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The Harsh Reality of Marching Sound Systems (And 3 Things to Remember)

April 29th, 2018 by Andrew Werst

Know What You Don't Know

Marching band and indoor drumline have evolved to a state most people wouldn't have imagined twenty, or ten, or even just a few years ago. This has definitely created some amazing shows, packed with innovative design, refreshing show concepts... and a whole lot of bass drops.

Those bass drops don't just happen, though - nor do the tons of other audio samples that have to find their way into the show, nor the amplification required to keep a front ensemble contributing and competitive.

There are a lot of things that you’ve got to consider when you’re trying to get your sound system to the level that will keep your band or indoor drumline ahead of the curve.

Hardware Maintenance

Hardware is expensive. If you’re not careful, it’ll start to wear out on you, but there are things you can do to prevent, or at least delay, this. Your audio hardware should be kept under close watch, because keeping it functional is all about the little things: tightening wing nuts on microphone boom arms, making sure zip ties on cables are tight, and checking to make sure the colored tape you’re (hopefully!) using to label your cables is still sticking the way you want.

Adjusting Mixer Settings

Most directors I know run rehearsals from up top in the box. Unless you’ve got a wireless router strong enough to reach your ipad from the 50, you’ll end up having your cardio session during rehearsal from running up and down the stairs every few reps to dial in the mixer settings. Having someone on the field to help can be a great time saver as long as they’re comfortable and knowledgeable enough to understand what you’re asking them to do.

If this can be a technician or a percussion specialist, that’s excellent, but of course the responsibility will often fall on a student, so make sure to brief them in detail and remember how much responsibility that role really has.

When Things Go Wrong

Maintaining the sound system during rehearsals will greatly decrease the chance of something going wrong at a show, but if something does, you’ll have to get it fixed - and fast! This is where a full understanding of your sound system pays off. Nothing feels better than being able to save the day when your system decides to act up!

It’s important that at least one member of the band faculty or staff has a comprehensive understanding of the sound system, and that they can at least help troubleshoot when the band makes it to a show, and that they will be free to do that if need be. If you’re a head director, you may not have time to drop what you’re doing to swap a mic cable; after all, you’re trying to make sure props are staged, extra equipment has hands to be pushed on the field, and your group gets to the gate on time.

On top of that, there are countless other nitty-gritty questions that are tough to answer.

  • What microphones should I buy?
  • How do I keep the wind from making my speakers rumble constantly?
  • What is a compressor and how does it affect the sound of my marimba line?
  • What do you mean highpass the vibraphones and boost around 3k?
  • Can I amplify my clarinet soloist wirelessly without breaking the bank?

We want to answer questions like these for you. That’s why we are starting a new series of field-audio oriented guides, articles, consultations, and seminars to help make sure you have the resources you need to keep your group set up for success.

Hopefully this article helped you learn a little about what you still need to learn! If you have questions about anything, or you want to share your thoughts, be sure to drop a comment down below.


Our first event is coming up at our Dallas location. Myself, Tom McGillen, Geoff Schoeffel, and Evan Brown are working to provide you with a one-day, comprehensive marching arts audio seminar that covers everything from the basics to the nitty-gritty. Tickets are available now, and you are welcome to read more about the event and decide if it is right for you!

Andrew is our marching arts sound engineer specialist. He holds a degree in the Recording Arts and has run audio for Phantom Regiment, Crossmen, and many high school programs in North and Central Texas.

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