The set-up and sound check. Long the bane of brides and publicans alike, it has been known to drive even the staunchest non-smoker into the puffing area for a bit of peace. Between the noise, the mess, and the coming and goings of the band, setting up for a live gig can flatten the most upbeat of party atmospheres. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil and just a part of being a live Act. However, with a bit of smarts, the process can become a super speedy affair.
This was exactly what I witnessed at a recent covers gig. I can only describe it as the most amazingly efficient set-up and sound check I have ever witnessed; a 5-piece band, set-up, sound checked, and started within about 10 minutes of the first piece of gear going onto the stage! So how did they do it?
1 - Lie of the Land: Before bringing anything in, the band checked out not just where the stage was and how they would get the gear to it, but what the layout of it was. Then starting with multi-socket extension leads and a multi-core, the gear was loaded in, in the order in which it would go onto the stage, with each piece going onto it’s final position immediately.
2 - Prepped Outside: Each piece of equipment was prepped outside; removed from its case (which went straight back into the van), cables inserted, and tones and volume set. As soon as it was plugged in, it was ready to go. Traditionally one of the slowest instruments to set up, the drums were on a folding rack and pre-mic'd.
3 - Breaking Through the Crowd: Although the stage was reasonably close to the loading door, the venue was packed, so they still had 6 or 7 rows of people to get through. Rather than trying individually push their way through, they came through 3 or 4 guys at a time in a row. The person in front didn’t carrying anything, instead he cleared the way for the rest, thus making it faster and reducing the risk of injury to either the audience or the guys in the band.
4 - Working as a Team: As soon as the gear was in place, each band member went about connecting up the remaining cables and plugs. It was obvious that they had a system for this and practiced it before. Working as a team, each person knew exactly what they had to do, and in what sequence.
5 - Pre-Sound-Sound-Check: Most impressive, was their being able to just walk on stage and start! No “1,2! 1, 2!”, banging of drums, or tuning up guitars. The front man simply introduced them, the drummer started, and bang, they were all in and the place was rocking. How they were able to do this, was by having default settings on all equipment that would allow them to start any gig, and have an acceptable sound. The first song or two is then used to make tweaks and changes until the sound is perfect.
Obviously every band and every gig is different. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fast and unobtrusive set-up and sound check. Just like putting a professional sounding set together, getting from the van to the point of playing also takes planning and practice.