Setting up the most reliable PA system in readiness for a band performance is not easy. It's a challenging task. You'll need to set and connect microphones, amplifiers, mixers and loud speakers on the stage.
Also, you'll have to calibrate the entire system properly to avoid damaging any component, or even worse cancelling the gig due to a malfunctioning system and end up incurring huge losses. Deciding on the best set up should start with asking yourself some questions.
If you're an event organizer, band member or venue manager, here's a proper guide on how to set up a PA system for a band.
Table of Contents
Have You Procured the Ideal PA system?
You should start with ensuring that you have selected a good PA system. It should have these components:
- Input Transducer- This comprises of microphones and/or line outputs from various instruments.
- Amps- You'll need power amplifiers for the speakers and pre amps for the console.
- Output Transducer- This includes speakers and/or headsets.
However, the range of equipment to include will depend on the basic requirements of the band. For instance, some bands might need a small DJ setup with few speakers and a turntable while larger gigs may require a multitude of speakers and equipment.
It’s obvious that a band performance in a large gig will need a powerful system set up. Consider asking yourself these questions to know the kind of set up you need:
1. What's the distance from where you’ll set the PA speakers to the farthest area of the venue?
A larger venue means that sound will fade as the actual distance from the speakers increase. However, gigs in small spaces won't find the distance as an issue since sound will be regular throughout the venue. Thus, you should know the best distances for setting up speakers depending on the size of the venue. Here are the basic dimensions for a speaker set up:
- Coffee shops, bars and restaurants- 5m to 10m
- Small outdoor events, church, auditoriums, clubs- 10m to 30m
- Large outdoor parties, arenas, stadiums, concert halls- Beyond 30m
Upon knowing the distances between the speakers to the farthest person in the audience, you should now determine the amount of signal loss. Thus, the larger the venue, the more fill speakers you'll add. You'll need to place them strategically for the sound level to remain balanced throughout the space.
2. How Loud Should the Set Up Be?
Generally, heavier music should be louder. The kind of music that the band will perform will determine how loud the system should be set. The basic loudness of different music genres are:
- Classic, jazz and folk music- 80 to 95 decibels.
- Rock, hip-hop and pop- 95 to 110 decibels.
Once you know the kind of music to be played and the noise levels, you will be able to adjust the volume accordingly. Ensure the PA system can support the desired volume. Also, don't forget to check local regulations on noise levels.
3. What is the efficiency of your PA loudspeakers?
Speakers come with sensitivity rating that indicates its efficiency in converting audio from amplifiers into sound. Smaller speakers often have lower efficiency than larger ones. Smaller speakers can do for small venues, but you'll require larger and more powerful speakers for larger gigs.
4. Headroom required for the power amplifiers
Live band performances may have peak level of up to 25 decibels beyond the average peak level. This can lead to distortion of sound from power amplifiers. To deal with such situations, you'll need to do the following:
- Ensure the PA system set up includes a limiter. The limiter should be set at the main output. This will ensure signals do not peak beyond the ideal level.
- Allow for enough headroom to ensure your power amplifiers will not cause any distortion.
Determining the Needed Power
Upon answering the questions above, you need to do the necessary calculations to know the amount of power you will require for the band performance venue. Here're are the basic power requirements depending on the size of venue:
- Bars, restaurants and coffee shops: Around 250 watts.
- Small to medium churches, outdoor venues, clubs and auditoriums: Around 1500 to 3000 watts.
- Large outdoor parties and concert halls: Around 4000 to 15,000 watts.
- Arenas and stadiums: Around 30000 to 400,000 watts.
Connecting PA Speakers and Amplifiers
If you're setting up the system for a large venue performance, you'll rather set up passive speakers. They'll be powered by separate power amplifiers, unlike active PA speakers that are powered by inbuilt amps. Passive speakers will allow you to set and fine tune the entire PA sound system easily while giving each speaker the power they require.
You'll need to use the right amplifiers for the system. You should confirm the technical specifications of the PA speakers to know the appropriate amps to power them. Check these speaker statistics:
This is the RMS rating of the speaker. It's indicated in Ohms. Generally, most PA speakers operate at RMS power of 4 to 16 Ohms, just like most amplifiers. It's important to match the power of the speakers with the power of the amplifiers.
In case the speakers have lower impedance than the amplifiers, the amplifiers will output more impedance than what the speakers can handle. This may damage your speakers. Also, if the speakers are more powerful than the amplifier, they will not get enough power and this will render the system weak.
ii. Peak Power
This is the amount of power, in terms of wattage, that a PA system speaker can take safely in a continuous way. In case you give the speaker with continuous power than what it can handle, it'll surely wear out sooner and get damaged. To be safer, ensure you add a limiter to ensure there's is no excessive peak power being fed into the speakers from the amplifier.
Step by Step Instructions on How to set Up a PA system for a Band
Now that you’re done making all the necessary calculations and plans for the right number and power of speakers and amplifiers, it's time to set up the entire system together. Although each PA system may have some minor differences in terms of set up depending on the equipment to be used, here is a general set up process:
- Place all equipment at their rightful positions. Connecting their cables will be done later. The main speakers should be set to either sides of the live band. Aim them towards the crowd.
- Place a monitor speaker around the central area of the set up. Let if face the band.
- Place another monitor speaker at the back of the drummer.
- Place the mixer out of view of the crowd. You can have it behind the audience.
- Set microphone stands where they should be used. Ensure there is a microphone set for the vocalists, drummer, and each guitar.
- Now, you can start wiring the system and setting up the signal flow.
Steps for Setting up A Signal Flow for the PA system
- All microphones and instruments should be properly connected to the snake or a stage box set on the stage.
- All signals should be split. Similar copies should be sent to the front monitor.
- All signals should be processed from the console. From there, they should be sent out through the output terminals of the console.
- Ensure that each and every output signal is processed using an equalizer.
- The kind of PA system you are setting up may determine whether the signals will pass through a PA speaker distribution mechanism that will disperse them to the R and L outputs of various speakers.
- Upon distribution, all signals should be routed to the right amplifiers.
- Ensure each power amplifier is connected to the right speakers.
Things to Observe When Setting up a PA system
- All leads should be kept extremely tidy and neat. You can tape them to protect the cables and trips from being accidentally removed from their respective sockets.
- The PA speaker cables should be winded loosely around their respective stands. Tape them to ensure they are kept together neatly to avoid any accidents.
- Ensure that the extension cable you are using comes with a plug that has a fuse or cut off mechanism for safety. Before powering up anything, extend the extension cords and check them for any signs of breaks.
- While checking the extensions, clean them with a soft cloth and check whether they have any wears or tears
- Check that all equipment, extensions, plugs and all accessories are in a good state.
- Always carry extra accessories such as extensions, fuses and plugs.
Things to Avoid When Setting up a PA system
- Never place glasses with liquids on the stage, speakers or on any other equipment whatsoever. If you must have a drink on the stage or around the system, ensure it's in a bottle with a top. Liquids can spill and damage your equipment, leading to losses and embarrassment while performing.
- Never plug any equipment in the wrong output. For instance, ensure each speaker is plugged into the right output.
- Never use broken or worn-out extension cables and plugs.
- Never cover any aeration vents that come with the equipment.
- Never block any emergency exits in the venue with equipment.
- Avoid having loose cables since people may trip over them.
Upon setting up the PA system, you should test the entire system. Ensure it functions as it should. Fine tune the entire system and do a sound check and testing with the band before the day of their live performance. Now that you’ve learnt how to set up a PA system for a band, you'll never find it challenging the next time you do it. With this proper guide in mind, you'll become an expert in setting up PA systems for any band performances.