Tech Appendix: More about Mobile Sound Systems

When you’re putting together a sound system, there’s lots to learn about — much more than we can cover in this book. You can spend either a little or a lot of your time and money. Talk to your friends, look online, and read books for tips and techniques to build the best system. What you learn will be useful whether you are setting up a studio or a mobile rig. As you improve your knowledge and skills, you’ll probably redesign and rebuild your system, but that’s part of the fun. We’ve gone through many versions of our system, and we’re still making changes. Here’s some ideas to get you started:


In a venue or studio, you can simply plug in to 110 volt house power. When you go mobile, you’ll need some battery power. A lot of systems use 12 volt car batteries, which are available both new and used. Unfortunately, they are very heavy. In many cases they are bigger than your freestyle session requires, so you might not need all that extra weight. Deep-cycle batteries from boats, RVs, golf carts and other systems are even heavier, but are designed to discharge more of their power before a recharge.

12 volt Gell cells can be found that are a lot smaller and lighter than car batteries. You can find them in different sizes new at electronic supply stores, but you can also get used ones from computer recycling centers for very cheap. These used batteries are often enough to power a moderate sound system for a few hours.

Some cordless drill batteries are 12 volts, and they are usually lithium, so they store a lot of power for their size. You’ll need to play around a bit to be able to connect these to your system. Some smaller systems can run on alkaline AA or D batteries.

Whatever battery system you use, you’ll need to get a battery charger. Make sure your battery charger is matched to your type of battery; the wrong charger/battery combination can destroy your battery and can even be dangerous. Remember to recharge your batteries after a session so they are ready for next time!

If you’re out in the daytime, you could add a solar panel and charge controller to charge up your batteries on the go. We’ve even seen some systems that use pedal power to charge their batteries, but you can’t really ride and charge at the same time.

To gauge how big your battery really needs to be, calculate the total peak amps your system uses times double the number hours your session will last. This is the amp/hour rating your battery should provide. Depending on your system and your batteries, in practice its a little more complicated than this. For more information, get a good book or find someone that knows about 12 volt electrical systems.

It’s a good practice to wire a fuse between each item of equipment and your battery. This can prevent damaged equipment, melted wires, or a fire in the event of a short circuit. Disconnect your battery before working on your wiring! 12 volt power systems and are quite safe, but be careful when working with electricity and tools. 110 volt systems are much more dangerous, and can seriously injure or even kill you.


Whatever amplifier you use, the main requirement is that it will take an auxiliary “aux” input, so you can plug in your mixer or other sound source.

A lot of people use car audio amplifiers for their mobile system. They operate on 12 volts so they can run from your battery directly, and they are easy to find in old cars, but they can be quite heavy and aren’t always that efficient. You can use an old home stereo amp, but since they run on 110 volts AC power, you’ll need a power inverter to convert your 12 volt DC battery power to the 110 volt AC power your amplifier can use.

There’s a selection of digital amps called C-class (also called T-class, tripath, or switching) amps, they are very power efficient and great for mobile systems. Many will run on 12 volts. You can find a selection of them on websites like eBay or Amazon, either as circuit boards or complete devices with a nice case for a little more money. Since you’ll want something rugged for your mobile rig, it’s good to get one with a case.


You can try wiring up any old speakers and see what happens. Your sound might be too quiet or distorted. In the worst case scenario you can blow your speakers or the amplifier. If you’re designing a new system, speaker resistance (ohms) should match the amplifier output. Car speakers are rated for car audio systems, usually 2 or 4 ohm. Home speakers are usually 8 ohms. If you chain multiple speakers on the same output channel, it will change the resistance, depending on if you wire them in parallel or in series. Do some research on how to correctly wire up speakers.

Speakers are also rated for frequency response, with multiple speakers required to cover the audible range. Some two-way or three-way speakers produce good sound for treble, midrange and bass frequencies, but you might want to add a subwoofer for a louder low end. Good subwoofers take a lot of power and are heavily built so they don’t rattle. This makes them inconvenient for a mobile system, so you’ll have to compromise. Some car audio subwoofers can pump out a lot of sound at high power but are inefficient at low power. Others have a high sensitivity (as measured by the SPL rating), and so will be louder at a lower power. There’s “rare-earth” neodymium speakers that are much lighter. These would be ideal for mobile rigs, but they cost more.


