HELP putting together high-end sound system

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by alexanderc, Nov 15, 2009.

  1. alexanderc

    alexanderc Guest


    I am in a bit of a bind and hoping I can get some help here. I am in charge of putting together a near-professional level show choir that will tour regularly. I was given two days to come up with a proposed budget (which I must present tomorrow morning). I have spoken to a number of audio retailers, but no one is able to get me a quote in time.

    My organization currently has almost no audio equipment. When I have done this in the past I had a technical crew who knew what equipment we needed and took care of that end of things.

    Here's what I need help with: I need to know GENERALLY what equipment I need and how much it will cost (if someone wants to recommend brands or models, that would be great, but not necessary for now). For example, I know I'll need a bunch of cordless, headworn mics. I'm looking for someone to say, "good quality mics with transmitters and receivers will cost about $1000 each," or something like that.

    The performing ensemble will consist of 16-20 singer/dancers, and a band of 6-10 members (including trap set, guitar, bass, keyboard and several horns).

    I know I'll need the afore mentioned headworn wireless mics. I'll also need mics for the band (wireless?), monitors, speakers, a mixing board that will handle a minimum of 32 inputs, all the cords, stands, cases, etc and probably other things I'm leaving out in my ignorance. I'm only doing audio for now (no lighting, etc.).

    I plan to present my proposal like this:

    Wireless Mics and accessories (number and cost per)
    Speakers (number and cost per)
    Sound board
    other equipment (total cost)
    (other as recommended by this forum)

    If anyone here can help me with this I would be most grateful. I am going to start out by asking for the moon so feel free to recommend the highest quality equipment--whatever will do the job with the fewest hassles and problems.

    Many thanks!
  2. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    Wow! You are not even close to having enough info to give even a ballpark quote. Size of venues? Pit or stage band? In ear or wedge monitors? How is it going to be moved? Air, truck? What kind of crew do you plan to hire?

    Bottom line, "near professional" doesn't mean much. A touring Broadway production will have a seven figure budget for sound and lights. How "near" are we talking here?
  3. alexanderc

    alexanderc Guest

    Thanks for your helpful questions.

    I'm not going to have seven figures, but I have been given no budget whatsoever. I'm expecting (guessing) to start with audio equipment costs in the 75k-$150k range, though the "powers-that-be" might rein me in significantly.

    Probably the band will be on stage--either in the back or off to the side.

    In-ear monitors might be stretching things a bit, but a quote that includes both in-ear and wedges might be good.

    Venues could be any size from a 2000 seat auditorium to a 250 seat theater to a hotel ballroom. We may have the occasional outdoor show.

    I'll be using a trailer to move the equipment. Members of the ensemble will help move and set-up equipment.

    I'm planning to have at least one tech. In the past, I've had one sound designer and a sort of "do everything" guy plus myself, but that was not a touring group and we had several days to set-up and trouble-shoot before a show (I also had other people to do lights and set). No one is hired at the moment for this endeavor.

    I hope this gives you a better idea of what I'm going for.
  4. Codemonkey

    Codemonkey Well-Known Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Scotland, UK
    I can't give you figures, because (1) I'm in the UK (2) I buy gear which is so low end it's almost falling off the ladder (3) I have no idea; ...but I can give you gear types.

    Your speaker quote will probably involve amplifiers as well. Normally it's one amplifier channel (most are 2-channel) per speaker. You can sometimes put 2 on one, but it's not always advisable.
    I guess you'll also want some 31-band EQ units and possibly some delay processing - you'll need it if your speakers are far away (more than 5m will be noticable in small venues*) from the stage.

    * in a small (say, 150 seat) venue, because the speakers won't be generating all of the noise, you'll get an audible "echo" which could make it hard to hear what's going on in the front few rows. Large venues are OK because the speakers will be generating more of the noise.

    Wireless mics - headworn need to be wireless, obviously. But if you have instrument mics etc. then they're better to be wired if possible - it's unlikely a drummer is going move the entire kit and pull a mic stand over. A horn player, maybe. You know how wild they get...

