Up A Sound (P.A.) System
most common question I get asked by professional singers
is, "how do I set up my P. A. (public address)
system to achieve a good sound?"
It saddens me when I hear a singer with a good voice
and well produced backing tracks have their performance
ruined by a poor sound caused by their lack of knowledge
on how to set up the sound system.
also saddens me when I hear a performer who has never
bothered to learn how to sing but tries to rely on
the best equipment and engineer to try to make their
voice sound good.
I have held many classes to relieve the stress and
teach singers how to accomplish the best sound from
Here are some easy steps to setting up and getting
the best sound from your P. A. system.
When a singer becomes professional and has to set
up a P. A. system, they find it quite stressful but
it doesn't have to be like that.
should learn to sing properly in order to get the
best quality and projection from your voice without
incurring damage, taken care of your image so that
you look as well as sound professional and worked
on how to talk to an audience and interact with them
so that you give your best performance.
If you plan to work self contained you will need to
know how to set up the P. A. system and be your own
sound engineer and even if you are going to work somewhere
where you have the luxury of a professional sound
engineer, it will benefit you to know the basics of
how to set up the P.A. system.
Once you have purchased all the necessary equipment,
it's now time to set up for the gig and for the purposes
of this explanation I am going to use the following
1. Soundcraft spirit 600 powered mixer
2. Electrovoice stage 200sx speakers
3. shure SM58 microphone
4. apple ipod (for playing backing tracks)
5. peavey powered monitor
6. one set of speaker stands
7. connecting cables
The speaker stands should be placed at the front of
the stage or performing area, at either end and when
the speakers are mounted should be at a height of
2ft above the head height of the audience.
This is to prevent the sound from being blocked by
people standing in front of the speaker and also prevent
hearing damage by someone passing the speaker.
The singer should not be in font of the speakers as
this can cause problems with feedback.
Feedback occurs when there is an audio loop generated
between the microphone and the speakers, caused by
the microphone picking up the sound from the speakers
and playing back through the system.
Feedback sounds like a high pitched squeal which is
not pleasant to listen to and is the biggest contribution
to speaker damage.
I have decided to use a powered mixer in this example
as there is less equipment to contend with.
I usually find that singers feel daunted when they
first encounter a multi-channel mixer, however once
it is broken down into the various sections it becomes
clear that it's not too difficult to master.
Whether a mixer has only one channel or twenty one
channels makes no difference as each channel is just
a copy of the first channel to allow more instruments
The mixer is where all the sound from instruments,
microphones and audio players are connected in order
to mix the sound with equalization (EQ), effects and
volumes before it goes to the amplifier and speakers
and if we look at the picture below we can see the
Channel Input 2. Trim 3. Channel Volume 4. EQ 5. Channel
Effects 6. Master Volume 7. Master Effects
8. Master Outputs
channel inputs (1) comprise of balanced inputs (three
pin xlr type) are for microphones and the unbalanced
(1/4 inch jack) are for instruments.
The trim control (2) allows you to alter the input
gain for each channel. As different instruments and
microphones have different output levels it is important
to trim each channel to get the best level without
The channel volume fader (3) allows you to balance
the volumes from each channel.
The EQ (equalizer) controls are where we can add bass
or treble to each input.
We can simplify this by thinking of your hi-fi system
where you can change the mix to obtain the desired
The (high) control adds or subtracts top end (treble)
EQ to the sound.
The (low) control adds bottom end (bass) to the sound.
The mid-sweep is made up of two controls working in
conjunction with each other and allow you to choose
a frequency with one control knob and then boost or
subtract the chosen frequency with the other.
The channel effects allow you to add effects such
as reverb or delay to the channel to make the sound
of a microphone more spacious.
It should be noted that the more reverb added to a
microphone makes the sound more distant and unnatural,
therefore it should be used sparingly.
The master volume controls (6) allow you to set the
overall volume of the P.A. system.
