Surviving A Soundcheck

2268 views Posted by GuitarTechHQ in Performance Articles

So lets take it your in a band and you’ve spent endless days , nights and weekends locked away in your practise room, basement or home studio and the days arrived your about to play your first “serious gig “ . By serious I mean not a party you have arranged or a jam at someones birthday . But a proper gig in front of people at a professional venue with other bands  where you may or may not be the headline act or most likely starting out somewhere earlier in the lineup.

If you are lucky enough to get a soundcheck time assigned then  first find out the length of time you have been given. The most basic of checks is the “ Line Check”

A Line Check is purely for the FOH ( Front of House) engineer to make sure all his mics he has placed and DI’s are all picking up what they need and he has you appearing on his Audio desk on the right channels. You wont get to go through each instrument as  deeply as a full “Soundcheck”  The Linecheck is usually reserved for the last band setting up In reverse order or more basically the opening act..

A soundcheck at its most simple terms is to check how your individual instruments and voices are coming into the desk and then being amplified out to the PA system.  The soundcheck time is definitely not for you to rehearse new material or explore new guitar tones or try an array of new pedals. All that should be done at your own practise room and on your own time.  When you get to be the headline act the rules do bend and you can set aside time for rehearsing and such things but thats written into the day sheet and not into soundcheck time as the soundcheck time is as much for the audio crew as much as it is for you.

Lets start with the basics. If you are told by the promoter your soundcheck time is say 5:00pm until 5:30 or 6:00 this does not mean turning up to the venue at this time and unloading the car or van. You should always estimate the time it takes you to set up all your gear off stage in front of the stage or to the side out of the main acts way and then add that to the time you need to be at the venue. No one likes a band  thats turning up at soundcheck time or hunting for batteries or  looking  to restring a guitar.. All that kind of pre show work should be done well in advance. You should be turning up to the venue with all the right gear you know you need and have ready and all in WORKING order.   

On shows Im producing I always push supports/ openers to get into venue an hour before soundcheck time and set up all their gear offstage. lay the drum carpet down and assemble the whole kit- Dont play it or hit it, - your gonna piss off the headliner . But have it ready to go and all set. Empty your pedal board cases and get all your cables ready. If you have a guitar boat or stands, have your guitars out and ready to go. 

If your lucky enough to have a venue or show that has loaders then they are the lovely people that will help you get all your gear onstage. and off again afterwards so Be courteous and treat them very nicely. You might think your the rockstar but those guys could also be working directly for the headline act and a bad word in their direction about you could come back to haunt you. Plus everyones days easier when everyones being nice.. Leave your rockstar attitudes at the door :)


Remember TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. if you have 30 minutes where the stage is yours you have that time to setup and get all plugged in ready to go, so dont mess around Focus on what needs to be done and get it done. if you may need an extension cable to power your pedals, for gods sake bring one from home.. if you need a 20 foot cable. Have two on your pedal board. There is nothing worse than watching bands waste what little time they have looking for gear that they lost after the last practise. Or waiting for a band member to arrive. If you cant have everyone onsite then make sure another band member sets up the MIA players gear so at least the FOH engineer can check it in his mix. 

Working in any small space esp. a stage can be hectic at best. You could have you and your entire band all trying to clamber over each other to setup as well as stage crew, sound people and even lighting people some days. So try not blow peoples ears  playing power chords  while the sound guy has his head on front of your amp or smashing the snare drum while the engineer is sitting by it mic’ing your kit.. Yes they know you need to ‘test” your gear but wait until your not gonna deafen the one person who's ears you rely to be safely away.  If in doubt always ask. “ can i make some noise now?” they’ll let you know. If they're trying to tune a PA or find an issue thats popped up in the audio chain then the last thing they want or need is  bands making noise whilst they try find a frequency thats creating feedback or a buzz somewhere. 

So when its all ok for you to make some noise I think its best to check the guitar amps and bass against each other. This is to make sure that where you all stand on stage you can hear each other and no deafen each other.  If your lucky to have a monitor system onstage then this helps get vocals to you at your feet or maybe even some of your own instrument back at you.

