| Getting Started
By "performers" here we primarily mean vocalists and
musicians who perform as part of a band, though it is quite likely
that other kinds of users of PA systems will find the information
on this page useful. We hope that the information on this site
will help to remove some of the mystery surrounding this subject,
and help you to get the most out of the
system(s) you use.
As a performer, you too have a part to play in making sure
that you get the best results from from the sound system
you are using; this is a part of your performance art,
and excellence can only be achieved through experience.
It is hoped that the following brief notes will
provide some useful hints for performers, without getting too
technical. You might also find it helpful to read the Introduction for Mixing Engineers,
to gain some insight into the challenges they face!
From a PA perspective, there are two distinct arrangements of
systems used − though the real difference lies not in the nature
of the system itself, but in by whom it is operated. The two
- When the person operating the system for an event
is at the same time an on-stage performer at that event.
In this arrangement, typically
adopted by bands of up to 4 members when performing in
very small venues, the mixer
is located on-stage and the responsible person will set
up the system prior to the rehearsal, probably making
small adjustments during the rehearsal and also maybe
during the performance. This is something of an "economy"
arrangement, as although it has the advantage of avoiding
the costs associated with another person, it suffers from
the problem that even if a reasonable mix can be achieved
initially, the responsible person is unable to give their full
attention to properly managing
the sound throughout the performance − e.g.
to take account of
dynamic factors such as a growing or increasingly noisy
audience. (Even the initial entry of the audience can
significantly affect room acoustics from those which
existed when the system was set up.)
The band member concerned may well have the appropriate
skills or experience to mix sound. However, as far as that
task is concerned, a person who
is located on stage behind the front-of-house
speakers and who is primarily focussed on delivering a good
performance is at a significant disadvantage in
comparison with someone who is hearing the same sound as
the audience and who
is concentrating only on delivering the best
possible sound to them. You need to consider whether,
considering the expectations of your audience,
you are willing to make this compromise on the sound
quality delivered to them.
- When the person operating the system is not
an on-stage performer at the same time.
In this arrangement, typically adopted in all but the
smallest venues and by larger bands, the mixer is
located at a suitable listening point (usually roughly central
to the audience) and is set up and operated throughout
the performance by one or more people dedicated to this
task. Whilst this arrangement has the potential to
provide a technically superior sound (which means, at
the end of the day, more pleasing to the audience),
it has its own
problems in that it inevitably creates something of a
divide between the performers and the
− both in terms of a different physical location and
differing responsibilities and perspectives.
To minimise any potential problems of this kind,
it is essential that the
two parties do all they can to work together co-operatively.
(The two sections below should help you to play your part
The importance of a good working relationship between a band
and their engineer(s) is highlighted by the fact that it is a
vital part of the engineer's role to ensure that each member of
the band is able to hear themselves and other members well enough
to be able to perform at their best. To achieve this, monitoring
facilities are usually provided as part of the PA system.
There are two main types of monitoring in common use:
floor monitors ('wedges')
and in-ear monitoring
(IEM) − sometimes both of these systems may be in use.
In-ear monitoring has several important advantages, both for
performers and in enabling the best quality sound to be
produced for your audience. But as it is more expensive and
more involved to set up (personalised ear-pieces are required
for the very best results), floor monitors remain a very
popular choice as a simple and reliable system.
Sometimes the task of producing the band's
is performed by a separate
in this case a separate
is usually used, generally located on or close to the stage.
However, an unfortunate complication is that sound produced
on stage for the benefit of performers may,
if excessive, have an adverse
effect on the overall amplified sound heard by the audience
− this is explained in more detail below.
Understanding the Engineer's Perspective
A basic understanding of how your engineer sees (or rather, hears)
things is likely to
be of considerable help to you in working together effectively
to produce the best results for your audience.
One of the main reasons for using a sound engineer is so that you
have someone in control who can hear your sound
as the audience hears it. This is likely to differ
considerably from what each band member is hearing on stage.
Unfortunately, even when
each band member is hearing what they would consider to be a
'good' sound mix and quality on stage, what members of the
audience hear of that 'stage sound' is rarely
of adequate quality, does not have the desired mix, and
typically varies very considerably in quality and mix
across the whole audience area. This is because the band's sound
sources on stage are not intended to provide a high quality
of sound dispersed across a wide audience area; they are
intended to enable the band to perform effectively.
For example, since your
are pointing away from the audience,
they hear only a dull muffled version of the
(hopefully good quality) sound that you hear from them on stage.
