I like to think that as a bunch of musicians, we sound great when we're sitting around having tunes, and playing for fun.
But when we play ceilidhs we invariably have to use a PA system to amplify the sound - otherwise we just wouldn't be heard over the sounds of the dancing and the whoops!
We look for high quality, natural sound, that conveys the music clearly, and at a level that doesn't deafen people. After all, a ceilidh is not just about the dancing, but it's also about meeting and chatting with friends old and new.
Having a good and flexible PA system is key, and we think ours is pretty good for the size of events we normally get asked to play at.
There's a trade-off of course between quality, cost, and size/weight of the PA, as well as the complexity and time it takes to set up. We don't have a 'sound guy' (would be nice, but the cost to the client obviously goes up) to set up for us - we do it ourselves, and after many years experience I think we can say we do a good job. Our caller keeps in contact with the client throughout the evening to ensure they're happy with sound balance and levels.
For larger events (around 180 people or more), we can either use the installed PA provided at the better venues, or hire in extra equipment to augment the sound. We've played at venues where there is a sound limiter built in to the PA power supply - this can be slightly unnerving when you hear the sound of 150 people boisterously ceilidh dancing. If the limiter kicks in, it switches the power off! Fortunately, that's not happened yet though...
I'll write about some of the equipment we use in further blogposts, hopefully it will be interesting to those with an interest in sound equipment. This will include the choice of microphones/pickups on the fiddles, the acoustic guitar amplification, the piano gear/sound modules we use, the delights of using a digital mixer, instrument eq-ing, and the speakers of course.