Tips for a Good Sound Check
Have you ever stepped into a soundcheck gone bad? It can really color the whole event. The larger the show, the more complex the instrumentation, the more necessary it becomes to have a system in place for how you handle sound checks. Great stage leadership provides 1) role clarification and 2) a defined process for sound checking. The two together can make inspired shows and happy teams. Here’s a small explanation of each as well as some sound check etiquette.
It’s important to help everyone get on the same page regarding sound check. Getting everyone on the same page means defining who does what. In his business leadership book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins refers to this process as “getting everyone on the bus in the right seats.” Healthy teams function through the clarity of their roles, expectations, and contributions. Avoid the temptation of too many cooks in the kitchen and instead flourish within the roles you’ve defined.
Once your bass player understands he doesn’t need to be responsible for front of house vocal eq and your tech understands he will not be dialing in your electric guitarist’s tone knobs, you can move on to some additional role clarification. The most important clarification has to do with stage and tech liaisons.
There should be two strong leadership liaisons on your team - one onstage and one behind the sound board. Some larger teams include a third liaison on the floor - usually a producer/stage manager. During sound checks it’s important the liaisons work together with a single voice guiding and leading sound check. Ideally, this single voice is the tech director or sound engineer as this is the time for musicians to be musicians, vocalists to be vocalists, and engineers to shape their stage and front of house mixes.
There is a general way most teams sound check. Usually it involves moving through the input list one instrument or vocal at a time. Usually everyone on stage will make monitor requests based on the single instrument or vocal being sound checked. Some teams prefer starting with vocals. Others start with the drums and bass. The goal should be to move through as quickly as possible without sacrificing sound quality.
The following are some good reminders for performers when it comes to sound check etiquette:
1) Less is more (only ask for yourself and a few reference items in your monitor to help keep stage noise down)
2) Less stage noise/more in ear monitors (instrumentalists - turn down physical cabinets on stage and turn them up in your in ear monitors)
3) Make sound requests through stage liaison (communicate through your liaison and their mic any requests rather than coming across as "shouting" to tech)
4) Keep it quiet (during sound check participate in each individual instrument/mic check. No talking or playing through other people's sound check)
5) Use universal hand signals (point up for more, point down for less, ok sign when you've gotten what you need, arm/hand up in the air to signal a problem or request)
6) Up the communication (when things are getting rough increase your communication game. Use quantitative and specific descriptions - i.e. "I need 5% more of the lead vocal" as opposed to "I can't hear anything." Even through you’re in a hurry use reflective listening rather than cutting each other off. Don't be afraid to ask for what you need rather than grinning and bearing it. When requesting say, "Please" and when a change has been made don't forget to say, "Thanks")
7) Have fun! Do what you are uniquely created for. Keep it loose and shake what your Daddy gave you.