Organize Your Gear

Part 1: Cartage

by Russ Miller

I’ve had many requests to discuss selecting, organizing, and maintaining equipment, so this is the first part in a short series on those subjects. I’m starting with the organization of gear and how to take it to jobs so that you never end up missing a crucial piece at the gig. This system can be used whether you personally handle everything or if you hire a cartage company to move your gear.

In future columns I’ll cover things like choosing gear, managing inventory, balancing what you want with what you need, drumhead selection, and general maintenance. I previously discussed the importance of presenting yourself as a professional and that having the right gear at the gig is important. (See the November 2014 issue for a refresher.) It’s also important that nothing goes missing and that everything makes it back home with you.Over the years I’ve developed my own system that combines some of the better methods I’ve seen implemented by some of the best cartage services and drum techs. I use my own company to handle my cartage. I hire the techs, and I own the vehicles. I do this to make sure I know exactly how much money is being charged to my clients for my services. I combine the fees for my drumming and cartage, and this approach has proven to bode well for my business. Let’s get more into the specifics of my cartage system.

concepts 1I created a “cartage work order” for my company, R.M.I. Music Productions. This sheet is generated for every event where my drums leave the warehouse, and it provides a great review of the necessities of the gig.

You should create a labeling system for your cases. Every tour I’ve been on required labeled cases. This is so that the drums are placed in the correct locations in the trucks and on stage. Labeling also helps when doing a case count for venue load-in and load-out.

The cartage work order contains a checklist for the gear being transported, so you can keep track of everything going to and from the gig. The sheet also includes a space to write in details about the load-in, contacts, and timeframes for the event. It’s always nice to have all of that information in one spot.

Having the work order forces me take a few minutes to review everything about the gig. For instance, do I need to bring microphones? Is there a loading dock? Who’s the contact in case I can’t find the room? What time do we start?

concepts 2I use three levels of cartage, depending on the size of the venue and kit. Small venues or small jazz setups are carried in gig bags and a small hardware case. My standard cartage rig comprises individual drum cases and a hardware trunk. My touring gear is housed in flight cases to consolidate the equipment into the fewest pieces possible for the most efficient shipping and load-ins. I indicate the cartage level in the “gear list” section of the work order sheet.

concepts 3In the “case inventory and checkout” section of the work order, you’ll see that each case has a number that starts with the letter D. The D indicates to the production crew that the case includes drums. Each case has a number that corresponds to what is inside. D1 is the kick, D2A is the primary snare, D2B is the backup snare, D3 is the smallest rack tom, and so on. The main kit parts that go to every gig are listed first, in the larger middle section of the work order. The box to the left gets checked when that piece goes from my warehouse and into the vehicle. The circle on the right gets checked when that piece goes back into the vehicle concepts 4at the end of the gig. This system ensures that everything I need shows up and leaves the venues. (The smaller section labeled “optional” includes the pieces that are gig-relative, such as microphones and electronics.)

For labeling the cases, I had a custom stencil made for my name and company info. The letter and number stencils can be bought at any crafts or home-improvement store. I suggest that you apply the stencils with a concepts 5paint pen. Spray paint is too sloppy and can make a mess of your cases.

I hope these simple ideas help you get your gear better organized. See you next time, when I’ll discuss creating a drum rider.

Russ Miller has recorded and/or performed with Ray Charles, Cher, Nelly Furtado, and the Psychedelic Furs and has played on soundtracks for The Boondock Saints, Rugrats Go Wild, and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, among others. For more info, visit