I recently had a rather unfavorable experience with a backline rental company. Not that unusual. Names will be omitted to avoid embarrassment.
My crew and I arrived at the showroom of a casino for setup on the afternoon of a show day. As is often the case, I went to set up my “office” for the day and arranged lunch for my techs while they started working on stage.
A few minutes later, one of them texted me regarding the fact that we did not receive the cymbals specified on our backline rider. I knew ahead of time that the backline provider didn’t have all of the cymbals that we wanted and that we’d be receiving some substitutes, so that part of it wasn’t a surprise. Unfortunately, I was about to discover some other unexpected issues.
I went to the stage to make sure that my crew had what we needed. I couldn’t take issue with the cymbals, though they were far from what was discussed during the advance. The fact that we were missing a floor tom, a guitar boat and a few other items was disturbing. While the tech from the backline company prepared to drive back to the warehouse (about 35 minutes away), my crew continued to set up what they could with the gear on hand.
Our current backline rider specs a Roland FA-06 for the synth, but another option is the Korg 01W, which was on our rider for a long time. Hard to believe given the age of an 01W, but the sounds in that thing fit into a mix like a glove, and the guys are familiar with programming it—so when there’s one available in good operating condition, I’ll take it.
My tech unpacked the 01W and found a piece of tape across one of the C# keys. When he fired it up, he found that pressing that C# key also moved the adjacent C and D keys. Not good. We called the backline tech who was on his way to the shop and asked him to bring us an alternative keyboard, which would be a Korg Triton.
In the meantime, I contemplated that piece of tape on the C# key. Someone already knew that there was a problem with that keyboard. It was either checked into the backline warehouse from a previous gig and found to have a problem, or checked out of the warehouse before our gig in spite of the fact that someone found a problem. More likely, it simply was never checked. That’s unacceptable, unprofessional and irresponsible. It wasted time and caused aggravation for me, my crew, the backline tech and (as I would soon learn) the supervisor of the backline company.
The backline tech returned about 30 minutes before our scheduled soundcheck with the requisite gear. We unpacked the Korg Triton and found that it, too, had an issue. The master tuning was unstable. Initially we thought that the mod wheel was stuck because every sound we played was being pitch-modulated, but when we went to the master tuning page we found that the tuning was drifting to values of plus and minus more than a few cents—on its own. This was not being caused by a dirty slider. The Triton was useless. Grrrr.
Another call to the supervisor of the backline company ensued, but this time the casino’s entertainment director made the call. I was doing my best not to blow a gasket, but the entertainment director didn’t feel the need to hold back (he was, after all, paying the backline company). I’m glad he didn’t. He gave the backline supervisor quite an earful, then came to me a few minutes later to tell me that he was having a working Korg 01W sent from another vendor, along with a set of cymbals that matched our rider. Of course, I was grateful and said so. He was not happy.
When the backline tech returned, he apologized to me, telling me he was having a bad day. I really didn’t see it as such a disaster, more like a few things gone wrong that we managed to solve. Cool heads prevailed, and in my mind that’s what kept it from becoming a bad day. As usual, the show went on—with the correct cymbals and a working Korg 01W.
On to the next one.