Greets from Somewhere in Germany.
This post is for musicians who get up on stage and play through PA systems for any kind of gig.
Often the sound problems and solutions are in our heads, not in the equipment.
1) suffer during the soundcheck process…2) get stomach acid ON THE GIG from thinking the sound sucks….
3) If you are NEW to performing, and do or would like to do “open mics”…
I’ve got good news, and some tips to make it a whole lot easier for you.
Here’s some experience based on having done hundreds of concerts…mind you, they are primarily solo guitar concerts. A band’s soundcheck can be more complex, but I’m sure some of this advice can crossover.
By KNOWING some things – you can keep yourself in a good, groovy mental place for performing – which is as important as actually playing well.
This is important – because 80% of the time you’ll think the sound sucks, but it will sound fine to the audience.
If you look “pissed” off – the audience will pick up on it, maybe even more than a slight sound problem!
7 Tips for Easy On Stage Sound Checks – here we go!
1. It’s Not a Rehearsal or Practice Session.
Don’t test to see if everything feels right as if it as a full on 100% intensity performance. It probably won’t and here’s why:
You’re not 100% performing when you soundcheck. Some of your mind is making music, some is being a sound critic. You are divided whether you realize it or not!
This double mindedness can make you nuts, as neither side can win. When you actually perform, you are 100% in – and that will make the sound “feel better.”
Also – if your “chops” are not warm, don’t blame the “sound.” This is a huge trap for me, personally!
I now take the attitude of “let’s get this soundcheck finished!”
2. Often, the house sounds great and your stage monitors sound crappy.
I’ve been doing a bunch of duo gigs with Michael Fix. We use the same model guitar and have a similar setup (reverb, DI box). We each have the same reaction at soundchecks….something like:
“My guitar sounds so nasal and mid-rangey, but his guitar sounds so big and full.”
It’s often about stage monitor positioning. The “house” can sound GREAT but if a monitor is pointing right at your face, you will get the crap sound.
I don’t even try to make monitors sound good in terms of “power, bass and balls” – I leave that to the house mix. I use the monitor for treble and articulation so I don’t dig in with my touch past the point that I should.
In fact – you DON”T want all the “bass and balls” of the house sound, as that can lead to feedback problems. Just have faith that it sounds good out front.
I can’t tell you how many times the onstage sound SUCKED and people say “It sounds GREAT out front!”
3. Start with eq FLAT, Listen – then Adjust.
This is a mixing technique. Start with all your equipment flat and and do little amounts of eq as correction. “Flat” means all EQ knobs at 12 o’ clock.
If you find that you or the sound man are turning knobs endlessly swooping mids, looking for the “perfect” sound via EQ, proceed to step 4.
Often, little adjustments will fix a lot.
4. Take Responsibiliy for Your Tone – at the Touch / Voice Level.
Recently I have started “drawing more tone” out of the guitar with a more “meaty, fat” touch of the right hand and have once again rediscovered the “Garbage In, Garbage Out” principle.
( If you are a vegetarian, simply think of tofu chunks drowning in grease 🙂 )
Whether you are playing with a THIN tone or a FAT tone on your instrument – this will translate perfectly through a PA.
As I have taken more responsibility regarding my “touch”, recording and live playing is sounding better and better.
Obvious, I know – but with the myriad of knobs and bullshit boxes we can buy, we often forget the simple fact – tone starts with fingers on the strings!
(I also change strings before EVERY gig. It’s like a shower & a shave – helps clarity, brilliance and intonation. And – the ladies love it!)
5. Watch out for (and eliminate) Negative Self Talk.
Big one here. Watch out for the involuntary voices in your head during sound check (and gig) of “this sounds crappy, I sound crappy, this sucks” etc.
You may have to “fake it till you make it” by substituting in positive self talk. Even if you don’t believe the positive talk, do it anyway – as it will instruct your subconscious mind.
Before gigs I often say things like “I am the best, I like myself, it’s gonna sound great, the sound man is doing a wonderful job” – just to keep myself on the right track mentally.
Onstage when I make mistakes I say “everything is cool, no one noticed it!”
