It’s that time of the year again; not only is it wedding season, but it’s time for summer picnics, street fairs, car cruises and all things outdoors! And with the onslaught of outdoor gigs, there’s a ton of things that go along with them, both good and bad. The heat, the sunlight, the bugs, the chance of rain all give the working DJ things to think about. What does your seasonal checklist look like?
Before the Gig
Since I’m currently building a new playback system, I built-in some features with summer in mind. One of the more frustrating things about outdoor gigs is sunlight. As anyone who has ever looked to see who’s calling when their smart phone rings, sunlight can render an LED screen useless. Even when the light is indirect, such as working under a tent, canopy or a park pavilion, that busy Serato or Virtual DJ screen is a real chore to read. Add sunglasses and you’re virtually blind!
My solution was to build my system around a ruggedized tablet computer. Built for police, construction job sites and mobile applications, they’re a bit pricier than your average laptop by about double, but do offer some amazing features, one of which is sunlight readability! Great looking indoors, when sunlight hits the screen, it actually appears even clearer. I’m not thoroughly versed in exactly how it works, but suffice it to say that the screen uses the sunlight rather than trying to overpower it with an even brighter backlight. However it happens, you’ll see your stuff. That’s a huge advantage.
“Ruggedized” means that it will hold up to the bumps, thumps and dings of life on the road. Avoid the “military grade” versions, since you won’t ever need to drive your truck over it and these will do a whole lot more damage to your wallet. Instead, look for the “ruggedized,” “industrial” and “commercial grade” versions. They also don’t mind a little rain. (Just don’t drop it into the pool.)
Made for Shade
Sadly, while you can find tablets and computers that love to play outside, controllers are a different story. It seems that some genius decided that all DJ gear should be black, which also happens to be the same color of solar panels. Black absorbs the heat energy of the sun, and on a hot day your controller can melt in less than ten minutes. If a controller is essential for your rig, then I highly recommend building your console in a way that it is shielded, perhaps up under your computer or tablet in a 2-level configuration. This applies to mixers, too. Actually design your console with this in mind! It will look a whole lot more professional than some hastily assembled construction paper shade. Wireless mic receivers and other electronics need to be covered, too.
Speakers are another story. It’s easy to find great speakers that will operate in extremely hot, outdoor environments, but very few of them are powered (a.k.a. “active”). Amplifiers run hot to begin with, and more heat is their enemy. Speaker cabinets, being black or grey, naturally attract heat. For drivers, this isn’t the worst that can happen, because they move air, and even warm air can keep the temps of drivers well below their problem threshold. If the amplifier is also in the cabinet, though, things change.
If you must use active speakers, then, be sure to get those designed for the purpose. EV, QSC, and EAW speakers are staples at concerts and outdoor fairs for a reason; they’re built for punishment. If you don’t do regular parties outdoors or in extreme environments, then you might want options that are less punishing to your bank account. My solution: passive cabinets with separate amps. This old school solution is cheap these days, too, since websites like Craigslist, resale and pawn shops are loaded with DJ gear in the wake of the recession and/or those of us who’ve upgraded. Just make sure they’re a solid brand, such as Yamaha or JBL. Keep the amp in the shade and toss the speakers outside. They can take it.
Blow the Crowd Away, Not Your Notes!
If you’re like me, you carry your event paperwork (agendas, etc.) on a tablet. Still, at the less formal outdoor events, it always seems like someone hands me a flier, schedule or some other odd-but-vital piece of paper to read announcements from, and when you’re gigging outdoors, a gust of wind can send you running! For this reason, I have a single steel blank rack space panel, as opposed to aluminum, and keep a couple of magnets handy to hold loose papers in-place. Depending on hour your console is configured, a couple of small steel plates here or there can keep your notes handy and readable.
A constant concern outdoors is the possibility of rain. We Michiganiacs deal with very fickle weather sometimes, going from idyllic to deluge in a very short time. To avoid soggy gear, take a quick trip to the sporting goods or big box bulk store and buy a pop-up canopy tent. These are the kinds of tents you see populating art fairs and festivals, and will provide a bit of protection from both sun and rain, giving you some time to properly pack-up your equipment. The best ones have side panels, too, which help keep rain from blowing in from the sides.
A well-supplied DJ is a happy DJ, and will be able to do his/her best work. When working outdoors, creature comforts are essential! A soft-sided cooler with some ice and cold beverages, snacks, a folding chair, a battery operated fan and a face towel will all be useful. Sunscreen is also a must, although you’ll want to keep your hands as gunk-free as possible.
Lastly, another outdoor fact of life is bugs. While bug sprays, such as Cutter, Deep Woods Off and Deet work best, use caution! Some use chemicals that can harm plastic surfaces! I limit the use of sprays to my legs and back. Instead, I steal a trick from hunters by packing a ThermaCell Mosquito Repellent Device. Mosquitos and other flying insects keep a respectful distance.
Good luck in the great outdoors, and as always, until next time, safe spinnin’.