    Also, I don't know how hard it'll be to get hold of nearly 20 usable wireless mic frequencies to use. Which is why *some* mics being wired will help.

    Multicore/snake long enough to run from stage to the mix desk - you'll need to know how many channels you need first. It's probably better to have the wireless mic receivers on stage especially if you have to be very far away/will have poor sight lines. So count 1 snake channel for each of those - as well as 1 mixer channel.
    Also count 1 return for each discrete speaker output - you can have many speakers with the same signal (such as wedges for a choir) so you only need 1 return.

    I'd hope that auditoriums would have a suitably loud house system which you could plug into instead of doubling up on speaker counts for no reason.

    Oh, and the general advice is to tack on 10-15% to the equipment cost in order to cover cabling, batteries for the wireless mics, electrical tape, coffee...
  5. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    I'm already concerned about the 'powers-that-be' grasp of reality. They're asking a lot to provide a well-thought out professional proposal in 2 days. Even a bit of a rush for a half-baked rundown of everything such an act would need.

    Style of music?
    Time-frame to launch?
    Elaborate show?
    Acoustic or electronic drums?
    Backline amps for band?
    Ever used a digital console?
    Time constraints for set-up / tear-down?
    Level of electrical expertise? (does this need to run from 110v or is 220v an option?)

    Can you PM me your location, so we can establish some shipping parameters?
  6. alexanderc

    alexanderc Guest

    You're right that the admins don't know what it takes to do this.

    The style of music is going to be variable. Anything from 50's rock and roll to current hip-hop styles.

    I'm being asked to be ready to start rehearsal in January (first show potentially in February or March?). I think that's insane, but I don't have much say. I'm hoping I can convince them to start next September.

    I would like it to be fairly elaborate. In the past I've been limited by the performance space. I imagine touring would be even more limiting.

    Electronic drums--interesting. What would you recommend?

    If I need backline amps--I need someone to tell me what I need.

    I have not used a digital console, but I am not opposed to learning.

    Time constraints are going to be tough. I imagine I'll have small windows for this (in the 2-4 hour range). I've done that once and I never thought we'd make it.

    I have little electrical expertise. To be honest, we'll be doing these shows in community theaters and school auditoriums, so we'll have to tap into what they already have.

    I would prefer NOT to use sound systems in these locations because we will have practiced with our own and I won't have much time to mess around.

    I don't mind telling you I'm in Texas.
  7. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    Well, things are BIGGER in Texas including problems......

    You are apparently in the business of biting off more than you can chew. I dont mean to sound harsh but you'd be much better off hiring the sound at each venue location or hiring a small touring setup which would also include lights and techs.

    Having all that gear, AND a complicated setup as well, without a lot of experience with the inevitable foilbles and breakdowns that WILL occur is asking for a lot of hair-pulling moments. No matter how much you try and plan for this, you cant cover all the bases until you been all the places.

    The cabeling logistics alone are scary enough and top it off with sensitive electronic gear and unknown power supplys in vastly different locations on a regular basis and we're talking disaster with a schedule.

    Hire it out for six months. Be the best second an engineer has ever had. Learn what you'll need by watching and asking and helping.

    THIS is Sound College 101.

    Of course you can assemble a pile of gear that will work for the first three shows.....maybe.

    A touring sound company will be effectively be self-contained and able to deal with the differing environments in ways that cant really be totally fleshed out without having 'been there, done that'.
  8. alexanderc

    alexanderc Guest

    I agree with you 100%. Please don't think that doing this is my idea or that I think it will go well. I have been given this task and I will do it or suffer the consequences.
  9. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Dec 10, 2001
    Pacific NW
    If that is the case and they(the 'powers that be') need a quote for the budget then you need to contact the many excellent sound companies in your area, describe your needs and get a quote. There are a LOT of major contractors in Texas. One reason is the central location in the states.

    If you do assemble a bunch of gear that will cover what you have already described it is a lock that there will be consequences. I have never known these situations not to have a screw-up even with the best gear best planning and best crew on board. It is Murphy and his law that rules the roost.

