Tip & How-To about Music

Simple Tips for PA Systems for Conferences and Conventions

There are so many problems that could possibly happen when you go live with an event, I couldn't possibly list them all!
In fact, I keep finding new things that can go wrong every time I set up an event!
But all is not lost! In fact, it's just the nature of dealing with a lot of people and live event ---- anything could happen!
Let's look at some of the things that you should be prepared for, and what you can do about it!


Hiss is usually caused by some device, usually an MP3 player or other kind of music player, that isn't turned up loud enough. Try turning it up.

Feedback and squeal

This the classic -- we've all heard it - and it can be a monster.---- you NEED to understand how to place speakers properly, how the system works in general, and how to set volumes.
Be absolutely certain that your speakers are not behind the microphone!

Howl and echo

Sometimes instead of a high pitched, full fledged feedback, you get a howling or echo sound that changes as things move around. When you touch the microphone it stops. Let go and it starts again. Move a little to the left and it's not so bad ... You can dance around all you want, but what you have is a problem. And this is a problem that can be impossible to fix once the event is underway. This is why we test before the audience arrives.
What causes the howling and echoing is the same thing that causes feedback - what you have is sort of "baby feedback" - it hasn't grown into full feedback yet. And it's correct for you to be concerned. Turn one thing up a tiny bit and the whole room will be overcome by a deafening squeal.
Two quick points - make certain that your speakers are placed forward of, NOT behind, your microphones. Moving them forward even just a few inches will make a very significant difference if they are already forward of the mics and you are getting howling or echo. Also, it's important to know where the volume control is, so you can turn it down fast if something goes wrong!

What about if the echo isn't the beginnings of feedback? Well, there's the possibility that the system may have some effects, like echo, that are built in. There might be a section called "effects" - and echo is selected and turned up. It's important that someone needs to understand the basic system and be in charge of it. That will solve this problem.

No Sound At All

First thing I would think is, it's a bad cable, probably a bad microphone cable. Especially if its a portable system. Be sure to take care of the microphone cables. In the industry we use the terms "known good." For example, I will always carry with me a cable that I know is good. If I need to troubleshoot, I swap the "known good" cable for one I suspect isn't working. Mic cables will just stop working sometimes. And then there's no time to fix it - you need a spare. Also, make sure to either dispose of the bad cable, or mark it - don't let it show up again in your setup!

The people in the back of the room can't hear!

This is actually a very common problem. When the speakers are properly positioned, you don't need to turn the volume up very high, and everyone will be able to hear very well. If you are running a conference or convention with 500 people or less, say, in a hotel ballroom, and using a portable system, try bringing one of the speakers back halfway into the room, and positioning it near a ceiling support beam so it's not too much in the way. If you have long enough speaker cables and can do this, your volume requirement will be far less to get nice clear sound to the people sitting in the back of the room!

General Tips

If you're setting up a portable system, keep the cabling safe and and as neat as possible. When something goes wrong it'll be easier to figure out, and make sure you tape the cables down so that people don't trip over them.

Use sturdy, well made speaker stands in portable systems

Keep audio cables and power cables away from each other

Never plug anything but a speaker into an amplifier output

Coach the presenters if you can - ask them to speak about 4" from the microphone

Never coil cables with your elbow - don't let them twist and they'll last a long time

Never coil extension cords (power cords) while they are being used, it creates an electrical field that can be dangerous and damage your equipment or even start a fire - don't use extension cords that are longer than they need to be.

Watch out for dimmers that control lights - turn them off if you have buzzing sounds

Always prepare - preparation is the best way to ensure a successful event.

This may seem like a lot of tips - you can review this list and find more related information at our website, whamuniversal.com

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