You’d think that sound checks would be simple. You plug in your gear, make sure it comes through the monitors, and get off stage. Yet it never goes that smoothly.
While there’s no way to solve all the issues that come up during sound checks (i.e. poor communication, lack of respect of leadership, etc) you can boost your odds that things will go well by following these 7 steps:
1. Setup everything before sound check. That includes testing all gear, microphones, and monitors before anyone even begins asking for level adjustments in their floor wedges.
2. Tell your musicians how to communicate with the sound engineer. Come up with a clear system of hand gestures (a middle finger doesn’t count). I prefer a simple index finger pointing up for more of me, index finger down for less of me, and an okay sign when I’m happy with the mix. Avoid using thumbs up or down since this can be confused as communicating that you’re cool with the mix.
3. Instruments first, then vocals. If the vocalists go first, they’ll often set the volume too low and not be able to hear themselves when the rest of the band is playing.
4. Decide on an order before hand. I prefer to check drums first, then bass, keyboards, guitars, and various instruments (violin, brass).
5. Play a test song. Pick a song that uses all the vocals and instruments, so you don’t leave anyone out.
6. Make adjustments, then play just the chorus of the song again. The chorus is the loudest part of most songs, and works great for making tweaks to mixes for musicians that can’t hear themselves in the loud sections (probably the most common problem of monitor mixes).
7. Ask everyone to sign off on their mix with a simple “okay” hand gesture. That way no one can complain about not being asked if their mix sucked before heading onstage.