Seasons are changing and that means outdoor events are coming. What’s better than sitting out on a beautiful, sunny day listening to great music at a live venue? Or gathering with your church family and worshiping at a park service? Of course, you can’t have a great outdoor experience if you don’t have a great outdoor sound system setup.
Outdoor venues provide a variety of fun challenges to overcome. Back in biblical times, all you needed was a lake and a sturdy boat to get your message to the masses. Fun fact: water is an excellent amplifier. In our modern era, we have complicated things a bit more, so there are a few more elements to bear in mind when planning your event.
Planning is Paramount
Setting up a terrific outdoor sound system is not something one can do on the fly. You must know your space well and do your best to plan ahead for contingencies. As Ben Franklin said, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Depending on the size of your venture, you would ideally want to give yourself 1-3 months planning time to best prepare yourself. A sound plan thrown together last minute often results in a number of complications including but not limited to awful feedback, malfunctioning equipment, and an overall distracting experience for the audience. Your technical team should be present at the outset when planning your outdoor event so they can help foresee any possible complications and contribute ideas and solutions. You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where the sound team finds out about an event last minute and has to scramble to gather the proper equipment.
Your first order of business should be determining some key factors. You’ll want to know where the performers/speakers will be set up. Will there be a stage? How big is the performance area? Find out if there are any diagrams or site plans showing the area. You’ll want to get precise load-in and load-out times to determine the time you have access for set-up and tear down. That will be essential to planning your schedule (more on that later). What does vehicle access look like? Is there a plan for inclement weather? Will a suitable and safety-certified power supply be provided close to the performance area? What kind of limitations are there in regard to running cables? Are there safety and security protocols in place? Also, be aware that some local authorities may request risk-assessment documentation in order to operate your sound system. These are just a few questions to ask upfront.
Write it Down
One essential practice to plan for success is to make sure you write everything down. Keeping an equipment rider and technical schedule is crucial to running a tight event. it will efficiently utilize your manpower especially if you’re running on the generosity of volunteers. Following a precise technical schedule will leverage your time effectively. Having a detailed checklist of equipment will ensure you’re not missing anything the day of the event.
An equipment rider is a document listing the technical components of your sound system. In addition to gear like consoles, direct boxes, and amplifiers, the rider may also include other information such as stage layouts, patching diagrams, and the like. Having multiple copies of the rider for the whole crew keeps all hands on deck and allows multiple parts of the setup to occur concurrently. It also helps to ensure that you have everything you need at load-in and, maybe more importantly, load out.
Your technical schedule will save you loads of time by mapping out detailed instructions and events which need to happen both leading up to and on the day of your event. Keeping a tight schedule by arranging rehearsals of performers, speakers, and/or the band including mic and monitor checks will help you avoid the pitfalls many organizers fall victim to. This will keep you from having to delay the event or cut short essential checks and rehearsals. When you have a concise schedule that everyone can see and follow, no one is left in the dark or scrambling. Keep in mind, if you’re used to running sound indoors, expect that everything in an outdoor setting will likely take double the time in regards to setup and equipment checks.
Acoustics and the Great Outdoors
This might seem obvious, but there is quite a stark difference in the way sound travels outside versus inside. Most halls or auditoriums built with performance or presentations in mind are built to optimize sound projection. The outdoors can have a number of varying factors that make for a “fun” challenge to sound setup. For instance, one notable difference is the lack of a significant reverberant field outdoors. Without walls or ceilings for the sound waves to bounce off, the physics that dictate sound dispersion work to diminish the projection of sound in an outdoor space. There is a scientific principle called the Inverse Square Law you can read more about here. This gives your sound a thinner sound lacking in the lower frequencies. In order to compensate for this, it’s likely you’d have to employ more speakers. Or, depending on the size of the area, you may need delayed loudspeaker systems to reach those in the back. You might also need to consider more subwoofers to make up for the lack of bass reinforcement. Take into consideration that system equalization may need to be heavier in the low frequencies than in an indoor system.
Size and power
The size of your event space is an obvious consideration. The larger the space you’re trying to reach with your sound, the more expansive the equipment list you’ll be looking at. As mentioned before, the inverse square law is especially pronounced in an outdoor setting. This law dictates for every doubling of distance from the sound source, a 6 decibel drop in sound pressure level occurs. This is not as much of a problem in an indoor setting. Indoors you have a reverberant field present due to walls and ceilings to bounce off. Outdoors, however, sound levels of a speaker can sound great to the first several rows, but drop off considerably for those in the back. The bigger the space you’re trying to cover the more speakers you’re likely to need. Additionally, you will also need more amplifier power to attain the appropriate level of sound pressure.
There’s also the matter of wind noise and other environmental sounds. You’ll want to make sure to plan on bringing plenty of windscreens for your microphones. High-gain microphones like lapel mics and handheld mics can tend to pick up pesky gusts of wind. These will interfere with your audio in a big way. Another good idea is to bring along a console with a good high pass filter.
Plan for Weather
Aside from making sure the sound coverage is great, you’ll also want to make sure your equipment is protected. Wet weather is not the only thing to take into consideration. Direct heat on sensitive equipment should also be a consideration. If you’re going to be at the venue for an extended period of time, you run the risk of over-heating the equipment or ruining LCD screens. You may need to provide suitable cover in the form of pop-up tents or other such shades. Tarps are also a good idea to bring along, especially if excessive dust could be a factor. Also, be sure you have a contingency plan in place in case weather makes the event non-feasible.
Ensure a Solid Wireless Connection
Running cables across any space has its drawbacks. That’s doubly true for an outdoor venue. We advise trying to cut down the number of cables you need as much as you can. That requires utilizing a wireless system. There are a number of excellent wireless systems out there to choose from. You can check out one of our recommendations here. We also suggest a reliable antenna like this one from RF Venue for optimal performance.
Check your Power Supply
Make sure that whoever is organizing your event has a plan to provide you with a dedicated power source exclusively for the sound system. You can do an estimated calculation of your power consumption by doubling the rig output power plus the rated power consumption of your peripheral gear. This will give the organizers an idea of the type of power supply they will need to provide whether it’s a permanently installed system or they’re planning to run from a generator.
Ask Us Anything
If you have any questions about setting up sound for your outdoor venue or need help finding the right piece of equipment, you can count on our years of sound experience to point you in the right direction and offer a solution to your sound needs. Give us a call and we’d be glad to speak with you.