Once your happy you are all paying at a good level onstage then its time for the FOH engineer to

 “ call the soundcheck”  This is the process where he will ask for certain parts of the band to play their instrument as they would during your songs so he can get a gain  a volume and an EQ across it to make it sound its best.. If they say can you turn down or change the EQ on your amp, Id do what they ask, They have experience and some shows you have to change an  amps usual setting for compensate or negate an issue within the audio spectrum in the room. 

99% of the time the engineer will ask for the drums to begin. usually in the order of Kick, Snare, Toms then Hi hats and cymbals. When playing a drum for a check the best way is an even constant tempo of single hits, nothing fancy. Especially as the engineer is listening to find overtones and rings that occur in drums and eq them out where possible., if you hit too many times too fast they cant hear what the note of the natural drum is doing and what they need to do. Remember its as much for their sake as yours. when a band sounds like crap they dont look at the band they look at the engineer so They are seriously wanting to make you sound great so they in turn look great and continue to work at their chosen profession.

 Go through the drums as asked and only stop when the engineers says stop and move on. Once all the drums have been checked on their own they will always usually ask for some “time” or “play round the kit, meaning play a drum pattern/beat that uses all the drums he has mic’d up.. try be adventurous so he can hear everything getting used. 

 From their its usually the bass and the Guitars, again he’ll go through each alone then usually get the guitars to play together if you have two or more guitars so they can make sure they have a nice spread of guitars and both equal volume through the PA. Its imperative you check the “clean and Dirty” settings on amps and pedals so your sound is the same across all the settings and patches. Their is nothing worse than a guitarist stepping on a drive pedal that suddenly blows the roof off and creates all kinds of feedback.

 If you have vocal mics then they may get asked for as well. Then finally the singer/singers will get asked to check their mics. Remember theres no point checking with a level of singing or playing that is so far removed from what your gonna play at the show. If your a heavy band play heavy. if your a mellow band play mellow. If your a screamer vocalist then scream when asked to try the mic. You may feel silly standing singing on your own or screaming but its what the soundchecks for..

When you have all been checked You will then be asked to play through a song. PLAY A SONG YOU PLAY! dont joke around or try write a new song, Usually its best to play a song that has your most extremes of volume and dynamics.. basically a heavy chorus and maybe a mellow verse. This way the sound person who may have never heard your band but is about to mix can get an idea of what you do onstage. Theres a big chance at smaller venues that the monitors/wedges/foldback is bring controlled by the FOH person as well , so usually just before they ask you to play together as a band they will ask what each of you wants in your foldback if they can offer everyone a choice, It might just be a simple vocal foldback- basically the vocals sent back through the floor wedges so all the singers can hear themselves onstage over the top of the drums, bass and guitars and keys. If your a keys player on some kind of synth or electric keyboard and not running your own amp then it will have to be sent back to you via the foldback as well so make sure you can hear yourself..


 The PA  is only capable of putting out so much volume as is the foldback system. if your onstage is louder than it should be then the FOH person is going to struggle to get the vocals out over the noise of the band, no matter how amazing you are. The same goes with the foldback. if you run out of headroom(space to turn up) on the foldback then you wont be able to hear yourself sing or your singer sing. So if your asked to turn down onstage, bite the bullet and do it or ask about moving your amp or changing where its pointed to lessen the onstage/offstage sound its blasting it out.. remember your  hardcore fans in the first few rows want to hear the whole band not just be blasted with your marshall cab at their head level. You can turn tour cabs to point into the middle of th stage to  lessen noise spill off stage. you can take your amps all the way off stage if you have the room, or you can just turn down a but until the FOH guy/gal has a good working onstage volume to work with. 

If your a singer its best to look where the PA is sitting or hanging and make sure you dont step in front of it , the same with the foldback, if you point the mic directly into the feedback it will usually feedback and you’ll have a lot of angry band mates and people in the front row and even an angrier House technician who's PA you might have blown or fried. If this is a support for a bigger act then the last thing you wanna do is ruin the gear they need for their show before they have even started.

