Soundchecking & The Sound Engineer - Pt. 1
Soundchecking is a necessary evil. Personally, I find them intensely dull - maybe it’s the incessant thud of the kick drum, or someone shouting “One, two, one, two, HEY, HEY,” into a microphone every 3 seconds. The trouble is though, if you don’t get a soundcheck, for whatever reason (which we’ll discuss later), you regret it at gig time. You’ll wish you’d had just a few minutes to see if you can hear your backing vocal in your monitor, as you launch bravely and blindly into your first harmony of the night…or you’ll wish you hadn’t shrugged a couple of hours earlier and said, “Na don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” This is intended as a sort of guide for musicians gearing up for their first gig, who may have no experience of The Soundcheck. Most seasoned pros will read this and go, “Well, yeah, duh..”
Let's start with...
The Sound Engineer
There are two types of gigs; the ones with someone working the mixing desk, and the ones without. The former are preferable, obviously - if there’s a sudden banshee howl of feedback during your set, you need to know that someone’s there to deal with it, rather than your banjo player, playing with one hand while using the other to desperately twiddle knobs on the desk. To keep your sound engineer sweet, here are some things you might want to remember:
The sound engineer is not your dogsbody. They’re there to make you sound good, not to carry your gear, and not to go to the bar for the band. In fact…
Ask them their name and offer to buy them a drink. It’s basic courtesy and they may not get a chance for much of the evening.
Don’t offer them advice (unless you’ve got a really rare and difficult to mic up Mongolian nose-flute), and don’t let anyone in your “entourage” offer them advice either. The singer’s girlfriend shouting in the sound engineer’s ear that she thinks there’s not enough “tone” on his mic is just mortifying.
A bit like being in the army (or so I’ve heard), do what they say, when they say it. If he/she wants the band to get on stage to start soundchecking, then that’s your cue. It’s not a fifteen minute warning. Make sure your gear’s ready to go.
If the sound engineer wants to check the kick drum mic, don’t start practicing your major seventh arpeggios. If you’re running through a song to get an overall mix and they ask you to stop, then stop. It’s really easy.
You don’t need to fill every silence during a soundcheck. The sound engineer doesn’t want to hear the guitarist “giving it some beans” while they’re plugging in a couple of xlrs. Neither, for that matter, does anyone else.
It’s basically about being a sensible, non-irritating human being. You’re all working towards putting on a good show so work together. There are, of course, things you can do that can help your sound engineer - getting in touch before the day of your gig with a tech-spec, letting them know that you need three vocal mics (including one for the drummer), and that, yes, you are bringing your Mongolian nose-flute, and that you need a couple of DI boxes for the keyboards. Things like that can help the soundcheck run more smoothly, which will hopefully mean that every band performing can have their full allotted time.
To be continued...