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Equipment basics for small to medium venues

You'll Discover:

  • What audio gear you need to put on live music at your venue.
  • How to identify and match audio equipment to performance types and venue needs.

Having the right equipment is key to putting on enjoyable gigs and other events at your venue. If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to putting together a shopping - or hire - list for your next live music event or new venue, this guide will help simplify the process for you.

This varies depending on the size of your space and style of music or performance you’re hosting. First we’ll list the common equipment below, then we’ll arrange it into different setups based on venue size and performance type, so you can get the right amount of everything to suit your needs.


Standard onstage venue equipment


Different models for vocals, instruments, amps, and drums. Be sure to get Dynamic mics.

Common models for specific needs include:

Image shows 4 different types of microphones - vocal mic, instrument/amp mic, snare/tom drum mic, and a kick drum mic.

Image shows a heavy duty protective case with drum kit microphones and clips.
Tip: google “Drum Mic Kit” to buy a set of drum mics with handy clips to place on drums to $$$ and reduce number of stands you need to use on drums

More advanced info on microphones can be found in this article

Microphone Stands

Get these 4 types to accommodate different instruments and stage setups:

Image shows 4 types of microphone stands including tall boom, tall telescopic, short telescopic, and roundbase straight

Microphone Clips

Mics often come with clips but some are brittle plastic and break easily. The soft plastic or rubber clips are better for vocalists (who often pull mics out and back into clips). They’re cheap so buy spares.

Audio Leads for Mics and Instrument

Get Microphone leads with one end with XLR male plug and other XLR female plug (below left). These connect mics to sound mixing desk. Also get Instrument / Guitar leads with 6mm/quarter inch jack plugs on both ends (below right), to plug in guitars, keyboards etc.

Image shows an XLR cable and a 6mm/quarter inch jack lead.
XLR and 6mm/quarter inch jack lead.

Stage Monitors

Also called foldback wedges or floor monitors, these are placed on stage floor facing performers so they can hear themselves. Get self-powered ones so you don’t need a seperate amplifier.

Image shows a foldback wedge - a curved speaker that sits on the floor.
Foldback wedge.

DI’s (Direct Input boxes) to plug acoustic guitars, keyboards, DJ equipment and laptops into your mixing desk. Also get electrical power boards and extension cables.

Image shows a DI Box, an electrical extension chord and a powerboard with floor plug sockets.


Also called a stagebox, you may need one if it’s hard to reach your mic or stage monitor cables to your front of house mixing desk (explained later).

Image shows a stagebox or multicore. This has 16 XLR ports to connect instruments/equipment.  Also shown is a chord with 16 XLR plugs.
An example of a stage box and stage snake (multicore) - the Hosa SH-16X4-25 16-In/4-Out Pro-Conex Stage Box Snake (25ft).

Quantity of onstage equipment needed

This table lists the quantity of each equipment item you’ll need, based on common types of live acts. Different / larger acts usually know to bring additional equipment to fill in gaps.

We’ve used example equipment models (eg the Shure brand’s model SM58 for vocal mic), but you can swap them for alternative brands and models by googling “alternatives to [model number]”.

Table showing different amounts needed for different number of acts.

Now you’ve sorted onstage equipment, you’ll need a sound system for front of house (what the patrons hear). There are two broad approaches: a basic self contained PA or a more professional sound system.

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Basic PA sound system for small venues

Public Address (PA) systems are designed to be portable so they can be setup quickly and stored between shows. They’re relatively inexpensive, but limited compared to a proper front of house sound system.

As a minimum at small venues you can get away with a self contained PA that includes:

  • Two speakers.
  • Two speaker stands.
  • It’s own mixing desk with a minimum of 8 channel inputs, each with basic eq of treble, mid, and bass.
  • It’s own stereo amplifier (which might be built into the speakers or the mixer.

Ideally you can detach the mixing desk from the speakers and place it in front or to the side of the stage. You can then run vocal mics and instrument leads into it, and use the basic EQ to mix the sound.

If you can’t reach mic and guitar leads to the mixer, you may need to buy a multicore / stage box.

Try to get a PA that has good bass response - smaller speakers and less powerful amplifiers usually can’t produce the low end, can sound harsh, or not loud enough. Some PA’s have the option of adding a subwoofer speaker to reproduce the low end bass sounds.

Note: most self contained PA are not ideal for acts with drum kits.

They won’t have enough channel inputs to mike drums, and don’t usually have much bass. At a pinch in small venues you may be able to get away with relying on the natural drum sound to fill the room, and run 1 kick mic and 1 mic over the top of the kit into the PA to add a little bit of drums into the mix.

PA Example: STAGEPAS 400BT PA SYSTEM - 2 monitors and a control panel.

