Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Basics


If this is your first time, you're going to need a P.A. (Public Address) system if you want to perform live or announce to your audience.

You'll need to acquire or purchase: 

  • 2 decent size speakers
  • 2 speaker stands
  • 2 floor monitors (minimum)
  • a powered mixer  
  • 2 microphone stands 
  • 2 microphones
  • 1 Collapsible Table and Chair
  • 1 Snake
  • 2 Rolls of Gaffe Tape (Black) or Hazard (A FILM TAPE OF BLACK AND YELLOW)
  • Extension Cord 
  • 3 Power Plug Strips
Speakers-There are many types of speakers out there that can be used for P.A. applications. The two that are most used are Passive and Active

Passive speakers are best used with a powered mixer. 

  • PROS: If they break down, it is the only part of the P.A. system you have to replaced and can be repaired inexpensively.
  • CONS: Passive speakers rely on power from another source, if the power supply isn't correct then the speaker won't perform to its maximum capacity. 

Active speakers have power and don't need an amplification source to supply power. Active speakers are best used with a passive board. 

  • PROS: There is no calculation involved when trying to provide the correct power to the speaker.  
  • CONS: Expensive to replace during a breakdown.
Choose your speakers wisely. You have to check for compatibility, especially if you are using a Powered mixer. Some stores do the math for you. Some stores sell P.A. packages. You want to judge a speaker on the amount of people you want to acknowledge.

Speaker Stands-(Trees) This is the industry slang for P.A. Speaker satellite stands. The purpose of the stand is to try to get your sound to just above head level. Sound has difficulty travelling through obstructions (i.e. a crowd of people). Like covering someones mouth when they talk. This is critical for bands at a small gig. The most common error is that the audience will have great difficulty hearing the singer or other applications that need to be mic'd if your speakers are not at head level. Stands also create more space on stage. 

  • PROS: Better P.A. performance. 
  • CONS: If not set up correctly could cause an accident.

Powered mixer (channel board)- Consider this device an investment in it's own right. Depending how you use it, it will end up paying for itself in the long run. Before you attempt to try anything at the gig. Test it beforehand. Discover the boundaries of this workhorse before you apply it to a gig. Know your board.

  •  PROS:You don't have to buy a separate amplifier, you just plug in the speakers and give some power and your off and running. 
  • CONS: You damage your power mixer, you have no source of amplification to your speakers and anyone that is lined into the channel board.. So, be careful. Read the manual. This is not a total loss because some powered mixers have a built in fail safe threshold. I recommend reading the manual.

Monitor-this speaker is the lifeline of optimal performance. If you want to make sure you are sounding the way you are sounding to the audience, your gonna need one of these.

  • PROS: You can hear yourself and enhance accuracy.
  • CONS: You can hear yourself with enhanced accuracy.

If you don't use monitors on stage, it will be difficult to hear yourself accurately. Especially when you try to blend your sound with others. Monitors can also be provided as active or passive. In a small gig it is preferred to go with one powered monitor and one slave monitor. This is budget effective. All you have to do is (daisy-chain) connect the passive monitor to the powered monitor, then line-in the monitor to your mixer. You can connect more than one slave. The standard norm for a small gig is usually 2 monitors upfront and one near the percussionist or backline.

Mics and Mic stands- Depending on your application of public address. A stand is basically a tool to hold a microphone so that your extemities are available to your person. You would want a stand that can hold the weight of a microphone and that it is adjustable. A mic stand with a boom adjustable is the most universal. This is the most widely used stand for gig apps. You can buy this at most music stores.  

  • PROS: Mic stands are essential and can be a convenience when you need to have your hands free during performance. 
  • CONS: Some people use mic stands for other things than a mic stand. Coat hanger, with a certain fashion, you can attach a cup holder to hold your pint of beer. Decoration, a place to hold guitar picks. (It's just a mic stand.)

Microphone The best on-stage microphone (in my opinion. I might get a lot of heat for this) is the Shure sm-58 model. The mic is made especially for gigs. You could purchase other brands out there but if you want something that is road worthy and a good investment. I recommend this type.  

