In the course of performing with many different artists, over many years, all across the country, I’ve learned what a great equalizer the soundcheck can be. It can beget the onset of screaming matches, the end of friendships, and the refusal to perform as contractually obligated. It can also create a warm, welcoming environment for musicians to collaborate, grow, and reach beyond the boundaries of their perceived potentials… if you’re really lucky.
Here are a few honest truths I learned about my bandmates and friends, the hard way — on stage — and what you can do to avoid becoming a terrible bandmate.
1) They are incredibly needy.
“More guitar in my monitor, please. No, less keys. Just a hair. That’s too much. No, I mean too much less! I need more. More! Oh, you’re talking to the lead singer again? Well, can I just ask you, really quickly… Do you have four stereo DI’s for my audio interface, my two keyboards, and my two SPD pads? What do you mean it’s not on the house gear list? I figured you’d have it…”
Be specific in what your requests are, but also be succinct. Take your turn and then let the check move on to the next band member. Soundchecks can be short and everyone will need some time to get their sound right. Don’t be a diva!
2) They are willing to put the needs of themselves before the needs of others.
“So there’s only one monitor mix upfront, and it has to contain both the lead singer’s vocals and my background vocals? I can’t say I care too much if you like the sound of your own voice better than mine — crank me up in that mix! Oh, you think my bass is too loud on stage? This is what I NEED, to feel the VIBE of this SOUND, MAN. You just don’t GET IT. You put on your oxygen mask before your kids’ in an emergency, right? It’s practically the same.”
Again, it’s important to be considerate of your bandmates, and compromise when necessary. It takes the whole band to put on the show, after all.
3) They lack “basic communication skills.”
“Given the choice to speak into my microphone to ask for something I need, clearly and slowly, so the sound engineer can hear me, I’d obviously prefer to yell across the room about whether or not I can hear my awesome Edge guitar delay loud enough in the monitors, while looking down at the floor to twiddle some knobs on my sweet pedal board, and then proclaim that everyone else will be needing it just as loud in their monitors. All of them. They just don’t have great time, you know? They really need to listen to me.”
In order to get everything done in the small amount of time you have to perform your soundcheck, you’re going to have to communicate accurately. Yelling across the venue over and over again helps no one, especially if you’re the singer.
4) They are not self-aware.
“Every time is a good time for rehearsal. Especially when I’ve brought my own guitar amp to the gig and everyone’s busy not listening to me, setting up their own stuff. I don’t need to talk to the sound guy, so I might as well run through some sick riffs and shred a little bit to warm up. Ooh, that chick in the corner is totally checking out my huge sound… I better turn up!!”
If you’re not working with the engineer or the band on something specific, chances are you shouldn’t be making sound. If you are, you’re probably interrupting someone else’s sonic space and taking time away from everyone’s soundcheck. Be aware!
5) Their egos are out of control.
“I am a backseat musical director, and I have no problem imposing my musical insecurities on you in a series of ‘helpful suggestions.’ Andy, don’t forget, I’ll sing that lead part in the second verse. Scott, your guitar could really use a low cut around 200Hz, and remember that ‘She’s Gone’ is in A♭minor for this gig. Nick, can you play a little of that beat from the closing tune’s chorus? Cool, just make sure you reeeeeally lay back into it — we always rush there. Here, let me show you how to actually play the tambourine. That shaker part’s really gotta have that Brazilian swing to it, you know? Like THIS. Like THIS!”
We’ve all been there — the bit of time right before a performance has us at our most nervous, on-edge, and unlike ourselves. It doesn’t give us a pass to condescend, micro-manage, or treat others poorly. Take a minute to stop and listen to yourselves and your bandmates. Be kind, considerate, and compassionate to your fellow musicians, and they’ll give you what you all came to the venue for — the best performance your band can give!