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Sound Check Etiquette

Originally written for Live2Play Magazine

You get a great gig - and you show up, unload, and start going to town on setup. And at some point, a sound guy approaches you to ask if you’re ready for sound check. And here is where so many good gigs take a turn for the worse...

Let’s get this straight: next to being prepared musically, the single most important thing to any gig is the sound. Crappy sound can shut down your gig in a blink. Worse than that, it can permanently impress on the audience that your band sounds like crap.

Here at SPL and Live2Play we often wonder why so many musicians insist on doing sound checks badly. And as in badly, we mean...unprofessionally.

So, here’s your go to list to get your sound check done right. Every time. Share it with your band members. And impress on them how important this really is to them. Because pissing off the sound guy will only increase your chances that he uses that “suck” knob whenever possible.

1. Listen to the sound person: most sound guys are going to tell you exactly what they need and when. Don’t cut them off. Don’t question their methods. Don’t start babbling into the mic about something unrelated to what they are trying to do at that moment. Let them finish doing what they are doing. And most importantly, don’t tell them what to do. Particularly if you are not a sound guy.

2. Play individually: Nothing is more annoying during soundcheck than the guitarist fiddling with their stuff while the sound guy is checking drum mics. So...don’t. When sound check is on, it’s not time to be rehearsing your solo for Living on a Prayer. It’s time to be checking mics and levels. Anything beyond that is counter productive.

3. Drum mics: When the sound guy says “Kick.” That’s it - kick. And kick until he says something else. Don’t assume once you’re heard kick come up in your monitor that he/she is done with it. Wait for the sound person to tell you to move onto the next piece. And don’t play full kit until they tell you to, no matter how much you want to warm up.

4. Vocals: Though you can be pretty much guaranteed that the singer is not warmed up enough at sound check to deliver at actual show levels - don’t be a diva about what you can and can’t sing at sound check. Try to be warmed up enough to do something that really gives the sound person an idea of what your performance is going to be like. Try to remember that the sound peeps are not mind readers. Most importantly, always tell the sound person who will be singing and when, and whether certain mics will need to be on all the time. They can’t know these things without information.

5. Be flexible about limitations: The sound guy tells you that they’ve run out of auxes so they can’t run your in-ear monitors? Deal with it. No gig is perfect, and sometimes sound people are doing their best with what they’ve got to work with. Don’t turn into the world’s biggest prick and give people hell. Ask nicely if there’s a work around. But if there isn’t - particularly if the venue is tight on time - move on and figure out how to still get the most out of your show.

6. Be courteous when asking for things: acting like an a-hole when you ask for more of yourself in the monitor will only risk sabotaging your gig. Try to remember that the sound person has got everyone in your band to worry about and possible technical problems. Give him/her a minute to fix things, and don’t get impatient just because you might have to ask twice.

Although being onstage can sometimes make some of us feel like we’re the center of the universe, it’s really important to remember that without our behind-the-scenes sound crews, we are truly nothing.

Befriend them and treat them well. Great gigs are built on great team work and great talent.

And sound peeps are artists, too.


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