Basic Soundcheck Tips for Singers

Basic Soundcheck Tips for Singers

So you your gig is scheduled to start at 8pm and you have someone setting up your PA for you. (Yes, singers, sometimes it is not to be taken for granted that there will always be a sound company providing the PA and a sound technician guy you can just yell at to fulfil your perfect sound. Sometimes you have to do it yourself. And in most other places, other than SG the singers are equipped with their own sound equipment and hire some help if you need any) So what are the things would you need to know about soundcheck and how does one make the best of it?

A soundcheck is to benefit you, not hurt you, so please take time out to use any opportunity to get more out of it. Most sound companies are happy for you to be early but it is good to find out what is a good time for them to come by. Usually if you are skilled a 20mins is sufficient to soundcheck your mic and instruments if it’s a solo or duo act. But if you have a quartet or more, especially if there’s drums, please do allow at least 45mins for a comfortable soundcheck. At times when there are other acts before or after you, the first performer usually gets soundcheck-ed last. So you should check this with the event programmer or the sound company for a schedule.

At one of the collaborated solo-artiste gigs i had a chance to perform my originals in, because every bit of the processes of conceptualising, publicity were so skilled, detailed and well-thought through, i let my guard down on the soundcheck bit. There was no sound technician, and my husband who (thank God) was there, volunteered to step up and help the first singer soundcheck. With everything missing, the 2nd singer soundchecked late, leaving me no time to soundcheck at all. It was a nightmare. And don’t expect anyone to apologise to you in an indie event as such, it was my responsibility as much as anyone else’s to ensure sound technician was available and everyone had sufficient time to soundcheck. I learnt it the hard way. I also learnt not to work with a group you cannot communicate these priorities with. So tip here, take the initiative to check.

What are the things to hear out for?

A good sound tech usually checks the sound for the House first. That means what the audience/guests will be listening to all night. Then he or she proceeds to check the monitor sound the band hears.

I always try to think of a good song to soundcheck so i don’t waste anybody’s time and get what i want within the shortest time. A good song to check should have your lows and highs, and longs and short phrases. As a singer, more important than how much ‘reverb’ you get hung up with (as most singers tend to when they first start, shying away from their natural tone) is knowing what your natural tone/voice sounds like. I call it an authentic sound. I’m not into making it sound amazing. I know I have an instrument i like, but i need to know whether i have control over it in a way that communicates what i hear as i go through my gig. What is most frustrating is when my bass is missing or my highs are muted or piped up. It feels like i have to undo what the system is doing, and very often that means it messes up my brain, which then trickles down to the stress on my vocal cords and confusing my breath control. Of all the places i have played in various different cities, i have found that a good pair of ears and some sensible wiring up is more important than an impressive boomboom P.A. Bless these beautiful ears of theirs that understand what is good sound.

Several tips for singers:
– test the natural acoustics of the room. High ceilings tend to have a lot of echo so you may need find certain frequencies missing, and more muffled-ness. You also may not require as much gain depending on the shape and length of the room.
TIP: You can do a loud clap across the room and check the time it takes before the echo returns.
– check your highs, lows, long-s and shorts;
TIP: Choose a song section that has that and sing it through listening out.
– check your consonants (are you ‘t’ and ‘s’s clear? when you ‘p’ are you blowing air into the mic creating a ‘burst’? How sensitive is the mic and how can you position yourself and still maintain that width of dynamics to play with without disappearing?) If nothing works, ask to adjust gain. (and by ‘gain’- you should go for the slider, not the circular knob at the top of the mixer, unless that doesn’t suffice)
– If you need any, reverb. Please know the difference between ‘echo’ and ‘reverb’. The former indicates a delay effect, the latter, a wetness to your tone. There are also many different choices of reverb so you may wish to find something natural if you are doing a folksy thing, and something fancier if your music requires special efx. I find myself weaning off reverb more and more, enjoying the natural timbre unless it doesn’t quiet gel/blend with the instruments or my band mates, then a trickle would do. It is important to have band sound like one with you. It is also useful to know that the drier the sound, the more intimate because of the rawness of tone. A good condenser mic (if you happen to be using one) would pick up finest details such as swallowing of saliva, throat/teeth sounds…etc. It is nice if you want the focus to be on your lyrical delivery, or simply need the rawness for effects.
– Balance your final level with the accompanying instrument. A pop gig usually have the singer slightly more in the ‘front’, and a jazz gig with the singer’s voice more tucked in with the rest of the band.

And if you are setting up your own sound for the gig for the day, it is useful to hire some professional help, or get a willing friend and pay him/her a token. You’d need a 2nd pair of ears to hear you from the audience, and to balance the levels of instruments and voices. You can also run back and forth between stage and audience at the risk of feedback and you running dry before the gig starting, but we all start out somewhere. Just remember, House sound, then monitor sound, not the other way around. And preferably that they are not tied as one! I have used sound companies who cut cost by putting one speaker as monitor and the other for House sound. It is not unusable, but it isn’t the best way to do it! It means that you whatever you control of the house affects the monitor and vice versa. And that is not always the best sound mix you can get depending on where you position yourself, and the number of persons in the party.

Hope this helps! Remember, if you can’t do this yourself, HIRE! That’s why they are professionals! They know their stuff and when you find someone gold, keep their contact and share them about. Singers need to help other singers!

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