When we “present ourselves” to others on stage, our inner demons rear their ugly heads. We all want to be liked and loved, so bad sound can mess our heads up – because we equate it with our self image.
Simply replace the negative script with a positive one and everything will flow better.
6. Reel in the soundman’s creativity if necessary.
We need the soundguys as allies – so often I’ll offer 3 or 4 compliments to make him or her feel good. Then, I’ll instruct them as to what I need very directly.
For example – If the soundman is “riding” the volume on the gig I get extremely pissed. Sometimes adding crazy reverb or delays, gates or compression mid song during the gig seems like a great idea to them as well (but not to me).
I’ll warn them upfront what to do & not to do in a friendly manner. If they do this on the gig, ask them in between songs politely to chill out!
Don’t be pissed on the mic. Audiences like happy musicians!
7. Know that sound usually changes for the better when people arrive.
Bodies soak up sound, flat surfaces cause weird reflections & overtones. Rooms without an audience can sound boomy & crappy during soundcheck.
This is a big source of stress, especially for bands with bass & drums….my advice – just say to yourself “it’ll sound better when people are in here” and get the soundcheck FINISHED!
And….Tip 7.5 It’s always too loud for the person sitting next to the speaker. Don’t let them VIBE you out!
They’ll hear YOUR sound, not the sound man’s sound, so refer back to Tip #4.
Make sure the sound you produce before it hits ANY ELECTRONICS is good.
Chances are that if you do this – the sound in the house will be fine!
Update – Can I Walk the Talk?
After writing this I showed up to a sound check, and as Murphy’s Law would have it – the sound system was 2 Bose L1’s in a HUGE room (facing away from me) – no monitors.
I thought “ok AR, ya just wrote this dang blog post…now what will you really do in this semi-sucky situation?”
The concert was a success, and I’d like to add that as a soloist I can walk around the stage to find the best spot for sound, which I did – in lieu of monitors.
I had to take a LOT of deep breaths at the sound check, but all went well. By making LOTS of eye contact with the audience I focused on “communication” rather than the downward spiral of “wishing” the sound was something else.
Now get out there and rock the house – no excuses!!!
Misha Sakharoff says
Just brillant, as always! Thanks for the wrap-up Adam! Love <3
Rob Steinhardt says
(Not sure where this reply is being sent to…..)
Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2012 08:48:27 +0000 To: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hansel Pethig says
Thank you so much Adam! Think your advices will help!
Niamh D says
This is an awesome little article! Thanks for sharing your excellent experience and advice, it has made me feel better already!
Wonderful, enjoy! AR
Tony A says
Great tips. I’m a keyboard player in an rock band and I’m often frustrated with not getting the sound I want through the fold-backs. You’ve sure talked to that one! 🙂 I’ll chill, keep expectations lower and have a fun time whatever.
Adam Rafferty says
Excellent – thank you for teh reply!
Samuel N. Morgan says
Awesome list – The Music Business Has gone Digital and This Has Come to Stay!
Steve Spectra says
I know I’m a couple of years late reading and commenting on this article but I still found it very interesting. The point you made about getting a good sound and getting asked back is very true. I played with a (not very good) 5 piece covers band at a wake for a departed musician friend. It was in a fairly large very exclusive venue in our town and although we were not getting paid for it, I still set up my full PA which consists of 2 x Bose L1 Model 2’s and 8 x B1 bass modules with 2 extra Bose bass amps. I had 4 x RCF 700 Watt speakers for fold back so I could really hear how bad the band was. After we had finished the owner of the venue came up and said that the PA sound was the best he had heard and bearing in mind that the level of bands he normally has in are paid between £6K and £10K so that was quite a compliment. On the strength of that he offered us a gig on Hogmanay, (old years night) which in Scotland is usually the best paying and best atmosphere gig of the year. Very surprised to be asked, I accepted and gave him a price which to show what level the band was at, was £400. As it turned out we had a great night, even though the audience was mainly kids from 18 upwards and we were playing material from a couple of decades before they were born. So that definitely proves that you are giving good advice. Thank you.