You will need a PA for most of the gigs you play. I’d say 99.99% will require a PA of some sort to carry your sound to the crowd.
Sometimes you’ll get lucky and the venue you’re playing will provide the PA or maybe another band you are sharing the bill with will have PA. But, there will be times when you need to make arrangements for a PA yourself.
Let’s talk about the good and bad of both renting or buying a PA.
How Much PA Do You Need?
First, you need to determine how much PA it will take to fill the area you’re playing with sound. If it’s a small area like a patio or coffee house, you won’t need much. Probably just a couple mains and maybe a sub.
If you’re playing a bigger venue, say 200-500 people you’re going to need more, like a couple mains per side and a couple subs per side. And, of course, the bigger you go, the more PA you’re going to need and the more it’s going to cost.
Of course there are many variables that go into how much PA you’ll actually need, including speaker size, power handling, number of band members, band instrument make-up (what instruments are being played) and so on.
I wrote another article outlining everything you’ll need for a multi-purpose PA here.
Buying and owning a PA will have a greater up-front cost, meaning you’re either going to have to have extra cash or good credit. You can easily spend $2,000 for the smallest setup. You’re going to want to buy quality gear, the best you can afford. Trust me, cheap gear is nice at first, but it doesn’t sound as good and tends to break down more frequently.
Once you buy it, though, it’s yours. After it’s paid off you get to keep your earnings for other things (which usually ends up being more gear, amiright?).
You also control when it’s available. You don’t have to call a sound company and hope they will have gear available for the night you need it. It would suck to book the gig you’ve been dying to get and not be able to get a PA.
There are often tax breaks available when you buy. What? You have to pay taxes on gig money? You bet!!
Some of the downsides include the need to get it to the gig (and back home) and storing it. You’re going to need a vehicle big enough to carry it around. This means a van and/or a trailer. Sometimes you’ll need both.
*A little side tip here – if you use a trailer, be sure to park it in a place that’s secure when it’s loaded with your gear. I’ve seen too many trailers get stolen. Also – park it with the doors against something (building/pole, etc.) so no one can open the doors and grab things out of it.
Besides transportation, you’re also going to be responsible for setting it up and tearing it down at each gig. This is time consuming and very demanding of your attention. If you play an instrument in the band you still have to set up your personal gear, too.
Hopefully your bandmates are cool and will help out, I’m sure they are?
You may have to hire someone to run the thing while you’re playing. I say “may” because it is entirely possible to run sound from stage. This is what I do often. If you don’t have a lot of experience with running sound, then it’s better to hire someone. This will cost you a bit out of the nights pay.
Breakage – yep, things break. If they do you have to pay for the repair or replacement. It’s not so bad when it’s a mic stand or cable. It sucks donkeys when it’s a cab or a mixer.
Renting is not better or worse than buying, it’s really up to how you want to structure things. There have been many occasions where I’ve rented, even though I own gear. Specifically when the gig requires more PA than I have.
Of course, you won’t have the big upfront expense of buying a PA. This is great if you don’t have the available funds. You will have to pay for it, still and this could take a huge chunk out of your night’s pay.
The sound company will be responsible for hauling, setting up and tearing down of the PA. When you’re crunched for time and need to set up your guitar rig, this will be awesome. But, if you can, always offer to help bring gear in and carry it out. This will make the soundman happy, and, the happier the soundman, the better you will sound. Funny how that works.
A soundman will usually come with the PA. In fact, the soundman is usually the owner of the PA. His pay will be rolled into the cost of renting. I guess technically you’re paying for a soundman, but at least there is a PA with him.
You won’t have control of when the PA is available, so as soon as you book a gig where you know you’ll have to rent the PA, call the sound company and lock down the PA.
If something breaks, it’s not your worry. The sound company realizes that it’s the cost of doing business. That is, unless you dump a pitcher of beer in a monitor on purpose – don’t do that.
Unlike buying, where eventually it’s paid off, renting is an on-going expense. You will have to pay for the PA every time you gig (unless the venue has PA). That can be considered good or bad. It’s up to you. But, the one thing that is good is that you can get a tax break here, too. Renting (or leasing) is tax deductible (usually).
The gear quality can be better than you can afford to buy, but sometimes it could be worse. When you’re looking for a sound company, find out what gear they use. Get knowledgeable about what is quality and what is junk.
Just like buying, rent the best you can afford.
There are advantages to buying and renting. If you have the money and time, buying can be a great option. You could even rent it out when you’re not playing. If you’re short on available funds and would prefer someone else do the work, then renting is the way to go.
Do you buy or rent? Let me know in the comments.