Outside Sound: Playing in the Park

March 23, 2021
Outside Sound: Playing in the Park

Of all the common misconceptions in the world of pro audio, the one that keeps popping up in conversations for me is the nature of outdoor sound reinforcement.  I’ve heard the exact same axiom repeated by knowledgeable people with completely opposing viewpoints.  Check it out:

“What is the best way to improve the sound of your PA?  Put walls around it.”

“What is the best way to improve the sound of your PA?  Don’t put walls around it.”

Those two statements make polar opposite statements.  More shockingly, they both may be true in certain ways.  For the most part, I believe in the second statement.  A loudspeaker running outside has no sound reflections to fight against, no corners to build up bass rumbles.  It leads to a clearer, more pure, sound.  On the other hand, an underpowered PA system can benefit from those reflections and bass rumbles to create the illusion of a larger sound than it can actually produce.

Theory aside, the real world will demand you run your PA system outdoors during these summer festival months.  Let’s examine ways to get the most out of your system during those BBQs, pool parties, and all the other really fun gigs of summer.

  1. The first step, as always, is preparation.  In addition to the usual needs, you must also account for the possibility of inclement weather.  This generally means bringing tarps to cover your gear, in case of rain showers.  I like to stage the tarps near the speaker stacks, lighting system, front-of-house position, and amp racks.  If the rain does come, then my tarp is already there and just needs to be pulled over the equipment and fastened in place with bungee cords or rope.  Consider bringing an open-sided tent for your front-of-house position.  It’ll stop the rain, but it will also keep the sun off you and your mixer during sunny weather.
  2. Bring more power per person than usual.  However many watts of power you use for a certain audience size, use a healthy amount more for outdoor shows.  The sound quality and clarity are improved from the lack of reflective surfaces, but the perceived decibel level drops quickly with so many less sound waves bouncing around.  Remember this for your monitor system, as well.  Also, consider steps like stacking subwoofers improve projection and even feeding more low midrange to the subwoofers.  This will give your mid/top boxes less to do and allow them to be more efficient with reproducing the vocal range.
  3. Consider upgrading to line array.  We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of line array in these pages, but there is no more perfect situation for line array than an outdoor concert.  Remember, line array produces a wide horizontal band of sound and a narrow vertical band of sound.  That means you can easily aim your speakers at the audience.  This makes your PA system more efficient, allowing you to do more with less.

The rest is common sense stuff.  Bring sunscreen.  Bring several hundred feet of power cables.  Be prepared for working outside during the day as opposed to the usual inside a venue at night.

Seismic Audio has all the tools you need to pull off any party, anywhere.  Give one of our experts a call at 877-347-6423 to get advice tailored specifically to your situation.  Tell us about your experiences in the comments.