What is a Sound Check? What does it mean for the performers?
Ok, so you may have performed a few times on stage, or you may have heard singers use the term, ‘Sound Check’. But, unless you are a seasoned performer or a sound engineer, you probably would not know what exactly a Sound Check is, or what to look out for during such a session.
Usually, all the audience sees is the sound man or sound engineer turning some dials and pushing some levers on the mixer while the singer performs his or her song. And sometimes, the sound engineer might mute the singer’s voice abruptly, and shout for the next performer to come onstage! This might seem rude to the everyday audience, and possibly also shock beginner singers who might just be doing their very first performance.
By definition, a Sound Check is the preparation that takes place before a concert, speech, or similar performance, when the performer and the sound crew run through a small portion of the upcoming show on the sound reinforcement system or PA system at the venue, to make sure that the ‘Front of House’ (FOH) speakers and stage monitor sound systems are producing undistorted sound that is of a good mix and tonal balance, and played at a suitable volume for the venue.
So, after hearing all the terminology and jargon above, you might still not have much clue about what to take note of during a sound check!
Let us give you some simple and practical layman tips for all performers on what to take note of when doing a sound check before a performance.
Tip #1: Make sure you can hear yourself from the speakers when you speak or sing
For any performance, you need to be able to hear yourself well in order to give your best performance. Before agreeing to any performance opportunity, always ask if there is any fold-back monitor provided onstage, so you can hear your own voice well while you are singing.
If there are no monitors onstage, you can also ask your vocal instructor or your friends who are musically inclined to help you listen to your singing, from different areas in the audience section (for example, in the centre, the sides, or at the back). This will give you a good gauge of how you sound to the entire audience.
Tip #2: Handle the Microphone Properly
A lot of beginner singers do not know how to hold the microphone when they are on the stage. Always point the microphone upwards when you are not singing, and never point the microphone at any of the fold-back monitors onstage. This is to prevent any feedback noises from happening and affecting the entire performance. (Trust me, the feedback noise can be pretty loud and disturbing!)
>Also, never hit the microphone on its head if you wish to test if the microphone is working. Either talk into the microphone itself to test for sound (just say ‘testing 1, 2, 3,’), or do a light scratch on the microphone head to check if the microphone is on. Sound engineers detest singers who hit the microphone, because this spoils the sensitive equipment inside the head of the microphone, and also shows that the singer is not well-versed in the basics of microphone usage!
Read this previous article of ours and find out more about Microphone Control
Tip #3: Volume Adjustment
As a general guide, always sing the parts of the song that have the highest and lowest vocal dynamic range so that the live sound engineer will have a good idea of your dynamic range, and he or she will be able to adjust the necessary settings for your performance later.
Here’s a friendly tip from one of our school’s guitar instructors:
“During the soundcheck, sing in the same way that you are going to perform in your segment later. Do not “sandbag” your vocal during sound check, otherwise if the live sound engineer does not know your actual performance volume and intensity, your performance will be affected later.”
Travis Minjan, Intune Music Guitar Instructor
Tip #4: Know your own vocal tonality and characteristics
Ask your friends how you sound like when you sing; whether they think you sound very sharp and bright, or whether they think you sound very deep and ‘bassy’ or even ‘boomy’. If you know that your voice is usually very soft and quite muffled when you sing, ask the sound engineer to give you more Treble so that your high tones will sound brighter.
However, if you know that you usually sound very bright and high when you sing, then ask the sound engineer if he can reduce your Treble tones a little, and give you more “mids”. This will help to enhance your singing voice and let the audience have a more enjoyable experience.
For instrumentalists, this applies to your instruments as well, and you also need to know the characteristics of your instrument and ask the sound engineer to adjust the mix accordingly. Sometimes, just saying ‘less treble’ or ‘less bass’ can mean a world of difference in a live performance!
Tip #5: Why the long wait?
For performances with more than one performer, usually the sound check will happen in the reverse order of their performance. So, the first performer to have the sound check will usually be the featured performer, and they will also be the ones who will take up the most time. This is to ensure that everything is properly checked for their performance, since they are the featured performers.
And, since they are the first to do sound check, they would usually also be the last to perform during the actual event. That’s a privilege that featured performers get. So, for the rest of us, we have to be patient and wait for other performers to finish their sound check before we get our turn.
Tip #6: Working FOR you or working WITH you?
Many performers tend to think that the soundman is working FOR them, but we should actually have the mindset that we are working WITH them.
Building a good relationship with the sound engineer goes a long way in ensuring that your performance goes well! After all, the sound engineer is the main person responsible for making you sound good!
It certainly does not hurt to say ‘hello’ to the engineer before a performance, and thank them after a successful sound check and performance. After all, if you plan to be a regular performer in the music industry, you might meet the same sound engineer at another event, and he/she might remember you as the courteous and friendly singer!
As for instrumentalists, please know your gear well so that if there are any equipment faults during a rehearsal or sound check, check your own gear first before you start pointing fingers and finding fault with the sound engineer.
Also, a general tip for guitarists who are new in performing, always check with the sound engineer before unplugging your quarter inch cable! Very IMPORTANT! Otherwise, the loud pop sound that happens when you unplug the cable abruptly creates very high voltage spikes that cause speakers to work beyond or at their limit, and over time, this would damage the sensitive and expensive speaker equipment! (And of course, offend the sound engineers too)