Wouldn’t you love to start the show with a great mix instead of spending the first several songs trying to pull it together? What can you do to get the most out of soundcheck?
Prior to doing a soundcheck with the band, it’s very beneficial for the audio crew to run through a line check of all the inputs. This can be done with the band technicians or another audio tech. During line check the house and monitor engineer should be making sure all of the inputs are patched and working correctly, no buzzes, crackles, or pops. Listen for things like bad cables, noisy lines, interference, etc. repair or replace as needed. Line check is also time to work on getting inputs dialed in.
Line check has several purposes-
1- To make sure all inputs are working correctly. All signals should be clean and strong and patched in the right channels.
2- To set input gain, EQ, and dynamics, plug ins, and effects for each input.
3- To set up a rough monitor mix for each musician.
A good line check leaves more time for really fine-tuning the mix during soundcheck.
I like to start my line check with the drums. I’ll have the drum tech play solid hits on each drum one at a time and by itself. At this time I am setting my input gain, dialing in EQ and any gates/comps, plug ins, etc. If I am running monitors from FOH I’ll also start dialing in rough monitor mixes. If there is a dedicated monitor engineer, they will be following along and doing the same.
Beginning with the kick drum, just solid hits on the kick, not four on the floor, not showing off your speed metal drumming or fancy footwork, just kick….kick….kick….kick….kick. Once I’m happy with the kick drum I’ll move on to the snare drum and do the same. Snare….snare….snare….snare and so on around all of the inputs on the drum kit.
Next I’ll move on to the bass guitar, again dialing in the gain, EQ, inserts, etc. Then electric guitars, keys, horns, percussion, vocals, until I’ve heard all the inputs from the stage. It doesn’t matter the order, just make sure you’ve heard everything.
Allowing adequate time for a good line check makes for a smoother running soundcheck.
Ideally line check is completed by the crew before the band hits the stage. If the band does not have a crew it’s still a good idea to just tap through all of the inputs once the stage is mic’d and wired, to make sure everything is in the right channel. It’s better to fix any problems before the band is on stage waiting to soundcheck.
If you’ve been able to complete a quality line check, soundcheck will be where the FOH mix and Monitor mixes are fine-tuned.
The goals of soundcheck are:
1- Fine-tune the gain, EQ, etc. for the inputs.
2- Be sure to hear all of the instruments /inputs that will be played for the show.
3- Build or Tweak monitor mixes.
4- Dial in the mix.
5- Listen to effects and run through any specific cues.
Note- If the band does not have a crew and/or have not done a line check, soundcheck will be much less chaotic if you start with one band member at a time to get monitor mixes going.
Starting with the drummer alone, proceed as above under ‘line check’, dialing things in and getting the drummer’s monitor mix happening. Continue with each individual musician one at a time.
After each musician has a rough mix dialed in, then it’s time for the band to play a few songs. During this time you can make adjustments as needed to the monitors.
If the band has a dedicated band leader or MD they may choose to direct soundcheck but if you aren’t sure how to proceed, here are a few ideas to make the most of your time.
If the band that has a lot of vocal harmonies, start with something a cappella to dial in the vocals.
Next, play one of the loudest songs, followed by a ballad or something soft. Make any adjustments to monitors as needed.
If there are any instrument changes – for instance the guitar player switches from electric to acoustic make sure to run through a song with each. If the keyboard player has a lot of wildly different keyboard patches it’s a good idea to listen to all of them.
If the band makes any major changes during the show like switching from a rock to an acoustic set, do one of the acoustic songs. If there is more than one lead singer, have each do at least one song.
It’s a great idea to end your soundcheck with the first song of the set. This leaves things set for the top of the show and gives everyone a song to get settled in. If you only have time for one song, make it the first song of your set.
Everyone should be playing and singing at show volume.
By the end of soundcheck the goal is for the band to be comfortable on stage and with their monitors, and the house engineer to have a good handle on the mix.
All of this is subject to what time allows. Sometimes you’ve just got to throw and go and make the best of it. For example if you are doing a festival, you may only have time for a very fast line check, possibly one song, or maybe even just a half of a song. However when possible, if you proceed as I’ve suggested above following the guidelines for a proper line check and soundcheck, that should set you up for a much smoother running show.
As with anything in life, proper preparation leads to better execution.
Read more about live sound and mixing HERE
About the author- Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato has been a professional touring concert sound engineer for nearly 30 years and is currently FOH Engineer for Elvis Costello.