Mastering the sound check

Tuning your board to get the most out of rehearsal time

Today, I'm diving into the steps of conducting a proper sound check for a band rehearsal.

Understanding how to do a sound check is crucial if you want to have proper gain structure on your audio console. Not only will this set you up to win, but it will give your musicians the best experience during the rehearsal.

Unfortunately, if you have never run a real sound check, it can be a daunting and sometimes a scary task.

Rehearsal is meaningless without a sound check.

The rehearsal is meant for the band members and also for you to benefit from. A proper sound check with these five elements will get everyone on the right path to a great rehearsal.

  • Line check

  • Talk to the band

  • Preamp levels

  • Mic placement

  • Full song

A well-done sound check can prevent technical glitches, balance the sound for every instrument and voice, and set the stage for a successful show.

Preparation and a Line Check

Last week, I went over the Line Check. If you missed this, read it here.

To give a brief summary, before the band arrives, check all cables, microphones, instruments, and soundboard channels to ensure everything is in working order.

It's crucial to have all equipment checked and ready. This preparation can prevent technical issues during the sound check and performance. For example, discovering a faulty cable or a non-functioning channel early can save precious time during the rehearsal and avoid making you look unprepared.

Talk to the Band

Jump on your talkback microphone, introduce yourself and explain to the band that you are going to start off rehearsal with a quick sound check.

Explain to the band that you want them to play their loudest patch, setting, or level that they would be hitting during the loudest part of the loudest song. In other words, you don't want them checking quietly.

If you are the monitor engineer, you can also use this time to get a jump start on the monitor mixes for the band. Have the band point up for more level or point down for less level.

Set the Levels

Start with the rhythm section (drums and bass). Go through one channel at a time - Kick, Snare, Tom 1, Tom 2, etc. Have the drummer play, and set the levels. Then have the drummer play the full kit.

When you are setting these levels, you are wanting to reach nominal level on your preamp gain for each channel. For most mixers, this lands at 18 dBFS (18 dB under clipping level of the console). This will ensure that you have proper headroom of the channel and gives the band enough volume to work with for their monitors.

Does the Tone Need to Change?

A common mistake is to rush or to focus too much on one instrument. Take your time to balance each instrument and voice. Remember, a balanced mix is key to a great live sound. If the drums are too loud, they can overpower the rest of the band, so adjust accordingly.

This is also the best time to change the placement of a microphone to get a better tone out of the channel.

In the most extreme cases, you can ask a musician to adjust their EQ/Tone settings if you are not getting what you think you should out of their instrument. But, please be very careful asking a musician to change their tone. A general rule of thumb is that if you don't know the musicians name or what they like to do in their free time, you should not be asking them to change their tone.

Once you are set with the drums, move on to the bass, followed by guitars, keyboards, and other instruments. Adjust the preamp gain and EQ for each to get to a balanced mix.

Final Run-Through

Once you have completed all of the instruments and vocals, have the band play a song they're comfortable with.

This lets you hear how everything blends together and make any final adjustments. After you have performed this step of the sound check, the band is ready to go for rehearsal!

If you are mixing FOH and have monitors being sent from the FOH board, any time you need to adjust the preamp gain of a channel, you need to let the band know. This is because if you adjust the gain, it will affect the musicians monitor mix.

Be confident with your sound check

The sound check is just as important as a guitarist tuning their guitar strings before a rehearsal. Be confident with what you need from the band. Being clear and concise on the talk back microphone and directing the band with what you need will make the sound check go quickly.

Remember you still have the band rehearsal to finalize your settings, so don't take too long with the sound check!

Use this as a starting point and adapt the sound check to your specific needs of each band and venue. Happy mixing, and here's to great live sound at every rehearsal and performance!

Until next time,


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