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by vaughn skow May 11, 2010 3 min read

Today’s blog is for the benefit of all the “entertainers” out there, specifically singer/songwriter types – but if you ever take to the stage in any capacity, this is for you too!  There’s an old saying that goes like this: “A bad sound-check means a good show … and a good sound check means a bad show”.  As a veteran of thousands of shows, I think I might amend that to read “Little to no sound-check at all often means a great show … and a long painful sound-check usually means a sucky show.  Do I sound plum loco to you?  Maybe I have some explaining to do…

I’ve had the opportunity to work with artists at all levels of their craft; one thing I’ve learned is that the veterans who really have the chops are so confident in their abilities as a player/singer/entertainer that they often see no need for a drawn-out sound check.  A couple of great examples are Brad Paisley and Keith Urban, both of whom have been on the “Live at the Bluebird Café” television show, where I served as the audio director.  The shows were shot live in front of an audience, singer/songwriter in-the-round format – no band, just folks sitting around with acoustic guitars.  Neither Brad or Keith requested a sound-check.  They simply showed up, said a few words through the mic, joked and made friends with me and my staff and went to make-up. Come show time, they sat down in front of their mics, plugged-in, and proceeded to give mind-boggling, incredible performances.  No muss, no fuss, no BS – just incredible talent.

I contrast that experience to what I’ve seen time and time again with artists who are insecure and unsure of their abilities.  They run a sound-check like Hitler ran an SS meeting.  All the insecurities flow in a rapid torrent – “I need more reverb … no, that’s too much … no, now I need more … I want to hear less of everybody else and more of ME!” And so it goes for hours on end.  Come show time these poor people are a total wreck – and they’ve made the audio staff a wreck too!  That’s some bad mojo-gumbo.  Good performances seldom come out of that type of environment.

Is there a moral to this story?  Sure, why else would I bring it up?  What I’m trying to say is this, come sound-check time, put on your big girl panties and act like a man … wait, that didn’t come out quite right.  Some adage’s just don’t go well together.  But you do get what I’m saying, right?  The same confidence that you bring to the show needs to also be brought to the sound-check.  If you have a highly skilled and experienced sound crew, the last thing you want to do is freak out at sound-check time swimming in a sea of insecurity and worrying about all the “what iffs”. 

Ya wanta make a sound man your instant friend and ally (that iswhat you want after all, right)?  Walk up to the microphone at sound-check time, say a few words through it, and then say something like “man, that sounds awesome, you really know what your doing – that’s all the sound-check I need”.  That’s basically what Keith Urban did the first time I worked with him.  It accomplishes two things: one, it shows you to be a confident professional; and two, you acknowledge the professionalism of the sound crew.  The sound man (woman, etc) is now on your side – he really likes you and is personally interested in making you sound your best.  That’s some good mojo-gumbo … very good indeed.

Now, of course there will also be times when you get an awful sound crew and/or awful equipment; but no amount of belittling and riding a bad sound man will ever make him magically get better … only worse.  Trust me.

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