If you’re running any equipment that requires 110 volt AC power from a 12 volt battery, you’ll need an inverter to convert the power. We try to avoid using 110 volt equipment with our mobile system, because there’s a few problems with using inverters. Besides having the weight and space of one more item of gear in your system, a common inverter will often add an audible 60Hz hum to your sound. There are “pure sine” inverters available that should avoid this, but they are more expensive and usually built for high power ratings. The other drawback is inverters are only about 85% efficient, meaning that your battery will only last 85% as long as it would compared to the similar system running on pure DC. 110 volt power is also more dangerous, with a higher risk of electric shock.

To find the size of inverter you need, add up the maximum wattage of your amp, mixer and anything else you will run on AC. Make sure the result is less than the inverter’s continuous power rating (not the peak or maximum rating). You can can find simple inverters and many hardware and auto stores starting from about $20.


A few specialty performance amplifiers and portable stereos will include a channel for a microphone. We like to add a mixer to the rig so that you can add one or two mics and mix the volume of the tracks and the different MCs. Almost any audio mixer you find will do the job, if it has channels for two mics and a stereo sound source. DJ mixers are good but usually have only one mic input. Most mixers you find will run off 110 volt AC, so for a mobile system you’ll need an inverter to plug them in. We’ve tried building our own simple mixers but it’s hard to get all the features into a rugged package similar to the commercial mixers. Yamaha makes a small six-channel 12 volt mixer that will run directly off your battery for around $120. You may need to find a special DC power cord to connect it to your battery, or you can cut the cable from the power supply it comes with.

Mics and cables: We try to use two mics at all times. More mics can be fun, but you can also get too many voices going at once and a lot of confusion. Mics take a lot of abuse, so good, solid vocal microphones are best, but old karaoke mics or other mics will do. Our mics include a Shure sm58 (about $130 new) and a Yoga dm250 (found at a thrift store for $5), and they both are rugged and sound great. It’s worth reading up to understand why some mics are better than others, but you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gear. Check with relatives, try a thrift store or ask at a sound equipment rental shop. Mic cables, also called XLR cables, Long mic cables are good. 25 feet in length (or more) helps MCs get creative as they roam around the jam area.

Connectors: There are many different types of cables, so wiring up your system can be confusing. Mics use XLR (or sometimes 1/4″) cables. 1/4″, 1/8″ or RCA cables connect sound equipment to your mixer, and connect your mixer to the amplifier. Speakers are often connected with bare speaker wires, but sometimes use some kind of connector. You may need adapters, 1/8″ to RCA, 1/4″ to RCA, and vice versa. You will find it’s good to have a selection available. For a mobile system, try to secure all cables with cable ties if possible, so they can’t be tripped on or pulled out while you are rolling.

Lights: Now that the sound is bumping, you might think you’re done. When it gets dark, you’re going to want some lights. You can get El-wire, LEDs, lasers that run off the same 12 volts as your sound system, and at night they will really amp your game, but even blinking bike lights or other glowing things from a dollar store will help you be seen and make your show more exciting.


Our own MC Mahi Rahi constructed a big red box on a cargo bike to put our whole system together. The box contains our battery, amp, speakers, some lighting, and on the top we’ve got our mixer. The top of the box is high enough to provide a small table. It looks great. It’s not too heavy, but it is hard to move around. You could use a modular setup with different units for your speakers, battery and amp. We’ve also experimented with having all the pieces together in a plastic tote bin on a bike trailer. The easier your system is to carry around and set up, the more you will use it.

There’s some great powered speakers (like the Traynor TVM10) designed for street performers that contain a battery, speakers, amp, input and mic channels, so you would already have everything you need.

Putting it all together:

There’s a lot of little things that make everything work together. A nice paint job on your gear will make you look good. Wiring should be well done so it’s reliable, easy to troubleshoot and service, and safe. Your mics, mixer and sound device need to be accessible, but also secure so they don’t fall off your rig when you’re on the move, and they don’t get wet if it starts to rain. Velcro straps, hooks, bungee cords (or old bike inner tubes) and tie-downs will help keep your gear where it belongs. Some additional features can include hand holds to make it easier to move your gear, drink holders to keep your beverages safe when you’re rolling, and a rain cover to protect your gear.

Once you’ve got your system built and tested, it’s time to hit the road and freestyle! You’ll probably learn a lot and go through a few versions of your system as you build it out to your needs. There’s a lot of resources out there to help you on setting up audio systems. Have fun!

Mobile Sound Culture

Neglected areas are everywhere you look. Parking lots, empty parks, vacant lots, parking spaces, foreclosed homes, closed factories, business districts outside of office hours, quiet streets. Perhaps if people question these neglected spaces, they may begin to imagine new purposes for these spaces and reclaim them?

