How to do a 15 minute soundcheck when singing to track.
As an international recording artist, I'm in soundchecks often. 8 times a week when I'm touring on a musical and 3-4 times during concert tour weeks. I often have a small audience during soundchecks and I tend to wonder if they have any idea what I'm doing. Sometimes my team will invite schools or new artists in the making to come and watch. I've even had Grammy set up special soundcheck watches for school kids to experience some behind the scenes action!
Here are some steps for the beginner artists to check off during a fast paced 15 minute soundcheck. Take exactly one minute for each step. Give yourself the full minute to execute each step. With trouble shooting and a few pauses, you should be done in a timely 15 minutes.
Have your computer out and ready to go!
Have a 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch chord handy (IN YOUR HAND).
Be standing next to the Front of house engineer booth before you start. This way he knows what you look like and why you're there and you know what the house sounds like.
Take your shades off and smile.
Ok, here we go...
1. Mic Check - a mic check is simple. It's simply speaking into the microphone (perhaps saying the ABC's) simply to make sure my voice is coming thru my monitors.
2. Sing into the mic - singing into the mic is important. This is where the engineer in the house can hear your highest note, your softest note, your tone and your speaking voice. Take this time to sing a song that showcases your range and your speaking voice. Do this with no music. This is not for you, it's for the engineer.
3. Add your track - Have your track played. Be sure that it is in your personal monitor. If you can't hear your music, it is best to ask the monitor engineer to come on to the stage and show him or her what you are hearing.
Volume is your worst enemy. Saying "turn my track up" over and over is the quickest way to a muddy sound. Remain calm during soundcheck. Volume isn't your goal, music is. When asking to turn up your music, sing over your track into your microphone. Can you hear your voice? If you can't hear your voice, then your music is too loud.
• Be nice. Introducing yourself to your engineers, asking them who is in front of house and who is on stage, or if there's just one person for both is a nice gesture. Shake their hand, and say your name. Even if you feel like they don't care, it's important to establish yourself as a professional, even if someone keeps yelling, "Doors open in 5 minutes!".
• Give 'em a tip. Say thank you at the end of your soundcheck. Smile and wave at them before you go. Bring them a tip or one of your t-shirts or CD's. They are the main tool in providing you with an excellent show. Be nice. If you have a few bux, hand it to them before the start. I recommend this when opening for a big act. Save up your coins for the sound guy and give them a reason to make you great. Their main priority is the headliner, so be nice.
4. If the music isn't already playing in the house, ask the Front of House engineer to play your track and voice in the house. This is paramount. If the house is louder than the stage, you won't hear yourself. If the stage is louder than the house, you will risk feedback, and a muddy mix.
• (But Chris? What is the front of house engineer?) Ok, so there are usually 2 guys working together. One guy is out in the audience area with a big board in front of him (or her). They're pressing buttons while you check your mic. They are controlling the sound in the house. The "monitor engineer" is the guy (or gal) on stage with you. They are who will control the sound that comes out of the speakers facing you on stage (also known as stage monitors). If you are performing in a line up with other artists, all of the speakers or just a few of the speakers are designated to you. In a 15 minute soundcheck, you don't have time to complain about this. Work with what you've got. You're goal is to be invited back.
5. Sing thru one song. The song with the most bass is probably your best bet. This will allow the FOH (Front of House Engineer) to EQ (put a pretty mix on) your lowest frequencies and your monitor engineer to keep the stage from thumping over your voice. Singing thru the bassiest song will also give you a chance to balance your vocals up against the track your voice might disappear into the most.
Goal: Be able to hear your voice over the music.
Remember: "Turn me up" is a term for cool rappers and music videos. It is not how to make good sounding music. TRUST ME, I HAVE A GRAMMY!
6. While singing. Walk back and forth slowly around the stage. Walk to each point that you imagine yourself singing at. Hold the mic as you would while performing. In a 15 minute soundcheck you don't have time to wave the mic around and check for un-likely frequency occurrences.
7. What about feed back? When you hear feed back stop in your tracks. Stand in that same spot and sing the note that you heard the feedback. Keep singing it until the engineer can fix it. If the engineer can't fix it in under a minute, you have a choice to make...
8. Loud track or great performance? When you hear feed back and the engineer can't fix it, don't argue. You don't have time. Ask him or her kindly to turn your track down a little. Look for the frequency again.
9. Still got frequency issues? Look around you, are there any other microphones nearby? Are they turned on? Try moving away from them. Did that help?
10. Last resort. Mark your feedback spots. If trouble shooting between you and the engineer aren't working, find the spots that don't have feedback. Mark them. When it's showtime, only sing in those spots.
15 minute soundcheck slots aren't always fun. Sometimes they're frustrating. Knowing what's most important and how to quickly run thru these 10 steps can relieve a ton of pressure off of a new artist. Everybody wants to have a great show. I hope this Mic Check run-thru helps you just a little on your journey to becoming the greatest live performer you can be!
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