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Discussion Starter #1
A relatively new Big Band that I am in is about to purchase a sound system, sound stands, vocal mikes, wireless instrument mikes, control system, etc. of which I know absolutely nothing.

I would appreciate any advice you can offer, brands, costs, capaciity, portability, etc., anything you can suggest so that I can offer some worthwhile advice.

Thanks
 

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Personally, I would focus on a system that is used for vocals and solos. Bleed in a little piano, guitar and bass if needed. In a larger room, I like to put in a little bit of snare and bass drum as well just to get a nice rhythm section mix and put a little effect on the snare) Keep any players on the stage with amps (piano, guitar, bass) at a very low volume (monitor volume only) to allow the sound of your horns to shine. You will need a monitor for the vocalist and it is also nice to have a little monitor feed for the soloist as well.
I can do this with three NX20 Yorkville speakers (two on stands for the front and one on the floor for a monitor). I power it with a Yorkville 810 amp (800 watts, 400 a side). This system should do a small to medium sized room (up to 200 people or so). Bass is always my nemisis. It takes a larger system to project it well (15" speakers usually) and when it is too loud on stage it forces the drummer and everyone else to play too loud. I work out the rhythm section first to get a volume the rest of the band can deal with. Understand this is an "old school" setup to focuses on letting the acoustic sound of the big band cut through. If you plan to mike everything and have a "punchy" and loud sound (a more "modern" mix perhaps?) then you will need much more p.a. than I have suggested. Outdoors is also a different p.a. picture really...
It's always nice to travel light when you can. The system I have suggested is reasonably priced (Talk to Bill Herault at Soundpro in Peterborough. He can suggest the most up to date version of this for you). The great thing is that it sounds great and is light (can fit into a trunk easily).
 

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Running the vocals, solo horn mics and keys into the system is not bad...assuming the person mixing the band knows what a big band is supposed to sound like.

Most bands would do better by hiring a competent sound tech with their own gear when the gig warrants it.
 

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Merlin hit it. Vocalists and electronic instruments and some instrumental soloists need monitors. Depending on the setup, the drummer also needs soloists, keys, bass, and vocalists in a monitor.
 

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What type / size of venues will you play? A system for a 100 person room will be much different than what you need for 500 or more. My Corp band deals with both and more. We use a ton of floor monitors either way but our side- fills become the mains in small rooms. We have bass bins with separate full range cabs for large rooms and will only use the full range cabs in mid-sized venues. Any room that seats 300-1000 causes us to bring out the whole tamale. Bigger than that and we suggest using a sound reinforcement company to provide the PA.

In a nutshell, your monitors and stage gear should sound just like you want the band to sound before you even turn on the mains.

For most small to mid-sized rooms this will mean you only need vox, acoustic pianos, and possibly reeds in the monitors. We do three mixes. First we have the stage mix minus monitors and have everyone set levels that allow everyone to hear each other; second we bring vocals into the mix and creep a bit of stage left and right into the opposite side-fill monitors. Finally we bring up the mains and create a mix for the audience. The key here is to keep stage levels as low as possible and still allow yourselves to be heard over the guitars and drums. The ability to create at least two separate monitor mixes is a big plus - then you can do things like vox only up front and put additional elements like bass and drums in the back line monitors. We like wedges for vox only and use a pair of full range 15's with horns, pole mounted as side-fills with a full mix facing the band. Careful panning in the side-fills essentially gives you three separate monitor mixes from only a pair of feeds this way. It's early after a late gig last night so I hope some of this made sense.
 

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The days for me lugging around a pa system are long gone! It's just a big waste of my time and energy and not to mention the headaches I can do without.

Financially it's much better anyway for me to hire a sound tech on smaller club performances or a sound company for larger venues, and it's a expense deduction along with all your others from your gross income for the year or your quarterlies.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Lots of good advice here. Thank you all.

Keith
 

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What kind of music are you playing? How big are the rooms? Are you going to be doing any kind of modern, or electric type stuff (like the swing rock stuff from the 90's or 70's style jazz-funk)?

And the biggest question of all, how many times per month are you going to be playing/using the PA system? If you are playing two or three (or more) shows per week, then you can probably justify spending $10,000 on a PA system. But if you are only playing every other Tuesday night at the Veterans Hall, or Elks Lodge, then that's an awful big investment for so few shows.

Either way, the best option would be to find a sound or production company and cultivate a relationship with them so that they supply the gear and competent technicians to set up and run the system for you.

If you really insist on buying your own gear, check out this spread sheet that a friend of mine put together, which outlines a basic budget PA system, with powered speakers and a small digital mixer:

Quick and Dirty Bar Rig (Courtesy of Bennett Prescott)
 
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