Sunday, November 06, 2011
Things we learned about sound checks from this weekend's (splendid) pop show/birthday party at The High Barn.
(Right) The author soundchecking yesterday
(1) Do not eat coconut prior to soundcheck - even if it is presented in lovingly bite-sized shapes as part of your pre-match refreshment. It will get caught between your teeth, and dessicate into tiny flakes which will catch at the back of your throat, making any other action than coughing, spluttering or retching almost impossible. Sound engineers hate this as a way of getting a level on the vocals. Much safer to stick with the three bean wrap, the strawberries, the jaffa cakes, pineapple slices or individual party-sized trifles. Not a typical rider, by any means.
(2) 'Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga' by The Wiggles is a more than adequate song to play when deciding on the appropriate mix for the guitars. Also utilised in this capacity at previous gigs have been 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', 'Brenda's Iron Sledge', 'Before The Deluge' (occasionally supplanted with 'Rosie' in deference to the subject matter - that of the trials and tribulations of being a sound man. Oh, and wanking), 'It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) or, indeed, anything that happens to be on the front of house PA at the time. We prefer not to play songs which will actually be in the set, which can lead to some confusion with sound men and women unfamiliar with our act. In Beatles specialist outfit The Star Club we used to occasionally run through a spirited version of Radiohead's 'Creep' before they opened the doors (conversely in Picturehouse we used to do a creepy version of 'Street Spirit').
(3) For the sake of the front of house engineer's frame of mind it's probably best not to rewire the desk on the afternoon of the gig. This can lead to industrially-couched expressions of disbelief when the talent (i.e. us) points out that the vocal mix which should be coming from the monitors at the front of the stage is actually engulfing the drummer with warm swathes of close harmony. Sounds great in principle, but what the he invariably wants is "Kick, snare, bit of bass, touch of lead vocal". Whatever the sound on stage, your FOH engineer will be the one who presents your sound to the audience, and so it's best to keep him as stress-free as possible. You don't need any unnecessary complications weighing a sound man - not when, as we do, your line up features a banjo anyway.
(4) Within split seconds of the on stage check being completed, Nick Zala will have gone for a curry.
The very touchstone of the artiste's relationship with the help is probably best summarised by the (possibly apocryphal) tale of Ry Cooder who, when asked by the festival engineer how he wanted his sound out front, allegedly handed the unfortunate fader monkey a single jack lead. "Plug that in" he said "And try not to fuck it up".