ShowBuilder - How Did We Get By Without You?
By Zach Williamson
Freelance Sound Designer & Engineer

As Sound Designers or Engineers, we all know that there are many parts to realizing a design. In the end, you care about what the audience hears and the quality or effect of the sound. Getting to this point can be a long process of designing a system, making equipment lists, revising your equipment list, picking the best wireless frequencies and trying to figure out what is going to connect to what and how.

Enter ShowBuilder . In my pre-ShowBuilder youth, I spent countless hours in Microsoft Excel making lists of breakouts and typing the same channel names and gear names over and over. After hours and hours, I would arrive in the shop or at load-in and realize that undoubtedly, I had overlooked something - an incorrect patch, a missing piece of gear, the wrong sex of tails. All of the typical mistakes.

I've now been using ShowBuilder on a regular basis for four years. Now, after my very first production meeting for show, I open ShowBuilder and, well, start building my show.

In its "Sources" menu I can one by one identify every piece of gear I'm going to need. Every amp, every speaker, every mult and microphone. As I go, every entry immediately references the continually growing Equipment Library. ShowBuilder ships with thousands of pieces of gear pre-loaded in the Library. In my amp section, I can type "CA-2" and not only does it "know' what piece of gear it is, it will show up on my equipment list under the heading of "Amplifiers" with the sub-heading of "Crest" and then a full description of the unit ("2 Channel Amplifier, 160w/chnl"). Any piece of gear that isn't in the Library can be automatically added and then categorized later. This thoroughness helps eliminate confusion when dealing with shops and producers.

After I've identified my major components, I can then go to the next level with each piece of gear and virtually patch the entire show in ShowBuilder. For example, I can start by identifying my first RF receiver as "Joe" and then patch it into the first channel of my 12 pair RF mult. At the other end, I can go into the "Consoles" menu and say I'm using a DM1000 with 16 channels and patch the first channel of my RF mult (now called "Joe - RF 1") into the first channel on my console. From an interface standpoint, it's just tables. But they're smart tables and they cross reference themselves, so it's near impossible to make a mistake when you're connecting your gear.

Once you've patched the major pieces, you can start to think about the even smaller components. I go through my entire orchestra section, identify the microphone I want to use, then give that microphone a 34" stand with a boom and a 25' XLR cable. It takes about 45 seconds and in the end, I know I have everything I need.

One of the more recent additions is the "Wild Lines" section. I end up using this section more than I had anticipated. Here, I can add the random 100' XLR I'll want for SMAART or to connect my M-Box in tech.

I can't cover everything here, but in addition to what I've mentioned above, ShowBuilder also organizes and helps you design your RF, intercom, video, truck packs, bundles, tour routes, playback cues and all of your financial paperwork. Depending on the size of the show, and how much time you have, you can use ShowBuilder to different levels. If it's a small event, I don't always go all out and flush out my entire system. I always at least do my equipment lists in ShowBuilder and you'll find that you can adapt the program to be useful to the way that you work.

Once you're happy with your gear, it's all about your paperwork. ShowBuilder is sexy. ShowBuilder quickly and easily turns your list into a well-organized and clear Equipment List that can be sent out to the shops. You can also have more than one list per show, so I can say that I want my SFX system on the "Rental" list, but the house theater owns their speakers, so I can put them on a "House" list, for example.

And finally, the coda to this program . Labels. You've entered all your gear, you've figured out how it all patches, so why not go to the shop with a bunch of labels that tell you exactly how to build the show? ShowBuilder does. By far, ShowBuilder creates the best, most informative labels I've ever seen. It tells me what the connection is called (like "VOG"), what the equipment is (like "SM58s") and where it should plug in (like "Main Desk, Chnl 32"). All this on a standard Avery Label. What more do you need?

The beauty of ShowBuilder is that this process culminates in a cohesive package that you can be 100% confident will work from a technical standpoint. You can send out your List knowing that you've thought of everything. You can go to the shop knowing that the entire show can be built without a hitch. You can know your wireless frequencies will work at your venue. It lets you sleep at night.

Four years later, I use ShowBuilder  almost on a daily basis and I can say for sure, that it keeps me organized and thorough on every show I design. As the slogan says, "It's more than what you hear." True enough.