Sound Off About Sound On: an Amplification Journal

When I first started performing shows for children I assumed, being of sound stage voice, and having a large stage-oriented mind, “Hey, I’ll be up close. Probably won’t even have to project that much.”

I hate being wrong. I swear children are born with megaphones implanted in the vocal chords.

So I started looking for amplification. It was rather obvious from the onset that standard fare’ wasn’t going to work. Most live stages that I’ve worked on either have overhead omnis: as in “omindirection:” all around pickup, or just great acoustics. But that was quite a while ago. And stages either came prepackaged… or not. Actors don’t tend to carry their own sound equipment.

I had performed in a group for a while and so music was also part of my amplification training: but still in a standard; you’re on stage/they’re the audience fashion.

Having also performed on the one man band in the Mohawk Valley, and for a while in Nashville, I also knew that standard amplification might not apply. I still didn’t have a clue how different my needs would be, because I was still thinking of the standard “the audience is over here and you’re over there” set up. A children’s entertainer can’t be worried about some fictional; yet very real to the ears, line you don’t cross over or feedback will blast you. You have to be free to interact.

So I went to Radio Shack and got speakers and an FM mike. The quality was horrid. Then I kept upgrading. Now I use Roland monitors that can be joined together and really good FM mikes. More on that in future editions.

This edition deals with location. Since they are small they can be placed anywhere. I prefer mid audience on one side. This has worked for up to 400 or 500 children who can be very, very loud. In back tends to create a echo that can sound neat or really, really bad. And I just broke down: brought out the graphic equalizer to shape the sound to each room. If I chain the amps together I place them 1/2 way down the side and 3/4. I make sure lines are taped or enough out of the way. I have even angled them mid-audience at a right angle or 45 degrees if I don’t dare split them that far.

It’s amazing how much 30 to 60 watts can do when strategically placed. Most musicians think the more power the better, but I disagree. You want the sound evenly distributed over the audience. What you don’t want is part of your audience that will soon be in the market for a new “drum” set, ear-wise, and another part going, “Huh?”

Rethinking amplification concerns is advisable, but small steps are best. No need in getting so far that you can’t pull back and head a slightly different direction.


Sound Off About Sound On is a column by Ken Carman that offers advice regarding unusual amplification needs: especially for smaller audiences of a unique nature.

Copyright 2009
Ken Carman
all rights reserved