Urban planners and policy makers are constantly looking for solutions for the revitalization and regeneration of dead public spaces through creative practices. Public art is considered to be the main way of bring life back to the public realm.

Street music changes how people feel about the quality of a public space. By changing perception, we can change the urban experience. Public music performance is more effective than other forms of public art in constructing perceptions and experiences, since it can transfer emotions and feelings in a more direct and intensive way. It can affect our sense of comfort, sense of community, sociability, accessibility, and use of the space. These effects can cascade through more public interaction with more people, resulting in greater levels of health and happiness. The perceptions and experiences constructed by similar practices are considered to be the explanation behind the success of art-guided revitalization projects.

Roaming the streets with a mobile sound system, we instinctively identify neglected areas and add meaning that challenges existing perceptions of these areas. This becomes a way to suggest revitalization without actually redesigning a specific space. Our activities re-contextualize environments to softly build curiosity, activate new thinking, encourage interaction and collaboration, and spark reinvention.

The personal, cultural and social characteristics of the audience will affect how they perceive our activities. Some people will respond positively and love what we do. Yet not everyone will appreciate our freestyle, or even the fact that we are bringing a mobile sound culture to the street. However, the actions of public performance will still influence their qualitative perceptions of the places we engage.

In our neighbourhood in East Van, many streets and spaces are publicly neglected. Space is so expensive and highly contested that our mobile sound system has become an essential way to address our lack of accessible space. Residential spaces are too small and packed too close to successfully host sound-based social functions. New art and community spaces are unaffordable or unavailable due to global competition in the rental market. Ultimately, the only place reliably available is the public street, but the realities of unhappy residents and noise bylaws means that we have to keep moving. When we move freestyle expression into the public sphere, we’re also resisting the trend of solitary online interaction, and the commodification of socialization where the only places to be social are commercial venues.

The point we’re making is that your freestyle in the street is part of a larger picture. You and urban planners share the some of the same goals. Sometimes you might be allied with forces of gentrification, and your cultural contribution is adding value to future urban developments. Sometimes you are reclaiming neglected spaces for your community, creating a cultural richness and increasing the quality of life in the urban landscape. What you freestyle about is personal expression, but the act of public mobile freestyle practice contributes to a culture of community expression. The street is your canvas to paint on, the page on which you can write a story. A rich property developer has the power to define a neighbourhood with a large construction project. You have a different power. When you turn a parking lot into a dance floor, or an empty street into a place for interaction and conversation with freestyle, you are literally redefining the urban environment and the mental space of the city.

Mix Up Style

Copy Style: Pick someone you know really well and copy their style. You can pick another rapper/freestyler and copy their voice and their flow, or you can pick someone you know, like a friend or a celebrity and show what it would be like if they were freestyling.

New Style: Create your own character and freestyle as that person. The character might have a different voice, a different flow, different emotions, different values, and different things on their mind than you do. Be creative and explore the character. Freestyle about what you’ve done, how you think or what you think about. Pay attention. As you keep going it gets easier and easier to slide out of character, so keep reminding yourself to stay in character. Changing your body language and facial expressions can help, and it makes it more convincing to watch too. You might notice some people are already copying their favourite rappers without realizing it. This practice can help them break out of that trap by exploring other styles and finding their own.

Dealing with Jerks (and Other Personalities)

Everyone has a story to tell. Unfortunately some people remain under the impression that they are entitled to speak, act and play in a way that is offensive to others. They might freestyle in inconsiderate, rude, sexist, racist, homophobic, and/or hateful ways. We want to re-train, contain, explain and reframe the folks whose behaviour is not respectful.

If it’s your mic and you are holding the space, then it is up to you to make everyone feel welcome, even the “jerk.” Being inclusive also means making sure everyone feels safe, so keep in mind the experience of the other MCs and those listening in. Depending on the situation, this could mean: visually signalling to someone that their mic style is inappropriate; cutting them off with your voice; turning their mic off; or even kicking them off the mic altogether and asking them to leave.

It’s much better to avoid a problem in the first place. Don’t invite people to your freestyle sessions that don’t have the proper respect for the space, and make sure the people you do invite know that they are responsible for the behaviour of the people they bring. If everyone feels responsible to a person in the room then a chain of accountability can help ensure a basic level of respect. Let everyone know at the start of the session what you expect of them.

Public freestyle jams in the outdoors (like a festival setting or in the city with a mobile sound rig) present trickier problems for jerk control. If you open up your mic in public spaces, keep your eye out for people who might become a problem. You will learn to read body language and the way they approach the group and the mic.

