Study Hall

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Check One, Two: A Primer On Sound Check (And More)

One At A Time

Now it’s time to wire up the stage. One of the keys to an easy show is to label everything in case of a problem.

We label all input cables and sub-snakes to trace a signal path quickly or for a quick, accurate re-patch when changes happen (and they always do).

When working corporate shows, we also run a few backup lines for important channels like the podium, wireless feeds and video sends.

For bands, the console is arranged in a typical festival style, kick in channel 1, then snare, hat, toms, overheads, percussion, bass guitar, guitars, keys, other instruments like horns, and then vocals. On corporates, the podium mics are the first channels, followed by wireless, playbacks, audience Q & A mics, VOG (“voice of god”) mic and board talkback mic.

Now it’s time for a line check, starting with making sure every input is working and then testing every mic and DI. If we have enough crew at the gig, this may take place simultaneously while the stage is being wired. Once the mics and DIs are placed and tested, it’s time to start dialing in the channels before the band arrives.

For example, we roll off the bottom end of the vocal mics and drum overheads to keep any stage rumble from bleeding into the PA. The input trims are set to a good starting position and the vocal mics are double-checked. Groups and VCAs can be assigned now, along with setting up a few standard effects like snare and vocal verbs and delays.

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Label those cables for an efficient setup as well as faster adaption to changes.

When the band arrives we give them time to noodle around a bit and get things positioned to their liking. Then we begin sound check by going through the instruments one at a time. Kick drum is the usual starting point, with drummers asked to strike as hard as they do during a show. The gain setting is checked to make sure there’s no clipping, and then the tone is dialed in with the channel EQ. Compression and gating are also set.

Once kick is done, the channel stays live as we move on to snare. When it’s sounding right, the snare verb (if requested) is dialed in, and then the drummer is asked to play both kick and snare so the balance can be evaluated. Then it’s on to hi-hat and toms, played individually first and then with the other parts of the kit.

Overheads come next, with the drummer asked to play all around the kit while we listen on headphones soloed to the overhead mics. The goal is to pick up mostly cymbals and not so much snare. Depending on the show, a mic might also be employed for ride cymbal because it can get lost in the mix when using just overheads.

If the PA is stereo, drums are panned a bit to add some depth. Specifically, kick and snare remain centered with hi-hat panned slightly to one side and toms to the other side.

Solid Foundation

The monitor engineer does sound check simultaneously with front of house. But if we’re also running monitors at front of house, now’s the time to get the kit sounding good for the drummer.

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We ask them what they want in their monitor mix, it’s provided, and once they’re happy, we run a quick check to make sure the monitor and house sound are playing nice, and that’s that.

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