Equipment Setup and Sound Checks By: Ken Heath

April 8, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

When setting up your Equipment, there are certain things you must consider. We will try to address the basics; remember everyone’s needs and expectations will vary. First of all, if this is to be a “mobile” set-up then you will want to consider what type of console will work best for you. There are many different sizes and styles available already built or you can build your own to suit your needs.Section One

Cases – It cannot be emphasized enough…you need to protect your equipment in cases. There are two main advantages of cases. First, the life span of your equipment will be doubled when it is protected by a case. Second, the appearance of your system will be much more professional if everything is housed inside a case covered with black or gray carpet. (See the article on Equipment Components for more information on creative casing ideas.)

Basic System Design – The Coffin System

The advantage to having your equipment in a console (or coffin) is that almost everything stays wired up, the individual pieces of equipment are protected during transport and your set looks more professional. The important things to consider when choosing or designing a console are:

Accessibility of controls
Layout of equipment
Portability
Looks
Accessibility of Controls:

It is very important that you can not only reach all the controls of your system, but that you are able to easily SEE all the controls as well. If you are tall, a console that slants the equipment upward will make it easier to see the displays and controls, if you are short, your console should probably be one designed to sit on a table or stand of some sort. This way you can adjust the height by selecting something suitable to set it on. Your console should only be as wide as your reach; you shouldn’t have to step around to reach your equipment.

Layout of Equipment:

Equipment should be laid out in a logical manner. In discussing layout designs we learned that we both prefer to have our components arranged side to side and top to bottom. We break it down like this:

Source Equipment:

CD, MD, Cassette, Turntable, Microphone, etc., should be in the top or upper area of your console. These are the types of equipment that get used the most often and should be easiest to access.

Control Equipment:

Mixer, Controllers, etc., should be mounted in the upper area of the console but at waist height, so your hands will naturally rest on the controls

Processing and Output Equipment:

Equalizers, Effects Processors, Amplifiers, don’t normally get adjusted after they are set properly, so they can be mounted in the lower areas of a console or even a separate rack.

Portability:

Generally speaking, you want to be able to move your equipment all at once, including your music, to reduce the opportunities for thieves to access your gear. This can make your console very heavy.

If you have the convenience of a helping hand (Assistant DJ, Roadie, etc.), it’s easily possible for you to move everything at once. If, however, you need to accomplish this yourself, you may very well be stuck.

Some thought must be given to how this console will be moved and carried. Having wheels on your console is a big help, or at least having a wheeled device that your console can set upon for transport.

Looks:

A console will help you to project a Professional look. Most cases are covered in a short, dense Grey or Black carpeting-type material that is very easy to care for and will maintain it’s good looks for many years. If your console has an open back, (which is good for repair access, and ventilation), you can use a drape or curtain to cover this area during gigs. Plus, this gives you the added benefit of hiding your feet and whatever else you put under your console.

Basic System Design – Side To Side Component System

The side to side system allows you to reduce the size and weight of your components into two or three smaller and lighter cases. If you typically do not have help, or routinely have to carry your equipment up large flights of stairs, this system may be more desirable than the coffin system.

As stated before, your equipment shouldn’t be any further apart than your reach. Usually the sources are divided into 1 & 2 or R & L, so they correspond to the basic location of the sliders on your mixer. This aids in the quick acquisition of control functions while working once you get used to your layout.

With your Equipment mounted in a console, your Set-Up/Tear-Down time is greatly reduced. You can roll everything in, lay out and hook up your speaker cables, run your power cord to your source, and be into your sound checks in a very short time.

Section Two

Wiring Basics:

Wiring will be the next section we cover. Knowing how to wire your own system is very important and can help you diagnose and sometimes fix problems that can occur at a gig. We will cover these basic areas:

Electrical
Line/Phono/Mic Level Signals
Amp Output/Speaker Level Signal
Electrical:

Your Electrical Power Source is extremely important. If there is not enough power you risk at least blowing the breaker and at worst, frying your amplifier. Your power requirements can be figured using this formula:

Watts divided by Volts = Amps

A standard commercial 120V, 20A wall outlet will supply 2400 w of power. (Volts x Amps = Watts)

Note: Residential electric outlets are typically rated at 15 amps.

Now look on the back of all your equipment and there should be a rating of how much power (in watts) each particular piece uses, (not Output Power…as in an Amplifier, but Power Consumption). Add all these numbers together and use the formula outlined above. This will tell you how many 20Amp circuits you need to safely run your show.

A Power Conditioner is a very good idea. Units such as those made by Furhman and many other companies will keep nasty peaks and dips from damaging your system. Even though an outlet is rated at 120V, 20A, that doesn’t mean that it is a steady and constant source. The actual power available can fluctuate enough to cause some problems, and a Power Conditioner helps to level out the power being fed to your system.

