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Backstage Class: Team Effort

A musician's guide to getting the most from live sound engineers.

By Andy Coules October 18, 2018

Image courtesy of Hilary Clark

For the performing musician there are few things worse than bad sound. If the mix is bad in the PA the audience can’t hear the music, and if it’s bad in the monitors it makes it difficult to play together effectively.

Whatever level artists are at in the music industry, they spend valuable time, effort and money preparing for those precious minutes on stage but all of those efforts can quickly be undone by subpar sound engineering.

It’s no coincidence that an engineer is the first crew member most bands typically hire; having someone out front who knows your songs and cares about your sound makes all the difference. It’s an observable fact that bands who have confidence in the engineer are more relaxed and deliver better performances.

But for those situations where there’s no choice but to work with the house engineer, here are a few tips for getting along with – and thus getting the most from – that engineer.

Stick To The Schedule

The first thing is to be punctual. Turning up on time for sound check with all band members and equipment present ensures getting the maximum time to get sorted, and it also allows the engineer to comfortably deal with you.

Being late automatically increases the amount of work the engineer needs to do while also compressing it into a shorter span of time. It’s a simple matter of professional courtesy; turning up on time can so easily avoid starting the day on the wrong foot.

Sound Check Is Not Rehearsal

Getting a bunch of musicians together to rehearse on a regular basis can be a total nightmare. Finding that one night when everyone is free is frequently an almost impossible task, so the temptation exists to “run through the new stuff at sound check.”

However, it’s important to understand that the primary purpose of sound check is to enable everyone to properly set up and to ensure everyone is comfortable on stage. This involves checking that all of your equipment is present (including those pesky power and signal cables), that it all works, that everyone can physically fit on the stage. and that the amps and monitors are distributed appropriately.

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Then it’s just a case of line checking the individual instruments and running through a couple of songs to get the monitor mixes sorted.

The sound check also enables the engineer to get a feel for the music so he/she can start to build the mix. A good engineer will also work with the musicians to ensure the stage levels are suitable such that he/she can add the right mix elements to the ambient sound to produce the desired sound in the house. Therefore musicians should always arrive fully rehearsed and ready to go.

Sound Check Song Selection

It’s always a good idea to think carefully about what songs to play in sound check. Be sure to include every configuration of instruments and vocals to ensure that it all works and the levels in the monitors are good for everyone.

This is also a good time to clarify with the engineer who sings lead and backing vocals, and to point out any mix elements that require particular attention. Bear in mind that some band members aren’t able to ask for monitor changes while playing so try to avoid doing long songs in their entirety. If necessary, just do half songs or a quick verse/chorus to get an idea of the monitors, suggest changes, and quickly move on.

Another useful aspect of sound checks is that they help in rehearsing the actual changeover itself, which can greatly help the show run smoothly, so try to ensure everyone is present. Bands that sound check without all members present always take more time in changeover, and this can throw off the entire schedule.


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About Andy

Andy Coules
Andy Coules

Sound Engineer, Tour Manager, Audio Educator
   
Andy Coules is a sound engineer and audio educator who has toured the world with a diverse array of acts in a wide range of genres.
http://andycoules.co.uk

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Dennis Buhrmann says

Good job Tony! For 2-1/2 years I did sound in a club 2 nights a week, 4 or 5 bands a night so I've been through with sound checks a long time ago. You're right, they're for the band to feel more comfortable(this is where the diplomacy comes in). Once you acquire their confidence you're halfway there. Great article, keep up the good work.

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