Concerts are a blast, but many concert goers don’t understand the precision that goes into the sound setup. Whether it’s a small event or large festival, each outdoor concert requires an elaborate sound system to deliver a great show.
Because of the elaborate setup, equipment and considerations, this takes special planning by a team of dedicated audio professionals. The team that crafts the stage and sound system relies on their training to craft a setup that works for every show and artist.
Initial Planning and Walkthrough
To begin, the audio team working the concert reviews all of the necessary details before assembling the sound system. First, the team addresses the basics, such as the actual concert program and the times that each performer goes on. In addition to this, the team receives an itinerary with arrivals and load in and load out times. The audio team needs this information for reference as they design the sound system and stage. Afterwards, the crew surveys the venue in what is known as a walk through. During this process, the crew addresses the following questions.
Some questions to help plan for a concert include:
- What are the concert organizers’ plans in case of inclement weather?
- Will power supplies be in close proximity to the performance area and are they certified?
- How are equipment stations at the venue covered?
- Will there be enough space for the necessary cables for connections between equipment stations?
- Is there suitable access for vehicles to off-load and pick up equipment?
Why Experience Matters in Concert Planning
Experience allows the audio team to address issues from the beginning, as well as any problems that occur in the show. For this reason, it’s important that the crew plans out the show carefully.
From there, the audio team creates a diagram. This showcases the each piece of the sound system and cables, as well as the power supply for the event. Diagrams help so that every member of the crew knows
After the walk through, the crew chooses the sound system. A big factor in this is the size of the stage area in relation to the area that the audience will occupy. This matters when setting up the speakers, because there are two types of systems – active and passive.
Active Speaker Systems
Active speaker systems come with amplifiers that are embedded in the speaker unit, which are tuned to the components like woofers and tweeters. They also have built-in limiters that protects these components, and also have crossovers that helps to isolate of the frequencies. Installation is also easier, as it requires only a line level input.
Passive Speaker Systems
With passive speaker systems, a sound system needs speaker cables as well as separate amplifiers that give greater controls over the other components. And each of these amplifiers will have to be selected in accordance to the specification sheets of each piece of speaker equipment.
Dispersion and Sound Pressure
First of all, dispersion and the sound pressure levels are also very important to ensure that a concert’s sound system delivers great audio. Dispersion describes the way that sound moves in a horizontal and vertical manner from the speaker.
Additionally, sound pressure dictates how loud a speaker is at certain distances. The peak output represents how loud the speaker can be on loud transients. Furthermore, the continuous output denotes the average loudness of the sound that comes from the speaker.
Speaker placement is also another important consideration. It is important that the crew points them away from walls or ceilings. The team may choose to have them all on one side, but most venues split them between the left and the right side of the stage.
Depending on the venue, the crew can hang speakers in a line array with a truss on each side of the stage. They can also stack the speakers on stage atop subwoofers. Speakers arranged in this way project sound farther. This is because of the height, but it takes precise calculation. If the crew stacks the speakers too high, the sound near the stage will suffer. On the contrary, if they’re not high enough, the sound at the front of the stage becomes uncomfortable.
Today, most of the speakers can be coupled together in a trapezoid arrangement. This sound system setup creates an array that helps reduce interference between units. Again, the stage area influences this decision. If the speaker arrays are being hung up, the crew members have to suspend them at a point. This helps to produce the desired quality of audio without any adverse effects. After that, the crew puts in the subwoofers and the amplifiers.
Handling The Completion of The Sound Setup
With the speaker setup covered, the next move is to make sure the other components of the sound system are in place and connected. This phase starts with the speaker processors, which combines all of the processors being used at the venue into one rack mount processor that allows for greater calibration of the sound. This will be connected with a mixer.
The mixing console allows the operator to manage all of the audio signals that will be projected. There are analog and digital mixers. Analog mixers do work in tandem with a network of gates for each and compressors to work with the dynamics for each audio channel.
Digital mixers offer these capabilities with fewer additional elements – many of these offer wireless controls and can be regulated with smartphone applications. The combination of these two pieces of equipment allows for the audio to be better tuned during the show. It also can be helpful during issues so engineers can troubleshoot effectively.
Stage Organization for a Successful Sound Setup
Stage snakes and stage boxes are necessary in order to keep the clutter on the stage at a minimum. Larger stage setups employ a splitter to divide the signal from every one of the sound sources between the front of house (FOH) and the monitors.
The FOH engineer keeps an eye on these signals and handles the main mixing and monitor duties. An analog setup does mean longer cable runs and a snake setup that has 16 to 24 audio channels. Using a digital snake instead of an analog one allows that channel setup to be connected to the mixer with one single cable. This saves time in physically setting up the entire sound system for the outdoor concert.
Microphone Choices for an Outdoor Sound Setup
Lastly, dynamic microphones are the standard when it comes to performances and outdoor concerts are no exception. Those that are rugged and have a simple setup are preferred. And for communication between the performers and the audio engineers, many are now using in-ear monitors instead of stage monitors due to this route having an easier setup and also because it can limit the excessive stage volume.
Providing a stellar outdoor concert experience requires a substantial amount of hard work and communication between those in charge of the event, the artists, and most importantly, the audio crew. Taking a closer look at what goes on with the planning and installation of the sound system helps to add a huge amount of understanding of this process along with more appreciation of that work.
Want to Learn More?
No outdoor concert event is complete without pristine sound to make the performances taking place highly memorable. The process to provide these results is one that entails a lot of hard work & improvisation. If this kind of creativity appeals to you & you’re curious enough to learn more, take a moment to check out IPR’s Sound Production Program and the training that they provide on-site about the tools needed to succeed in that area.
Contact us today to learn more about the live sound and show production program and starting a rewarding career in the music industry.