Playing Gigs: What Equipment Does a Band Need?
When starting a band, one topic that needs to be discussed is equipment. There are minimum requirements that are needed from day one and a lot of optional equipment, depending on the band’s performance venues.
Individual Musician’s Instruments
Obviously each performer needs to own or rent the instrument(s) he/she will play. Each instrument has its own feel and sound. A musician will know the effect that he/she is trying to achieve, thus will select an appropriate instrument to achieve that goal.
Although we would all like to buy every gadget we see at the music store, a basic setup will suffice in the beginning. A guitar player may start with just one acoustic guitar and expand to multiple acoustic, electric, and bass guitars over time. A drummer might start with just a basic ‘kit’, including a bass, snare, and tom; adding additional components as the need arises and the budget allows.
Turn up the Sound
While guitar amps and a drum set may be fine for practicing in the garage, you will need a PA (Public Address) system when you play live shows to more effectively balance your sound and create the experience you want the audience to hear. If you play in venues that schedule a lot of live music, the venue will generally provide the sound equipment that makes up a PA system. If, however, you plan to perform in venues such as festivals, parties, and parks that do not come equipped with a PA, the band will need to invest in some basic sound equipment for use in these types of venues.
Eclectic Verve: Our Investment
For our acoustic sets we have a small sound system consisting of two 12” powered speakers, a 4-channel mixer and a small monitor that sits on one of the microphone (mic) stands. For a full band, the concept is the same (main speakers, amps, mixer, microphones, and monitors) it’s just on a larger scale. In order to get a good sound for your low frequency instruments (bass guitar as well as bass drums and low toms) a sub-woofer can really help reduce the load on your mains unless you are already using really big speakers for those.
Minimum Components of a Public Address (Sound) System for a Full Band
In order to play live gigs in venues where you have to supply the equipment the minimum sound equipment you should look into is:
- Main Speakers – (“Mains”) At least a pair of speakers is required. One for the left and one for the right stereo channel. A lot of speakers will have a combo with a large speaker for the mids and a tweeter for the highs. It’s recommended to get a sub-woofer if you want a big, full bass sound. Speakers come in two general varieties: powered or unpowered. A Powered Speaker combines an amplifier and speaker into one cabinet, thus a Powered Speaker removes the need for stand-alone amplifiers, but also results in more power cords.
- Amplifiers – Amps boost the outputs of a mixer to a level that can be reproduced by the speakers. You will need amplifiers to power your speakers unless they are already powered. Generally you need to have enough wattage to drive the speaker as well as the correct load rating (measured in ohms). This will totally be driven by the type of equipment you decide to buy.
- Mixer – The mixer/sound board is used to feed all of the microphones and instrument lines into one place where their sounds can be balanced and mixed to the desired levels and then output to the amplifiers. Typically you’ll want at least 4 channels for the drums (bass, snare and 2 overheads) but if you want more control (and have the mics) you may want to expand this. Electric guitars may have 1 or 2 depending on if you want them mixed in stereo, 1 channel for each vocalist and the bass guitar as well as any acoustic guitars.
- Microphones & Stands – Mics for each singer and straight or boom stands for each mic to allow ‘hands-free’ usage. Wired mics are generally less expensive.
- Monitors – Unless the venue is tiny, a PA system should include monitors for each singer and musician. Monitors are small speakers that are either placed on the floor or on a mic stand. Monitors are placed at the front of the stage facing the performers so they can hear how they sound to the audience. In most cases, the speakers for the audience are in front of the performers, in front of the microphones, (to lessen feedback) so it is difficult for the performers to hear how they sound. In-ear monitors are also available, which are definitely better for the drummer, as the in-ear monitors also provide a little ear protection.
Of course your band can expand on this and begin adding all kinds of other equipment to enhance the sound. You may also want to buy cases to protect your investment, but the above components are where you need to start. There are lots of good articles on the internet that delve into the technical details, which are beyond the scope of this blog, but hopefully this helps provide a 30,000’ view to get you started.
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