by Brandon Waardenburg
Sometimes soundchecks are quick and dirty.
A total of 15 minutes to set up, do the "check 1, check
2" thing and then you're already launching into your
first set. This means:
- No one can hear themselves.
- No one can hear anyone else.
- No one has a clue if the sound in the house
is any good.
- The enjoyment factor is significantly lower.
- The reality is that the majority of gigs
are in locations where setup and sound check happen while
patrons are munching on nachos and chicken wings, and time
Quick and dirty.
And I can almost guarantee that what artists don't realize
is that in that minimal amount of time they are doing things
that are working against them, making it more difficult for
the band to hear themselves on stage and the audience to hear
them offstage. It's easy to blame the sound guy when this
happens. I've been a jerk to many-a-sound-guy that I shouldn't
That poor guy. It's not all his fault.
Here's how to make the most of the 15 minutes setup you have,
giving the sound guy the best chance of getting the best sound
out to the listeners.
Manage Your Monitors
Use in-ears whenever possible. With normal wedge-style monitors,
sound bounces off the back and side walls muddying the sound
on the stage and then bounces off into the room making a soupy
mess of tones for any listeners.
Now I realize not every club is set up for
in-ears and that’s alright. If you can't go the in-ear
route be explicitly conscious of the wedge volume.
When asking for "more lead vocals,"
assess whether or not the monitor level as a whole is high.
If that’s the case then adding more vocals will only
make it louder and harder to hear. Instead dial back the other
instruments and the vocals will be easily heard. Same goes
for any other instrument. Less is more.
I like to mix my monitors like the house and
then ask for a bit more of myself. I want to hear myself reasonably
well but in complete context of the rest of the band. I'm
sure you're a rad human being and a virtuoso player but there's
no reason to mix your monitor so you can only hear yourself.
You're not a solo act. You're a collaborator of sweet musical
notes and you need to hear your bandmates.
Having the right amp for the room is a big
deal. A 10 billion watt Marshall full stack isn't a good fit
for a coffee shop much like a 1x6 bedroom amp won't cut it
in most concert venues. Have versatility in your amp selection
and bring the right rig for the gig. If you're not Mr. Moneybags
(me either) get a very good mid-sized amp and pick up a $150-200
attenuator to bring the volume down without affecting the
tone. Loud does not equal good tone.
With the right amp in place, keep the volume
on the lower side to keep the stage volume low. There's no
reason to turn it up to 11 when its mic'd and you have a monitor
pointed at your face. The extra wattage will create excess
stage noise that the sound guy can't control in the monitors
The final thing you want to think about with
any amp set-up is to make sure its pointing away from the
stage and not pointed at the audience. This is called side
washing. Make sure it's not pointed at the audience or the
first four rows will only be able to hear your amp. You want
the sound guy to have as much control over the sound as possible
so that the audience has a good clean house mix and pointing
your amps to the side enables this control.
Dial Back the Drums
Ever told a drummer to play louder? Me
neither. So be a sport and put down the tree branches and
pull out the best sticks for the occasion. Better yet, keep
in your bag a good variety of sticks from 7a's and 5b's to
rods and brushes. You're not the thick-skulled brute that
drummer jokes make you out to be.
Playing lighter with heavy sticks won't cut
it either. It's very challenging to groove when you're being
tentative. Grab the best sticks for the job without majorly
adjusting your strike. Be a connoisseur of sticks.
Finally, as a drummer, think "crisp."
Crisp clean sounds are easier to mic and stand out in the
mix than muddy ones. Tune up your toms, consider the depth
of your snare and make sure you have the right cymbals for
the space. For example, a huge and loud ringing ride cymbal
can over-match the mains in pretty much any small space.
If you reduce the amount you're getting told
to player or at least the amount of scowls from the rest of
the band, then you're trending in the right direction.
I think I've covered the main things, but
here are a few more odds and ends to think about:
Bring your own equipment for impossible-to-mic
instruments and gear. Don't waste the sound guy's time and
sanity trying to mic odd instruments. Bring your own clip-ons
or specialty mics and cables.
Know how to use your gear. You'd be surprised how many people
don't know how to set up their stuff. Play with it. Learn
it. Test it.
Be nice. The funny thing about sound guys is that they're
human beings too. Be nice, communicate and collaborate. Work
together to create great sound.
This is just the beginning
This post really is just the beginning.
Every space you play in has its own nuances – shape
of the room, materials of the walls and seats, quality of
the sound system, experience of the sound tech – but
you should now be well on your way to better sounding gigs
by making the most of your quick and dirty sound checks.