  • PROS: Shure Sm-58 models are durable microphones when taken care of.  
  • CONS: They get a lot of abuse.

You'll also need to invest in cables. Depending on your budget and the make of your mixer, you'll need to investigate Speakon Cable, Canon(the original makers of) XLR cords and 1/4 inch jack's Line in Jack cables.

The importance of P.A. done correctly
If your addressing an audience, you have to be able to hear yourself as well. The sound you make has to travel where you want it to go. You can't rely on a sonic wave reflection as a monitor of what is announced. This causes disruption from the time sound waves take to travel to when you actually hear what you said. What you hear from a sound wave originating from the source back to you is called an 'echo'. In a performance, if your sound is compromised, it could cause distractions such as timing issues, one not being able to hear oneself over another. The audience will lose interest. If you have someone to operate the P.A. as you are using it, this will optimised your performance and increase appeal, eliminating any dramatic effects.

Sound man: Musicians should stick to what they do best. Play music. It is ridiculous to see a musician jumping off stage to FOH (front of house) to monitor their own sound. That's why sound check is so important. In a small gig, a competent person in communication with the performance on stage will save a whole lot of hassle and frustration because adjustments can be made on the spot. Plan ahead and bring someone who knows something about sound balancing.

Collapsible Table and Chair: You need a place to set up your mixer board and any other effects or utilities associated with the channel board, i.e. wireless microphones and instruments, remote wireless (this is a bit extreme but for some people that have bad hearing, I've seen it done). The Chair is there for many reasons. It helps you be calm and lets others see that you are in control of FOH.

SNAKE: A multi-channel cable comprised of a series of XLR connectors and/or SPEAKON cables or a combination of both. The purpose for the snake is to allocate and traffic sound to and from the mixer board to the Speakers and Monitors.

Now that you got your gig set up and ready to go...

There are a few guidelines that I always follow right before the gig.

1. Time- If this is a paid gig. You're on the clock whether you like it or not. You need to keep a simple agenda so your gig goes smoothly. Arrange to arrive at least an hour and a half to set up your gear. Most P.A. is built around the drummers trap, so consider your space. If showtime is at a certain time, you have to meet it. Know your line up.

2. Meet the Entertainment-  Save yourself a whole lot of drama and grief by having a 10 minute meeting with the band(s). Let them know what is practical about your P.A. System. Let them know that this gig isn't the Wembley Stadium. It's your P.A. System, you set the rules on sound. Because they know, if you pack up, they're gonna suck at thier gig and they are made out to be the bad guy. If there are certain technical requirements from the band(s), that they should set this up before the show and not at last minute. Look for cooperation and encourage them.

Rule of thumb is for a small gig, that every musician should have thier settings adjusted at drum level. If there are multiple bands, you need to get amplifiers sorted ahead of time. Gear should already be set up before the gig. Make the entertainment aware that they have a responsibility to this because you will NOT be to blame if they don't prepare thier gear during "SOUNDCHECK". Otherwise, everyone will suffer towards the end of the gig.

3. SECURITY At a gig, security is the soundmans best friend. Tell them your concerns and then tip them. Whether its $20 or £20. It's well worth the investment for someone to watch your back and your P.A. equipment. Pay for protection. The less interference you have at the board the better. Watch out for the groupies too.

4. ROADIE/RUNNER Where I'm from, we call them roadrunners. They are useful for running a lead, adjusting anything that needs to be handled before,during and after the gig. Especially when you have to take a rest room break. Get someone you can trust to keep 'sound balance' in the event that you have to leave the board.

If entertainment is needing adjustments, let them look for you. Stay at your post. If you need to get things from A to B, you will need a 'roadie' or a 'runner' to carry out the task.

5. HEALTH & SAFETY Consider the risk of doing any gig, whether its your first or your biggest. 3rd Party Liability Insurance is necessary. I recommend MUSICGUARD. If anyone gets hurt at Your gig. You're responsible. No excuses, no exceptions. 

  • GAFFE or HAZARD tape anything that someone could trip over
  • REMOVE ANY EXCESS GEAR i.e. Guitar Cases, gig bags..

If you need further advice and more information on how to set up a small gig, please feel free to contact me at