Moving Your Audio System Outdoors: One Sound Guy’s Experience

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Photo provided by theswedish

Imagine the pastor walking up to you and saying “We will be moving our church service to the public park for one weekend.”  Guess who is in charge of moving the audio system?  You are!  This very thing happened to Scott Pippen.  Read on to find out how he succeeded in accomplishing this task.

Scott chronicled his adventure on his blog.  Before you jump over to read about that adventure, please take note of a few points he makes;

Working in an outdoor venue means you are dealing with areas of unfamiliarity such as circuit breaker location and door access.  Also, you are going to be working harder as you are setting up everything from scratch.  Scott listed the following under “Things that went right.

“The pastor had keys to the bandshell.  This way we were able to open the bathrooms as well as turn on the power.  One of the most important things to me when running sound is to have access to the circuit breakers via whatever means necessary, including taping over door locks.Water jugs – it’s hot and humid, so this is a requirement.  The water jugs didn’t show up early enough for the people setting everything up, but luckily some kind soul found bottles of water for us.I brought a candy bar for my second breakfast, and I keep a bag of beef jerky in one of the rack drawers.  I know at least one other person was munching on breakfast bars.  Food is an essential thing to consider, though it’s not always necessary.”

Problems will occur and you need to be quick thinking to resolve them and you MUST learn from those events.  Scott did exactly that and in his blog, lists out all of these lessons learned.  Here is one example of just that sort of thing;

“The speakers needed to be turned out a bit more to cover where people were sitting.  Because people brought lawn chairs to sit in instead of the benches, they were outside of the benches.  Perhaps this could have been avoided had I tried to think things through the mindset of the people who were just attending the service, but I got too caught up in planning what cables needed to go where to take a step back.  This is another example of why having a team of people who are involved with the setup and capable of thinking for themselves – it was a band member who turned the top speakers out on his own initiative.  I in my sound cave didn’t notice there was a problem, because I had plenty of speakers pointed at me, but there were some parts of the audience that weren’t properly covered.”

Read about Scott’s successful adventure here.

Question(s): What have you learned when you had to move to a new location?

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  1. Frederick says

    Thanks for all the help guys!!! I’ll research what info you’ve given me and hopefully everything goes well at the picnic.

  2. says

    @SBM we do sound out side a lot VBS kids choir weddings church picnics. I have a rig set up just for outside we have in a gator bag 8 wireless and 8 1/4″ input with a dvd/cd player we use a small mix board with as few speakers and wired mics as possible. 2 powered speakers with wireless receivers are set up to receive from the transmitter on the board output so they can be set up further from the sound booth location
    I assign 2 staff to walk the speaker coverage and radio me for changes. most of our setups are 45 minutes to sound check and we do not know where the group has been given space to preform until we get there. the biggest Challenge is the weather. we pack garbage bags to cover speakers and tarps for the generator and sound board when the rain hits like last Saturday morning. when the wind is bad I pull out the wind screens for the mics and a small case that has 4 Ultragraph EQ and 8 of the main mics are sent through them to tune out the wind. your audience is moving at an outside gig so watch your cabling and set your speakers on leveling pads and in as safe a place as processable so they do not get knocked over or trip some one. I have used the screw in dog chain anchors to tie down speaker stands. every trip outside is a new adventure

  3. Cajundaddy says

    Yes outdoor services are always interesting and challenging.

    Make sure you have enough sound gear. If your typical service is in a sanctuary of 500 and you expect 3000 for an outdoor event, your sanctuary system probably won’t get it done. You can combine several compatible systems or rent what you need from a sound company. The advantage of renting is that a pro sound company probably knows what you need as they do outdoor events all the time and they often include delivery, setup and take down. Nice!

    Expect weather… hot, cold, rain, wind, hail, and lots of it so plan accordingly. Protect your people (sound crew, musicians, congregation) protect your gear, and protect yourself.

    KISS (Keep It Simple Sherlock). Don’t attempt to control everything because you can’t. Focus on controlling the “must haves” and then get out of the way so God can take care of the rest.

    Use a familiar piece of recorded music to sound check your system and walk the entire venue listening for level, eq, clarity, and balance. The sound generally improves once the venue fills with people to absorb excess reflections.

    Put the musicians in their comfort zone by making sure they have good monitor levels and balance. Playing outdoors is a pretty naked experience the first time because there is little or no reflected sound. Drummers often struggle the most. We usually put everything but drums in their monitors.

    Work with your Pastor during sound check to identify “safe” zones and “guaranteed feedback” zones. Tape the stage if needed.

    These are just a few of the tidbits we have learned over the years by doing lots of outdoor/outreach services.

  4. says

    This article is exactly what I needed today, we have a church picnic in a few days and I have to setup everything myself basically. I have a few questions because I am new at sound, I’ve been learning and doing sound for about 4 months. I know a lot though. Anyway here are my questions:

    Where do I get things to place the speakers on? (to make them level)
    I have a Mackie 24 channel mixer I’m going to use, I have a 4 cordless mic system and the rest corded. I have 4 powered speakers (Mackie Thumps) to use and an another powered speaker for the keyboard monitor.

    How should I run the lines? Do i use the cones or bright colored electrical tape. How do I prevent circuits from overloading?

    There will be maybe a few hundred people there. I have high speaker stands for the powered speakers.

