Sound Advice: Achieving a good sound from a PA System

So your all set up & ready to go – or are you? Getting the best sound at your gigs entails learning the basics of sound engineering, you don’t need to do a course or spend loads of time in a studio but it is important that you become acquainted with your new equipment.

The main equipment you will be using is your Power Pod or Mixer Amp which is the unit that controls the sound produced.  Most new amplifiers have a graphic equaliser and/or bass, mid and treble controls plus an auxillary for effects so we’ll start with these.  (We suggest singers initially practice using backing tracks to get a feel for the equipment and then rehearse with other musicians.  If possible record yourself and listen to the differences that are produced with various settings and volumes).

For demonstration purposes we are using a powered amp (it was the clearest piccie!), but the principles and basic layout are pretty standard on most mixing units.  All Master Volume, Graphic Equalisers, Effects, Auxiliary and Monitor Controls are usually located on the right hand side of the mixing desk or powered amp.  Some modules also have inputs/outputs for phono (cassette/cd/minidisk) and slave/powered monitors.  On the left hand side are the individual cannon/jack inputs and controls.

HOW TO USE A MIXING DESK

  • Each individual inputs controls are set out in this order from bottom to top:-
    • Cannon lead input
    • Jack or Phono lead inputs
    • Mute or Reverb On/Off
    • Pan Left/Right
    • Volume Control (Gain)
    • Effects Control
    • Bass Range Control
    • Mid (Middle) Range Control
    • Treble (High/Top) Control
    • Please Note:- This is a basic general layout which will vary depending on the type, make & size of mixer and not an exact replication of the EMX shown above.
  • Turn ALL volume, bass, mid, treble and effects controls to zero
  • Turn your MAIN Volume or GAIN control up to half way. (Power Pods usually have 1 Overall Main Volume control whilst Mixer Amps may have 1 Main Volume control and a seperate Gain for each input. Both have seperate volume controls or faders for each input).
  • Turn your Backing Track Volume control up to a comfortable level
  • Turn your Microphone Volume control up to just above the backing track volume level and ensure that you can hear yourself clearly.
  • Check your Mute or Reverb On/Off is OFF
  • If you have ‘Pan’ controls set them to the center and then adjust them left/right (don’t be heavy handed, small changes in settings make a BIG difference).
  • Practice Speaking and Singing WITHOUT any equalisation or effects.  Use a tape recorder placed at the opposite end of the room to record yourself and refer to it after each change in settings.
  • Gradually turn up the bass, mid range then treble a notch at a time and note the difference in the sound. Your ears are your best guide and you should wander around the room to hear the overall effect.
  • The settings for your backing tracks will depend on how well they have been recorded and the type and size of venue you perform in but ideally you should aim for a sound that is not too ‘muddy’ or ‘muffled’ (less bass, add a little mid and/or treble), too ‘tinny’ (turn down the treble, adjust the mid range and/or bass) or ‘boomy’ (less reverb/echo pleeeeeease!).
  • The same applies to your Vocals!  You will need to practice adjusting the settings until you are happy with how your voice sounds (without reverb/effects).
  • Once you are happy with your overall sound add an effect and repeat the process.

It is important to find out the venues policy before finalising your bookings. Some venues have an in-house p.a. system and engineer, in which case you may not be allowed to set up yours, others do not supply any form of p.a. or amplification and may even require that yours is used by any supporting act. We advise you NOT to allow this! There are far too many things that can go wrong and your equipment could be damaged by some idiot screaming into the microphone or bouncing it around the stage – fine if it’s YOU doing it – but who pays if it isn’t?

The powered amp pictured above is a Yamaha EMX860ST.   Built especially for solo performers and public speakers, the EMX has the power and features necessary for providing clear, clean sound to the audience. Visit Yamaha.com to see their full product range, pictures, spec & descriptions.

UK and Online Equipment Retailers who sell, hire and/or install P.A. Systems, Lighting Systems etc. available in the P.A. & Equiment Hire Companies listings. Visit the Musician Store to purchase microphones, cables, instruments, tuners, effects and other equipment accessories online. P.A. & Speaker manufacturing companies listings are available at Electric Blues Club Equipment Pro-Audio section.