No ones not wanting you to put on your best %127 show but try be smart onstage and dont trip over each other or blow stuff up., It makes you look amateur and generally will get you a bad rep and if your starting out or coming up through the live music scene you always want people to talk well of you.


if you have spent that very valuable 30 minutes checking the whole band and all your gear. dont finish and then turn up your amp, or swap pedals out or make volume and eq adjustments , it will just lessen the job the engineers done and will make your show sound bad.  If your not happy with something during soundcheck tell people when you stop.. 

Another Big beginner fail is to play a song as a band when asked then all of a sudden stop on your own devices and say you cant hear your foldback or ask a mate in the bar what it sounds like. An engineer has a lot of things to contend with and each change they make effects the next and a lot take their job very seriously  and they need a few minutes to try eq’ settings, add compressors or limiters to things and then think about effects to sweeten your mix. They cant do all that in the first few bars of your song. SO DONT STOP! yes you may have to play the same song beginning to end without foldback but its what happens. If you urgently need more of something in your mix get the FOH persons attention and gesture with your hands what you need up or down in the wedge.. its not that hard to point to a guitar or make a hand gesture to indicate vocals. Engineers have seen a lot of it in their job so they are fast to pickup and if they looking at the audio desk its usually because they are working on am,king you sound good.

If your maybe one of many bands on the bill and you have to “strike” or remove or shift your gear then its best to “spike” where it was, This is the basic process of using gaffer tape on the floor to make a mark or indication where your amp was and where it was facing. you can even make things easier by marking the edges of where the mic on the cab was on the speaker cloth with a small bit of tape. Also this may the sweet spot and if your happy with how your gig sounded then you can always start from mic’ing your cab there.  If your on a run of shows maybe supporting an act and having soundchecks each and every day take each one as seriously as the day before or even more  each day.. Its the only time you have one on one with the person who makes you sound like the rockstars you want to be, remember once the show starts and the venues packed it can be hard to get back to talk to the soundy.

There are tips you can do to make your life easier. 

*Make up a “Stage Plot” and an “Input List”… 

A stage plot is like a map of the stage and where each of your amps and kit and keys goes and marks if you need things like power points at designated places. An input list is a but more in depth in that it is a list of channels and what instrument is on each channel. a Stage Plot helps any local crew set your gear up in the right place .

*Give the soundy a setlist.. its as simple as that. mark each song with maybe special notes. e.g. Acoustic, or mellow, or dubby, or Heavy,. this way they can be creative and maybe have some cool effects like delays or reverbs ready on the mix for adding some flair to your sound.

Have a friend of the band that wants to help out? make him your roadie and stage hand. He can take charge of helping set your stage and do restrings and guitar swaps. Some of the longest touring roadies still going all started helping friends bands on local shows. Both the band and crew will evolve and learn and you’ll have someone to always keep an eye on you.

*Plan ahead of time where your gear needs to go to right after your set. A lot of smaller venues dont have space to store gear so you might need to pack all your gear down fast and get it off the stage and into a car and dropped somewhere safe..Dont leave it in the car outside.

Call ahead and see if you can share any backline on shows.. then you just need to bring heads maybe or cymbals and stands.

If your a singer that likes to throw the mic around , do yourself and your band a favour and bring your own good quality mic. Nothing pisses off a sound guy or house Tech more than seeing a band drop the mic or swing it round and bounce it off the ceiling. They cost money and the break easy. I know of big sound companies that have stopped supplying mics to bands on tour due to the damage rate..

Always check if the in house sound guy needs to be paid something for doing your sound and bring cash.. if hes taken care of by the venue hire or the show, Still go thank him and offer to buy him a soda or beer. if you leave on good terms he’ll be an asset next time you need a sound guy or play the same venue/club. 

 Treat all the local crew and crew of main acts with some courtesy and respect. Some of these guys and gals have been doing the gig for longer than you’ve been playing guitar and they also talk amongst themselves about the good bands they’ve come across and even more so about the bad.. You want more gigs. Be a band they say good things about.

Dont use the headline acts gear as coasters and drinks holders while your playing.. Nothing pisses off a stage tech more than seeing some local acts condensation on beer glass’s or bottle dripping all over the vintage Plexi head or worse knocked over and soaking the old speakers and grill cloth.. Remember the stage is a shared space so try share it nicely..