The master effects (7) also s you to set how much
effects gets sent to the channels.
The master outputs (8) is where you plug in the cables
going to the speakers.
manual for your chosen mixer will give you more in
depth instructions on how it should be used however
let's look at the basics which will get you on the
road to a good sound.
should have the speakers placed properly and the mixer
within easy reach of your working area.
The mixing desk should be set "flat" (all
volume faders and trim controls at zero, EQ and pan
You should have your backing tracks player connected
to two channels (e.g.. 1 and 2) and your microphone
into another channel (e.g.. 3)
Play one of your tracks (preferably a powerful upbeat
song) and turn up the trim for the two channels until
the led lights on the meter read just below 0db.
Now turn the master volume up to the 0db mark and
then turn the channel volumes up to a comfortable
Go out in front of the speakers in order to hear the
sound properly and listen to the track.
You should be listening for clarity and how much bass
or treble are prominent.
Go back to the desk and add 3db of high EQ to both
channels and then go back in front of the speakers
and listen. If the sound is too thin turn the top
Now do the same with the low EQ. You should be aiming
for a good balanced sound which is clear and has a
good bass sound.
Turn the pan of channel 1 fully to the left and channel
2 fully to the right. You should now have a stereo
sound coming from the backing track.
Switch the track off and now follow the same steps
for the mike channel (the pan should be in the center
Be careful when going in front of the speakers that
you don't encounter feedback.
Now play the track and sing while adjusting the volume
of the microphone channel to match the backing track.
Your voice should be heard just louder than the track
and if it doesn't stand out from the track you can
use the mid sweep controls in the following way to
help give more definition to your voice.
Set the frequency of the mid sweep on all three channels
On the microphone channel boost this with the dB knob
by 1 to 3dB and subtract 1 to 3dB from the backing
track channels. This should make your vocal stand
out more without the need to increase the volume.
Stop the track and add some reverb or delay to the
It's important to note that if you add too much effect
to the microphone you will sound more distant and
unnatural. It's a case of less is more.
you decide to use a separate mixer and amplifier then
It is a simple case of taking leads from the outputs
of the mixer to the inputs of the amplifier and connecting
the speaker leads to the outputs of the amplifier.
I would advise that the power from the amplifier is
greater than the power rating of the speakers.
reason for this is to leave some headroom within the
amplifier thus reducing the risk of overdriving it
and sending a distorted signal to the speakers.
For the purposes of this article I am using the shure
It is reasonably priced and used by many of the worlds
There are numerous makes and types of microphone on
the market and they are all down to a singers preference.
It is advisable to educate yourself on this subject
and try out as many different microphones as possible
before deciding on any particular one.
You will need a monitor (foldback) system in order
to hear what the audience are hearing and for this
article I am using a peavey powered monitor, which
should be placed at the center of the front of the
stage facing the singer.
Most mixers have a monitor output and it's just a
case of connecting a lead from the output to the input
of the monitor and setting the volume of the monitor.
There are many types of players for backing tracks
and I will give some pro's and cons for each.
Pro's: Cheap to buy and easy to record onto.
Cons: Poor quality sound, they wear out, have to be
rewound after use, prone to breaking
Easy to transpose keys, easy to transfer from computer,
can sound good.
Cons: Only as good as the sound card within the player,
floppy disks wear out and damage easily.
Pro's: Excellent quality, easy to record, no need
to rewind, inexpensive to buy.
Cons: Discs wear out, have to change discs during
Pro's: Great quality of sound, easy to manage.
Cons: They can skip with vibration
Pro's MP3's can be played fro an mp3 player or laptop
computer, no need to change discs or tapes, excellent
The apple ipod is an excellent player for backing
tracks as you can store thousands of tracks without
having to change discs or tapes and it is also easy
to find songs using the jog wheel.
Cons: small screen can be difficult to read in poor
Connecting Cables should be of good quality and well
You should always carry spare leads, microphone, backing
tracks and player for emergencies.
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