I spent a lot of time in smaller clubs with crowded stages and audience sizes varying from handfuls to standing room only capacity. The challenges come from each of them and have different resolutions. In some ways, I think the large clubs and outdoor events are the easiest to set up and run sound for. If it is a big stage or large arena, you turn everything up so it is in the main mix or no one will hear it. The smaller clubs you don’t necessarily put a microphone on every instrument. You cannot out-power a guitar player with a stack of cabinets. You might not be able to set up independent or multiple Monitor Mixes (stage mix for performers) and many times you have to share monitors (the cabinets or speakers themselves in this case…) between performers with various needs. Add keyboard player(s) or a horn section and it quickly over burdens the PA or sound system.
Setting up the stage with a few solutions in mind can help in each of these situations. In smaller clubs you might not have many options for the arrangement of musicians on stage. Some restraints may be obvious at first. Some will catch you off guard. Knowing what you are up against though can trigger steps to prevent problems.
These are basic but can avoid a lot of small-headache issues:
Place snake closest to center of stage if that is closest to where instruments/vocalists are positioned. Shorter cables are better if they allow performers needed mobility.
Make sure you know where the AC power outlets are. It is a drag to set everything up and not be able to plug in your power amps. (I also recommend bringing long heavy-duty extension cords for versatility)
Try to plug all stage instruments and PA gear along with the mixing board and external sound gear to the same AC breaker box.
Try to plug all lighting or other powered systems to a separate AC breaker box. (If it does not connect to the mixing board to make noise; plug it into another breaker box)
Use balanced (three wire cables) whenever possible. (I have been caught by 1/4″ audio jacks without locks getting knocked out in the middle of a gig more than once and hate anything that does not lock into position. rant now over)
Keep stage volume as low as possible (this is a couple posts all by itself!)
Consider cross-firing stage instrument amps like guitars and bass – rather than pointing at audience.
Make sure sound board is in the best sounding location and also close enough to the stage to connect snake and all gear – especially if you have to route the snake around the outside of the event area for safety or other reasons.
Cables are the first thing to go wrong even when properly handled and maintained. Bring a lot of SPARES.
Turn all power amps (including ones that are built into the speakers OFF or all the way DOWN when connecting or disconnecting gear. (there are shortcuts and general exception practices we will detail later).
Turn all recording gear OFF or down all the way until all devices and channels are connected and tested.
Make sure speaker cables (Mains and Monitors) are long enough to reach the power amps. I bring two long length sets of speaker cables and two short length sets (no matter how many total speakers I have, I will have two full sets….). If one side of the stage is where the power amps are, I use the short cable and the other one might require the longer cable. Sometimes you need both long cables. If I need a spare, I have two!
Drum risers could need low end cuts and even gates to reduce unwanted tones and resonances.
Color Code anything you can. Cables, Mic stands, Monitors, In-Put Channel labels or External gear/boxes. Make it easy to identify in low light. Green microphone goes with green cable goes to green snake plugs into green channel….. I also add a number to make larger sessions manageable. Vocal green 1, 2, 3…. Drum blue 1, 2, 3….. Brass white 1, 2, 3……
Not rocket science, just some thoughts. But if you get in the habit of considering these and other tips each time before you start hauling in equipment into a new venue, your set-ups will become quick and routine, even if the environment is new. If you keep all your gear in one place there are short cut power-up and power-down sequences I will detail soon.