Guide to getting and playing better gigs


   

Soundchecks

     
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Unless you happen to be a big-name band, you probably won't get enormous amounts of time to check your sound, so you'd better use what you get to good effect. It may sound obvious, but check that your PA system, backline amps and cables are doing what they ought to - get each band member to try his instrument or mic very briefly. You're not interested in levels or quality yet, just whether clean sound is coming through. Never forget that one of the main causes of an amp not working is that little matter of switching on at the mains, and even so-called pros sometimes forget that you have to push a fader to get volume. Start by pushing all the faders up about 3dB, then pull one by one until you're happy that the sound is good at that frequency for the venue.

Punters, although very useful in terms of paying to listen to you, are a nuisance in acoustic terms - they don't just soak up alcohol, they also soak up a lot of your PA's top end, so, if you're soundchecking in a totally empty venue, you'll either need to aim for a toppier sound than you really want your audience to hear and leave it set like that (advisable when you're playing as well as mixing), or gradually increase the top end as more and more of your adoring fans fill up (hopefully), the venue. You'll also have to add more reverb when the punters pile in because they'll "deaden" the venue's natural acoustics and make your sound flatter, particularly on the vocals.


First check that you've got a good kick drum sound (if you're miking it) - it needs to be punchy and tight, so spend as much time as you can on it. The snare drum is obviously an important part of your kit, so you'll want to get it sounding right. Position the mic at the rim of the drum, a couple of inches above it, and point it at the centre of the skin. Both floor and rack mounted toms should be treated in much the same way, miking from the edge, pointing towards the centre. Mike the hi-hat from above, angled down towards the edge of the top cymbol.

At the majority of gigs you really don't need to mic the ride and crash cymbols as they'll get picked up by the mics doing the rest of the kit. If you really insist, then one or two mics on boom stands, positioned about one and a half feet above the kit should do the job.

Next bring in the bass and try to match it to the surroundings - some venues need a deep bass sound, others a much more toppy tone. If you're miking the kick drum, match its level with the bass; if not, match the bass level to the kick drum.

Now bring in the other instruments, one by one, and set their volume to correspond with the bass and drums. Guitarists' backline amps will always be too loud initially, it's just a fact of life, and a hell of a fight will ensue to get them to turn down. Now try a bit of an instrumental number, and tweak your instrument levels on the mixer to get a good overall balence. Always leave some head room on lead instruments so you can bring them up for solos or instrumental numbers. Do this by bringing up the backline level and backing off at the mixer until you think you've got enough room to manoeuvre.

Now you can bring in the vocals, lead first, then backing vocalists if you have such animals. It's very important to make sure the vocals are cutting through the mix above (or at least at the same level as) the instruments, and can be clearly heard right to the back of the venue. There's nothing less professional than a band whose lead vocals are just an indistinguishable mumble. Vocals will almost certainly need some EQ adjustment on the desk - sweep EQ, particularly with swept lower and upper mid ranges, can be very useful for voice, but you'll have to make do with what you've got. You want a fairly toppy sound without too much reverb for the best cut-through.

For short soundchecks you'll need to pick a couple of numbers that contain all your vocals and instruments as well as variations of tone, to give you a reasonable picture of the overall sound. Play these through now and you should, hopefully, be at the stage of only needing to make fine adjustments to your balance. If you've got a sound engineer, all well and good, he can make the final tweaks; if you haven't, it's sensible to send out one of the band to have a listen, and a wireless transmitter on one of the instruments can be a boon for this.


Having got your front of house sound sorted, you'll now want to get some foldback on the go. It's a good idea to do this with the main PA still switched on because, in a smallish venue, you're going to be able to pick up a lot of info about your sound from the front of house speakers and you won't have to whack up the level on your monitors to feedback territory.

Most feedback problems are microphone related - the most common causes tend to be over-loud or inadvertently-positioned monitor speakers. If you start getting feedback, the first thing you've got to do is find out where it's coming from, so disconnect your monitor speakers one by one and if the feedback goes away, which it probably will, the first thing to do is alter the foldback speaker or mic positions. If this doesn't work, you may have to reduce the monitor level and suffer all-night moans and groans from the vocalist whose mike and monitor are causing the problem. If the feedback's coming from the main PA, once again the first thing to do is try moving the speakers or mics slightly. This should have some effect, but may not be enough to get shot of really serious feedback. You'll then have to resort to identifying the mic (or occasionally instrument), that's at the root of the problem, cut it's volume, and reduce overall gain to match.

Some bands choose to use graphic equalisers to cut feedback by notching out the offending frequencies, but this can have a serious effect on your overall sound, particularly if all you've got is a five or seven band graphic on your mixer-amp. A 30-band equaliser will give you more scope to just cut the frequency that's at fault.

See also:
The Soundman

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