Beyond the Backpack: Innovative Gear Solutions for Sound Mixers

Explore the innovative solutions and personal hacks that have enhanced efficiency and convenience on multicam sound mixing jobs, from unique gear organization methods to the introduction of the versatile JankyBox for equipment protection and on-set utility.


Chase Thibodeau

2/12/20244 min read

a refrigerator with a box of food inside of it
a refrigerator with a box of food inside of it

One of the best things about freelance sound mixing on a larger multicam job is the opportunity to see how other filmmakers set themselves up for success every day. Whether it’s their system for organizing equipment, the way they label their gear, or how they get all that ish to set without having to schlep a pelican case everywhere they go. I like working smarter, not harder, so I’m always on the lookout for little tips to make my life that much easier.

One thing I haven’t quite been able to replace or solve for, despite all my lurking, is the trusty Pelican. The Pelican case is going to be the standard for packing and transferring gear to location. Some of the older cases are thick and heavy on their own, while the new Pelican Airs offer a more lightweight alternative with the same protection. There’s no arguing against the safety of the Pelican case. That thing is hefty and brings me a lot of peace of mind when my expensive gear has to travel. The biggest downside, in my opinion, is that these cases are super bulky and can definitely slow you down if you’re working on a faster-paced reality show trying to set up 5 scenes in 3 locations in the span of a 12-hour day. 

My first Pelican alternative was a military backpack. When I think of the military, I think of gear that will withstand rigorous conditions and be easy to use. Mine was a larger bag with a wide opening that cinched with a drawstring, making it easy to pack and carry all my necessities: the transmitter bag, various cables, batteries, and any other gak I might want to have on set to make me as self-sufficient as possible. The backpack is great, but it lacks rigidity. There’s just no real protection, which is something you’ll want when a PA accidentally drops it or packs the cooler on top of it while loading the Chrysler Pacifia. Don’t get me wrong; It did the job! On occasion, depending on the circumstances, I’ll still use it.

Enough of what hasn’t worked for me. Let’s talk about what has! A fellow sound mixer introduced me to the Janky Box. Although the term “janky” usually refers to something poorly made or unreliable, this box is the opposite in every way. It will now always be on set with me. It's a full-size wooden apple box that can be opened and used for storage or taken apart and flat-packed for travel.

No, I'm not being paid by the Janky Box company, which I think is just one dude who builds these beauties in his woodshop/garage. It has made life on set much easier overall. My Janky protects the transmitter bag (which, on most days, is the large Stingray pouch from K-tek), a 25’ XLR, and everything else I need to be self-sufficient on set. You can find that list in another post — The Audio Mixer’s Ultimate Toolkit: Top Must-Have Items. I use about 90% of those items.

The Janky Box is good for storage and protection, but it’s also a great stand for my mixer, a desk for any work I need to do on location, and a stool for my booty when the day gets long and exhausting. Big bonus: it’s a great item to lend to other departments in their times of need! It often provides quick solutions to their problems. An extra apple box comes in handy all the time.

If it works for me, maybe it’ll work for you too!

Now that I’ve talked at length about my prized possession, here are some other hacks I’ve stolen from others in the filmmaking community.

  • A low chair. Get a packable camping chair or stool, preferably one that’s at the height of your apple box in the New York position. It’ll offer you some leisure when you need it on those long days.

  • Noise-Canceling Wireless Headphones. As a sound mixer, I’m often leashed to the mixer bag with the coiled wired Sony headphones. I upgraded to wireless. Using a bluetooth transmitter, preferably one with a screen so you can see that you’re connected to the right headphones. The same bluetooth should be battery powered and with minimal delay. Being able to step away from the bag and still hear what’s going on, or if I need to check or repo a lav, I can still do that without being tethered via coiled cable. I got a boujee and went with The Bose Quiet Comfort. Not only are they great for work but also for air travel to drown out the crying babies, toddlers and unruly passengers.

  • Flair on your harness like lapel pins. Good convo starter when you’re micing someone since your in their personal space with the lav mic. Get creative with them and show off a little of your personality/interests. For me pins are a great talking point when micing talent. My go to company that has several pop culture pins is Patti Lapel.

  • Always carry a spork with you when the utensils get left behind by an either overworked or underqualified PA. REI got one for cheap.

  • Keep your own first aid kit with headache medicine and multiple band-aids cause production isn't always around to help.

  • Small bottle non perishable hot sauce for those times when the local catering comes through with no flavor. Yellow Bird Hot Sauce is my favorite cause of the flavor but mostly the small size of the bottle for easy packing.

  • A Cell Phone Battery bank. You’ve got your levels with the cast dialed in and you're on cruise control during what seems to be a never ending scene. There's a high probability you're on your phone. A backup battery can come in crucial for either you or that producer erratically taking notes on his or her iphone 10 that has a battery that lasts about 3 hours in a day. It's not recommended that you share but it comes in clutch when sed producer is stressed getting those “hot sheets”, ready for post. Anker is a company that makes several models in multiple sizes to fit your needs and I my personal recommendation for a portable charger.

  • A headlamp. You never know how long a day will go or in some instances where your location will be. Preferably a headlamp with a white light as well as a red colored light not to disturb those 360º camera angles. This could be a normal flashlight but headlamps keep those hands free to press buttons and turn knobs or pack up after that 10/12 hour day