Line/Phono/Mic Level Signals:

Line Level Signal:

These are the High Level signals that your amplifier will turn into Speaker Level Signal in the next section. Line Level signal is approximately 245mV (millivolts), and is produced by your source components, such as CD, MD, Cassette, CD+G, VCR, etc. Line Level is the actual sound that you will eventually hear. The Line Level signal is usually routed through your Mixer. The Mixer is an infinitely variable Pre-Amplification device that allows you to control the amount of each source component signal that will ultimately be fed to your amplifier.

Line Level signals are very sensitive to RFI (Radio Frequency Interference), and must be routed through shielded cables to avoid this interference.

Phono Level Signal:

These are the Low Level signals produced by your Turntable and are approximately 10microwatts. These signals are extremely sensitive to RFI so you must use shielded cables. The shielded cables must be fed into special inputs on your Mixer. This will allow the turntable to be pre-amplified enough to match the Line Level signal at the outputs of your mixer and be fed down the chain to your amplifier.

Microphone Level Signal:

This is the signal that is your voice. These signals are Low Level, approximately 10 millionth of a watt and very sensitive to all sorts of electrical noises. Shielded and Balanced cables are recommended. Balanced cables for Mics usually use the common XLR (3-pin) type connector. They are considered to be “balanced” due to having 2 conductors for the signal and also a shield of interwoven wire that is connected to pin 1, thereby making a solid shield no matter how many cables you link together. Standard shielded cables have 1 conductor for the “hot” signal and utilize the shielding weave as the “common” conductor.

Amplifier Output Signal or Speaker Level:

This is the signal that is sent from your Power Amp to your Speakers. Mostly it is expressed as Watts Per Channel, but that can be misleading. Your Amplifier spends far more of its working time functioning at way below it’s rated maximum output power.

Depending on the signal level voltage your pre-amp or mixer is sending out at any given moment, your Power Amplifier may only be producing a fraction of it’s rated maximum output. This is only the first half of the story, you must also consider the Load Impedance placed on the Power Amp outputs…your Speakers. To break this down to it’s simplest terms, Speakers are rated as a 2ohm, 4ohm, 8ohm or 16ohm load. You’ll notice this load rating doubles as it increases. This will make a BIG difference to your Power Amp’s Health and Happiness. Most Power Amps will operate safely with a 4 to 8 ohm load per channel, although the smaller the load impedance, the higher the Maximum Power Output in Watts and the more heat generated by your Power Amp.

A simple way to think of this is in terms of liquid flow: The lower the Load Impedance, the more output wattage is allowed to flow from the Power Amp. The higher the Load Impedance, the more that flow is restricted. You can go too high as well as too low for the safe operation of your Power Amp. NEVER run your Power Amp without a load. Anytime it is powered up, you MUST have a load of some sort attached (Speakers have to be plugged in).

Follow up:

Wiring your System together is like building with blocks. Everything must go in a certain order for it to work properly. Follow the Music through the system and you’ll know how everything should be put together. First you have the Source Components (CD, MD, LP, Cassette, etc.) the output from these is directed into separate input channels of your Pre-Amp/Mixer for level control processing. The output signal from your Mixer is then directed through either your Signal Processing equipment, (Equalizer, Aural Exciter, Reverb/Special Effects, Electronic Crossover, etc.), or directly to your Power Amp., and then ultimately to your Speakers.

When plugging it all in, remember…Outputs go to Inputs and Inputs go to Outputs. Sometimes the identifying markings on the hookups can be confusing. Thinking about it this way can help reduce the confusion.

Section Three

The Real Work:

In this section we will cover how to get your system set-up, working, and sound checked at the gig.

Safety and Security
Load-In
Set-Up
Sound Check
Load out
Precautions for Playing Outdoors
Condensation Problems
Tear-Down/Clean-Up
Safety and Security:

The Safety of everyone involved is something to be considered. Do not lift more than you can safely carry. Get help, use a cart or a hand-truck. Do not stack things so high or wide that moving them presents a danger to yourself or others.

The Security of your equipment is the security of your livelihood. NEVER leave sight of your vehicle without locking it. Never leave your equipment and supplies unsecured in hallways, loading docks, or lobbies…ESPECIALLY YOUR MUSIC! Everybody wants a CD/MD/LP collection just like yours! But, nobody wants to pay the price you did. Why should you give somebody a great music library for free? If you are worried about the Load-in/Load-out, request that on site Security Personnel be available to watch you unload and load your equipment, especially late at night in unfamiliar areas. We carry Thousands of Dollars worth of equipment that looks very inviting to crooks, BUT CAN ALL BE REPLACED. If you are injured or killed while being robbed, you are irreplaceable.

Load-In:

First and Foremost, Arrive On Time!!

