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I have a mixer of my own that has small preamps build in for the guitar and mics. I'm trying to understand what additional playback equipment would be needed to play in a bar that can usually play music from a radio or a pc.

I'm addressing small bars and restaurants with visitors that aren't here for the music but it's just an added value.

We're just two people doing vocals and a single electro-acoustic guitar.

Say that you come to a bar to set up a gig and they point you to the aux input of their playback system which served them well for playing recorded music. Could this work well enough?

Motivation for the question: whenever I plug it into my hifi system at home with a little tuning I can get it to a good enough performance quality. However everyone I know always take their own guitar amplifiers with them or perform at bars with dedicated performance equipment.

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    Built in sound systems at bars for piped in sound like Muzak or CDs or MP3 players are like home stereo systems in terms of power levels and power handling. They are often 70V systems or similar. They are essentially incapable of handling live music content for a gig. If you're playing with a drummer there's no way a system like that can keep up. – Todd Wilcox Aug 23 '17 at 17:53
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Before I answer I am an amateur that has not done this for over 30 years. The stage sound gear I read about today is fantastic by comparison.

When recorded music is played through the hi-fi that music has been "produced." It will have well controlled maximum levels, possibly some compression, some limiting (heavy compression) and the sound level will be the highest the CD/MP3/Vinyl/radio broadcast can support. That music will sound quite loud and most records will be about the same volume give or take a bit. The noise floor (in the gaps in music) will be well under control.

Not so in pub gigs. When you play live with perhaps a small mixing desk, the mixed sound is unlikely to be as well-conditioned as recorded music. Consequently, your pub's hi-fi will need to reserve more headroom to accommodate the variation in sound levels the performers will produce. If you have multiple mic's sound from other instruments will bleed into other mic feeds, which can make controlling the sound mix harder.

My preference would be to use the pub's hi-fi for the vocals first of all and work out how loud you can go before feedback / howl or ringing. If the the other instruments are loud enough without further amplification you are ready to go. Use a directional mic for the vocals (e.g. cardoid) as it will help reduce the risk of feedback.

In my opinion there is nothing worse that inaudible or muffled vocals. The rest of the band need to adjust their volume relative to the vocals.

If you have an instrument that needs a little help to be heard you might add that into the mix feeding the pub's hi-fi. The more instruments you add the greater the risk the sound will deteriorate - become muddy, muffled or just rough. I would leave the drums out. A drummer I knew many many years ago used to out-drum an 800W sound system quite comfortably. A drum-kit can suck too much power from the hi-fi's power supply, which takes time to recover if it is not meaty enough.

If you are playing at a range of venues, you will have to change the sound mix, so keeping a permanent record of what worked and what didn't could help setting up and sound checks.

One problem might be the absence of fold-back or monitors. Apart from the vocals, the performer has the volume control for his/her instrument. If a performer hears their sound relative to the rest of the band and thinks it is too quiet, that performer will want to up the volume. A gradual race to 11 might happen between band members, especially toward the end of the set. I guess the band needs to practice playing without fold-back / monitors / wedges until each performer is comfortable and confident they can be heard at the right level to make a good performance.

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    I kind of agree - but I wouldn't put the vocals through a pub-wide system & not everything else. The people at the far end/back room will get only vocal :/ It would have to be all or nothing. Plus... for some people it's not a 'bonus' - they'll move as far away from it as they can to continue their conversation. Not using the pub system will allow them to do that. – Tetsujin Aug 23 '17 at 17:51
  • Wow, thanks for a great answer. I'm actually quite happy with what you said, was fearing it was going to be a definite NO. It's just one or two vocals and an electroacoustic guitar, that go through a mixer so the clippings can be fixed. Will wait a bit to see if someone disagrees and if not will accept your answer. :) – TheMeaningfulEngineer Aug 23 '17 at 18:33
  • @TheMeaningfulEngineer I'm not exactly disagreeing, just warning you that even with just vocals and acoustic you have a much higher risk of damaging a speaker in the sound system than the risk during normal operation. Beyond that, I'm still not sure it's going to be audible or sound decent without distortion. If it's just vocals and acoustic, renting a few powered speakers should be easy and affordable. – Todd Wilcox Aug 25 '17 at 13:51
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There are plenty of things that can go wrong on a gig, but a dodgy sound is right up there for gig suckery, confidence sappery and general crowd deterrence. Performing without foldback (and therefore not being able to hear yourself clearly) is a recipe for disaster. Also, the house hi-fi speakers have probably not been placed with feedback prevention in mind (and the management probably wouldn't look kindly upon you re positioning them. Nope, if you're serious, it's worth getting hold of your own little PA. You can get powered speakers with a couple of input channels, so you wouldn't need a mixer (or you could always go via your current mixer into the powered speakers). Use one powered speaker for the house (audience) and the other powered speaker for your foldback. You won't be sorry.

  • Performing without foldback Was hoping to experiment with a single ear headphone instead of full blown monitors? the house hi-fi speakers have probably not been placed with feedback prevention in mind This isn't something I can solve with sound check prior the gig? – TheMeaningfulEngineer Aug 24 '17 at 9:49
  • The headphone will work, as long as you have a separate volume control for it. Otherwise it's just luck as to whether you're getting too much or too little in your ear. As for placement of speakers, if the venue isn't running a microphone you can probably bet that feedback prevention hasn't been a consideration, and there's every chance that your 'stage' area isn't in an acoustical sweet spot. Management may or may not be cool with you moving their speakers or positioning yourself in any location that could possibly interrupt the flow of beverages. BYO PA gives you a fighting chance. – Areel Xocha Aug 24 '17 at 13:56
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Typically in situations like this I ignore the bar's crappy hifi sound system entirely. I used to bring a PA to gigs like this but for small venues, it's usually overkill, way too much volume.

Instead we bring our amps and a keyboard amp (for full frequency range) and then plug in with the amps behind us, OG rock 'n' roll style. The guitarist, bass player and fiddle player have their own amps. If we have a vocalist we route them through the keyboard amp. The drumkit is unamplified.

After we're set up, we soundcheck on an easy tune that any of us can drop out of at any time (except for the drummer) and then adjust our levels to suit.

Not optimal for a full performance but works quite well for providing ambiance at your local pub.

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