help you with it much easier!
HOW TO LABEL
Two of your best friends when it comes to labeling...Gaffers tape and sharpies. Your color of tape and sharpie is completely up to you. I personally like to use white or light green gaff tape and a black sharpie to label my snakes and DI's and sometimes cables. NOTE* about gaff tape on cables is if you are out in the heat, it will most likely leave a residue over time. Sometimes (although it is not a sticky) Console tape is the better option for cables.
For XLR cables, label them on each end with the tape around the connector (on the female end make sure it is behind the latch).
For DI boxes, I like to label nice and bright right on top of the box. I usually put a strip of gaff all the way around the box and write with big letters right onto of it, that way it can be read even from a standing position.
For snakes and sub-snakes, I like to put a strip of gaff tape in a straight line over the top of the XLR jacks. I like to tear off a width of gaff that fits perfectly in the section about the XLR connectors. This makes it look nice and clean instead of tape that doesn't fit in between the input jacks.
For console Input channels on analog consoles I like to put one long strip of console tape (no gaff on the console) underneath my row of faders and sharpie in lines corresponding with the lines already in-between the faders on the console.
For digital consoles I use the scribble strips and color-code my strips according to channel or instrument type, and also make the name as clear and universal as possible. Clearly name channels according to the source they are capturing.
Also, before running any lines, beginning with a patch sheet is the best practice you can get in to. Check out my article on patch sheets and download my free template here.
I hope this has been helpful and happy mixing y'all!