Simple tips to check a PA sound system
After knowing the basic terms of a PA system setup, how to hold mics, etc. in part 1 (read here), it is important for the authorities to be present when the whole system is being setup at a venue. If you (as the sound or event in-charge) are not present at that time, making changes would be difficult and face a lot of resistance from the sound vendor later on.
Like mentioned before, do not get intimidated by the person supplying the equipment or setting up the sound or by the equipment itself. It is not rocket science. But yes, do respect the judgement or suggestions and experience of the sound vendor also.
An important term to know is HUM / HISS – this a buzzing sound you hear from the speakers, even when no one is talking.
On the rehearsal day(s)… with sound!
- Appoint 2 or 3 volunteers before hand for stage management, and say 3 to 4 volunteers to sit in the audience area.
- Get the stage volunteers to learn how to adjust mic angles and stand height from the sound operator directly. Takes 2 minutes only!
Make them move around on stage wearing socks, and not shoes or high-heels 🙂
- Let the audience team sit and move in various positions – front, middle, corners, near the stage, far end, etc.
- During each type of an act – compering, singing, dancing, music (live) and CD/mp3 playback, let these volunteers keep shifting their positions and noting down their listening experiences.
Was it ok? Was it sharp / harsh? Was the sound too soft? Or too loud? Was there a “hum” or “feedback” (whistle) heard during the practice sessions?
- Share these experiences with the sound operator to help him make the necessary adjustments during the ongoing rehearsal itself.
- Microphone setup for group songs:
- In a group of say 8 singers, place 4 in front and 4 taller ones at the back
- On row of suspended microphones should be kept 1 feet above their heads
For mics on stands, keep these 1 feet away from the first row
- 2 mics kept 2 feet apart would work for a group of this size
- The first row of singers should stand a little behind the suspended mics
- A child / adult should sing at full voice, and not look up towards the mic while doing so
- Extrapolate more mics for more members in the group
- Stage Monitors:
- Check the audio quality during rehearsals of various types: dialogue / compering / songs / dance / CD playback
- Listen to the audio from each of these wedges (usually 3-5 units on stage)
- Go to different points on the stage to check how it sounds to the performers
- The stage volunteers handling the mics can do so quietly during an ongoing rehearsal
How would the audience hear?
This is the MOST crucial part of this whole exercise. The audience volunteers should sit and move at different positions in the audience across the auditorium / venue. For example:
- in the area where the judges and special invitees would be seated
- one on left end in the middle area, one at the right corner of a row and one sitting at the end of the venue
- one checking sound in the area where a screen is kept (say in another room or location)
The same volunteers can keep shifting their positions to check how the PA sounds at different sections of the audience area. And the sound will change during different types of acts performed on stage, and so must be experienced for each type. Note down all the problems felt at the various positions.
IMPORTANT TIPS – SO AS TO NOT OFFEND THE SOUND OPERATOR(s)
- Most sound operators are experienced. We should respect that fact. And we should not instruct them to do little things. Sometimes, they order the performers to change positions, and that is fine too. As long as the act does not suffer.
- ONLY one school or event authority (teacher / principal / manager) should share the feedback of the volunteers with the operator.
- Just ensure that the operator has kept a DI Box connected to the stage equipment (keyboard, CD player, laptop) as well as a DI Box is present between the video camera audio cable and the mixer. This protects the external equipment.
Given the time, financial and other constraints of events at schools or colleges or in your own offices, the whole purpose of this exercise is to make simple and effective improvements in sound. Feel free to experiment with mic placements, if there is time available for that.
Your ears are your best friends during any sound test.