Music Business: Your Sound on Stage and the Sound Check

By Loren Weisman

What your music sounds like on stage and what it sounds like in the audience are two very different things in the music business. Every room, every stage, every sound person, and sound system is different. You might know exactly what you want to hear, and you think you know what’s being heard out front; however, in most cases, you don’t have a clue.

Ask the soundperson what they need from you, and tell them the basics of what are important to your sound. Put together a basic stage plot and input list that outlines the location of the instruments and the usual microphone setups for that configuration.

The more advanced notice a venue or sound person can have with your setup, the better the sound they can give to the front of the house and on stage.

The sound person works for the venue and is paid for by the venue. They don’t work for you. Being rude to the soundperson that is working to get the best sound for you and helping with your monitors is a bad way to go.

Even if you’re dealing with an incompetent or inexperienced sound person, work with and talk to them about your ideas with which you’ve had success, or that you’ve seen others do successfully.

Keep communication between you and the sound person strong

Ask your sound person if they have any preferred signals to increase or decrease the volume. Get his name, and give him a list of names or the stage plot so he knows your names as well. Also, avoid asking the audience for sound feedback. It’s rude to the sound person. Asking people what they want to hear or what they think can come off as rude and unprofessional on your part, while disrespecting the pro.

This also falls under listening to the sound person as he sound checks and giving him what he asks for. If he wants to hear the bass player, don’t start adding guitar lines. The quicker he can get the isolated microphones checked and addressed individually, the faster he can get to giving the band the best sound as a whole. The more he has to ask for something again, the longer it takes to complete your sound check.

Keep the tempers and egos in check

It’s a fact of life; things are going to go wrong, and requests you have might not be heard or addressed in a timely fashion. Throwing a fit, yelling at the sound person, throwing a microphone stand, or any other childish, immature action is only going to make you look like the fool and keep the sound person from wanting to help.

Keep the volumes where requested

This goes back to the idea that what you hear on stage is not what’s heard in the room. The volumes are set to help get the best sound for the audience out front. Don’t assume you know what’s going on out front and then make changes that hurt your overall sound. Three universal points are as follows:

  • If you are asked to turn an amp down, turn it down.

  • If you aren’t sure if it’s being heard in the front of house, ask.

  • If you are having trouble hearing it on stage, ask for it to be turned up in the monitors.

Keep aware of changes and problems on stage

Don’t assume that your sound person can see that you have a problem or that he knows your set and your songs. The more you can keep the sound person aware of the dramatic dynamic changes, the issues and the problems, the easier it is to hide those problems or keep problems from happening. The following are five common messages you need to tell the sound person:

  • If you break a string, tell the sound person.

  • If you are switching guitars, tell the sound person.

  • If you are switching from brushes to using drumsticks, tell the sound person.

  • If you have a song with major dynamic changes, tell the sound person.

  • If anything is happening on stage that has a dramatic effect on the front of house sound, tell the sound person!

Keep hands off the sound equipment

Don’t adjust a microphone on the drums or on the guitar amp without asking first the sound person. Again, every room is different, and most solid sound people know how to capture the best for that room. You can discuss options that worked well in other venues, but remember, this isn’t other venues.

Keep the liquids away from the electronics

Look at where you’re putting your water, beer, or drinks. Make sure you’re not setting cans and glasses in a place that could cause a spill that shorts or destroys equipment. Liquids and electronics don’t mix well.

Keep your feet off the cords

Keep an eye on where you’re stepping and standing. Sometimes there are a lot of cords and occasionally you might step on one, but get off of it as soon as you realize you did. Respect the gear of others like you would want them to respect your gear. On that same note, don’t swing a microphone around by the cord.

Drummers, practice playing your drums with microphones on the kit. The main goal is to learn how to move around your drums without hitting the microphones. This is a major complaint both in the studio and in venues. Be aware of where you hit and where you aim. This makes sound people much happier and allows some to put up better microphones to get better sounds because they know you won’t damage their stuff.

Getting your sound on stage sounding its best is a combination of your professionalism, your equipment being in top shape and ready for the stage, and how you work with the sound people.