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The Perfect Player Part IV

The Importance of Sound-Check
Hello everybody and thank you for your patience. I know it has been a long time since my last article, but these are very busy times. The good thing is that from these busy times I got the idea for this article. What I will discuss today could make the difference between a great show and a so-so (or horrible) one, so please read on...

What we will discuss today is the importance of doing sound check, and some ideas to make the most out the little time you usually get. Though this does not mean to be a comprehensive discussion on sound-check, it includes some ideas that I think you might find useful when preparing for a live performance.

First off, make sure that you do sound-check. This is the very first step (and a crucial one) to any show you will do. It is of extreme importance to all bands, but especially to all of you out there who don't have a sound man (more on this later). When talking to promoters, club owners, or whoever is hiring you, make clear that you will need to do sound-check in order to perform at your best. More often than not, people won't like this (it means having people at the venue early, having to pay them, etc.), and try to talk you out of it.

I make sound-check a top priority for my shows, and I feel you should do the same. Hold your ground; explain that a good sound-check makes for a better show and happier customers. This probably won't work, but will at least show you are professional and you act like one. If you just chicken out for fear of losing the gig and accommodate everything this guy demands, don't be surprised if you will be abused in the future. This holds true in most cases, but use your own judgment to evaluate different situations. If this is a very important gig for you and the owner of the venue gives you some logical reasons for why a sound-check is not possible (festivals do sometimes present problems), be professional and see what works best for you AND the guy.

So let's say you are given a chance to do sound-check. Most likely, if you are serious about your music, you will try to get as much time as possible. Just as likely, the venue will try to convince you that 5 minutes is all you need. Again, it is up to you to make the call. I did a show in Italy this summer, and demanded a whole afternoon of sound-check for a 29 minute show. Mixing electric guitar with an orchestra is not easy, and that was what I felt was required for the situation. I was also lucky to find very accommodating people to work with, and to be in a position where I could make requests. If your band is a four piece and you practice 5 days a week, you might need less time, it is really up to you.

Whatever time you get, it is now your responsibility to make sure that you make the most out of it and set the base for a perfect show.

Rule number one is: be nice to everybody.
Rule number two is: be nice to everybody.
Rule number three is: you guessed it, be nice to everybody.

Don't forget that these guys are getting paid whether they treat you well or not, and whether they make you sound good or not. Always keep in mind that what makes a good show good is not only you. It is all the people who are involved in it.

Remember, though, that sound check is YOUR responsibility. The people you will work with can be more or less cooperative, enthusiastic, and professional, but don't ever assume that things will get done without your input. This holds true for anything in the music business, really, but especially here. Nobody will raise the high end on the cymbals unless you say so. Nobody will give you more bass in your monitor if you don't specifically ask for it.

Second, worry about one thing at the time. A good place to start is the drums, then move on to the bass, then the guitar, then the vocals. We all have different ways of doing this, so whatever works for you, go for it. What is important is the sound you get on stage. Monitors placement, which is often overlooked, is key. Really spend some time experimenting and finding what works best for you.

Here is where most bands (I am talking on my own personal observations, of course) commit their biggest sin. Everything sounds good on stage, everybody looks happy, so they just wrap up and go to dinner. What they have forgotten is that the most important thing at a show is not what you hear onstage, but what the audience will hear.

So before you go eat (or whatever you do between sound-check and the show), make sure you walk around the venue, at different spots, make mental note of what sounds good and what needs a little adjustment. Maybe the mix could be better, or maybe that cool reverb you used in the studio for your guitar is just mudding the sound when added to the natural reverb of the hall. This is why you should always have sound-check: every venue is different, with different physical qualities.

It is also true that once the people are in the hall, they will mess up good part of your settings (eq, reverb, and so on), and that's where a good sound man can make the difference. But at least you did your part of the work (especially if you don't have, or can't afford, a sound man).

You might even bring that long chord or wireless system and walk around the venue while playing with the rest of the band onstage to get a better idea.

Oh, by the way, only one person in the band should be in charge of the sound-check. Again, this is one of those universals in music; there should always be one member of the band who has the final say. Especially in this case, when you are trying to accomplish a lot in little time. Put all egos aside, whoever can do it best should do it. It is for the good of the band. Listen to your band members, accommodate their specific requests, but be in charge of the overall sound. This, of course, if you are the best for the job. Otherwise, step aside and let somebody else do it.

When you are done, get out and relax. Have a good meal; hang out with your friends and family Realize that all you could do to make the show better, you did. What is left is something nobody can teach you: putting on a great show and being the best musician you can be.

Born in Italy in 1979, Andre Tonelli moved to California in 1998, where he plays guitar. You can visit his website at http://www.andretonelli.com