Have you ever tried to figure out how to soundcheck a band on stage? Is there a foolproof method to get all the levels right?
The soundcheck is the most important part of the performance for any performer. If you’re totally new to this, the soundcheck is a process that every band or performer has to go through before a show. The aim of this process is to get the best mix on stage and in the house. The sound engineer’s job is to set the levels according to the specific instruments, voices, and characteristics of the room.
Before we begin, be sure that you have already planned out the channel input & output list for your audio console. There is no hard & fast rule about the channel layout, but generally you want to group similar instruments and microphones together.
For example; you could assign CH-1 onward to the drum mics, then bass, guitars and keys, followed by the vocal mics.
A systematic layout will save you time when you’re diving into the channel parameters to make adjustments on the fly.
Label your desk and keep it neat!
Once you have everything connected, you should test each channel to make sure there are signals coming in and out. This is called a Line Check, and it saves you from troubleshooting while the band is on stage. Now you’re ready to soundcheck!
We will be using the GEMS method to conduct the soundcheck. GEMS stands for:
- Gain Structure
- Equalization (EQ)
Let's get started! You're on the way to learn how to soundcheck a band!
STEP 1 - GAIN STRUCTURE
- The first priority when starting the soundcheck is to set proper gain structure. This accomplishes two things: (1) All volumes across the board will be balanced, and (2) each input into the console will be “line checked”.
- Have the performer play, and while watching the meter, turn the GAIN knob on the console until the meter registers an appropriate level of signal. You don’t want the signal to be too low, and neither do you want it too hot in the reds.
- Keep in mind the signal level, and apply the same level to each individual input.
- While working with this input, go on to the EQ section before going on to the next input.
- After completing this procedure DO NOT TOUCH THE GAIN CONTROLS AGAIN!
STEP 2 - EQUALIZATION & PROCESSING
- The priority here is simple: to get proper tone and dynamics control on each input. This is accomplished by utilizing the EQ and compression sections on the console.
- With EQ, you want the tone of the instrument to sound like it does acoustically. This may sound overly simplistic, but it is not. The trick is to bring out the natural tone, while cutting out trouble frequencies - often times, the high and low end of the spectrum that cause an unpleasant resonance in the room.
- Speaking of unpleasant frequencies, during the EQ process issues like feedback will be “rung out” and addressed as you work through the input list.
- Feedback happens when the amplified sound from the monitors or PA system is getting picked up by the microphones - therefore feeding back into the sound mix creating a vicious loop in the form of screeching highs or booming lows. Cut out the trouble frequencies using the EQ!
- Once you are done with EQ, dial in the compression and gating if needed to balance out the sound.
- When building a mix with this idea in mind, we find the overall result is clean and transparent.
STEP 3 - MONITORS
- These are the most important mixes you will create. If the musicians cannot hear, they cannot perform up to the standard everyone wants.
- There is a different procedure for floor (wedge) mixes versus IEM (in-ear) mixes. We suggest keeping wedge mixes simple, with just enough information for the musician to hear and “feel” the music.
- For IEM mixes, keep in mind many musicians struggle with getting a good mix. While using headphones, solo the auxiliary of the mix you are working on, and basically create a band mix, with the instrument of the performer the most prominent thing in the mix.
- Adjust as needed, getting information from the performer. Have the band play a bit, then stop and give you direction.
- Work with one musician at a time. It is important that YOU control and give direction to the soundcheck at this time, to alleviate confusion.
STEP 4 - SHOW
- Now it’s time for the house mix!
- The musicians should be rehearsing, while you pay attention to overall SPL (volume) in the room, along with making final minor adjustments with EQ, compression and effects like reverb and delay.
- Remember NOT TO TOUCH THE GAIN CONTROL – you will destroy all of the monitor mixes you have created if you do this!
- Make sure you have control of each instrument in the room. If you are achieving a good result, you should be able to “ride the faders” during the performance, making adjustments that are MUSICAL in nature, as opposed to fixing problems!
- When the band is playing, make sure you can pick out each musician, a musical mix is achieved by “layering” the mix. This involves bringing lead elements to the front, with supporting elements being pushed back.
- And with that, you’re all set!
Bonus Tip & Resource
EQ is often the most tricky and time consuming part of the soundcheck!
- Get yourself familiar with the frequency bands and the general terms to describe the sound.
- Using the right words to describe the sound will help your performers give useful comments on how they need their mix to sound, especially for monitors!
To help you get your soundchecks done more effectively, I’m giving away a free EQ Guide! Clink on the link in the description below to download it now!
Question of the Day
What’s your favorite tip when it comes to running your soundchecks?
- Post your thoughts and answers in the comments section below, we’d love to hear what you are working on.
For more information, check out the full video below.
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