the PA sound-check
the PA Sound-Check – what performers need to do
Over the many years that I’ve been performing I’ve owned several PA systems and manged live sound many times with other PAs too. I’ve learned that there are protocols around sound-checking which help to achieve good results. I have also developed huge respect for the skills and patience of sound engineers.
If you perform, sooner or later you’ll play through PAs and will need to do sound-checks. This short article aims to help you to make the most of the sound-check opportunity such that your act will not only sound good – but you’ll present yourself in professional manner too.
what is the sound-check ?
Its purpose is for the engineer to give performers the best possible sound for their act under the prevailing circumstances. Specifically, that the equipment is working as it should and that all the voices and instruments of the performers can be heard clearly and well. The sound-check also establishes that the foldback speakers are giving the singers and musicians what they need to hear to perform confidently.
Typically, acts are sound-checked in reverse order of appearance – such that the first act of the event sound-checks last and vice versa. At the end of all the sound-checks, everything is therefore set for the start of the concert.
what to do
- Be punctual. Arrive early and be aware of the timings for the sound check slot. For some events there may be a published timetable for each act’s sound-check.
- Don’t overrun, else you risk upsetting the other artists and possibly the organisers too. So stay focussed during the sound-check, keep things simple and don’t plan a set with any more instrument changes than necessary. If you have a long set with different instruments, it may help to share your set-list with the engineer, highlighting the changes.
- Wait quietly and patiently near the front of the audience seating to be called by the engineer and then take direction from them. The engineer might ask you to play loudly to establish the highest volume level. Aside from this, play some material that’s typical of your set overall.
- Engineers are using their ears to manage sound – so only make noise and music when they need you to. If you need to tune up, warm up, practice or rehearse – then do this in the green room, allowing the engineer to do their job in a quiet concert space.
- Groups may be required by the promoter to provide a stage-plan. This is diagram which shows who is going to sit/stand where and what interfaces to the PA they will need. Stage plans can be very helpful and are generally recommended, even if not requested. When sound-checking groups, the engineer will typically want to hear each instrument individually first, then the group as a whole – to achieve a good balance.
- Make acquaintance with the engineer on arrival and show them respect. If appropriate, you might offer to get them a drink as they may be ‘tied’ to the mixing desk (US=board) for long periods of time. Be aware that the engineer often has a relationship with the venue or promoter and may report back on the credibility of artists.
- Many performers are naturally a little on-edge and/or excited before a concert – so keep a cool head and be objective. The sound-check should help to re-assure you of a good sound and so raise your confidence for the show itself.
Be available and wait patiently and quietly until you are needed. Take direction from the engineer and don’t overrun the sound-check time slot. Keep things simple and avoid unnecessary instrument changes. Keep a cool head and exercise a little discipline. You’ll look professional and win respect.