I have been performing publicly for over 10 years now, and most of my hundreds of performances have been solo. Over the years I have tested and fine-tuned my sound rig, attempting to get the best performance from the least amount of equipment. I have often gone to performances completely alone, and so the portability of my setup has been important, unless the venue has a PA system that I can simply show up and plug into (even that has its pitfalls, as it leaves me at the mercy of whoever last used the system).
Briefly, my criteria for a sound set-up are as follows:
1. It has to be possible to carry the entire set-up by one person (me) in one trip from the vehicle to the stage.
2. It has to fit in a standard passenger car (mine is a hatchback/wagon).
3. It has to be sufficient to play a small or medium room (bar, café, etc.).
4. It has to be easy to use and set up.
5. It has to be affordable.
The set-up I arrived as is just able to cover all of these categories, and here are the components (see the adjacent diagram). I’ll list the prices (in Canadian dollars), but these are approximations, as some items were purchased many years ago.
1. Amplifier: Fishman Loudbox Performer (Acoustic), 130 watts. Paid: $400 used (originally approx. $700).
2. Microphone: Peavey vocal microphone, approx. $100.
3. Microphone stand and cords, approx. $75.
4. LED Pot light/Spotlight: Microh DJ Blade 64 Pro, $100.
5. 2 Heavy-Duty Extension Cords, approx. $30.
6. Custom Sign: VistaPrint, approx. $30.
7. Battery operated LED set (for CD display), approx. $5.
8. Duffle bag: $30.
Total: $770, Excluding the cost of the guitar and harmonicas.
This rig paid for itself after the first few gigs, and having my own sound system has allowed me to take on many more gigs in different venues.
Obviously, running such a bare-bones setup has its drawbacks, but here are some tips for optimizing it:
1. To avoid feedback, use the anti-feedback function on the amp. Position the amplifier a little ahead of the performer. Also, don’t aim the amplifier directly at a wall or bar that is close by. The sound will echo back and cause feedback. Aim it down the room.
2. Place the amp on a sturdy chair or small table (commandeered from the venue) to raise it off the ground. This will help the sound carry over people’s bodies, tables, etc. Barring that, tilt the amp up using its kickstand.
3. Angle the amp a little toward the performer to allow for a monitor-type effect. The sound will catch the right ear of the performer as I typically set it up.
4. Position your pot light/spotlight at your side so that the glare isn’t directly in your eyes. LED is preferable to halogen or incandescent, as LED is much cooler.
5. A small custom sign from Vistaprint will fit inside some guitar cases (under the guitar body), protecting the sign from damage. Combined with a $5 LED light set, the sign adds interest to your CD display.
I have felt on a few occasions that this system just wasn’t enough, for instance in a full house on St. Patrick’s Day, but most of the time this is more than adequate. I can arrive on the stage by myself and within 15 minutes be ready to play—that’s hard to beat!
Thoughts on music and performing by Canadian singer-songwriter Jesse Ferguson.