  5. says

    A few more questions, I’m not sure if an additional eq will be needed for getting wind out of Mics, it shouldn’t be windy but i have a few eqs and a few de-noisers. I read a comment I should use the least amount of equipment that I can. I’d prefer not to have amps and eqs there. But whatever it takes. I have to run sound and be a dj basically so its a lot for me. Umm… We have to groves so I think i have enough equipment. Is there anything else I should be aware of going into this?

  6. says

    first to keep it simple your mac will do for the eq. if the wind is rumbling just turn out the base
    I have some 6″ x 6″ peaces of 1/2″ plywood I use to go under the legs of the speaker stand. it is fairly easy to find a spot that is flat enough to set up the speakers but the ground could give way under the legs so at least a 6″ footing

    i went to Menards lumber and bought some cheep hall way runner. I put that over my cords in high traffic area and use long nails to hold it in the dirt. the doorway mats form the church can cover traffic areas it is always best to try to run in limited traffic a row of chairs set up facing in, down the side would give you a race way under them all the way down the side.

    you are not working with a stage worship setting as usual so you can improvise into a semi-band / worship setup. a band uses lots of stage role off and worship is sound reinforcement so use guitar and keyboard amps to push the sound and your speakers to carry the vocal lead guitar and lighter instruments. I would set the 2 main speakers just in front of the stage and i set 2 about 1/3 out the distance to FOH and wide apart. many times I will use these on aux2 and feed just enough to boost the sound not real loud.

    If you can run power from 2 sources it would be better

    ((make sure your check noise ordinance.)) the wedding I am doing Sat has 75db and it can not carry more than 1/4 the distance across the lake.
    I will use a lot of speakers on low volume. the city also said a sound board can not be used as this would be professional broadcasting so I have to drive from an I pod and wireless mic to powered speakers

  7. says

    Awesome! I feel better now, I can do those things. I checked with the park and we do have a cement section to use for the stage so I think I’ll be okay with the speakers but I’m going to bring the things you mentioned just in case. Here’s my setup, I have a keyboard, an B3 Hammond organ, and drums. I have two powered speakers for my mains, an amp for the keyboard player and another powered speaker.. I was planning on using it for the drummer and organ and use those as monitors to put some vocals in. That’s all I have really though, should the singers have a monitor? Do they need one in that setting? I have a few wedges but I’d have to use amplifiers for them. Also how many mics should I use for the drummer? Kick snare and tom toms?

  8. says

    Oh and I forgot to mention how much of a help this is, I really appreciate you taking time time to give me info on this. I’m looking into the noise level deal with the park, its next Sunday so I have a little more time. One more question, is there a way to get good at hearing frequencies? Sometimes I can hear the tone of the frequency but I’m a musician so I’ll hear it and say “that’s a c, or G” but I don’t know how to find the frequency in the eq to adjust it. I have already adjusted my mains eqs, exciter, all of that stuff. But on Sunday morning (this happens in the sanctuary) I hear a really high frequency and I’m not sure where its coming from.. it hasn’t reached feedback yet but i hear it and I’m sure you would. Basically identifying frequencies is still difficult. I know to adjust the monitors or gain and things like that but that’s about it. Is there an app or device I can get to learn how?

  9. Chris says

    You can try an app like QuizTones. 

    I'd say start by looking at the instruments/vocals in the mix and cut the volume of each one at a time by just a little.  Whichever one stops that high freq that you are hearing, you've now identified it.  At this point, you can EQ it out.

  10. says

    Okay I’ll give it a go. When I’m testing by myself everything is fine but when I have the singers and band there everything changes, sound is difficult. Lol

  11. says

    I normally use 1 mic at the back of the kick and 1 over head for the drums the singers should have 1 monitor open air does not give them feed back sound they may be use to too hear themselves and the melody from the key board but only one ;) make them work a little ;)

    I do not refer other web sights too often but you could get a lot of help from Joe Gilder he has a lot of studies on equipment use and a series on EQ He is biased to studio recording but a lot of the info is universal
    Don’t forget to go back in the archive of behind the mixer too. the info in the past postings is as valuable as going to tech school for sound
    I have been doing sound sense 1966 and I still read every post on these 2 web pages
    just found out the wedding I am doing tomorrow has been moved on to an island now I need to pay attention to GFIC and cabling with in MN. electrical code in relation to water front and lakes

  12. Corey says

    I remember doing this for a church picnic before… basically, I used a mini mixer, 1 amp from the main system, cd player(optional), 2 speakers, and my computer…oh yeah, and course a mic, 2 wireless that is… and it worked out great!!…

  13. says

    the new layout of behind the mixer will make it easier to research tech info.
    smallest things out doors can screw you up. I put a track light by the bridge so when the wedding was over people could see to get off the island. the people moved their chairs closer to the track light and away from my sound and light focal point by at least 25. every thing wrapped up by 10pm and we had a down pour of rain at 10:30. the groom was suppose to get us tare down staff but he was so busy chasing the white dress he forgot so I have wet equipment. moral of the story :( your the sound guy in charge make sure your covered. I normally have my own staff but tonight I took only 1 helper

  14. Cajundaddy says

    For EQ adjustments I keep a chart like this in the sound booth:

    It is a useful tool to quickly identify difficult frequencies and adjust them. Over time the chart helps you translate tones into Hz and learn the instruments and their trouble spots.

  15. Cajundaddy says

    There are several charts available on the internet that translate musical notes on a piano to Hz and also give ranges for common instruments. This is a valuable EQ teaching tool I keep pasted in our sound booth.