It seems like a trivial thing to emphasize, but our experience has shown that a high percentage of the time that equipment problems arise, the disc jockey was late in arriving at the event and had to rush setting up. Arriving at least one hour prior to the event is a quality control measure. You should arrive far enough in advance of the contracted time to allow you to be completely set up and have a thorough sound check completed a minimum of 30 to 40 minutes prior to the contracted time. This, of course, will depend on the size of your sound system, access to the area you are to set up and the number of helpers you have available.

The Load-In should be done early enough to allow ample time for all phases to be accomplished prior to the Guests arrival. If you are unfamiliar with the venue you are playing, always allow enough time for unforeseen difficulties, such as stairs, limited access, locating electrical sources, etc.

Once you have all your equipment and supplies moved into the proper area, it’s time for Set-Up.

For new Disc Jockeys, it is suggested that you arrive even earlier than this. The extra time will allow you to review the music lists provided by the customer as well as time to mentally prepare yourself to do a good job!

Set-Up:

Place your equipment in the locations where it will be for that event, keeping in mind traffic patterns of the room and your access/egress in case of emergency. We usually try to center our console’s on the edge of the Dancefloor, unless something else is there, (like the Head Table at a Wedding).

If your equipment is in more than one console/rack, wire these sections together first. Next, lay out your speaker cables, keeping in mind traffic patterns, and plug them into your speakers.

Speaker stands are used for most mobile DJ applications, since they elevate the sound, and evenly disperse the sound throughout the room. Make sure that your speaker stands are located to minimize the tripping hazard from the legs.

Tidy Up!

Your finished set-up reflects on your image and the perception that everyone will have about you as a professional disc jockey and entertainer. It is imperative that you make every effort to conceal all wires, cables and electrical cords. This means that you should never have speaker wires or extension cords hanging from the front side of the table (if you use a table). The “guts” of the system should never be seen by the guests.

Duct Tape: Check with the management BEFORE you tape anything down, some places do not allow tape on their carpets and floors, others will only allow certain types of tape. Always ask first.

After you have permission, tape down your cables so as to keep anyone from tripping over them. Things should be done in this order; electrical cords = from the wall to the console with the extra coiled up at the console. Speaker Cables = from the console to the speaker with the extra coiled up at the speaker. The reason for leaving the extra at the point of termination is for adjustment. If you have to move a speaker later in the event, you will have some cable available to do so and won’t have to re-apply the tape for safety.

When using duct tape for speaker cables and other wires, tape it crossways, rather than with the length of the cable. You should tape the cable every 8 to 10 inches. Taping with the length of the cable can make it next to impossible to remove the tape after the show (especially if the tape sticks together!

Sound Check

Your Sound Check is an integral part of your set-up process. This is where you make sure everything is functional and ready to go. Before you jump right in to your Sound Check, you should check with the management and let them know you are going to perform this test, because it can get loud. Assure them that this is only to check for problems and won’t last long.

Before turning components on, make sure that the volume controls on the amp are turned down. The main electrical connections should be done last to avoid anything getting powered before it should be. Run your electrical cable(s) to your source(s) and connect.

When Powering Up your individual equipment, you should start at the beginning of the sound chain and work your way forward; Source equipment first, then the Mixer, the Processing equipment and finally, (with the speakers connected) the Power Amplifier. Powering-Down is exactly the opposite, shut down the Power Amp first, then the other gear. This will help you avoid undue stress on your components from “turn-on thumps”, that loud “Whump!” sound you get if you do things out of order.

After this, make sure that all switches and controls on the mixer are in the appropriate position:

• Equalizer switch is activated

• Master volume is up in the appropriate position

• Equalizer tone controls are in the appropriate position

• All input switches are set to accept the signal from the CD players and other playback devices you use, as well as the switch for the microphone

• Make sure that the “talkover” switch for the microphone is turned off

• Any “Assign” knobs should be in the appropriate position (off, if you don’t use crossfaders)

• The headset control is set to the “cue” position

• The stereo/mono switch is in the stereo position

• The bass and treble controls for the mic are both set at approximately.

The first thing that you should check is the microphone. The microphone has a mono output, and a signal will be automatically delivered to both the left and right channels of the mixer. It is desirable to start your equipment check with the mic first because you can firmly establish if you have a good signal from the mixer to the amp, and from the amp to the speakers. If one speaker does not work in the initial mic check, then you know that the problem is somewhere between the mixer and the speakers. If you started the equipment check with a CD Player, then your CD player or the connector cord between the player and mixer can add to the possibilities of where your problem is located. Starting your sound check with the mic reduces the number of places to check for a problem.

Your sound check should start by checking each channel on the amplifier separately. Turn channel A up, and channel B down. Do a sound test with the mic, then switch and check channel B on the amp. Once you have confirmed a complete sound check in both channels, you can be sure that everything from the mixer to the speakers works fine.