    Showtime should always be ONTIME and restless patrons in their seats isnt condusive to having them be your best supporters simply by explaining the technical difficulties that have arisen.
  10. alexanderc

    alexanderc Guest

    Thanks for the advice everyone.

    It looks as though the budget will be approved and this will go forward. As such, I'm sure I'll be calling on your wisdom and experience again before long.
  11. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    Jun 23, 2003
    I'd go a little bit different route - don't reinvent the wheel. Here in Wisconsin (oh, by the way - Dallas lost yesterday) there is a group connected with UW-Madison called the Wisconsin Singers that do what you're describing. I know they're are groups like this at Indiana and a number of other universities.

    Check out their websites for a contact and ask people who are already doing what you describe and how they handle it.

    The job is big, but others have gone before you.

  12. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Dec 18, 2008
    Western Pennsylvania, USA
    This puts me in a bit of a bind as well. I'm not trying to solicit work here, but this is a slow pitch right in my wheelhouse. I'm very familiar with the kind of set-up you're looking for. I believe this is do-able on a scale you could afford to own, if your budget estimates hold water. Set-up wouldn't have to be a nightmare at all. But to work out all the kinks and even vague details by tomorrow is insanity.

    Rental vs. purchase would depend on what your collective aspirations are the day after this 'tour' is over. Obviously if this is a one-and-done scenario renting may well be your best bet. There are a number of rental houses that specialize in mid-level tours that you should consider. Rental is far from headache-free, but at least the tech-issues aren't your problem. Renting for the duration of the tour would be ok, but hiring out at each venue, sounds like a living hell to me.

    If you buy equipment and don't beat the crap out of it, you will have something that has retained value beyond the last performance - which you can then use for the next tour, or sell it off to recover a healthy percentage of the initial cost.

    It takes a lot of work to put together a turnkey system comparable to the mid-level touring acts I see coming through. You need something that is portable and very clean and powerful - but still adaptable to any shape of size venue you might encounter. Your high number of $150k is probably fairly realistic if you really want to do things up right, but some corners could be cut if the budget isn't there. I'd recommend at least a 40-channel console. With 20 wireless mics + a band, 32 seems like a very low channel count. (electronic drums could cut that down some - but please don't even bother looking at the low end e-drums) I would want more details on the instrumentation of the band. Based solely on first impressions, it doesn't sound like you would be the kind of show that would need an opening act, but if that were ever a possibility - you will really need to re-think the channel count (of the mixer AND the snake)

    You could make a strong case for using a digital mixer, but ultimately you will have to decide A) will the performance be consistent enough to warrant programmable scenes? B) would you benefit from being able to quickly shift between genres and personnel changes? C) are you prepared to get into the "menu-driven" "one-task-at-a-time" methodology of digital to make fine adjustments?
    Set-up for a digital show is a little more intensive on the front-end, but once you've programmed the necessary scenes you should be able to hit the ground running at just about any venue.

    Ideally in your application, I'd love to see the musicians go in-ear so you have total control of the FOH volume. Get them pro-quality custom moulded IEMs and they can be arena volume in their head, whether you're at the 250 seat venue or the 2000 seat venue. Giving them the capability to individually control their own monitor mix might be very beneficial too. (budget permitting) In the end, they will perform better with some level of consistency to their monitor set-up. Plus with in-ear you can add the capability to communicate cues with the band via their earphones - unheard by anyone else. Double-edged sword - a lot of arena-sized act these days use little, or no, backline amplification - which means whoever is mixing for front-of-house had better be on the ball. Because with a band that is all IEM and no backline, there is no sound coming from the stage to gloss over a missed cue or solo.

    You will still probably still need wedges for the 20 singers/dancers on stage, because 20 reliable in-ear-monitor systems will definitely blow up the budget. And another reason I'd stick with wedges for the singers ... batteries. Not only would the initial cost of 20 wireless IEM systems be substantial, the buying, transporting, and changing of the required batteries would be an ongoing battle. It doesn't sound like you will be anywhere long enough to benefit from the advantages of rechargeables. You'll already need a significant number of batteries to power the wireless mic systems - if you double that and have to power 20 more devices for IEM ... YIKES! Make sure they budget for a fresh supply of batteries for every performance.

