This is an updated post to a previous article I wrote on sound checking for ICHSA and ICCA events. My friend and colleague David Longo, CEO of The Vocal Company, has run sound at countless ICHSA and ICCA (and many other a cappella) events. His perspective on this topic is simply more appropriate than mine is, so I asked him to write a guest blog.
The keys to success are in pre-planning and smart highlight-check soundcheck.
First of all, reach out to your event producer to find out what the sound situation will be like. Typically, there are two main options: Overheads + some set of wireless mics or All wireless mics. The overhead situation is important as it can completely ruin choreo. If you get a sound engineer who has never touched a cappella, they will put a standard stereo pair at the center of the stage and call it a day. Well… you’ll need to modify your choreo as anything upstage right or left will be entirely lost. You’ll want to be aware of this in soundcheck. Don’t necessarily waste time testing the overhead pickup out of context, but keep it in mind as you work through sections.
With individual microphones, there will typically be a designated bass, lead, or vp mic. You’ll need to know _ahead of time_ how you will swap mics during your set. Also – each mic _should_ have a number, even if the engineer has planned for it to just be “lead, bass, vp, and…. a bunch of other mics that I’ll figure out later.” By the way, if that IS the situation (no numbers, no identifying information on any of the mics), I’m sorry to tell you, but, your soundcheck is for show. Use the time to get comfortable on the stage and in the space and pray.
Note: If you work with TVC – that’s not the case, so be sure to get with your producer. At TVC events, we take all of your set info prior and the transitions are magical. No changing mics ever.
The key in soundcheck is context. Get the most out of 10 minutes, while giving the engineer the context of your set. Nothing should be a surprise. Give the person behind the board as much info as humanly possibly while wasting no time at all on choreo, wandering between marks, or gabbing about when you’ll do the mic handoff. Focus on anything that will affect your performance, which means, almost exclusively, monitors. Trust that the engineer will make front of house sound as best as they can. But, if you can’t give a good performance, they can’t give you a good mix. If you give a good performance, they can give a great mix or a less than good mix, but at least the possibility of greatness is there.
- Get on stage with purpose, as you would in performance
- Start your first song, go as far as verse chorus assuming you don’t change leads in that time. If the next verse and chorus is the same lead, skip it – move to the bridge (usually a smaller moment), into the final chorus (largest moment).
- Rinse and repeat with all of your songs touching on the smallest moments, the largest moments, EVERY LEAD, and any weird points – “The soprano 3 does a backflip while holding the mic, followed by the sweeping cluck of an ostrich.”
- Focus on THE MONITORS. The only time you should stop is if the monitors are HORRIBLY off balance (or if a mic is just…off). If they are not horrible, try to communicate with your engineer with as little downtime as possible. Maybe in between tunes give a quick list of “mic 4, 7, and 9 up. PLEASE turn mic 2 way down, and mic 3 feels muddy in the monitor”
- Most importantly, as soundcheck is winding down, laugh. breathe. relax. Remember, if you go out there to win, you will likely not accomplish your goal. If you go out there to give the best performance of your life, you’ll have a great time – and likely win.