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Sound systems for small/medium venues

If you can, it’s best to take this approach to get great sound, to mix drums well, and accommodate larger acts.

Unlike the PA, which combines the speakers, amplifier and basic mixer into a self-contained package, you usually buy professional equipment separately to build and adapt your sound system.

Some professional live sound engineers (the author of this article is a former one) may quibble with our recommendations because there are many ways to approach this. But we’ll assume that you have a small to medium sized performance space (up to 300 cap), and you will shop around for advice to match equipment to your space and needs.

Broadly speaking you’ll need:

Front of House Speakers

At least two (they come in stereo pairs. Many options are ‘Active’ - meaning they have their own power amplifiers built into them, saving you the cost of buying a seperate power amp). If you buy ‘Passive’ speakers you’ll need amplifiers that match their tech needs. Advantages of passive include that you can swap out speakers, amps and components as needed. However if an active speaker breaks down you’re often out of luck until it’s repaired.

Example of 2 front of house speakers.
LD Systems Front of House Speakers.


Often added to the sound system to reproduce the extra bass frequencies that the stereo speakers can’t. Some venues only need 1 subwoofer speaker because low end bass frequencies tend to spread around a space, so they don’t need to be heard in stereo.

Front of house speakers can come in packs

They can be a cost effective and less complicated to set up. For simplicity look for an active speakers (power amplifiers are built into each speaker), that has 2x speaker plus at least one subwoofer (example below).

Example active speaker pack: stereo with one subwoofer - AVE REVO12-DSP Sub Pack
Example active speaker pack: stereo with one subwoofer - AVE REVO12-DSP Sub Pack

Remember, if you get passive (not active) speakers you’ll need a power amplifier/s to run them. For simplicity we’ll skip amplifiers in this guide.

Mixing desk

Also called audio mixer or mixing console, this combines audio signals, processes them, then routes them to the front of house sound system, stage monitors, external effects units and recording devices.

It is possible these days to use purpose-built apps on tablets and smartphones along with the right interfaces to create more portable mixing desks but many sound engineers prefer to use physical mixing consoles where they can control all aspects of the mix with knobs and dials.

Additionally, you can get analogue and digital mixers. Analogue mixers are cheaper and work well as part of an installed PA setup. They are a good fit for most venue’s live music setups and are preferred by some sound engineers who appreciate the dexterity of analogue desks many knobs and dials to manipulate signal flow in order to get the best mix possible.

Pictured: An example of a 16 channel analogue mixing desk - The Mackie 1604 VLZ4
An example of a 16 channel analogue mixing desk - The Mackie 1604 VLZ4.

Analogue desks aren’t great for moving around though or for extra complex setups. If for instance, you wanted to save mixing set ups for particular acts, you are sharing a mixer between a number of venues, or moving it around your venue then a digital desk would suit you best.

An example of a digital mixer - the Berhinger X32
An example of a digital mixer - the Berhinger X32

You can read more about analogue versus digital mixers in this Sweetwater guide.

Whatever type you choose, here are a few things to look for when selecting a mixer:

  • You will need to invest in something sturdy for live sound (i.e. solid and capable of handling a lot of wear and tear).

  • How many channels and inputs/outputs (I/O) will you need? Most mixing consoles in live music venues have at least 8 but the standard is 16-24, which is good for most small-medium sized venues. Bear in mind that the drum mics alone will take up at least 5 channels. Once you add vocal mics, guitar amp mics and additional gear like a keyboard input you’re already past 10 channels!

Digital desks often have onboard sound effects and other processing like reverb, echo, compression and multi-band graphic equaliser, reducing your need you buy additional outboard effects units below.

Outboard effects units

Graphic equalisers (EQ’s): are rack mountable boxes which provide options to manipulate individual frequencies (sound) in your venue. They are placed between the mixing desk and the amp/speakers to control the final sound that reaches your speakers. They usually consist of a bank of 24-32 sliders that can be moved up and down to add or remove a specific frequency.

Graphic EQs are useful to tune the sound system to suit the remove, and importantly remove feedback (high squeals, low hums) that are triggered by mics. Rather than turning down the offending mic, you can use the graphic eq to simply remove the offending feedbacking frequency from the speakers

Pictured: example of a Graphic EQ - The Samson 2500.
Pictured: example of a Graphic EQ - The Samson 2500.

For further reading, PreSonus provides an in-depth article on this subject titled ‘What Is A Graphic EQ?’

Effect modules

You can purchase a rack effects module to add reverb, echo, or compress the sound. If you have an analogue desk you may need to at least have 1 reverb/delay effects unit and 2 compressor/gate units. Google and go down the rabbit hole on this!

Pictured: An example of an effects console (rack mountable) - The Lexicon MX400
An example of an effects console (rack mountable) - The Lexicon MX400

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