Be prepared, but don’t exclude based on pre-judgement. Some of the best freestyle can come from people that are rough around the edges if you give them the opportunity to participate. There are ways of giving unknown people the benefit of the doubt and a shot at being respectful on the mic while still retaining some ability to facilitate a safe space.

Techniques for Jerk Management

1. Before you give someone the mic, ask them their MC name, and announce their name before you pass them the mic. This will subtly show them that you are holding this space, and that they are accountable for their actions.

2. Explicitly mention “keep it positive” or that this crew “runs on positive energy.”

3. Don’t be afraid to use your mixer to cut someone off the sound system if they are being disrespectful, or ask them to give up the mic.

4. Make sure to have two mics. This is big. If you have two mics, make sure you or someone you trust always has control over one of the mics.  You can work them off the mic with hype words that bring their session to a conclusion. Words like “OK, that was MC [insert name], rapping about [something].” “MC [insert name] is all warmed up, time to pass the mic to the left.”  When the rapper gives up the mic, you can announce their MC name again and thank them. Decide whether they can be reasoned with off-mic about modifying their behavior. If not, you need to ask them to take a big raincheque, and say see ya later. If you are using a mobile sound system, this might be a good time to announce “we’re moving.”

Control your anger. Focus on a jerk’s behaviour or lyrics and refrain from condemning their person. You don’t have to give them the mic again, and calmly tell them your reasons if they ask. Focus their attention on what is acceptable, so they have the opportunity to change. If they are beyond reason or intoxicated, you can tell them they can have another shot if they come back another time.

The important part is to keep it fun and safe. You might not be able to prevent every bad situation, but hopefully you can have a chance to hear everyone and still avoid any real trouble.

Choose Your MC Name

Before you get started, you’ll need an MC name. If you don’t have one, just make one up! Your MC name can be based on your nickname, something using your last name or initials, or a new name just for FFG. It can be based on who you are, what you like to do, what you think about, what’s going on in your life, what you aspire to become, something from your personal history, or something else altogether.

It can be hard to come up with a name for yourself, so sometimes it’s easier if you do this activity with your crew. Don’t worry about the name too much, you can change it anytime. If you try to change it and people keep using your old MC name then you know the old name is memorable! You can also come up with new MC names for different vocal styles and personas you use when you freestyle. A new name can help you get into a character that opens up a whole new style.

Sometimes your crew will will choose a new name for you that isn’t the name you chose for yourself. This can be great if it’s not mean-spirited or insulting. The names that your friends give you are sometimes the best ones, even if you don’t like them at first. Your MC names will grow on you until you own them. Over time, your MC name might not mean what it used to — but it will mean all the things you have become. Try to avoid an MC name that doesn’t represent you well, or is lifted from someone else’s culture. Other MCs might think you are fronting and it will seem inauthentic, maybe even disrespectful.

The reason we like to use MC names is to create a new persona to give us the creative freedom to say anything and try something new. Your name also creates a friendly yet formal bond between you and your crew, like a secret society name that only members know. When you use someone’s MC name you give them respect of an MC and acknowledge their unique voice. It also references a long tradition of performers using stage names, and you don’t want to break with tradition! Of course, if you really want to, you can use your given name.

On the next page are a few of our favourite MC names from our FFG crew over the years. But don’t use these — they’re taken! If we’ve left your MC name out, send us your name and remind us where we freestyled together so we can put your name on the list in the next edition.

Count Snackula
Professor Prawns


Sweet Pea

New Ditty
Mahi Rahi

G Whiz
Fly Choppa
From the Future

Lil Breezy

Sea Wizard



Daddy OC
Hot Rocks
Fly Choppa
MC Cedar
Word Salad
Slippery Elm



Hot Forest

Mic Gab

Robyn Banks

Vib Rib

H Nagz
Buddha Body Mod

Da Bass

R Mac

Shong Dadow

Reina Terror



Malibu Steve

Blue Mountain

Curtie Boy


Will of the Circle

Cruz Control

Red Fox

Brown Ninja

Pleco Chiller

Colly Kimchi



Waffle Ski


Stupocalypse Now

Miss Pronounce

MC Seaweed



Wasah Wasah


Tim Wisdom




Bad Wolf

Epic Ballad

Rainbow Child

Raven & Sika

Fresh Vagina Hero



Tris Magistis

Cat Asstrophy


Sun Tuque

Lilly Luminerea




Traffic Jam

MC What


Aye Usedtoknow


Mamma Boom

Grandma Sue

Crystel Clear

Starsky Starseed

Peace Coast



Sister Pranti

Del Fresh

Mollotron & Feather




Highem Hiess


Mitch Mike

Missus Sandwich




Queen of the Green

Mars Arcturius



Dingleberry Sauce



El Mama


Unity Yongfire






Puche Eban



Smoke Detekta

Kiss Mitten


Ambrosia Bee



Honey Pants




RC Crowla

Deegie the Squeegie

Ra’amayan Ananda




Isis Aurora




Bad on Purpose

Get on the mic — and be as terrible of an MC as you can be. Make every mistake you’ve learned to avoid. Mess up your rhythm, use a weird voice, use words that don’t rhyme, try to imitate MCs you’ve heard and didn’t like. See what happens.

