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Sound Reinforcement: A Show Production Guide

When it comes to event production, sound is one of the most important elements. Sound engineering is a highly-regarded craft in the music industry. Every venue, audience and show is different. Indoor and outdoor venues impact how sound moves. The size, shape and occupancy of the venue determines its overall sound. Predicting these changes and adjusting the settings in real-time takes the craft of an experienced live sound audio engineer.

Touring Acts and Live Audio Engineering

A touring act appreciates sound engineers in clubs and other venues where they perform. When a sound engineer knows the space they work in and what the artist wants, they are invaluable assets. Being well-versed in sound reinforcement ensures that an engineer can do their job successfully. Furthermore, an artist may offer an audio engineer an exclusive position on tour. This allows an artist to maintain consistency from show to show by having a dedicated sound crew on staff.

Why Do You Need an Education?

There is always more to learn in sound reinforcement. A base in sound engineering is key to sound reinforcement and live show set-ups. An intermediary sound engineer in sound reinforcement should have a working understanding of digital processors and consoles. An expert in sound reinforcement should have experience in speaker design software, complex sound and control systems and advanced production equipment.

What is Sound Reinforcement?

First of all, sound reinforcement is the components that are used to amplify sound for an audience. It is a simple concept, but the execution of the idea can be extremely complex.

The Components of Sound Reinforcement

Secondly, there are various components that are utilized in sound reinforcement. Though productions may vary, all elements involved stem from a few common components. The most typical components include mixing console(s), signal processors, transducers (such as microphones and speakers), cables, and amplifiers.

Mixing Console

A mixing console is the epicenter for sound reinforcement. It controls most aspects of the sound from the audio sources, how it is processed and brought to the audience. A mixing consoles handles the levels for the various sources of inputs in a mix. For that reason, mixing consoles control the majority of basic club set-ups.

Signal Processors

Signal processors in sound reinforcement refer to any device that modifies the signal of the audio. For example, it may improve its fidelity or to alter the signal.

Sources

Sources refer to anything used to capture sound such as microphones, DI boxes, or even a CD player.

Cables

Cables are the cords that manually connect one device to another.

Amplification

Amplification is the practice of artificially making a sound louder than the original volume of its origin.

Speakers

Speakers transmit the amplified signal to an audience. They can vary in size. Speakers can be as big as a collection of several that transmit sound out to an audience or as small as wedge monitors used by onstage performers to hear themselves.

Sound Systems & Control Systems

The main difference in sound and control systems is that sound systems primarily deal in the dispersion of sound. In contrast, control systems deal with sound and other live elements. When sound systems get complex, a control system is important to manage everything involved.

Speaker Design Software

A sound engineer who works in sound reinforcement needs to have a working knowledge of speaker design software. This software allows one to test several speaker set-ups to determine settings and enclosures. Likewise, it factors a wide variety of other elements for various situations. It takes the guesswork out of picking the right speaker set-up for a job. For this reason, it is a vital tool for those in sound reinforcement. There are many great programs on the market, including freeware.

Wireless Microphones

Wireless microphones are popular in live applications. The most common wireless microphone systems are those with a four, two or one mic set-up. With wireless microphone systems, the sound engineer needs to know what frequencies the sound is running on, the range of the mics and the number of channels they will use. The sound engineer wants to know the frequency their systems are on and if there is anything else on those frequencies. They will also want to be mindful of the range of the mics. Specifically, at what distance they begin failing to communicate successfully with the receiver.

What Do Sound Engineers Use?

This is not the same model to model so the sound engineer may use a variety of wireless mic models all at once. For example, in a live setting where the sound engineer has a large stage set-up. They have some of the musicians stay stationary on shorter range mics and have a lead singer on a longer-range mic. If they are running a large number of microphones, the sound engineer will also want to have a compatible number of channels available. Well-known microphone manufacturers such as Shure and Sennheiser are some of the big players competing in the market.

In-Ear Monitoring Systems

One of the biggest problems for artists on-stage during a performance has always been dealing with feedback from the relationship between wedge monitors, microphones and amplifiers. Because of this, monitors are necessary for those onstage to hear themselves. They must also have an understanding of what the audience is hearing. In-ear monitoring allows the artists to have an understanding of what is happening onstage and minimizes feedback.

Who Needs Monitoring Systems?

These monitoring systems first became available in the eighties and are now considered normal for many musicians. Initially, it might be just the front-person that would have such a system but it would make them feel disconnected from what the rest of the band would hear.  Now, many bands will have all members using in-ear systems. These monitoring systems are also important for the sound reinforcement team as they can communicate with all members of a group onstage, even during performances. All of the major microphone manufacturers including Shure, Sennheiser, and Audio-Technica make in-ear monitoring systems.

Want to Learn More?

Did learning about sound reinforcement interest you? The Institute of Production and Recording (IPR) Live Sound and Show Production program allows students to participate in hands-on exercises and real-world shows to apply the knowledge they have learned throughout the program.

The Associate in Applied Science in Live Sound and Show Production is a degree program designed to present sound and lighting performance enhancement through the blending of technology and aesthetic application. The live sound and show production degree program presents the fundamentals of acoustics, signal flow, color and light, basic electronics, audio, lighting and video reproduction devices. Live Sound and Show Production program students are trained to be audiovisual engineers and designers who are proficient in the creation, operation and planning of modern-day musical, theatrical, event and corporate productions.

Contact us today to learn more about starting a rewarding career in live sound and show production.