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Buying a Sound System for Your School

As a musician and a music teacher, people look to me as an expert in all things auditory.  Well, I'm NOT!  But I don't need them to know that!

If there's one thing that is common to all successful and influential people, it is that they know when to ask for help!  And they know who to ask.  That is what I'm doing.

November 10, 2011
We're hiring a consultant to help us decide what to buy.
With $100 from my benevolent administrator, we are hiring a consultant to come to our school, look at our current system and figure out the best way for us to meet our needs without breaking the bank.  He's arriving in two weeks.  I'll keep this post updated and let you know what is going on.
November 22, 2011
Fender Passport 300 Pro Portable PA System
Recording engineer, Jeremy Sarna from New England Conservatory came to consult with me and see our set-up.  He recommended the Fender Passport 300 Pro.  He thought it was a good, sturdy unit that was easy to operate and met our needs well.  Click here to see the features and price.

He had some ideas for portable mics for us.  We needed to price cordless mics because...

  • the configuration of our auditorium and our fire safety codes mean that the placement of the cords during concerts would be tricky to impossible.  
  • Little feet get tangled in and pull out cords very easily.
  • we've ruined several mics because of children fiddling with the cords while announcing or singing.  
He recommended this mic for price and quality.  He also told us that putting the receiver in a hard case would greatly prolong the life of the unit.  Cases can be for one system like this one or for multiple systems like this one.  It all depends on your program and weather you expect to need multiple mics or not.  

Jeremy recommended that we get all the accessories that go with these items like speaker stands, mic stands, mic cables, and a power strip (for the PA plus the wireless receivers).  

November 23, I'm writing up my final suggestions for our Head of School and submitting them to her for purchase next Monday!  I'll definitely post audio of our upcoming concert pieces if all goes well! 

Figure out your needs

  • do you need amplification for outdoor concerts?
  • do you use a lectern?
  • do you have a live or dead auditorium?
  • does your chorus need amplification?
  • does your piano need amplification?
  • would you like to have a piano, microphone, mic that amplifies instruments, guitar pick-up, and computer hooked up to the same speaker?
  • do you put on plays or do musical theater?
  • what are your hopes and dreams for your program?  What will that need?
  • what equipment do you already have?  
    • What do you like about it?
    • Why are you considering updating or changing your equipment? Be detailed, try to recall instances where the equipment hasn't met your needs.
After you have written down exactly what you have and what you want and the differences between the two, you can try to find someone with the knowledge to help you find your sound system!

How to choose a consultant
HIRE A GUY LIKE THIS!  He works in a live concert
environment.  He records as his full-time job.  He is not biased.
He can work with small or large groups, solo and tutti
  • Choose someone who is not motivated by a possible sale 
  • Choose someone with expertise in sound systems for music, specifically acoustic music and acoustic music mixed with electronic inputs
  • Find a place where that person might be working full-time
    • a theater
    • a concert hall
    • local conservatory, music school, or University
    • a school with a sound system that you really liked when you heard it
  • Find someone who works with sound, recording, amplification, and equipment DAILY, as their #1 job!
    • Performers
      • Rock musicians or Rap musicians (Hip hop, etc)
        • these people do not have a strong acoustic element to their performances and will be unfamiliar with your needs
      • Acoustic performers
        • these people do not have a strong electronic element to their performances, they also tend to know their instrument or instrument family well to the exclusion of others.  Their knowledge is too specialized for the broader needs of a school
    • DJs
      • these people do not have a strong acoustic element to their performances and will be unfamiliar with your needs
    • Amateur enthusiasts
      • these people are very boutique in their knowledge and do not know the breadth of options to creatively come up with a solution for you.  
    • Solo singers
      • these people are interested in holding the microphone right to their face and are unable to consult on equipment for regular speaking, lecterns, choruses, instruments, etc.  
    • Television or movie people
      • these people are not accustomed to engineering sound for live performance.  If they are personally close you, you might have a conversation and see if they can help you.  Most of these people started out in live performance.  It all depends on how long it has been since they did that kind of work.
    • An audio company
      • We have Bose located right here in Massachusetts.  We didn't consult with them because they have a motivation to sell us their equipment.  We want to keep the profit motive out of the opinion we get.
We could have asked one of the dozens of colleges for help.  Almost all the colleges around here have full-time engineers for their halls.  We also have auditoriums, Symphony Hall, and the opera house in Boston.  Any of those would be great places to find consultants.  

Don't know what to say when you call?  

This is what I said.  First, I found the direct number through the Conservatory website.  I called and said....

"Hello, my name is _____________ from _______________School.  I would like you or someone in your department to consult with me about a sound system for our school.  I'm an alum of New England Conservatory and so I thought of you first.  Unfortunately, I'm a French Horn player.  My knowledge about amplification is to blow harder!  I need your help.  Can you do it?"  

He said, "We've never provided this service before."

I said, "I don't want to take much of your time.  I'm sure that my questions are very rudimentary to you, but I just don't know what is out there.  I doubt that it would take more than a half hour of your time.  I have trouble with our microphone, it only works if your face is right in it, it isn't great at a lectern and doesn't help amplify a chorus.  I also need to be able to put multiple inputs in our speaker which now only does one thing at a time.  I just need someone without a profit motive to assess my needs and give me good advice."

He said, "Sounds pretty basic, but definitely not common knowledge.  I see what you mean.  I'll have _______call you back, maybe he can help."  

Well, he called back and was very enthusiastic about coming.  He will earn $100 for having a cup of coffee with me.  We'll save thousands in equipment that would not meet our needs.  


Julie said…
I did this same process two years ago. Here is one more thing I would recommend. Buy local. Yes, you can get the same items from several online retailers (and I use those same retailers for other things such as strings and picks and reeds), but the advantage of buying local and in person is when your sound board decides to stop working the day of the show, you can call the company up, and they will deliver a new sound board to you for your show while they take the old one away for warranty work. I am looking to upgrade some mics, and now I have a relationship with this retailer, and they know me when I call them, and have everything I've purchased on file.

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