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Managing audio gear at Burning Man

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Hi Everyone,


I'm working on a Doc series right now, and we've been told that one of our last stops this season will be filming at Burning Man.  While this is really exciting to me, its also terrifying, considering the effect of a week in the unforgiving desert on me and my gear.


I typically run around on this show with a Nomad, 3 QRX200 Receivers and a Lectro IFB, powered off a NP1/BDS setup, in a belt-worn Kortwich bag.  I'm thinking that for this event, I'm gonna need to rethink things, and try to come up with a smaller, lighter, and more dust and water-proof kit then I'm currently working with.  However, Im sort of clueless on where to start, short of switching to my backup Maxx recorder, and dropping down to 2 QRX200s (though I'd then have to add my Camera Link to the equation, since we do scratch tracks and timecode over ERX's), but that still doesn't take into account what type of bag I should be using.  I imagine it would be pretty tough to find one of these that could mount to an audio harness?




I'm wondering if anyone here has any experience working with equipment out there?  From what I hear, in addition to incredibly hot temperatures, there regularly are brutal rain and dust storms, the later of which are of the Alkaline variety (which I'm inferring is harder on gear then "normal" dust").  Besides backup gear and insurance, anything I absolutely must consider bringing?


Thanks in advance for your help.



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I have done a little bit of sound for film recording at burning man. I organized all my gear beforehand and just took it out of plastic bags for the single event. It was fine but if I were doing it full time nowhere near safe enough.

I had the producer rent as much gear as I could.

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Keeping some compressed air cans handy will help. This might also be a good time to rent equipment rather than use your own. VER is practically giving away sound equipment these days. Their gear sucks anyway so a bit of rain and dust will probably actually do it some good.

Production Sound Mixing for Television, Film, and Commercials.


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I went to Burning Man 2001-2007. Prepare yourself for some harsh conditions. Everything gets coated in playa dust. Very fine alkaline dust - like you've been sanding Sheetrock all day. It can get super hot. And the dust storms are no joke.

I'd definitely go with rental gear if you can because you'll need to do some serious cleaning afterwards and even then you won't get it all out.

Check the burning man website for their survival guide. Bring a dust mask of some kind and goggles. And a blinky light or two so you don't get run over at night.

And have fun! It's a unique place, to say the least. :)

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I've been to Burning Man 8 times over the years and vowed to never bring my sound gear. The environment is very hard on electronics and can destroy a camera or even a bicycle in rather short order. All my friends that have been and continue to go, have quarantine bins for their burning man clothes and gear. A tent used at Burning Man will never be used in the rest of the world ever again. (unless you enjoy the smell and feel of drywall dust while sleeping in some pristine mountain park)

It is not impossible however...

All the advice above is good. I'll add a bit more.

When you arrive turn your vehicles Air Conditioning to "recirculate" or fully off. Tape up air vents. Do not ever leave your windows open. Only open doors when the dust is not blowing. Inside the vehicle safe zone, keep all your gear in pelican cases or fully sealed marine grade dry bags. Stay vigilant, 'cause you'll arrive and have 2 days of perfect weather, get lax and then the mother of all dust storms will come up while you're out shooting something and the window that is open a 1/4 inch will allow enough dust in to coat everything.

Even if you are completely vigilant you will be amazed at the amount of dust in the vehicle at the end of the week.

Don't even consider staying or keeping gear in a tent. RV baby!

Wet wipes. Lots of wet wipes. Compressed air is very useful too, but often you just need to wipe down gear surfaces. The wet wipes hold onto the dust whereas the air just blows the dust onto your other gear...

+1 on memorizing and following the website survival guide. Lots of water!

Take costumes! Despite the easy going nature of most Burners, you will be way more accepted if you dress up a bit. One of the main "rules" of Burning Man is that everyone is a participant - there are no spectators. Even just a cowboy hat, and some welding goggles and you're in costume. Oh, and maybe a red fun-fur scarf.

There will be times where there is no dust, and no rain and you will be able to shoot without subjecting the gear to damage. Take advantage of these times, and be aware that things can change very quickly. Always have a backpack with some drybags that you can put your stuff into in a hurry. When people around you start ululating, it's a warning that a dust storm is coming.

Have a ton of fun!


Brent Calkin

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Thanks for all this good info!  We're totally in over our heads, but it still sounds like it'll be a blast.


Definitely gonna look into some rental gear.


Any idea for a bag cover that could be quickly deployed, in the [likely] event we're shooting when the dust hits the fan? I'm assuming that part of the drama they'll want to capture is one of these famous dust storms, so Id think we're likely to have to shoot through at least one...



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Keep a couple of large garbage bags with you at all times. If the big one hits you can drop your entire rig in the bag and seal it up. Double bag it to be sure. Anything you bring out there that isn't protected will be covered with playa dust.

I've been a few times and I would not want to bring good working gear out there. I also wouldn't want to actually "work" at the event.

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I have been recording there several times as well -- but I stopped going because the dust bothers my lungs-  and yes it is very very difficult to keep the dust out of your gear. It's so fine , it gets into everything.


It's also a problem when your hands are oily from all the sun block you have slathered on. You need to keep your hands clean so you don't transfer the lotion to your gear. I remember one sound guy out there had stretched condoms over his headphone cups as well as over his shotgun mic. Said it worked just fine. I'd say you'll definitely want a stereo mic, there's a lot of cool sounds there to gather. 


not gear related but:


Heat can creep up on you quickly and you can be close to heat stroke without even knowing it. Feeling hot , sluggish and irritable? Pour cold water on your head to cool it off.  Don't go out in the worst part of the day if it's hot.  


Pray that you don't camp next to a rave-- you'll never get any sleep -- cause they don't stop. Earplugs. 

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Time for a complete gear rethink:

The gear you take to an environment like this is an expendable.

whether you continue with the same types of gear, but rent it, and expect to have a serious insurance claim, or buy more primitve gear that you guard as best you can, is up to you..

I would think about a wendt x4 or SD442 double bagged, with cables (including a bds) glued into the edges of the bag..

ERX's might also work in condoms as hops.. can you battery eliminator rig those?

anything you can do to avoid opening a piece of gear is good in a dusty environment.


breathing masks for you?

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Yeah, rental gear sounds like a must.  Its been a long while since I've had to use other people's gear....not looking forward to it, but i guess it beats the alternative.


David: thanks for the reminder about the heat thing, i've been meaning to ask another question:  I see the Koala Soundman Hat has been discontinued.  Does anyone have a source for one or perhaps another comparable hat they could recommend?



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As for the hat, you may not ever wear it again after the event. Get something cheap that will do the job, or get something funky in the spirit of Burning Man and take a pair of scissors to it until the headphones fit. Or, just use in-ears. Some camps can get very loud so you may want some good isolation.

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You could modify a straw sun hat by cutting slots for your earphones to pass through . Sew binding on the cut edges to keep it from falling apart.

Btw: We used Nagras when I was there. Never had a problem. The last year -- I think it was '97-- I was there I used my HHB dat, but it's mother board devolved into chaos and the machine quit working- perhaps from the heat-- but I think it got zapped with a static charge from getting too close to Dr. Megavolt's Tesla coil performance. $1800 repair.

But overall it was fun and worth the risk.

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

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