This hack may seem like an obvious one, but I find it's one so few people consider when looking to enhance their setups. Many musicians can often be hungry to customize every last piece of kit and component in their rig, or to modify and hack their home studio gear, that they neglect to consider the very lifeblood that sends their precious sound from component to component. This isn't an argument that you need $60-per-foot silver cabling, or whether or not you're even able to perceive the difference. This is the argument that even with quality of components aside, and based purely on cost and convenience alone, custom cabling is worthy of at least a consideration if you're looking to hack your setup.
This isn't only beneficial for the gearhead crowd who are into soldering and performing all their own musical maintenance. There are a number of companies – Redco Audio, for example – that make almost all their cabling to order and allow you to specify what it is you're looking for if you don't want to be as "hands on." With all that coming in at a comparable price to generic cabling, it makes custom options available even to the less tech savvy.
The cost argument
If you have a setup of any type that requires a large number of cabling interconnections to work, odds are that the savings of buying individual components in bulk will most likely outweigh even some of the best online sales on cables. Not to mention the ability to purchase only the cabling you need, as opposed to being locked into features and options manufacturers offer, can open up doors streamlining and perfecting your rig. Having to purchase a 100-foot snake for your studio because of a couple additional features, when the 50-foot snake would have been perfect, quickly pays for itself as well.
The convenience argument
In addition to paying for additional cabling, there are some situations where more is not always better. Putting a rack or pedalboard together with any more than the minimum cabling necessary can quickly turn into a horror show when trying to troubleshoot on a gig or during a session. Having odd cabling requirements can be drastically simplified when you can design your own cabling solutions. Imagine being in a festival situation and being able to run one line, then simply making the necessary connections and being done with your setup. Making your setup simpler and neater can simplify musical life in the long run.
It's these small conveniences that add up over the lifetime of being a musician that make what seems like such an unlikely investment so worth it. Beyond having the ability to custom select every component in your chain, it's these small wins that add up over your career in music that can make such a simple investment that seems frivolous at first suddenly take on new light. While the allure of short-term investments in your equipment, or "magic bullet"-type solutions (claiming you can turn a much cheaper product into a boutique clone with a few simple changes) certainly wear their appeal on their sleeve, making these "musical infrastructure" investments will take care of you in the long run.
Aaron Staniulis is not only a freelance live sound and recording engineer, but also an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter. He has spent equal time on both sides of the microphone working for and playing alongside everyone from local bar cover bands to major label recording artists, in venues stretching from tens to tens of thousands of people. Having seen both sides at all levels gives him the perfect perspective for shedding light on the "Angry Sound Guy." You can find out more about what he’s up to at aaronstaniulis.com.