This week I'd like to cover the importance of sound check when performing live, and help bridge the gap between the sound engineer and the musician. Hopefully I can clear things up a bit and offer some tips as well.
(Disclaimer - Topics covered here are under the assumption that the musicians can play well, and all audio equipment is up to spec with the bands and venues requirements. Sound check wont really matter if you're using your dads karaoke system to fill a room of a thousand screaming fans. Also the most complex sound system in the world can't fix a flat vocal, out of tune guitar or a band with no timing.)
OK, first things first. What is sound check and why is it needed. Sound check is the time set aside before the show so the band and the sound engineer can work out the levels. The band usually plays a few songs and the engineer makes adjustments to the sound system for the audience and on the stage for the musicians to hear themselves. The sound engineer can either save the settings if their using a digital console or if their using an analog console then they would mark it down, so when your band come back for your part of the show everything would be just right ( in theory anyways ).
"Oh were easy we don't need a sound check" is a line a hear a lot of time when calling a band before a show. The truth is you really should. Sound check is for the musicians and the sound guy to get the levels set. You may not care ,but the sound guy does. He's usually the first on the chopping block when things don't sound well. Also on a number of occasions half the band shows up. This should also be avoided if possible. I understand that we all have obligations but if possible be there. Take yourself seriously, then everyone else will. This is your reputation here. You don't want to be labeled as "that band". On the promoter side of things, you should make sure all your acts for your show understand this. Your reputation is also on the line. The sound engineer or sound companies reputation is on the line too. Wouldn't you want the guy trying to make you sound good have the best possible chance? We all need each other, so a little courtesy on all sides goes a long way.
Tip 1 - Be prepared. Well in advance the promoter should get the sound company the bands current rider. At very least a stage plot and a input list. This gives everyone the opportunity to work out the small details. The sound company can have thing patched and set the way you need it, and they can make arrangements to get a special piece of gear your band may require, or discuss any alternative gear they can substitute with. Keep in mind, the promoter has been planning this way in advance, the sound company has been there setting up all day, and the band spent all that time rehearsing. Current info. in advance is essential. Show day is way to late too work this stuff out.
Tip 2 - No Sand bagging, Once in awhile I see a musician during sound check keep their levels half way. As soon as the show starts blam!! they turn everything up and the volume gets outta control quick. This is bad. When you do this the sound guy has all the gains set from sound check. Turning it up like that gets you more volume but starts to clip the board which could lead to distortion or worse. Now instead of mixing your show the sound guy has to try and get everything back under control. His focus is now not on your sound but protecting his equipment. Bottom line sound check at the volume your going to perform at. Everything will go smoother in the end.
Tip 3 - Stage Volume, Sound guy and band should work together to keep the stage volume to a happy medium. The sound guy should do all he can to make sure the band can hear and feel what they need, and the band should work to try and keep the volume to a respectable level. Why? For one in order to perform musicians at times need to hear certain thing and feel the music. On the other hand if this get too loud it can ruin the house mix. How? In certain venues when the stage volume gets too loud, a big wall of muffled sound come rolling off the stage. This mixed with house mix can make it sound funky...not the good kind. Also all those microphones on the stage are live, so all that stage volume bleeds into the mics and creates this weird sound. What can we do? Sound guys - make sure your sound system is adequate for the venue and properly tuned. Don't bring a knife to a gun fight. In some situations you can add some delay to the mains and time align the house sound system to the drummers kick drum. This can help in smaller rooms where the audience is close to the stage. Bands - practice playing at lower volume, with out the sacrifice of feel. Drummers can use a shield in front of their kits. Turn amplifiers so they shoot up at you or across the stage or raise them to ear level. Bass player roll of some low end of your stage rig, don;t worry the sound guy should have plenty of bottom in the house. Practice using in ear monitors. Singer especially like this but it takes some getting used. Oh one tip for singers don't cup the mic like you see the rappers do. It makes the vocal sound all weird and most times it can't be fixed.
Tip 4 - I just put this here for promoters. What works well for us in the past is schedule sound checks in the reverse order the bands are playing in. The band who performs last should sound check first, and the opening act should sound check last, and everyone in reverse sequential order. So if you have bands A,B,C,D performing they should sound check D,C,B,A. That way the last sound check is already set for the opening of the show, and the crew got a feeling for the flow of the show.
Alright that's all I got for now. Hopefully you find this useful. As I said earlier we all need everybody, were in this together. Let's not forget who makes this business work. The Fans..We all owe it to them to give our best at all times