There has been a great thread over on the Six String Bliss forum about how to get the best out of a soundcheck. With permission, I’ve summarised the main points below. But if you are interested in this subject I urge you to go and read the original thread.
- As the boy scouts say “Be Prepared” make sure you load up your van with what you need. Make a simple list of all the bands, or your own, equipment, and write on each case what’s in there
- If some piece of equipment is problematic or having issues then treat it as broken! Get it fixed or repaired, or replaced or borrow something. Nothing is more annoying than the guitarists amp crackling and banging when he hits his boost pedal because there is a short inside it hes been aware of for months.
- If you are a support for a bigger band then make sure you get an exact time for your soundcheck, then also ask what time you have access to the venue. If you have soundcheck at 3:00pm then that means you start loading your assembled (see next note) rig onstage.. not turning up to the venue at 3:00 and unloading your car and finishing your coffee/lunch and finding a park and wasting time.
- Get there early and assemble everything. That doesn’t mean plug it in and make a racket while the main act is trying to tune their vocal mics or eq the room. Find an area side of stage and unpack and prepare your gear. If you’re big enough to have a tech then find them a space to set up your “guitar world and kit” get your guitars out and tuned, if you have time restring, but not if it means eating into your soundcheck time. Get your pedals sorted and cables untangled. If you need to do any last minute battery changes or plug in power cables get ready.
- When you get your “call” to set up or “change over” be as efficient and as tidy and as “RESPECTFUL” as possible. Remember on the bigger shows some of the crew there will have been there from early in the morning and will be stuck there till very late that night and the last thing they need or want is some band practising “Welcome to the jungle” riffs while they’re trying to put mics in front of your cab.
- Get set up and plugged in and ready to make a noise. At this point if no one is working in front of your cab/amp then you can make sure its all going. This doesn’t mean endlessly doodle and fark round. There will be each member of the band wanting to do the same thing and that noise can be quite off putting to people who are trying to save their ears to mix your band so you sound the best you can be.
- Soundchecks are NOT rehearsals. You shouldn’t be really writing or rehearsing songs during your soundcheck. This time is set aside for the Front Of House (FOH) engineer and Monitor engineer to get your levels right and the placement of everyone in the mix. They don’t want to hear you all debate which chord the song should end on.
- A sound check will normally follow a few simple rules. There may be a line check which is where the FOH makes sure all the corresponding mic’s and lines are all matched to his desk layout before they start asking for individual instruments.
- The soundcheck begins… whether you’re using a house engineer, the main band’s engineer, or an engineer you hire they will want to go through each instrument as it is layed out on their sound desk.
So this will nearly always begin with kick drum, snare, rack tom 1, rack tom 2 and so on then the cymbals and overheads. Then it is normally the bass – both DI and mic if applicable. Then the guitars, keys or whatever instruments ending up with the vocals.
- Drum sound checks are TEDIOUS. Having to listen to a drummer hit the kick drum or snare or as the case usually is rack toms over and over and over…… and over…… and over whilst the FOh eq’s out any over rings or bad frequencies is boring and hard on the ears. If you have ear plugs put them in. Normally the FOH will check each guitar individually, for your clean sounds and your overdrive sounds, to make sure the volume difference isn’t too major. The last thing you want is for a solo to come in so loud it blows the ears out of everyone in the crowd, making the FOH guy pull the fader down and curse at you under his breath. Also your pedal may be too low and need turning up to get across the band. Its usual to need both guitarists to play together for a bit on their own so they can get the balance of each guitar and see if either needs to turn down on stage. During this time pick an easy piece of music you can play over and over and keep repeating… and keep on playing till they ask you to stop. Believe me, the FOH guys are working as fast as they can and not wanting to drag a soundcheck out any longer than need be.
- When its time to play thru a song, pick a song that has everyone playing most of the time.. A 15 minute epic conceptual piece where the singer warbles and the drummer plays one note on the floor tom doesn’t help the soundcheck for anyone. Pick a song that has everyone playing and something that covers the hard and soft elements of the bands sound. The FOH engineer needs to hear you at your softest and your loudest. Giving them a setlist with notes pertaining to a heavy number or a long mellow start will help them mix off the cuff and add any effects that may make the song sparkle..
- Sorry but the FOH engineer is nearly always right. If they ask you to turn down, it is in the bands best interest and the best interest for the mix. The PA is there to put out a perfect mix of the band so everyone in the venue has a great sounding show. If you’re playing your bass or guitar so loud on stage then the engineer will just be pushing the Vocals thru the PA trying to get over the top of the noise of guitars and thats a terrible sounding mix. It is better to turn down and give your engineer the chance to do his job to the best and MIX the band. and make sure it all comes across clear and defined. I don’t care how loud you practise in your bedroom or practise room, a proper stage volume is not as loud as you think it should be. And sorry, but alot of those big super rock and metal acts with walls of guitar cabs on stage – never plug them in. Yes there are the exception that do, but most of the time they are dummy cabs or just not plugged in and the amp is in the guitar techs work area where he can keep an eye on it and there is a cab behind the wall of speakers or in an isolation chamber so the FOH engineer can get a clear guitar channel without every other instrument blaring through it.
- If you have to take your gear off between soundcheck and playing time, say if there is another band to check, then “spike” your gear out. This means take some clearly visible tape like colored gaffer tape and mark out the corners of your pedal board and amp. It is even worth putting some tape on your amp and mark down your settings after soundcheck so in moving nothing gets knocked. Even a few notches can be mega-drastic when you put that through a 20,000 watt PA!
- MONITORS! if your lucky enough have a monitor engineer side of stage or maybe the FOH guy/gal is doing monitors then usually after you’ve gone through a song or just before they will ask any specific requirements for each member if they have there own Monitor or “wedge” some smaller venues may only have “two sends” which means you can get two different mixes – usually one for the drummer and one for the front of the stage for the singer and guitarists to share. Getting a good monitor mix is as important as the FOH mix – if you cant hear yourself or the singer or the beat then the band WILL fall apart!
- Once you’ve done your soundcheck, if you have to clear the stage, then make sure thats what you do, get all your stuff off. I have seen stage managers from bands throw support bands gear into bins when they leave stuff behind.
- Every band playing at any professional or semi-professional level should have an accurate and most importantly UP TO DATE “Stage Plot”. This is a diagram that shows, from above, each instrument, amp and drumkit position and also placement of mic stands and monitors. You can also include an input list, though this is something that a good sound engineer is best to type up for you as its designed to give other engineers and stage hands an idea what you’d like on your Quad box and combo amp, or if you’d like your bass cab mic’d up as well as DI’d. The stage plot helps any stage hands that have to load on your gear and makes sure a particular guitar amp is on a particular side. Even a badly drawn stage plot is better than none.
Thanks to “gunsforhire” and “laughinglarry” for sharing their vast experience, as well as all of the other forum contributors.