    Wireless headset mics: You'll want something 'frequency-agile' which means each system can be tuned to a wide range of frequencies. For a touring act, I'd recommend a system that can scan the environment and avoid frequencies already in-use by other entities in the area. To operate 20 systems simultaneously in a reliable fashion will make entry-level impossible and even mid-level wireless systems impractical. You will need to aim pretty high up the foodchain and use broadband antennas, with an antenna distribution systems. You'll find that will be much more reliable than 40 short rubber-duck antennas crammed inside a rack. I've put in a ton of a particular system that comes to mind - but don't want to sound like a company shill. They don't need any free advertising. To draw on your example, pro-caliber wireless headset mic systems will run about $1200-$1400, but by the time you extrapolate the cost of power supplies, antenna distribution, cases, audio cables and BNC cables - it averages $1600 per mic system.

    A quick skim through the rest of the numbers and I come up with about $100k for excellent wireless headset mics / digital console / amps / speakers / basic electrical power distribution / basic cabling / racks & cases & spkr covers. And I can guarantee there will be thousands of $ in 'miscellaneous' - to make set-up quick, reliable, and idiot-resistant.

    The most often over-looked aspect of all these is electrical. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of having your power requirements calculated and managed properly. From venue to venue this will be the one wildcard that is most difficult to overcome. Stage layout and perfect speaker placement is a moot point if you can't power up the amps and lighting. If the tour has a performance contract, you will have to make very specific electrical demands in the tech-rider. [ ___# - amps of ___#-volts of ___#-phase electric within ___# feet of stage with venue-provided electrician available at load-in.] (you can fill in the blanks after all the lighting has been specified) AC distro doesn't have to be elaborate, but it will have to be reckoned with at some point. As a tour-manager electricity should be in your top 3 questions about the venue; where is it? / how big is the room? / how much power will we have available? / stage dimensions? / etc.

    When the rubber meets the road you will have to either need to rent a complete tour-package (with crew) or have someone who can spec out a turnkey system that can anticipate and account for every connection from one end of the system to the other.

    If I were you, I'd go to the meeting - pitch the high number ($150k or more) and see what their reaction is. If they counter with a number under $80k, I'd tell them 'good luck and God bless' or insist they rent. By my calculations that's about the bare minimum for a system that meets all your needs. (conventional monitors - not IEM, nor does it include backline or instruments) If you get numbers that are dramatically below that range, beware - it's either inferior equipment, or they've overlooked something, or both. If the organization can't scrape up at least $80k, you will have some decisions to make, some jobs just aren't worth the aggravation. And seriously, giving you 2 days to even roughly budget this much tech already shows me they have their head in the clouds.

    From my perspective as a sound contractor, it isn't any less research to estimate pricing than to quote a firm selling price - which is why your other retailers can't quote you anything this fast either. So give the powers-that-be the big ballpark numbers and go from there. Because your chances aren't good of having even broad itemized estimates handed to you by tomorrow, especially pro bono.
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Apr 4, 2006
    Blacksburg, VA
    A suggestion on the specs for the backline. Everything digital. Good sampled keys workstation. Line 6 POD XTPro for guitar and bass. Electronic drums. Heck, get a couple of horn players who know their way around wind controllers. This will make load in, load out, set up, sound check, and mixing much easier. It takes the room/acoustics out of the equation. It gives you a huge range of styles you can cover. Trade off: (1) some tone quality (usually with dancers no one notices) (2) you need top notch monitoring. Get a good in-ear system. With all of those hearsets wandering around you probably want the same thing (but wireless) for the singers, but I've never done that, so I can't say. Same with a digital/automated mixer. You want to be able to roll in your gear, set up, plug in, push a button and have all the settings programmed.
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