Live Sound: A Beginers Guide For Musicians


Live Sound: an Indie Band Guide

We have all been there, you are a musician and you are trying to play a show and do your own sound. When you are a band playing in bars that don’t provide their own sound guy, the duties of musician AND sound guy fall on you. Let’s face it though; you spent most of your time practicing your songs and instrument, not on how to run sound. Here are a few things that will help you get started. This is just a quick down and dirty overview so you can get a PA working without much experience.

There are five basic parts of a PA(Public Address); power amp, mixer, Mic, cables and speakers. Let’s take a look at each one separately and go over… what they are, how to use them and what to do when beer spills on it.

Power Amp-

What is it? This is the part of your sound system that gives the “juice” to make the sound. In other words, this is the thing that plugs into the wall, or the floor or in some cases that really hard to get to outlet under the stage that is right next to the dead mouse. This is also called the PA (power amp). Take note, you have a PA(Public Address) that is the entire sound system and the PA (power amp) that is the actual thing that provides the power. Why they call them the same thing, I don’t know. I blame the drugs of the 60’s. Crown Power Amps are the most common brand you will see and are a good qulaity. A power amp can either be a separate piece of gear or it could be built into the mixer, called a powered mixer. Sometimes the power amp is built into the speakers. These are called powered speakers. Sometimes the power amp has mold growing on it; this is called gross, extremely gross.

A power amp will either be inside the mixer like a Yamaha EMX512SC 8 Input Powered Mixer, inside a speaker like a Mackie SRM350v3 Powered Loudspeaker
or its own separate piece of gear like the Crown Power Amps. If it is a separate unit you will need to run a cable from your mixer to your power amp and then a cable from the power amp to the speakers. Most power amps will have two input and two output channels. One can be used for your main speakers (the ones the audience hears) and one can be used for your monitors(the speakers the band hears).

One thing to watch out for is the type of cable you are using. Sometimes it is Speakon Connector cable and sometimes it can be ¼ inch. The ¼ inch will LOOK like a Guitar Cable but in fact it is different. It needs to be a special Speaker Cable .

Mixer

A mixer can be powered or unpowered; digital or analog. If it is powered it contains the Power Amp mentioned above and you won’t need the power amp as a separate piece of equipment. If it is unpowered you will need a power amp to hook it into. Mackie makes a nice line of affordable powered and unpowered mixers like the Mackie 1402VLZ4,. The mixer(control board, or board) is basically the “volume control and eq” for your microphones and anything else you plug into it. The mixer allows you to lower and raise the volume of each mic, add effects and pan sounds left to right. You will see different types of knobs, faders, and buttons. Along with controlling the sound of mics, guitars and other instruments.. you can also plug things in like CD players, mo3 players and more.

The mixer basically has a few sections; volume for what the crowd hears, volume for what the musicians on stage hears, effects, outputs and inputs. Each channel of a mixer will have an input, aux, effects, and fader. The input will be where you plug in the mic(or guitar or whatever). Normally the input will either be XLR(the mic cable thing) or quarter inch(like a guitar cable). There will be a gain/trim/sensitivity knob on top. This will control how loud the signal is coming into the board/mixer. The aux will control the volume for your effects and your monitors. The fader will control how soft and loud you make the channel for the main speakers. You will want to put the mic cable into the mixer with the fader down, turn up the gain until you see a signal on the LED, then bring up the fader to get sound.

If a board gets scratchy, try blowing some compressed air into the “holes”. If you have a lot of feedback but still need the more volume, try turning down the gain/trim and raising the fader volume. By lowering the gain you decrease the sensitivity of the mic. You will also want to reposition the relationship of the mic and the speakers so that the speakers are not pointing at the front of the mic.

Speakers

You will have monitors and mains. The monitors will be pointing at the musicians on stage and the mains will be pointing at the audience. Normally for small club gigs you will see 2 main speakers and 1 monitor for every 1 or 2 musicians. Speakers can either be passive or powered(active). If they are powered you will need to plug them in. If they don’t have a power cable, then they are most likely passive.

You will want to make sure the main speakers pointing out to the audience are at the right height. General rule is about ear height for the average person. NEVER have a speaker pointing at the front of a mic- This will cause feedback. Always have the speaker pointing away from the mics. Of course, you can’t point a speaker away when the person singing needs a speaker to hear. This is when you make sure the back of the mic is pointing towards the speaker. Most dynamic mics only pick up sound from the front.

When plugging in the speakers you will want to plug the main speakers into the “main output” and the monitors into the “aux out” or “monitors out”. The aux knob on each channel of the mixer will control the volume of each channel to the monitors. The faders will control the volume of each channel to the main speakers.
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Well- that is about it. There is a ton more to each piece and we will go in-depth more in future articles; but this should get you off the ground and running. Comment below on what you want us to cover next!

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