This is the time of year when you have either just finished crafting your budget for next year, or you are getting ready to finish it up. I'm hoping you put some money aside for stage snakes, and if not, that this piece will help you reconsider doing so.
Stage snakes can truly simplify your life and be really useful for when you have to track down an incorrect patch or a bad cable.
I fell in love with stage snakes about six years ago. Before that, I was at a church that had floor pockets on the stage and cross patched everything from the floor pockets to the main snake. While this was a good system and covered most things the church was doing at the time, there were some downsides to such a configuration.
First, is that for whatever reason, the worship pastor would want to set up where there were no nearby floor pockets. So, we had a bunch of XLRs running from across the stage from where the floor pockets were, to where the musicians and vocalists actually were. The other drawback to this was that cross patching seemed difficult for some volunteers to understand, and would result in things getting incorrectly hooked up, resulting in bogging down the setup and rehearsal time.
When I moved to a church that had a single snake setup behind the stage about six years ago, it had a bunch of 50-foot XLR cables that they would homerun to the snake. While this did work, the problem comes when you suspect that you either have a bad cable or that something is hooked up incorrectly.
You then find yourself on a dark stage trying to chase down those long cable runs that are grouped together. This was very frustrating for me and those serving in this area of ministry. This is when I started looking into stage snakes, and have never looked back.
What we landed on was using three small eight-channel snakes on stage that then fed our stage box for our Midas console. We had one that we used for the drums, and one that we used for the guitars/bass and the third, we used for our keyboards.
In those bands, the keyboard player was usually the band leader and played back the loop tracks with click and would also have a talkback mic on stage they would use to call out cues for the band. This worked out great for us anytime we did a stage setup change. All we would have to do is move the three snakes to their new home, after which all was up and running again.
To help with setup, we also made sure to label each stage snake with what microphone was plugged into what channel. This made things so much easier for us when there was a problem, since we could quickly see if something was plugged in incorrectly. Also, if we needed to swap out cables, it could happen really fast.
Now there are a few different kinds of stage snakes that are out there, and I wanted to talk about a few of them.
For example, there are your normal six- to eight-channel XLR snakes that are great for many things and something you probably should have in your arsenal of tools. The thing to consider is if you need a disconnect option for your stage snake. For example, we had a rolling drum enclosure from Cinemation Design. A disconnect would be great within this setup, because you could easily move the drum enclosure around the stage and keep everything plugged into the stage box, by simply using the snake box disconnect. The downside to having a disconnect on your stage snake, though, is that it adds a lot of extra cost to the snake. We decided that the extra cost wasn't worth it, since we only moved the drum set around the stage five times a year. With the extra money saved, you can buy yourself more stage snakes.
The stage snake that we fell in love with was made by Whirlwind. It is a combination XLR and direct box snake. It had four XLRs and four built in direct boxes. This worked out great for us with our keyboard setup because we always ran two stereo keys and we could plug directly into the DI side of the snake and forgo using our direct boxes.
Besides simplifying setup, the Whirlwind stage snake also really cleaned up the area on stage by not having the extra direct boxes and XLR cables on the stage floor. We would then use the four XLRs for talkback microphone and then have the XLR outs of the computer interface that were running loops and click, plugging those into the remaining three XLR channels.
For us, this was awesome and made things so much easier. We loved it so much we ended up getting another one for our guitar stage snake. For our normal setup, we had bass, acoustic and two electric guitars that we would run into the snake. We still had extra XLRs that we would patch into miscellaneous channels on the console. This worked out great, because if they wanted to add a violin or cello on stage, we would have a place that they could quickly plug into.
For those who are in need of just direct box snakes, those also are available, if you do not think that you will need the XLRs. This can also be a very clean way to wire up your stage. Whirlwind also makes XLR snakes with Cat5 connectors built into them. This can help clean up your stage by not having to run 50-foot or 75-foot of cabling across a stage from your POE device for your personal monitor mixer.
In wrapping up, I hope you can see the value that stage snakes can have within your setup.
Whether you are a portable church, setting up and tearing down every week, or if you are able to leave everything set up each week, stage snakes serve a valuable purpose. They can truly simplify your life and be really useful for when you have to track down an incorrect patch or a bad cable.
Even though stage snakes are expensive, I truly believe when you weigh the cost of the time you save by making setup easier and quicker, along with limiting time troubleshooting a problem, as well as having a much cleaner and safer stage with fewer cables running all over, you'll agree that they are a worthwhile investment.