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When you're on stage, how do you check the house sound when you have a sound engineer? All you can hear are the monitors.

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...Trust his judgement? –  dwjohnston May 14 at 1:09
    
I feel your pain. I've played at places where the sound 'engineer' was fiddling with his knobs all night, and wouldn't leave the mixing desk alone so our vocals were too loud one minute, too quiet the next. ugh. –  user2808054 May 14 at 10:31

4 Answers 4

You can't.

Even if you get the sound guy to feed the FOH sound through the stage monitors (or your IEM) it won't give an accurate representation of the FOH sound, there are simply too many variables.

If you want to check FOH sound you need to walk off the stage during sound check to hear it. A long lead or a wireless pack will allow this. Be aware the number of people in the room dramatically changes the acoustics so doing this during sound check (empty room) may not always give a good representation of the FOH sound the crowd will hear later. Some sound guys "set and forget" to a happy medium and some will adjust as the room fills up to account for the change in acoustics.

Your best bet is to only use reputable sound guys or find a sound guy you like to work with and use them regularly. Theres nothing worse than turning up to gig where "the sound guy is provided" only to find the "sound guy" is the bar man.

(I don't use the word "engineer" as your average sound guy has less in common with an audio engineer than a carpenter has in common with a structural engineer)

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There's seven billion people on this planet: pick one you trust and ask them to go to the back of the house for a sound check. Fans are great for this; they're just so honored to be asked, and they have some idea of what your music is supposed to sound like. Or if there's more than one act going on, you can often ask the musicians in another band to help with your check, and you can reciprocate.

The traditional way of handling this is to trust the sound engineer. That works fine -- if it's a good sound engineer. Otherwise, not so fine.

You may want to be a bit discreet about this all as it constitutes checking up on the sound engineer's work. They may not appreciate the implicit vote of no confidence in asking someone else to check the sound.

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Agreed - although a good sound engineer should accept that the band may want to hear their own sound no matter how much they trust FOH. –  Dr Mayhem May 14 at 7:40
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In my experience, fans tend to give horrible advice. Most either say everything's fine regardless of what a complete mess the sound is, or always say the vocals are too quiet when the problem lies somewhere completely different that just happens to make the voice incomprehensible. Of course, you can't generalise this – there will usually be some guys that know a good bit about sound, but you should know whom to ask. But +1 for the other paragraphs. When the engineer is bad then loud criticism from stage usually won't help much either, better let them concentrate as good as they can. –  leftaroundabout May 14 at 8:19

Where possible we like to use our own sound engineer - he knows what we want to sound like and knows our foibles with kit, amps etc. Where we can't use our own engineer, our two favourite techniques:

  • a long lead or wireless kit. I walk right out round the arena/pub/field/wherever and see how a couple of our key tracks sound (we have two examples we use as they have quite different characteristics) and guide the desk based on what I hear, and usually sound guys are good enough to retain that sound as the venue fills up (tweaking for the density of humans)
  • venues that record the desk. King Tut's in Glasgow is an excellent example of this. By default they record everything coming into the desk, and can play back any part of the sound check. This means the entire band can sit out front of house and listen to our overall sound - which can lead to some heated discussions over what should be adjusted, but is an excellent way to get agreement on the complete sound.
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Regarding playback of the recorded sound from the desk: That can only be useful for quite large venues, as there is no sound from the stage? –  Meaningful Username May 14 at 8:36
    
It is useful anywhere that has a 'proper' PA, ie can replicate everything you were doing acoustically. On stage we are slightly odd, in that we have taken to connecting directly in to the desk where possible (all of us use pedals with pretty decent amp simulation so can just DI straight in), and using monitors only. This does away with the need for amps and cabs on stage and makes it very easy for us to tour. –  Dr Mayhem May 14 at 9:42

Given that you can't be playing and have your ears at the back of the hall, your options appear to be ..

  • check it via headphones - I think this will sound unrepresentative though. Sound through headphones is pretty different to when you're partway toward the back of a room.

  • run to the back of the hall to check the sound while someone else plays your gear- this assumes they play/sing similarly to yourself, and isn't practical during the show (depends what kind of show though I guess!)

  • Ask someone whose ears you trust to stand at the back and either communicate with you or the sound engineer about how it sounds.

I play with a 3-piece rock band in pubs quite a lot, and we look after the sound ourselves. However we still need to check it.

During the sound check, before the gig starts I sing something and the bassist (with long lead) stands where the audience will be and listens to the balance, makes comment about anything too loud / quiet. I make adjustments.

Then he sings somethign and I do the same thing, twiddling mainly just volume differences or sometimes a bit of EQ.

This works really well but of course it's only useful for smaller venues where a guitar lead can reach so a spot in front of the band, but not too near.

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