How to Set Up A PA System

A guide for singers

If you are a singer are are starting to look for gigs then sooner or later you will find that you will need to invest in a PA unit. If you are not sure what one is, how to set it up and how it all works then hopefully I’m going to try to clear all of that up for you in this post.

Even if you are a seasoned PA setter-uper-er (is that even a word??) I can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen singers set their PA units up wrongly, which results in high levels of feedback and makes the singer sound horrible.

So I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know about using PA’s as a singer and how to set yours up the right way.

Let’s start with the basics:

With what exactly is a ‘PA’?

‘PA’ stands for Public Address and a Public Address system can be anything that amplifies sound to a point where it can be heard in a public setting by other people.

However, PAs are not amps. The difference between an amp (i.e amplifier) and a PA is that an amp has limited capabilities. Amps typically just amplify sound and you have one amp per instrument, whereas a PA will let you plug several instruments into a mixer and have all those instruments come out through your front of house speakers.

PAs also let you alter a lot more than just the volume. You can increase the amount of treble, bass and mid frequencies plus (depending on your mixer) you should be able to add reverb – and set all of things things differently for each instrument.

In a nutshell, a basic PA will consist of:

1. A mixer – this is where you plug in all of the instruments

2. Leads – to attach everything

3. Speakers – depending on where you are playing and how much volume you need will depend on how big these speakers need to be and whether you add foldback speakers (foldback speakers are the ones that face towards you on stage, while ‘front of house’ speakers are the ones that point towards the audience)

To make things really clear, I’ve drawn a couple of  little diagrams for you:


TIP: Many portable PA units (like the Yamaha STAGEPAS 600I Portable PA System

 that I use myself – have mixers and leads built into the system so its super easy)



TIP: When I needed a larger PA system, instead of going out and buying a whole new one, I just added two big speakers to my Yamaha StagePas and hey presto! Enough sound for 400 people outdoors – more than you’ll ever need.

Just so you know, if you ever do larger gigs than this, there will most likely be a sound engineer and all the gear provided by the gig organiser. In all my years of gigging, I’ve never needed to provide anything larger than this.

Other important PA set up stuff you’ll need to know

  1. Make sure the front of house speakers are in front of the mic. If they are behind (generally) you will get that high pitched feedback squeal that makes everyone cringe.
  2. Don’t point the microphone directly at the speakers for the same reason.
  3. The reverb you hear coming out of the fold back speakers may be different to the reverb the audience hears so check this before you start.
  4. Playing outdoors will require double the speaker oomph because there are no walls to contain the sound.
  5. Take black gaffa tape with you to the gig because you will need to tape down the leads to avoid people tripping over them
  6. Take a long black extension chord with you and an extension plug because you always need the extra outlets
  7. Put a spare jack to jack lead into your gig bag – someone nearly always forgets to bring theirs and you’ll use it often.

Now I’d love to hear from you. Did you find this post useful? Is there anything else you would like to know about setting up equipment for gigs? If so, please leave me a comment below and I’ll see what I can do to help out.

Nicola x


Links to gear if you need it


Yamaha StagePas 600I

The Yamaha StagePas has been perfect for doing cafe gigs, small outdoor gigs and pretty much everything up to 100 people indoors. Its super portable and lightweight and has been very reliable with great sound.


 The Shure 58 Beta Dynamic Vocal Mic

The new version of the industry standard mic. Tried and trusted but definitely go for the Beta over the original Shure 58 because the sound quality is so much better.  A decent first mic if you are just starting out.

Try these tutorials next

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