Lessons about performing, lesson 24: There be amps in them there lines!

I need to point out that I asked a lawyer for advice and I asked two electricians for advice. My lawyer suggested I be very careful when writing this and the two electricians really weren’t the most helpful. More accurately, my lawyer advised against writing this – but if I’m going to write it then I should be careful to give zero actual advice. In other words, I can’t be all that helpful!

When I say the electricians weren’t the most helpful, that’s understandable. I can’t actually blame them because who the hell wants to assume some responsibility for an article like this? I can’t actually get them to “sign off” on anything.

Stand back, kids… We’re going to do electricity!

By the way, if you don’t know what I’m doing then see this link to read the full list of rules that performing musicians should follow. Basically, nobody has written a book about the things you should know before deciding to become a professional performing musician. That’s unfortunate, because it means you’re stuck reading my version.

Let’s get on with a future date in civil court!

Rule #24: Try not to die!

DISCLAIMER: I am not an electrician and following my advice is horrible idea. Hire a qualified electrician and follow all OSHA guidelines using standard industry practices!

Venues sometimes have shitty power. You, my good readers, are going to be relying on their ability to deliver consistent electricity – and quite a bit of it.

In an ideal world, the venue will have a qualified professional. In a not-so-ideal world (the one we live in), you’re stuck with Bob the bartender who saw how the band did it last week, or you’re working at a fair where you’re being powered by a vast number of generators that may or may not actually be in sync.

And you’re going to plug thousands and thousands of dollars worth of equipment into this. Even better, it can kill you! It can kill audience members. It can start fires. It can injure you. It can cause madness and mayhem!

Pretty sweet, huh? Yeah… We get to deal with that and, frankly, we don’t have a clue what we’re doing. Because it’s both deadly and we’re inept, hire a damned professional!

You’re not going to listen to that. Don’t worry – few people do. The easiest solution is to make the drummer do it – they’re easy to replace!

Do you know what a multimeter is? Do you understand Ohm’s Law? Can you at least wire your own residential outlet? Are you familiar with the term “suicide cable?” Do you know exactly why they’re called suicide cables?

If your answers are no, stop here. If the answer is yes, continue…

You have been warned!

Electricity works in cycles. There are peaks and valleys. Those need to be in unison. They need to be consistent. You can actually get expensive gear that will ensure they’re consistent – but you’re not going to. They are measured in Hz.

Voltage should be consistent. Voltage is the amount of potential energy between two points. This should stay the same and not fluctuate. Think about a water pipe and what the water pressure is.

Amps are the current – as in how much flows through over a period of time. Think of a water pipe and it’s like gallons per hour. It’s all about how many dancing electrons pass through over a set period of time.

Resistance is measured in Ohms and is best compared with the diameter of the water pipe. Bigger pipes support more water flow and have a greater potential to move water through them. The longer the pipe, the more pressure you’re going to need to get the right pressure at the other end.

It’s a bit more complicated than that.


Well, a good multimeter will tell you all about those things. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not dreadfully difficult, you can actually walk up to an outlet, cram your little multimeter probes into it, and test these things.

You’ll even know that you should have extension cords that are of a certain quality and rating – so that you have enough juice at the end of them to safely plug your equipment in.

Unfortunately, my lawyer very definitely asserts that I not be the one to tell you how to do this.

This is nearly verbatim, “David, are you serious? You want to tell people to put stuff into electrical outlets and hold onto the other end? Are you asking for a lawsuit?”

It’s actually not that hard. You can even measure the resistance over your extension cords and do the math! You can even verify the math with real-world observation and testing!

So, I have to tell you to hire a professional. I have to tell you to seek professional, qualified, assistance. If you’re brave, maybe you can just ask a friend who’s familiar with electricity – and maybe an actual electrician? Maybe you can read a few books and learn what’s actually going on.

However… Dirty power, voltage spikes, improper performing wires, damaged extension cords, and Hz issues can be both dangerous and ruinous to your gear.

You can test all that stuff with a good multimeter that’s available at your local hardware store. Read the directions prior to operation and consult a qualified professional before cramming bits of metal into live electrical sockets!

It is dangerous to work with electricity! So, it’d behoove you to get at least a good understanding of what’s actually going on and ensure that the minimum requirements for safety and performance are maintained.

I know damned well that you’re not going to hire a professional – and I’m not either. But, I’m going to tell you to do so – and I’m going to suggest you actually learn about it and learn the safety practices associated with working with electricity.

Otherwise, you might just die… Or, you could ruin gear or end up with substandard performance results. But, mostly that whole death thing…

Electricity gives zero fucks. It will seek the shortest/easiest path and it will find it. If you’re a path, it gives not one shit about your opinions. It can, and will, kill you. You’re working with a whole lot of it. Learn to do so safely and hire a professional.

If this article disappears, it means my lawyer has advised that I remove it. I haven’t actually cleared it with him – but I’ll send him a copy. Please use this link to send me a request for my address so that you can serve me with notice of your impending civil suit! I’ll forward it to my lawyer!

Once again, thanks for reading and I’m sorry that I can’t be more informative – but those are the keywords you might want to use to do some research on your own. You can easily find out how to use a multimeter and check these things. If you have an electrician friend, they’ll be more than happy to help you out – and those equipment manuals will tell you what the specs are for proper operation. Until next time…

Shut up and play us a song!

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