PA & Equipment Requirements for Singers & Bands

PA Equipment for Singers

The P.A. system is the largest and most expensive equipment you will need to buy if you intend to work as a ‘self-contained’ entertainer. Whilst some genres of music are fortunate to work in venues that have in-house systems, the majority of working singers and musicians cannot rely on clubs, pubs and venues to have adequate equipment, so it’s worth taking the time to learn what is the best set up for your requirements and how to use it to its best effect.

For the complete newcomer, we have an easy to follow guide to equipment required for public performances, basic set up instructions, advice on how to use a mixing desk and tips on getting the best sound for your performances.  If you already have a basic understanding of P.A. Equipment and require more advanced information and advice, there are plenty of excellent sites that offer technical explanations and diagrams. Details and links to these can be found in our Equipment Links.

The newest additions to this section are ‘Sound Advice’ which provides some basic instructions on how to use a mixing desk, how to get the best sound at acoustic and electric gigs, plus the new Wavelength Calculator for the techies!!

P.A and Musical Equipment you will require and basic set-up advice is only a small part of this section, which may take some time to construct so please pop back often!!

Equipment Requirements

The amount and type of equipment you will need depends on where you intend to perform and the size of your act. Of course, you can be completely acoustic and sing unaccompanied, but even the most powerful singer needs amplification for a band or orchestral performance. If like many musicians you are unable to afford a P.A. System, there are other options available:-

  • Hire a P.A. for the night.
  • Work in venues with In House Systems
  • Work in venues with In House Bands
  • Join an established band or musician who have their own equipment

When purchasing any type of musical equipment it is worth aiming for the most powerful and best quality you can afford. If possible try to make sure you have spares available for the inevitable unforeseen breakdown – extra mic, speaker and power leads are a ‘must have’ and should be included when calculating your budget.

Types of Players

Most Solo’s and Duo’s work with backing tracks. The following list gives a few ‘player’ options to help you choose which is best for your act:

  • Digital Players i.e., MP3 players, Smartphones, Flashdrives & Tablets
    • PRO’S – Takes up little space, easy to carry, can hold hundreds of songs and lyrics depending on drive capacity so no need for seperate disks to carry files, can pre-organise tracks into several playlists or select songs individually. Some MP3 players are cheap to buy which means ability to carry a backup in case of loss or failure of main player. Apps to help musicians select songs available for Android and Apple Tablets.
    • CON’S – Some units have small screen sizes which are difficult to see under stage lights, small and temperamental buttons/touch screens can be awkward to use in performing environments. Digital files can skip or miss during playback or become corrupted. Access to files on flashdrives are limited to the facilities on the player used. Easy to drop and break.
  • Midi Controlled Devices using floppy disks, i.e, computer with sound card, tone generator or sequencer.

    • PRO’S – Midifiles can be easily configured to your requirements. Changing the pitch, speed, volume, velocity and adding, muting or re-allocating instrument sounds are all options you can access with a good music software package. Top of the range and most widely used are Cubase & Cakewalk. Before you rush out to purchase a commercial package, try out their free demo versions and some of the many excellent freeware programs like Massiva. These are often included on Trade Magazines like Computer Music Interactive, PC Guide etc., from their websites or via your local computer shop, (Music Tools for Windows has some good programs worth a look).
    • CON’S – Data on floppy disks can become corrupted and you need some musical and technical knowledge to use them effectively.
  • CD Players, now available with record and rewrite facilities, uses……CD’S!
    • PRO’S – No technical knowledge required, easy to use, transport & set up, good sound quality. Many high street shops sell commercial karaoke backing cd’s or they can be purchased with tracks specific to your requirements.
    • CON’S – Have a tendancy to jump, sensitive to temperature changes and transporting. Commercial packages often record the tracks in easy to sing keys which may not be the same as the artists original. Customised CD companies pre-mix the tracks so ensure you pick the right key!
    • Click Here to view a twin deck CD Player. (opens in new window)

Back to Top

P.A. Essentials

A full P.A. set up is not as daunting as it sounds.  Most people have a music centre and a P.A. is a larger version. You will need a minimum 100 watt system if you intend to work in public, however, a larger system (150 – 300 watts for solo performers, duo’s, trio’s and small bands) is preferable and will suit most indoor or outdoor events. You should always try to purchase the highest wattage of the best quality that your budget can afford but unless you intend to play at Wembley Stadium, this set up will last without having to upgrade for many years.  The following is a list of all the necessary components you will need:-