Sometimes it’s really difficult to stop trying to be good! Trying to be good can become a freestyle prison, because you always want to impress yourself or the group, so you might stick to what you know you are good at, or what feels safe. By attempting to be as bad as possible, you free yourself from the obligation to be good, and can unlock new areas you haven’t dared to explore. Some of them are bad, some of them are really funny. Some of them might actually sound excellent, if not to you, then to others. You can observe this with some new freestylers who are afraid of not being good enough. Then they do something really inspiring and they don’t even know it. You can think of this exercise as trying to regain that “beginner’s mind.” Forget what you think you know so you can learn something new.

I Say, You Say

Get everyone involved in your freestyle easily with the classic “When I say ______,  you say _____” call-and-response pattern. Freestyle a topic from the event or anything you like. Tell the group, “When I say X, you say Y!” Then you shout “X!” and the crowd responds with “Y!” Do it multiple times. Change the call-and-response each time, or keep it the same. Everyone knows and loves it and they will join in. Remember to keep the flow with the beat!

We love crowd participation, and if the crowd is participating, they will love you.

Dance Party

If you’re on the mic at a dance party, help everyone have fun and move their body by shouting out and repeating simple dance moves that everyone can follow. Use simple moves like “get high, get high,” “get low, get low,” “to the left, to the left,” “put your hands up, put your hands up.” You have the mic, so you can call the shots. Think of it like an grown-up version of Simon Says.

At a dance party it’s not really about how clever your words are or how articulate your rapid-fire flow is. No one wants to listen to you. They want to dance. Chances are they won’t be able to hear your your words anyway, even if they are paying attention. Our friend Reverend Yearwood showed us how to get everyone dancing together by freestyling simple dance moves. He would encourage everyone to join in with tactics like this: get all your people to dance as low as they can, and then don’t change it up until everyone in the room is doing the same move. Dancers that are feeling the burn will amp up the peer pressure on those who have not yet joined in. Once everyone is dancing the same move, you give them a new one to follow. These moves might sound a bit simple but they are really effective and getting everyone up and dancing. Once you’ve got everyone dancing with you for a while, you can add in a little freestyle and it will really have impact. Keep it simple, and like the good Rev says, “Agitate, Agitate, Agitate!”


Get Outside

Get out of your house, bedroom, or studio and go freestyle with your crew somewhere in public. Freestyle in a park, on the street, at your friend’s house, at work, outside a club, at a party. Seek out events where there will be lots of people, and freestyle for the crowd getting out from a big game or show, at a protest march, or at a street fair. You will be challenged, you will learn new skills. You will face any anxieties about freestyling in front of people. Your ideas will be confronted by real public opinion. Best of all, you will meet new people and other freestylers.

It’s easy and comfortable to stay at your home base and freestyle there. But you are missing out on all the challenges and learning experience of being out in the wild where you can’t control your environment. You are also missing all the freestyle inspiration that is out there in new surroundings. You’ve already worked over all the ideas and inspiration at home. Every new place you go has a different feel and will affect your flow in different ways. Get out there.

80% Rule

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Practice on days when you are thinking about something else or you really don’t want to freestyle. Practice until you get bored with freestyling. Practice until you’re lying on the floor falling asleep. Then keep practicing.

If you’ve been practicing enough, you’ll reach a point where you can freestyle even when you’re distracted, not paying attention, or bored. Imagine doing that when you just started? It’s like saying your name, or walking. You aren’t concentrating on every letter or every move, maybe your thoughts are elsewhere, and you’re still doing it pretty well. You’ve become a decent freestyler even when you’re not trying. Now what can you do when you really give it your best ability?

Prawns calls this his “80% rule.” He doesn’t push for maximum intensity at all times. He strives to push for 80% so that when he really needs to slay it and it really counts, he can push it for that extra 20%. Note that “80%” refers to his energetic effort and not a level of quality. If you can leave some energy in the bank and relax into the flow, you can increase the quality of your freestyle.