At my church, reaching out to the community is one of our highest callings. Our out-reach programs can range from visiting a shut-in to putting on a concert in the local park. The latter, of course, requires a sound system—a portable one. Portable PA systems, however, are not just for out-reach gigs. They can be used anywhere outside of your main sanctuary.
There are basically two different ways to go about filling your need for a portable sound system: you can buy it or rent it. If you have little or no experience in portable audio, I suggest you rent a system and an operator (hopefully a pro). Renting allows you to check out the quality of a particular brand, model and type. Also, by listening to and watching a pro work you’ll pick up some valuable tips about mixing live sound. The added bonus is it’s less expensive to rent than to buy.
That said, now let’s discuss how you decide on the right portable system for your church. Three things to consider are: How often you plan on using your portable sound system; how many people you wish to service with it; and the type of music will you be amplifying. If you serve at a have a house of worship that plans on one event per month and these events will be offering rocked out worship music, then it’s pretty obvious who your audience is and what your sound needs are.
My particular house puts on two rockin’ out-reach events every year and I supply the audio for our events. I use really good audio gear for a really exceptional (free). The main reason the sound is good is that my church knows its audience and how we want to reach that audience. What I mean by that is that we have a good sense of the people in our community and how to appeal to them between with music and the Word.
Typically, the system I provide has two subs and two three-way tops plus I put 4 floor wedges on stage and offer 4 separate monitor mixes. I use a small 20 channel analog Yamaha board and an assortment of outboard gear to make my audio sound as good as possible—and I mix from the side of stage. Not that I couldn’t use a snake and mix from front of house but the side of stage set-up is faster and a bit easier. We have a team of competent sound techs in the congregation who now handle the mix.
Along with serving the audio requirements, you will also have to make your musicians equally happy. Along with great sounding main speakers, you will want a quality monitoring system. Whether you use floor wedges or in-ears, you want the players to hear everything clearly.
As you get a sharper picture of what you need to accomplish with your portable PA, begin to hone in on the system of your dreams. You may be a solo preacher with just an acoustic guitar playing to a coffee house crowd on a Tuesday night and preaching a little gospel between songs. Or, you may have a rockin’ worships band with two electric guitars, a drum kit, a bass player and three vocals. The preacher in the coffee house can do well with a small mixer, a couple mics and two speakers on stands (sticks). The rock band will need enough speakers and horsepower (amperage) to make a real impression on their audience. This is all part of knowing and serving your audience.
Let’s say you know exactly what you want to do and who you want to reach. Now go back and decide on the rent or buy question. My advice would be to rent different sound systems until you find one you love. You may find a speaker manufacturer that is great and a different mixer company that is fantastic and monitors made by someone else. It’s ok to mix and match your gear—just be certain that your main front of house speakers match. The rest is up to you.
I have one more piece of advice: I use self-powered speakers for all of my portable gear. Plug and play gear takes less time to set-up, it is easier to operate and is a more efficient way to add the appropriate amount of power directly to the speakers and horn drivers. We could dedicate another episode to self-powered speakers but for now enjoy finding that perfect portable sound system.
How much? Good gear can cost a good amount of money and great gear can cost a great deal of money. If you want consistently good or great sound you will have to pay for it. The other option would be to buy used gear to save money but purchasing pre-owned audio gear is a science in itself.