Power Outage

So, my current day job is being a part-time sales associate at a medium-box retail store.

Today about 40 minutes before the end of my shift the power went out. It roared back to life a minute later, but the registers all took a good 10 minutes to come back online. No biggie, and it was a slow day and all the all the customers in the store had been there during the power outage, so they knew why there was a delay and they were all pretty cool while we all stood thee and waiting for the computers to deign to work again.

Five minutes before the end of my shift, the power went down again; this time it did not come back. So, we all went into emergency mode, quietly herding the remaining customers out to the front of the store and putting their goods on hold for them so they can come and pick them up tomorrow.

Once everybody was out, then it was time for us to sit and wait. The manager, of course, already phoned her superiors to let them know what was happening, as well as phoned to try and get information from the power company – who had no idea about anything.

Being that it was the end of my shift anyways, I was able to go into the breakroom and manually sign myself out and then head home. Everyone else had to sit and wait: if the power comes back on within two hours, then they’re back to business as normal. If it doesn’t come in back after two hours, then they get to go home and officially close up shop for the day.

The whole thing sucks for them in a way, but on the other hand, they get to sit around and chat for 2 hours. Which is kinda nice; how often do you get to just sit and chat with your coworkers on the company dime? (Fortunately, this workplace has a good group of people, certainly in other places that might be Hell, but not here.)

But, of course, that’s not the point of this blog, is it? This is about creative process and, today being Monday, this is about obstacles. So it got me thinking about your Plan B – what happens when the power goes down? If you’re a writer, well, then you’ve got pen and paper. If you’re a painter, well, then the power only matters in terms of lighting. What if you’re a musician? Well, that depends on your instrument.

It was always a main concern of mine when I was still making industrial an electronic, because I was relying on a computer to make my music for me – at my direction, but still, the computer had final say. I was therefore subject to computer meltdowns and power outages. Performing live, I would take a bunch of analog synthesizers and drum machines plus amps and mics rather than the computer, but again… what’s the power situation like onstage? Do you have enough plugs? Do you have enough access to them? What happens if there’s a surge in the middle of your performance? What happens if your hard drive fails? Etc.

It was a constant issue for the few live music shows I did as maQLu because you always run into some sort of technical problem. You can’t hear the monitors. You don’t know what the mix is like in the room. The soundman’s a jerk or incompetent. Granted, all those issues also apply to bands who play with acoustic instruments, but it’s much worse when you’re relying on electronics and you don’t know what your output sounds like.

And that’s when your gear doesn’t fail. I recall a 2009 Skinny Puppy show where all 700 of us in the audience looked on as cEvin Key and his tech stood there on stage sweating as Apple’s grey reboot screen flipped them the finger for several minutes in the middle of their show. Ouch!

That was one of the main reasons that led me to switch over to guitar from synths and electronics.
Because, yes, when you’re playing a gig with a Les Paul and Marshall stack and the power goes out, you’re screwed. No one can hear you. However, fortunately, power outages are much less common than other electronic glitches that you can have with synths and whatnot. Also, I only have one Les Paul, the rest of my guitars are either acoustic or semi-hollow body which means that if the amp fails or the power goes out, I can still be heard. I can play the strings and sing.

Anyways… figured it was as good as topic as any to throw it out there: have you thought of your Plan B?

What are the pressure points that your practice depends on? Are you relying on a hard drive system? Do you make enough backups to those? Do you have back up plans when they fail? When things crash and mess up, can you find a hidden creative opportunity in that?

What do you do when the lights go out?

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