Soundcheck can be a confusing experience when you first start playing in venues, clubs, or heading out on tour. Until you start travelling with your own front of house engineer, you’re going to be meeting a new person at every show, and you need to find a way to work with them effectively and quickly.
Your sound engineer holds the magic key to either make you sound awesome or terrible. No matter what you’re doing on stage if they don’t get their side of it dialled in the crowd won’t hear it either at all, or at least not at the level of quality, you’re striving for.
Here are ten tips for making your soundcheck run smoothly and ensuring you get the best sound possible out of the gig:
- Learn your sound engineer’s name. It’s a good rule of life in general to learn the names of the people you’re working with, and it’s important during soundchecks so you don’t have to rudely yell “hey guy”. Learning their name is the first step towards building a functional working relationship with someone, even if it’s only for that one night.
- Be on time. Outside of absolutely unforeseen circumstances, you should be prepared and allow enough time for travel so you’re arriving and loading at the desired time.
- Before you load onto the stage, ask if they’re ready for you. If they’re still setting up monitors or cabling equipment, and even if they’re running behind, you dumping your cases in the middle of the stage will only annoy them, slow them down, and further delay your check.
- Set up quickly, play something to make sure everything is working, and then shut up. This isn’t your time to jam or try new licks – rest assured that no one else wants to hear your latest pentatonic blues riff at full volume while everyone else is still trying to get set up, no matter how slamming you think it is. Be especially mindful of this when an engineer or stagehand is moving around close to your speaker or drum kit. If someone has their face right in front of your gear it’s really uncool to let rip and blast their head off.
- Learn as much as you can about the equipment you’re using and don’t embarrass yourself by having to say “I need that cable thingy for the DI”. Be specific and polite, “hey Daniel, when you get a second I still need an XLR out for the keyboard line please”.
- Try to learn the language commonly used to describe the things you’re likely to want to change on your instrument. I can’t determine all frequencies just from hearing them, but I did learn that 200Hz was a frequency that often needed to be nudged out of my upright bass sound. Listen to other people soundcheck if you can, learn the ways other musicians who play your instrument talk about their sound, and try to avoid saying, “it just sounds… bad”. Whether it’s true or not, it’s an unhelpful way to say it and will ultimately just offend your engineer.
- Let the engineer run the soundcheck and ask for the instruments/lines/songs they want to be played when they want them. If it feels like no one is taking charge you can say, “how would you like to do this? Tell us what you need from us”. If they still seem to be unwilling (or unable) to run it effectively, let your bandleader or one designated person run it, going through from kick drum, through all the instruments and voices, checking the lines and making changes in monitor mixes as you go. However you do it, it’s helpful to have one person (ideally the engineer) running the soundcheck, rather than it being just a big, directionless, jam session. Pro tip: if the engineer is asking the whole band how much of something they want in the monitor, hold your hand up while that person plays and the engineer adds it to all the monitor mixes, lower it when the level you want has been reached in yours.
- Soundcheck at the same intensity and volume you’re going to play the show. Try to play in the way you plan to later on (when you’re all pumped up on beer and adrenaline).
- Finish your soundcheck with the song you intend to start with, so the levels can be exactly where you want them when the set begins.
- Before you leave the stage, ask if you need to strike the stage (move anything out of the way) and, even if you’re the only band playing, take a picture of your amp/pedal settings so you can be 100% sure they’re back where you want them later.
Enjoy your show!
Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from New Zealand, currently based in Nashville TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark and Tattletale Saints.