Live sound equipment and set-up

By Marlyn Ntsele

A performance often comes with a lot of work, such as hiring sound, lighting and transport. In this article we give you some practical tips to manage this task.



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The Sound Equipment
The speaker system is laid out in a strategic manner, a functional manner. At bigger venues and festivals the engineers will work with a PA system, which is an abbreviation for Public Address System. The PA are those two huge (double) speakers on the side of the stage. Those speakers have separate speakers build into them for low, middle and high tones. The sound engineer will stand with his mixing desk in the middle of the venue in order to gauge the balance of the sound. And on the stage will also be a few speakers directed to the musicians, so that they can hear themselves and each other. Those speakers are called monitors.

For a venue with a capacity of about 400 people a small PA with a capacity of 2x1000 watt is more than enough. You can hire a PA like this including transport, engineer and monitors for about R4000.00. In a venue with about 750 visitors you would need a PA with a capacity of 2 x 2500 watt, which you should be able to get for about R5,000.00. In very small venues and bars for up to 150 visitors a small desk should be enough with a capacity of 2 x 200 watt. You would only have to amplify the vocals, keys and maybe an acoustic instrument. The drums and amplifiers of bass and guitar are already loud enough. This is much cheaper than a full PA and you can get your hands on them from R750 (if you pick it up and set it up yourself). Make sure you get monitors included so that the musicians can hear themselves.

The monitors
A good monitor makes a huge difference for people who stand on stage. In small venues the mixing desk in the middle of the venue generally regulates this. In bigger venues however, there is a separate mixing desk and engineer on the side of the stage. As a band you will provide a list of who wants to hear what in the monitors, this way you avoid lots of friction during the contract. If you are doing well, you can also choose to bring your own monitor engineer, who knows exactly how you like it.

The stage plan
If you play with a PA, the engineers will have to know what your set up is, so they can prepare the right amount of microphones etc. You need a stage plan for this. On a stage plan you will draw the set- up of the band. You indicate which band members will sing and need a microphone and how many parts your drum kit has. For the other instruments you indicate whether they need to be amplified with a microphone or a DI-box. A DI (an abbreviation for direct in) weakens the signal and makes it possible to connect an instrument directly to the mixing desk. For example, A DI is used for bass guitar, electro-acoustic guitar, keyboards and electronic drumpads. An instrument with a stereo exit needs 2 DI’s. For electric guitar an DI is less suitable, since guitarists prefer using the effect of their amplifier. Some guitarists use a mic and a DI. To amplify a drumkit generally a mic is placed in front of every part, besides in front of the cymbals. The cymbals sound is “caught” by two overhead microphones.


Setting up and sound check
For a performance with a small mixing desk in a bar sound check is easy. You agree with the organizer of the bar what time you will come and set-up your equipment – usually early in the evening or late afternoon – and will briefly sound check. After sound check you chill in the dressing room or roam around town. Do not sit in the venue to play your instruments, this creates a lot of confusion and irritation. When performing in a larger venue the PA will get set up before the band arrives. This is possible because you have sent the engineers your stage plan. When the engineers are done (they take about 1,5 hours), the band can set up their backline and the engineers will also place their DI boxes and vocal microphones. Next up is sound check. The sound check usually exists of two rounds: individually and together. First the instruments and vocal microphones will be checked separately from each other. The engineer decides the levels and the sound. He will make sure that everyone can hear each other. After that the band will play several songs together and the engineer will balance the sound.

Setting up and sound checking takes some discipline. During sound check everyone has to be quiet, besides the one who supposed to play. If you are also checking vocals, It is a good idea to have some acappella vocals ready for sound check. Shouting “one, town testing” does not help the engineer much. With adjusting the monitors it is important that you are not hearing yourself much louder than the others, because than they won’t hear themselves anymore. During the part where you play a song together, it is important to play a song in full power. A sound check is meant to check the sound not to rehearse. The worse irritation for engineers is if the band starts rehearsing during sound check. At some festivals and other places where a lot of bands are playing there is no opportunity to sound check. There will be a 5 minute line check in which the engineer listens to you with headphones if all the sounds are coming into the desk. Usually at these performances the bands play over the same backline, so that theline check is simple. The musicians will have to connect their effect machines, cables, guitars and keyboards within those 5 minutes.

The person who organizes what is happening on stage is called the stage manager. He or she is the boss of the stage and has to make sure you start and finish on time.

Performing DJ’s
A lot of DJ’s work with vinyl players and they will have to leveled. Also take into account that the audience might get excited at some point and will start dancing on stage. This might cause your records to skip. Some more tips:
• Make sure that the lighting above the DJ table is not too bright, this could bend your vinyls.
• Just like bands DJ’s will have to sound check. Make sure your monitor is not too loud, you might not be able to hear your other turntable anymore in your headphones.
• Do not ever forget your headphones.
• If you play with a laptop remember that sometimes at festivals the electricity comes from a generator and the power can peak so make sure you have a safety regulator between the plug and your laptop. Also always carry an external hard drive with copies of your music.

Striking and leaving
Know that after the show your work is not done yet. The instruments and equipment will have to be packed away. If you played with a PA from the venue, usually expected is that you will start striking about 15 minutes after your performance ends. In the meantime the engineers packed up the microphones and the DI’s. Once the backline is gone, they can pack up the other equipment.

Happy gigging!



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