The Sound Check

April 3rd, 2014

The sound check
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The sound check
If you haven’t been in a band or performed with one live, then you probably aren’t familiar with the ins and outs of a sound check. A sound check is basically the time allotted for the live sound engineer/mixer to make sure the band is sounding good before the audience arrives. A good engineer can make or break a gig. If you have been rehearsing for weeks and weeks in your crappy sounding jam space and finally get a live gig (this never happens in Vancouver – it’s an urban myth!) then a talented engineer can blow your mind! You’ve never sounded so good now that the sound can move and spread out. Cool! And engineers at their core are human like you and me. Some are good at what they do, others fake it, some don’t care and some are so frazzled from hearing the same demands over and over and over again that they might even hate you. So I have always tried to be nice, civil and friendly when I’ve played live and made it a point to try and make the sound person feel like a member of the band. And you know through the years it’s worked like a charm. Well except for that one time at the Rivoli in Toronto when the sound guy cut the power in the middle of our set…but that’s a story for another blog.

Its one thing to be a headlining band and another to be the warm-up act or one of many on the day of the gig. Since the headliners play last, their gear gets set up first, they sound check first and then go for a leisurely dinner and drinks before the show.

And the sound person allots the most time to their sound check. So if there are three or four bands on the bill, the band that plays first gets the short end of the stick. By the time they find room on the stage to set up their gear – well there might be a few square feet here and there – the audience is already starting to fill up the place. Chances are the opening band won’t get a sound check in and it will have to be done on the fly when the gig starts. Compounding the problem is that the sound person has earned a dinner break by that time and he or she has probably left you on your own to set up.  Yes the wonderful world of rock and roll!

Well I’ve been a bit negative thus far so I should look at the more positive aspects of the sound check. One very cool thing is that bands sometimes like to play covers during this checking of sound or they play their own tunes that they don’t usually play in the show. And the other interesting thing that might happen is that the band plays something brand new or work on something that isn’t quite there yet. A good sound person is aware of this and probably has the mix bussed to a recording device so that if any magic happens during sound check, he or she has saved it for posterity.

My blog always includes some fun video bits and today is no exception.

We all have heard or experienced how tough life on the road is and it’s not unusual for touring musicians to sleep all day and get up in time for sound check. Here’s Stevie Ray Vaughan doing just that…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grBmQwLSlDw
Nice coat dude! What an amazing talent he was and jumping into that first track like that is incredible.

Ok so now we go from incredible to incredible but at the opposing end of the spectrum. Were you in the KISS army when you were younger? I was and I saw them twice and really enjoyed the concert, which was really more like a spectacle, put to music. Here’s a clip of the boys without their make-up trying to get things right during a sound check for an outdoor show…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxrmAWzLfQk
Ya sorry about that – and right after Stevie!!! Oh well.

And finally I leave you with a very rare rendition of “ Asleep “ by The Smiths. Unfortunately there is no picture and I can only assume that it’s Johnny Marr on the piano, as I don’t hear his guitar. A very sad and melancholy song and one played beautifully in the relaxed atmosphere of the sound check.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObsgOCwX5Io

…oh there must be!

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