  • Power Pod Amplifier or Mixing Desk with integral power unit – These are all in one units, usually comes with 4 to 6 jack or cannon plug inputs and an effect, (usually reverb). Compact and easy to use, these are ideal for solo to 5 piece bands. Although it’s advisable to use them mainly for vocals, most new amps can handle a semi acoustic or electric guitar and keyboards, however, you should check the specifications with the dealer or manufacturer.
  • Mixing Desk and seperate Power Unit – Similar to the power pod but the desk usually has more features. Having a seperate power unit prevents total disaster, if you have a spare you can still continue the gig!
  • Pair of Speakers – ensure these are compatible with the amplifier you will be using!!
  • Microphones – High or Low, Dynamic, Hand Held, Radio & Head Set Mic’s – So how do you pick which one will suit you? Try them all out to see which suits your voice and style of act, as a general rule if you move about a lot on stage then a radio mic gives freedom of movement with no irritating wires to trip over. Everyone has their favourite, but personally I feel it’s hard to beat the Shure SM58, thousands of hours of gigging and a few dents later, it’s a good durable professional vocal mic.
  • LEADS!! Treat these with care and they should last for years – but always take the precaution of carrying spares, therefore, you will need:-
    • 4 Long Speaker Leads
    • Microphone lead (cannon to cannon or cannon to jack connections), carry a spare!
    • Phono to Phono or Phono to Jack Lead
    • 2 x Power Leads (some amps & players don’t have built in leads).
  • Extension Plug Boards – One at least should have a cut out facility in case of power surges.
  • STANDS!! Two speaker stands and a microphone stand for each mic used
  • You may also like to consider getting a monitor to help you hear your backing track and voice better. There are two types – a slave is unpowered and requires a speaker lead. Powered gives you a better flexibilty and the option to use it as an amp in itself if your main amp breaks down (yep, been there – dun that!!).
  • Got the Gear? – Now your ready to put it all together & get those gigs!!

Self Accompanied Artists, Duo’s & Trio’s, i.e., guitar or keyboard players, will also have to take into consideration wether to have instrument specific amplification or Direct Input into the P.A. (DI boxes are relatively inexpensive) but do check that the amplifier is suited for Instruments and not just a Vocal P.A. before plugging in or you could overload it & repairs are expensive!!

P.A. & Equiment Hire Companies
These vary in size from the one man band to tour equipment hire, some supply an engineer with the equipment, others do not so ask before making arrangements. Hire costs vary considerably from £30 to £5000 per night depending on the amount of equipment and personnel needed, most companies require a deposit in advance.

Technical Books

In Association with & Amazon.comThis is just a small selection of books and audio books available in our Books For Singers which include technical equipment, singing exercises, music theory, vocalises, sheet music, audition repertoire, and tuition books for singers of all standards and styles.

Live Sound – P.A. for the Performing Musicians

Future Music – ‘Essential reading for any gigging musician’
The Band – ‘Covers just about every live playing subject’
Home & Studio Recording – ‘Clear and concise’

Whether you are an engineer working with a large sound system, or just a gigging band using a few amps and a mixer, you’ll get more out of your sound system with this book. Its hands-on approach covers choice and use of microphones, direct injection, mixing, monitoring and foldback, automation and MIDI, and use of effects – EQ, compressors, reverb and delay. There are sections on multimedia, troubleshooting, minimising mains interference, hum and feedback, and some welcome advice on safety aspects of a live gig. It includes case studies of a rock concert, a classical concert, a cabaret show, and a musical production in a theatre. With a chapter on connectors and the principles of sound, the whole thing is nicely rounded off with a glossary of terms and a useful list of industry contacts. Explains how to build an efficient sound system, and gives advice on monitor mixing, avoiding feedback, and using effects while recording.
Live Sound at Amazon UK
Live Sound at Amazon USA

The Complete Guide To Connecting Audio, Video, And MIDI Equipment:
Get the Most Out of Your Digital, Analog, and Electronic Music Setups
by Jose Chilitos Valenzuela
This one-of-a-kind handbook describes through photos, line diagrams, and step-by-step instructions how the average student, enthusiast, voice-over talent, editor, engineer, musician, and/or producer can easily connect any of the various types of analogue or digital audio, video, and MIDI equipment in their studio setups. Readers will also be able to identify, purchase, and connect the specific A/V and MIDI equipment necessary for any creative job. Easy to understand and fun to use, The Complete Guide to Connecting Audio, Video, and MIDI Equipment will bring a professional or home-based studio completely up to date and up to maximum speed, making the music come alive. Jose Chilitos Valenzuela is founder and owner/president of AudioGraph International (AGI), a full-service recording studio and Avid-authorised and certified Pro Tools bilingual training centre since 1994. Chilitos has worked as an audio engineer, design engineer, synthesiser programmer, ADR editor, sound designer, sound editor, music editor, record producer, and mixer. He has also written The Complete Pro Tools Handbook and several other digital audio and MIDI books.
Read Reviews at Amazon UK
Read More at Amazon USA

The Home Studio Guide to Microphones

Reviews – The author, Loren Alldrin , 13 April, 1998
Here’s a hint: it’s not in your latest 24-bit effects processor or whiz-bang digital recorder. Instead, great recordings start with the right microphone positioned well. Sound simple? It is.

In The Home Studio Guide to Microphones, you’ll learn how mics work, how they differ and which mic to use when. Plus, you’ll learn how to best record dozens of popular instruments. Finally, an extensive buyer’s guide gives you specs and application info on over 70 popular mics.
Home Studio Guide to Microphones at Amazon UK
Home Studio Guide to Microphones at Amazon USA