Buying your own kit can be a never-ending black hole when it comes to money. You could easily spend thousands and still not have what you really need. Setting yourself up is a costly business, but prioritising your purchases and staggering your expenditure can really help make it affordable and efficient. Ask these questions in the following order when thinking about making a purchase:
What do I need in order to do my job?
These are the absolute fundamentals that are required in order to work. They can range from Public Liability Insurance to safety equipment such as PPE. This is money that has to be paid or you won’t be allowed on site and unfortunately must be prioritised over more exciting purchases. It is what it is, you just need to do it.
What will earn me money?
It can be really easy to spend money on things which are ‘nice-to-haves’ but think about what equipment will generate you money. Invest in items that will open up new revenue streams for you. Think about the equipment that would allow you to take on different types of work and prioritise this over upgrading equipment that is still functional. A good way of purchasing is to buy equipment in the light of confirmed work. Purchasing equipment this way is a really good way of getting money back on your investment quickly. It also makes sure you are purchasing equipment that will definitely give you a ROI. This is really important as maintaining a healthy cash flow is imperative when starting out.
What will make my life easier and my productivity on site better?
Purchasing things that will make you more efficient and effective on site not only makes your life easier, but it also means you will be more likely to secure regular work. Try and think what you need to provide yourself and what is usually provided for you. Don’t buy things which are commonly provided by production companies or venues, but rather buy things which give you an advantage onsite and allow you to work quickly and efficiently. They won’t necessarily be items that will win you new work, but they will be items that keep your phone ringing from existing companies and clients. There’s no need to carry all your own cabling for example but it’s often a good idea to carry some adapters. It probably isn’t necessary to carry your own lighting console, but a USB to DMX adapter to help troubleshoot lighting rigs might be really helpful. Although not strictly necessary, the ability to set up your own wireless network might be incredibly useful when trying to tune a PA system and walk the room. These examples are all of items that aren’t required but if owned can be very useful.
What will improve the quality of my work?
These items are purchased to improve work you are already doing. For example, it could be upgrading your in-ear monitors if you are a monitor engineer. Perhaps it’s purchasing your own ‘go-to’ microphones if you’re a FoH engineer. Maybe it’s purchasing your own WYSIWYG rig if you are involved in lighting design. These purchases are meant to improve the standard of your work allowing you to take on larger projects and command a higher day rate. Always think about what is currently the weakest link in your workflow and work towards improving that. As with any investment, remember it should at some stage pay for itself, be that in an increased day rate or in an increase in repeat business. Make sure you’re not spending money on items that will take a very long time to see any return on unless you have the liquidity to do so.
With all that said, here are a few go-to items which every freelancer should consider having in their Peli:
Quickly and accurately measuring distances is crucial for all disciplines of Production. Whether you need to measure trim heights, accurately measure throw lengths on projection or time delay speakers with the mains having a laser measure will make this all very easy. When purchasing, make sure you get one suited to your current needs. Think about the venues you work in and make sure its range is adequate. Laser measures that work out inclines are also very helpful. Pair this with a tape measure for smaller distances and you won’t regret it.
Wireless Access Point
The ability to set up a wireless network for controlling amplifiers, monitoring equipment or being able to print remotely is incredibly useful. Wireless routers are pretty cheap these days and allow you to walk around the venue and not be tethered to a particular spot. These are great for increasing productivity on site and can really help give you the flexibility and control you need.
I don’t think I’ve ever been to an event where some type of audio playback wasn’t required, be that walk-in music, or video playback or getting Timecode into a lighting console. Audio interfaces are cheap and let’s face it, you’ll use them time and time again. There are loads out there which all have their own benefits depending on what you require but a simple stereo interface will always be useful regardless of whether you’re an audio engineer or not.
Using your phone as a torch is ok, but if you’re building racks or crawling under a dark stage, you will very quickly lose battery life and probably drop it. A head torch isn’t the sexiest of things to buy but it’s brilliant. It keeps both hands free and lights wherever you look. Leave your phone in your pocket, a get yourself a decent torch. You will use it more than you think.
It doesn’t have to resemble a Halfords store, but a small tool kit will allow you to deal with most issues on site without having to beg, borrow and steal from other people. Get yourself a couple of adjustable spanners, a screwdriver set that deals with most common sizes, a sharp knife and some pliers and you will be able to deal with most things that come your way. This is obviously a starting point. You will quickly get a feel for what you would benefit from owning and what you can do without. Remember tools are heavy so if you have them in your Peli, they need to be useful!