Touring with Your Own Sound System

Touring with a Sound System
Touring with a sound system is a lot of extra work.

Do you have a complete sound system for your Christian Band? Are you thinking about buying one soon? Adding upgrades?

Where do you come up with the money? Is it worth the investment and extra expense to tour with your own sound system?

A funny band story about our sound system:

My husbands’ Christian band was asked to play and provide sound for a small stage at a small town street fair. We had worked with this promoter several times at his church and were always treated really well. So, of course, we agreed. For weeks ahead of time I was asking for electrical specs and letting the promoter know exactly what we needed for both the sound system and lights. I never got the specs but the promoter assured us it would be OK. We showed up at the agreed upon time to an empty parking lot… no stage… no power. I assumed we were in the wrong location and called the promoter, who said we were in the right spot and he’d be right there. It turns out that for this show the promoter was working with a committee and the guy who was supposed to make power arrangements didn’t. The committee said they did not see a problem because they had always run power from a neighbors’ house in past years. I checked the neighbors’ house (who was more than happy to help us out) – she had 4 – 15 amp fuses for the whole house (unbelievable but true)! In past years this fest had only used people singing with accompaniment tracks or acoustic groups. So, they used a small powered amp and one or two mics. Our sound system is more than enough for a 5 piece rock band – minimum 8,000 watts! We were supposed to provide lights as well (6 par 64’s, 2 – 1500 watt crowd blinders, strobes), you don’t really even need to do the math… there was no way it was going to work.

We just stood in the empty parking lot with our mouths hanging open. No one even bothered to unload the sound system from the trailer. Eventually, the promoter got us clean power from a tap into the city’s pole. But by then were two hours late to start setting up. Somehow we managed to set up a complete sound and light system and started playing only 15 minutes late. What a day! The band’s set was less than amazing because of the physical and emotional trauma. The promoter was awesome, even paying us extra for the hassle, but the committee was simply out of his control. They did not understand what we needed.

Are you prepared for this kind of experience with your band sound system? My husband’s band has many similar stories to tell. This was not a one time occurrence. Every band is different, so you need to decide what is best for your ministry. Hopefully, this will help you out:

Advantages of owning your own sound system:

    • The band will receive consistent, quality sound at every show.
    • Once the equipment is set up, sound check is easy because your board is set from the last show and will only require minimal tweaking.
    • The band can charge more for providing the sound system.
    • The band may get asked to play more shows because you can provide sound.
    • You can make a little extra cash running sound for shows when your band is not playing.

Disadvantages of owning your own sound system:

    • The band must have a way to transport the extra equipment. This usually means buying a trailer and installing a trailer hitch on a vehicle large enough to easily pull the extra weight. The larger vehicle and trailer will use more gasoline.
    • The band is responsible to pay for equipment maintenance (even if the needed repairs are not the bands fault) and to see that repairs are made before the next show. This can be a problem when the band is on the road and parts or repairmen are not easily available.
    • The band must provide a sound tech that can set up, troubleshoot, and run the sound system.
    • The band must load up, unload, and set up the sound system prior to your show. Then you have to tear down, load up, and unload the system after the show. This is a lot of extra lifting and time. Your set may not be as energetic as you would like after all the extra work… and let’s not talk about the added risk of hurting someone’s hand right before a gig.
    • The band is constantly asked to throw in running sound for free by people who do not understand the extra costs of buying, maintaining, upgrading, and transporting the system. If the band says “No” for any reason, you look bad.
    • Resolving power issues with promoters prior to the show can be a huge problem. Many people do not know what a circuit is, or what a tap into the breaker box involves.
    • The band is liable for electrical issues resulting from their use of the facilities power. This can be a real problem if you run sound at an older church with dirty power and old wiring. If anything goes wrong at the Church for months after the band has performed, someone is likely to say “Do you think that happened because so and so band messed with our breaker box?” The answer is most likely “No.” But you know how rumors start and proving that you did not do anything wrong can get expensive.
    • The band has to resolve and document who owns what equipment. If a member leaves, the band may be required to buy out that members’ share of equipment. Or, if one member owns all the equipment, the band may be subject to that member.

My advice – Do not own a sound system unless these things are all true:

    • The band has a qualified sound tech committed to travelling and practicing with the ministry at all times.
    • The band can afford to purchase and maintain good quality sound equipment without buying on credit.
    • The band has an established business structure and method of determining who owns what equipment.

How do you come up with the money?

Purchasing sound equipment is a business investment. So, raising money usually comes out of the band members own pocket. Occasionally a band will make enough profit from gigs to buy some equipment, but most bands are finding it difficult just to break even these days.

Before purchasing equipment, the band should try to get endorsements from the companies that make the equipment you want. Realize that most endorsements take months to receive and are only a discount on the product. Still, it can save you money to try.

If your band is a non-profit corporation you can try to get grants to purchase equipment. But, this is really a long shot and requires a huge amount of effort. Click here to get an overview on the subject. The band can save by not paying sales tax if you have non-profit status.

If a member of the band is an employee of a music store, they may be able to purchase equipment using their employee discount (depending on the stores policy).

Some bands have purchased equipment using tithe or offering money from individual band members. Remember that if you do this, the equipment belongs to God and the ministry – not to the person that donated the money. If the band breaks up or the person leaves the band, they do not get the equipment back. The equipment should stay in the ministry, even if it has to be donated to another music ministry who will use it.

But for most of us, band equipment purchases come out of our own pocket. I have had some success holding benefit fundraisers such as garage sales put on by the band families. Most likely, you will not be able to raise all the money you need but every little bit helps. Band family fundraisers have the added benefit of uniting the families in support of the ministry.

A better way to approach owning touring with a sound system:

Encourage your sound tech to buy and maintain his own sound system and pay him as an outside contractor. Essentially this allows your sound tech to function as his own small business. He can set up his own contracts and run sound for other people when your band does not hire him. The band can make an arrangement to have first dibs on his services because you consider him to be a vital part of your ministry. The downside here is that he may not be available for shows booked at the last minute.

The best approach for most local Christian Bands:

Do not own your own sound system. Instead, use what money you have to invest in high quality personal gear. Rely on the promoter to provide a reasonable sound system. It would be wise to have a recommended list of minimum equipment you need (also known as a technical rider) available. But, be aware that the sound system will frequently not meet your standards. Even if the band tries to use a technical rider, many promoters will not have read it nor understood the specs. Sometimes, the band will be faced with the choice of playing on an inadequate system with substandard sound or disappointing your fans by not playing at all.

In the end, the audience does not know or care about what the band has or has not done before their set. They do not care about who provided the sound system. The audience does care about seeing an interesting, entertaining show. So, the band needs to prayerfully consider the options of owning or not owning and touring with a sound system as it relates to the providing the best quality music ministry possible.

Here’s a great little book to keep with you when you are touring:

Basic Live Sound (The Basic Series)

It has a basic overview of running sound and a handy reference for troubleshooting on site. For under $8 it’s well worth money to save the headaches!

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