If you are involved in live music, either as a solo performer or as part of a band, you'll most likely have asked yourself the following question at some point: Is it better to hire or buy a PA system? Luckily, you've come to the right place, as that's precisely what we're going to answer today. As necessary as a PA system is, most musicians don't give them much thought - that is until they find themselves with a gig booked and no way to be heard.
Your choice of PA system arguably has a bigger impact on your band's overall sound than anything else, and while some don't want to admit it, you could be the greatest band of all time, but if you play through a PA that isn't fit for purpose, you'll never sound as good as you could. Okay, so if a PA is so essential, you should just get your wallet out and invest, right? Well, not necessarily. Before you splash the cash on your very own system, there are many factors to consider.
So, before you make a decision on whether to buy or rent, let us outline the pros and cons of each option to give you a better idea of what you are getting yourself into.
What type of PA is right for you?
Now, before you can hire or indeed buy a PA system, you'll need to know exactly what you need - and this will be different from band to band, musician to musician. For example, a full five-piece rock band will have different requirements from a solo saxophonist booked to play a wedding - and of course, the requirements change again when you think about the size of the venue and the number of people in attendance.
Let's start with the rock band scenario. To make it easy, we'll keep it traditional and say the band are playing a reasonably sized pub gig - and that this particular venue doesn't have their own system installed already. A typical band will need two front of house speakers, at least one monitor, an appropriately sized mixing desk, microphones, speaker and microphone stands and of course a bunch of cables to hook it all up - oh and don't forget someone to run the sound while you show the Red Lion why you're the most underappreciated guitarist of your generation.
Obviously, a solo musician won't require the same level of equipment. Yes, you'll need speakers and microphones, but there are plenty of all-in-one systems specially designed for singer-songwriters or the lone performer.
As we hinted at above, the size of speakers - in terms of power - depends largely on the size of the venue and how many audience members are present. So you'll need to think about this before you make the decision as to which PA you hire or purchase.
Reasons to hire
So, why might it be best to hire a system rather than purchase it outright? Well, for starters, buying a complete PA rig can be expensive. The sheer amount of gear needed for a full band is quite extensive. The cost of a PA system can run into the thousands, and this can simply be too much for local bands - and let's face it, you can't exactly buy one with the beer tokens you received as payment for your latest show.
If you are in a fairly casual band, playing every couple of months, or perhaps you only play at family parties and the odd social event, then hiring may be the best option. The cost of hire will be in the region of £100 to £300 a night - depending on the size of the system and any extras you need - so it would be far cheaper to hire one when needed rather than shelling out for a PA that's going to spend most of its life in storage.
Speaking of storage. If you purchase a system, you will need to keep it somewhere. That is totally fine if you have a secure garage - that's completely weatherproof - or rehearsal space, but almost impossible if you live in a one-bed flat. So, if you literally have no space to store your new PA system, then your only other option is to hire one.
We should also mention that PA systems aren't the easiest thing to set up - especially if you haven't done it before or you aren't technically minded. So, with more hire companies offering the ability to hire a sound engineer at the same time, you'll have peace of mind that everything is going to sound great, allowing you to focus on the music.
Reasons to buy
Okay, so we've discussed when it may be cost-effective to rent a system, but that isn't always the most appropriate option for some. If you play in a busy function or wedding band, then the cost of hiring a system night after night would be astronomical. If you are getting paid well for shows, you'll quickly cover the cost of your new sound system in months, so it makes sense to own your own. Not to mention, if you have your own system, you know you'll have a consistent sound at every show. There's something to be said about having a sound you can rely on at every performance, it's one less thing to worry about, and it means you can concentrate on the fun parts of gigging.
While it's common for bands and performers to use rehearsal studios as a place to hone their skills, some bands have the luxury of owning or renting their own space. This gives the band complete freedom to come and go as they please, and the ability to rehearse for hours on end until they nail the songs. Obviously, practice spaces require a PA system, just like a venue, and therefore it makes sense to opt for the best system you can, so you can use it for practicing as well as gigging. This also means that you're getting to know your system more and more every time you practice and you'll start to finely craft your sound.
We believe that if you play in a professional band or make a living performing as a solo artist, you should invest significantly in a quality PA system. A top tier sound system can make you stand out from the crowd and ultimately could lead to bigger and better gig offers.
Looking for more information about PA equipment? Check our buyer's guides below
- Get ready to gig with the best PA speakers
- Best vocal mics: vocal microphones for the studio and stage
- The best in-ear monitors: IEMs to suit all budgets
- The 10 best consoles for live mixing: gig-ready boards
- Protect your hearing with the best earplugs for musicians