Neon Highwire - Musician's Upskirt: The Soundcheck

Steven Morgan 30/08/2010

Soundchecks. The ritualistic precursor to a live music event involving the band, the sound engineer and the promoter. It is held prior to the arrival of the audience and its purpose is to ensure the best sound possible on the night. Ideally, the sound engineer should have an intimate knowledge of both the band and equipment and be able to perfectly balance the sound to suit the venue. In addition, an intricate knowledge of the performer's material allows them to deliver the perfect mix from start to finish, showcasing the artist in the best possible light making the experience a pleasure for all. Just visualising that gives me the raging horn.

In the case of smaller bands playing smaller venues however, this is never the case. Fucking never. A rough visual comparison of that particular experience can be summed up with the image of Dale Winton defecating into an open wound shaped like Bernard Matthews's eyebrows cut into the head of Bruce Forsyth as he reads excerpts from the book 'Belle De Jour', all broadcast on ITV1. That's how I like to think of it anyway. Often the band, sound engineer and venue meet as perfect strangers brought together in an awkward series of mishaps and chaos, manically dealing with problems right up until, and sometimes beyond the moment the first band ring out the first note.

The ideal for these more modest circumstances is simple. Each band soundchecks in reverse order of stage time which involves the sound engineer ensuring that he's receiving a signal from each and every noise emitting thing on the stage, finding a balance between the noise levels they make and ensuring everything sounds as it is supposed to. Once this is done, there's a quick run through a song or two to get a rough idea of the necessary balance and repeat. Happy bands, happy engineer, happy audience. Wonderful.

Unfortunately, this action flow is a rarity, an ideal to strive to, but never quite obtain, much like the image of home in the cartoon Dungeons And Dragons.

Much like carpooling is a strategy used to limit the number of cars needed to take a group of people travelling to the same destination, the purpose of kitshare is such that bands share interchangable equipment for convenience and efficiency. Whereas the communal use of drum kits (minus breakables such as the cymbals) and guitar amplifiers are fairly commonplace, it should be noted that it is considered a faux pas to expect to borrow more personal equipment such as guitars, effects pedals or underwear.

Understandably, bands can often be quite sensitive about what they want to lend to absolute strangers for fear of some thug causing avoidable damage to their ridiculously expensive and excessive Marshall stack (would you use a chainsaw to chop an onion? Well buy a suitably sized amplifier then, you delusional prick). Instead the most common course of action is to remain silent during the kit share email conversation and then turn up on the day with enough equipment to amplify Argentina thus invoking a Mexican wave of facepalms, a severe lack of space and increased changeover times. In an attempt to justify said bollocks, you'll often hear from said twunt that the exact EQ settings on said amplifier are integral to the sound of their beautiful music. Unfortunately, they tend to react badly to comparisons to their statement with the buffing of faeces. The opposite issue where no-one turns up with any equipment at all doesn't even bear thinking about, though is not uncommon. Bonus points to any band that unfurls a hardcase of 37+ effects pedals and proceeds to play a set that uses nothing more complicated than distortion and an occasional delay. Congratulations, you're a cunt.

In order for the trauma of soundcheck to work, all three sets of actors are required, though it's not unusual for everyone to turn up late and in particularly frustrating scenarios, at all. It is the duty of the promoter and engineer to make a screaming big deal about the bands turning up AT LEAST 34 hours before the show is about to start to ensure the soundcheck is completed in time knowing full well that no-one will turn up when they ask. Naturally any band travelling more than six metres to the gig will inevitably have had huge, unique transport issues which mean that they will not be able to turn up until 12 seconds before the start of the show despite the fact that they are supplying the only drumkit. Luckily though, the sound engineer will not be turning up until even later as last night was “fucking huge mate” and of course there's no sign of the promoter who you begin to suspect is nothing more than a spin off of Eliza the computer therapist. This is of course made worse by the headliner's insistence on a 17 hour soundcheck that ensures that there is physically no way the rest of the bill can possibly prepare in time. Sympathies always to the bill opener who are often still performing line checks as the audience filter into the venue declaring that this avant-garde bullshit is all that's wrong with music today. It's no use using the mic to inform people that the set has not yet begun, they already hate you.

Despite all of these things, it somehow always seems to work out to some extent. Sacrifices are often made with a delayed start, or some bands getting nothing more than a mere line check, but as is said, the show must go on. Of course, said show may be a croc of shit as a consequence of this propelling the lowly kazoo player at the back of the stage to the lofty title of sonic bandleader as his raspy twattery booms out at double the volume of everything else. In some shape or form though, it always works out. Don't expect any lessons to be learned though, or anything subsequent improvements to break the cycle. You may come away wondering what could have been done differently in order to make things work better. Don't torture yourself, just bring your rabbits foot and hope for the best.