The engineer's main 'tool' for producing sound for the
audience is the front-of-house
(FOH) speaker system − this
will (should!) be able to produce a high quality of sound at
the required levels of loudness,
located and directed suitably to
provide that quality and level to as much of the audience area as is
reasonably practicable. But the sound from those speakers
isn't the only sound that the audience hears. Ignoring sound
reflected back from the room surfaces (which can itself
sometimes be an issue), the audience will also be hearing some
of the lower-quality sound from the stage, coming direct from
instruments, from backline,
and from the band's monitor speakers
(as relevant in each situation).
How much a problem this is will depend on several factors;
in a few performance situations a quality listening experience
for the audience might not be considered a priority. But in most
cases an important influence affecting sound quality will be the
sound level from the stage that is heard by the audience,
compared with the sound level heard from the FOH system.
For example, in a large venue with a powerful FOH system,
the lesser-quality sound from the stage (as heard
by the majority of the audience) may be adequately swamped by
the FOH system. In medium/smaller venues, however,
if the stage sound is reaching the audience at too high a level
then the engineer may have difficulty in achieving the
desired quality of sound for the audience without raising the
FOH system loudness to an unacceptably high level.
For this reason, in medium/smaller venues sound
engineers will usually want to keep the sound level of
stage sound sources (floor monitors in particular)
down to the minimum that you as performers really need.
This is especially important where the venue acoustics
are not good at absorbing sound entering the audience
area from the stage.
As explained above, higher than necessary levels on stage
are likely to compromise the quality of sound heard by
the audience − or at the very least make your engineer's
job a whole lot harder.
So (in all but the largest venues) you can assist your
engineer to produce good results by co-operating in keeping
the on-stage sound levels as low as is comfortably manageable.
In practice, this means that backline levels need to be
carefully controlled (except where the engineer has
arranged for the backline sound to usefully contribute to
the overall sound for the audience). It also means that, where
monitor speakers (generally floor monitors) are used, their
levels need to be kept to the minimum that is really
needed by each band member.
You can help your engineer to produce the best quality
sound for your audience by telling the engineer during the
sound check which sound sources are the ones that
it's most important for you to hear well.
Let the engineer know if any of the sound sources in your
monitor mix are louder than necessary, or if there are
any other on-stage sounds (such as other band members'
monitors or backline) that are impairing your ability to
adequately hear your monitor. Also let him/her know if
your mix is good but its overall level is rather louder
than what is really necessary for you to perform well.
How much control the engineer has over the mix of sources
(instruments, vocals, etc.)
in each floor monitor depends on the complexity of the system.
In a very simple system there may be only one or two
different monitor mixes available (though the level of
individual monitors, or of groups of monitors,
may nevertheless be separately adjustable).
Only in the most sophisticated systems will it be possible for
a separate mix to be provided for each one of many
Tips for Performers working with an operated PA
Here are some vital tips to help you as performers get the best
out of your sound sound system and engineer:
Have full confidence in your engineers. Regardless of
whether you have hired them or not, they are there
to help you provide the best possible listening experience
for your audience, so you should see them as your essential
Good communication is vital. You may be asked to
(or feel the need to) explain to the engineer
what kind of sound you are hoping for, both on-stage
and front-of-house. This will usually be an interactive
trial-and-error process, requiring patience and respect
by both parties. There is a balance to be reached between
asking for what you want and trusting in the engineer's
experience and judgement.
It will help a lot in being readily understood
if you take the
time to learn the correct terminology, e.g.
don't say feedback
if you mean foldback.
Remember that the engineer is there to help you to
produce the best overall sound for the
audience. This is a different sound to what you hear
on stage, so don't try to assess what the audience is hearing
by what you are hearing on stage.
The engineer will try to take your opinions regarding the
sound into account, but clearly will be unable to
meet conflicting requests (e.g. saxophonist and
lead guitarist both wanting to be louder than each other) and
in such a situation will usually take directions from
the person in charge on stage, in combination with
his/her own best judgement.
In some cases you may need
to accept that your ideal sound is not achievable,
given the technical limitations of the available PA
equipment and of the venue's layout and acoustics.
