Reprinted from Crazed Imaginations #76
In Just Seven Days…
By Richard Davidson
Part Two – Let There Be Sound!
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a single screen art house theatre or down at the just built 20-screen enormo-theatre; you’re probably going to want to have some special sound equipment. This could be anything from a boom box to a fully modulated preshow music performance and a wireless microphone. This article will hopefully help you to choose what you’ll wind up using.
There are a couple different possibilities that you could go with. Depending on the situations that your cast is in, one of these aspects might be better than the others.
Using The Theatre’s Equipment
If your theatre would allow it, you might want to ask them about the possibility of using their sound equipment during your preshows. Depending on what is built into its theatres, this will probably help you to save money on equipment and to also help you to sound better.
Having a cast member in the booth using the theatre’s sound equipment will probably be the hardest thing to do. Since most of their equipment is preset to be easily and quickly run during the normal movie day, they might be slightly reticent about letting someone use and make adjustments to this piece of equipment.
Talk to your theatre’s Manager and find out whether they would allow you to use their equipment or, if they will only allow you to supply them with the music, what types of media they can play from the booth. Theatres sound set-ups tend to vary from building to building (except possibly in the larger chain theatres), so you will need to talk to the Managers and the projectionist to find out the exact information for your theatre.
A word of warning – If you supply the theatre with a cassette, CD, or any other home-recorded media, be sure that you keep all of the sound levels the same throughout the recording. If the sound levels of your media vary too much, it could cause serious damage to the theatre’s sound equipment. For example, if the first song on a preshow tap is low and is then followed by a song at a much higher level, it could cause either a partially or totally blown speaker, which is a large expense for any theatre.
One of the easiest ways to run your own sound would be to bring in your own equipment. While it’s a little more expensive than using the theatre’s equipment, you’re guaranteed of having control over the equipment and you don’t have to worry about damaging the theatre’s if something happens with the chosen media. Also, with all of the available and relatively inexpensive modular systems now available, you can easily put together a system to run whatever you need.
When I use the term “modular systems”, this includes everything from a simple boom box to the latest in stereo systems. With a couple sound cables purchased at the local electronics store, all of these different pieces from many assorted companies can be easily hooked up together into a system that will rival anything the theatre has in the booth.
Here is a very simple set-up that can be put together quickly… Get a standard receiver unit from any system, a couple speakers, and something to play the music on. (As stated above, this could be anything from a boom box on up.) Using easily purchased sound cables, plug the “boom box” from the audio out sockets into the audio in sockets of the receiver and hook up the speakers to the back of the receiver. You’ve just built a sound system.
You can plug a microphone directly to a guitar amplifier of any size to get the volume that you require. This might sound slightly low tech, but it’s one of the quickest ways to gain the use of a microphone for your preshows.
Purchasing the different pieces to make up your modular system could be easy depending on the stores in your area. Many thrift stores carry stereo equipment of all kinds and sizes so you could try looking there. If this is where you get your equipment, be sure to inspect it thoroughly before purchase. Many thrift stores have strict return and exchange policies, so try to be as sure as possible before you pay. If your cast is in a good financial state or has a member willing to pay the money, you might also check out the local stereo stores for bargains. Many stores will mark down considerably one-of-a-kind, partially damaged in shipping or discontinued merchandise, so you could find many of your pieces there. While all of the other pieces are easy to find, you might have to spend a little more to get the amplifier for the microphone. Check into your local music shops and see if there is anything that they have marked down and that you can use.
An addition that, depending on the cast’s money situation, would be very beneficial would be a mixer or mixing board. With this, you can plug in all of your audio sources (stereo, microphone, etc) and use the mixer to blend them all together. If your preshow includes many sound cues or has the microphone used at the same time as the music is playing, this could help you blend it all together and not have any level problems.
Over the years, there have been many advances in the recording and playing of sound through computers. From generic sound files to mp3s, there are more and more choices for playing your favorite tunes through your laptop.
That being said, these sonic advances can also allow your cast to play as many different kinds of music as is possible. By either plugging the computer into the receiver or using exterior speakers straight into the computer, you can use all of the current sound programs, like WinAmp for the PC or Itunes for the MAC, to choose and play the music. Depending on the level of computers that you have running the sound, you can use some generic mixing software and, by hooking up the microphone directly into the computer, you can use the computer as both the stereo system and mixing board.
As you can probably surmise, this could become a very expensive proposition depending on the level of technology that you aim for. While not inexpensive, by hooking up the laptop to the audio in plugs on your receiver, you can use your laptop, tower, or whatever you have to play what you want.
These are three ideas of how to set up a sound system for your shows. With the advances in modular technology, it’s probably possible to set up any sound systems that you can come up with. Before you make any purchases, be sure to think about what it is you need and plan out the easiest way to get the sound needs of your cast. By doing a little preplanning and choosing the pieces wisely, you will wind up with the perfect sound system.