Your main objective at this point is to make sure that all cassette decks, mini-disk players and CD players work in both the left and right speakers. The time to find any problems with the equipment is prior to the contracted starting time. This means you need to play all of the components to ensure a good, clear sound is coming from both speakers.

Choose music for your test that you know well and preferably consists of some acoustic instrumentation, (Piano, Drums and Upright Bass are good, try the song “Kissing a Fool” by George Michael) and also some music that is representative of what you’ll be playing at that event. Play this test music at a higher level than normal and walk around the room. Listen for any echoes, harshness or “dead spots”, try replacing the speakers to a slightly different location, and walk it again.

You need to play something from and through each piece of gear you’ve got, even if you don’t think you’ll use it at this event. Speak into your Microphone(s), turn on the lights, etc. Do you have extra batteries for your wireless?

If no guests have arrived yet, you should make a thorough check of all components through the speakers. A more discreet approach is in order if the guests are already present, especially at banquets where people are already eating, or where there are awards or presentations going on. Point the speakers toward the DJ table (not toward the guests) and tap the mic, first through the right channel, then through the left channel. This tells you that your mixer and amp are working properly. Now, play all components through the headset, to ensure that all of the components are at least sending a signal to the mixer. Once you start playing, you should double check each of the components by checking to be sure you have sound to both speakers. The object is to make sure that everything is working properly, without disrupting the guests when you check the equipment out.

It is important that you have a full equipment check of all components complete at least thirty minutes prior to the contracted time!

Precautions for Playing at Outdoor Locations

If playing outside, make sure that sun, rain, etc do not affect you and all your equipment. Your company contract should clearly state that the customer is responsible for providing shelter from the sun and the rain. Do not set up in an unsheltered area when the heat and sun can damage your equipment!! If you are playing at someone’s home and there is no place to set up under cover, then consider setting up inside the house, and place the speakers outside. This is undesirable from an interactive standpoint, but merely an option, depending on the type of event.

Keep in mind the type of materials used for constructing the “equipment”. Plastic is used in much of the equipment we use. Do not make the mistake of underestimating the effects of sunlight on your CD Library. CD’s will melt if left in direct sunlight for long periods of time. This has proven to be the case on more than one occasion where the DJ brought back CD’s that the tops of the disc had melted.

Most importantly, communicate with your client in advance, and explain what your needs are. In most cases, some accommodations can be made to protect your equipment from the elements.

In those unusual cases where there are no options to keep your equipment out of direct sunlight, consider purchasing a canopy for your equipment and charging an additional fee to the client!

Condensation Problems

While playing outside on hot, humid days, you will probably encounter severe condensation on the equipment. Be certain to allow extra time when you are playing outside during these weather conditions. Condensation is caused by a sudden, drastic temperature change, such as when you take a component out of an air-conditioned car and place it outside on a hot, humid day (usually a 20 to 30 degree difference). It is important to note that condensation is not just formed on the outside of the components……it has also formed on the inside!!! This presents a problem in operating the CD players. CD players will simply not operate until the moisture formed on the inside of the unit evaporates. This is due to condensation forming on the laser pick-up device. More than one DJ has had the occasion to set up their equipment on a hot, humid day, only to find that the CD players would not work for an hour until the unit dried out.

The best way to avoid condensation is to avoid a sudden, drastic temperature change. This means that you cannot let your equipment get cold when it is hot and humid outside!!! We suggest that you gradually cut back on the air conditioning temperature in your vehicle until you eventually turn the air conditioning off, just prior to arriving to the event location. Your vehicle will then gradually warm up to the same outside air temperature. This may not be very comfortable, but it is much better than not being able to start the music on time!! It is important to monitor the temperature with the equipment inside the car. Do not melt the equipment!!!

Tear-Down/Clean-Up

Tear-Down goes just the opposite of Set-Up. First you Power-Down your equipment starting from the Power Amp and working your way through to the Sources. Then Un-tape your cables, paying careful attention to get all the tape goo off your cables and the floor. Unplug the Power cable(s), unplug the speaker cables; put them all away properly. Pack up your music and you’re ready to look around the area checking to make sure nothing has been left behind. (I once found the B&G’s Wedding Certificate left on a table after everyone was gone; they were very happy when I returned it!-Ken). Once you are certain that everything is together and your area is clean, then proceed to getting your equipment moved out to your vehicle.

Load-Out:

Remembering your safety and security measures. Get your equipment back to your vehicle and load up for the trip home. Once you are loaded and ready, lock your vehicle, go back inside and thank the manager and his staff. You may be the first DJ/Entertainer to ever do this at that facility and how good does that make YOU look?

In Closing, remember to always be safe and thorough. Following a set pattern will ensure that you, your staff and your equipment will be around for many shows to come.

[music swells, super-impose “The End “, fade to black]

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


Filed Under: Sound