Guitarists, Bassists and others with hand-held intruments
that plug in to on-stage equipment
and/or connect to
the PA system: To avoid loud crackles and bangs that
are very unpleasant to your audience (and potentially
damaging to the PA equipment), then unless your instrument
cable has a
plug that is proven to be effective, or you have first
used a pedal
(or other means) to fully turn down or cut off
your instrument's signal,
never unplug your instrument cable at the
instrument end without first being sure that the engineer has
channel(s) at the
mixing desk. If you are relying
on the engineer to do this, then they will have to know
when you are about to unplug; this could,
for example, be communicated either by pre-arrangement
(e.g. after a specific song), or through use
of agreed hand-signals. Note, however, that
muting at the mixing desk will not usually avoid such
sounds from your backline
speakers (if applicable), and these may also be damaging
Vocalists: See also the section below on microphone
Regarding Sound Checks: (or rehearsals, if PA set-up is done
at that time)
Don't try to use the sound check as a rehearsal time unless the
understanding you have with the engineer is that it's a shared
rehearsal and sound check time. (This arrangement is usually a
compromise that would only be adopted when there's insufficient
time available for a proper sound check − in such a case
be prepared for the engineer to interrupt the rehearsal if
necessary to correct technical problems.)
If asked to check a microphone, don't tap it or blow into it
− speak or sing into it.
It's in your best interests to assist your engineer fully
during this time. If it's a formal sound check then throughout
this time take directions from the engineer regarding who
should be playing/singing at any particular time.
It will help the engineer considerably if that person/people
performs continuously, in the same way that you intend to do
during the actual performance, until you are asked to stop.
This may need to be for several minutes for each instrument or singer
individually while the engineer listens and makes adjustments;
this may be followed by some combinations of performers.
While this is happening, other performers should wait on
stage (unless directed otherwise) without 'joining in'
at all with the performer(s)
who have been asked to play/sing,
and taking care not to make any other noise or to distract the
performer(s) being sound-checked.
One of the first things the engineer will want to do is to
make adjustments to accommodate the highest electrical
signal level that will be
produced during the actual performance from each microphone
and each instrument. So expect to be asked at some point
during the soundcheck to play or sing at the maximum you
will be using during the performance, so that this adjustment
can be properly made for you.
During the sound-check, the engineer sets up your
amplification to provide you with the best results based
on the settings of your instrument or other on-stage equipment
at that time. So be sure to get your equipment
adjusted to your satisfaction during this time. Don't
make unplanned adjustments to your
instruments or equipment after the sound-check, without first
discussing this with the sound engineer − otherwise
your amplified sound quality, as heard by the audience,
may be seriously compromised (even though it might sound better
to you on stage).
During the sound check the engineer will make adjustments
to the mixes and levels of the on-stage
monitoring (sometimes called
'foldback') that is provided
solely for your benefit as performers. (In very large
systems this job will often be carried out by a separate
usually located close to the stage area.)
This is likely to be your only opportunity to
have your say regarding what you need from your monitoring.
Don't leave it too late to make your comments, as it may be
more difficult to make large changes later on. Bear in mind,
though, that due to technical limitations or conflicting
requirements it may not be possible to get exactly your
ideal monitor sound.
If you can't hear yourself (or some other source that
you need) well enough, then if your floor monitor is already
reasonably loud don't rush to ask for it to simply be made
louder, as this may reduce the sound quality heard by
the audience and/or make it
more difficult for other performers to hear what they
need. (They in turn may then ask for their
monitor(s) to be turned up,
resulting in an unhelpful general escalation of
on-stage sound levels.) Before asking for your
monitor(s) to be made louder,
consider whether the reason
might be that one or more other sources you are hearing
is louder than what you need and so is partially masking
your own sound. Asking the engineer to
reduce any masking sound sources in your monitor mix may
help you to hear yourself better without making changes
that would cause other problems. If the masking sound
is coming from another performer's equipment
or monitor rather than from your own, it may be useful
to consider whether some changes to the stage layout
would reduce how much you
hear of that source and so help you hear yourself better.
Sometimes even a small change, e.g. to the
position or angle of a floor monitor, can be very helpful.
Any such changes are best done early on in the sound check.
The engineer will probably have carefully positioned and
angled the floor monitors and backline equipment for best
results, including minimising unwanted pick-up by microphones
(which could cause feedback or other problems). If you feel
that the positions and/or angles should be different, talk
with engineer about this − don't move the
equipment yourself without the engineer's agreement.
Likewise, don't move microphone stands except by prior
The engineer may initially set up the stage monitor mixes
some time before making the front-of-house speaker
system operational. When the front-of-house
sound is added at a later point during the sound check,
this is likely to have a considerable effect on what you
hear on stage, because of the sound that is reflected back to you
from the auditorium. You may find that it becomes better
for you, or becomes worse − let the engineer know
if any adjustments to your monitor mix are needed after
the front-of-house system mix has been set up.
Vocal Microphone Technique
Maintain a reasonably constant distance
from the microphone (except when deliberately varying
the distance for effect); if in doubt your engineer will
be happy to advise on a suitable range of distances for
your particular circumstances.
When you are holding the mic in your hand:
You should hold it at the centre of the mic's 'stalk',
trying not to
cover up any identifying coloured bands of tape that
have been put around
it (especially while you are moving around on the stage);
this will help the engineer to keep track of which mic
Don't wrap your fingers around the
basket of the
mic, as this is likely to decrease the
mic's in-built immunity to
feedback − it may
also have a detrimental effect on the amplified sound
If it's a
with an aerial that projects at the back end, don't hold
the mic around that part. If you do, you are likely to reduce
the strength of the radio signal transmitted and this may
cause problems in picking up your signal.
You can help to avoid
feedback by not pointing
your mic at the monitors
and by not walking with it to any position in front of the
If feedback occurs, the natural reaction is to increase
your distance from the microphone. But whether this is the
right thing to do depends upon how close you were to it
at the time. If you were more than about 4 inches
(10 cm) away, then by moving further away you are actually
increasing the chance of feedback, because the engineer
must provide even more amplification to achieve the desired
sound level for the audience, and this would make the
feedback worse. So decrease the distance, so that the
amplification required can be reduced.
If however you were very close (less
than 1.5 inches (4 cm)), then moving slightly
further away may be helpful because, with some types of
microphone, being very close can decrease the microphone's
in-built immunity to feedback. If feedback occurs during a
soundcheck, ask the engineer if there is anything you should
The following illustrations show some possible positions
for a vocal microphone, with associated comments, listed
according to the angle of the mic. They apply regardless of
whether the mic is on a stand or you are holding it.
The references to bass boost, which is due to the
apply predominantly to male vocalists. The
illustrations assume the type of mic most commonly used for
live performances (as opposed to studio recording),
i.e. an end-firing
type with a cardioid or
1. A rarely-used position, generally employed only for
situations such as a stand-mounted mic used by a drummer.
(In such a situation, the mouth-to-mic distance must be
kept fairly small, to avoid excessive pick-up of the
2. A hand-held position sometimes briefly used during a
performance, for visual effect. Good pick-up, with a
considerable amount of bass boost.
3. A position commonly used by some rock and pop artists.
As this position gives a very large amount of bass boost,
it requires a type of microphone that is intended for
such close-up use (such as the Shure SM58).
Even quite small changes in the distance to
the mic will have a marked effect on the amount
of bass boost,
and also on the amount of pick-up (unless heavy
compression is in
use). Not suitable for applications where facial
expression is important, or when close-zoom camera work
is in use, as the performer's mouth is completely
obscured (except for profile camera angles).
4. Similar to 3, but with less bass boost and less
sensitivity to changes in distance. Slightly better
visibility of the performer's mouth, giving an
improvement for semi-profile and profile viewing
5. Even less bass boost and less sensitivity to changes
in distance. However, reduced pick-up of the performer
(especially with cardioid mics) versus other sound
sources may be a problem when stage sound levels are
high, or when the performer is in close proximity to
loud instruments. (This is more of a problem when the
performer has a quiet voice.) Better visibility of
the performer's mouth for profile and semi-profile
6. Often a good mic position, but the performer's
mouth is still largely obscured for frontal views.
7. Often an ideal mic position when a certain
amount of bass boost is desirable. Much improved
mouth visibility from all angles.
8. An ideal mic position for strong voices, when
bass boost is not required and on-stage sound levels
nearby are not too high. Quiet voices may be difficult
to amplify sufficiently, without feedback and/or
unwanted pick-up of other sounds. The low sensitivity
to changes in distance make this position very
suitable for stand-mounted mics. Excellent mouth
visibility from most angles.
9. & 10. Useful positions when some bass boost
is not a problem and good immunity to other stage
sounds is required. They also provide reasonably
good visibility of the mouth (especially 10.).
11. An incorrect technique, giving rather poor
pick-up of the vocals (particularly when using
mics). The sound engineer may
be able to compensate to some degree.
12. The performer seems to think that this is a
microphone. As it isn't, the pick-up of the vocals
will be extremely poor. The sound engineer will not be
able to compensate for this; attempts to do so are
likely to result in feedback and/or excessive pick-up
of other sound sources and room reverberation.
- For a slightly more technical discussion on the effect
of microphone technique on the pick-up behaviour of
Microphones on the Microphones
Go to the top of this page.
This page last updated 03-Feb-2016.