After years of working stage management and shows, I developed the three second rule. Here’s how it works.
Whenever I approach a stage, and the band is already setting up, I ask one question. How do we want to handle the soundcheck? I am trying to figure out who is in charge and see if they have a routine for setup and soundcheck. If I don’t find someone who shows me that they are in charge within three seconds… I am in charge.
There are hundreds of bands out there that work shows every week and have the setup and soundcheck down to an art. For every one of those, there’s another hundred or so who are weekend warriors or garage bands. They play for fun. The take last minute calls to fill in. They get their first gig. Whatever. They have no idea how to setup quickly. They don’t know what a real soundcheck is. They have never used wedges or in-ear monitors. They don’t know what to do or what to ask for. So I tell them what they want.
You don’t need to be rude to take control. You don’t boss them around or aggravate them. It’s like the first ride without training wheels for them. Coach them through it. Explain why we use monitors and what most people want to hear. If you are as good as you think you are, this will be a good experience for everyone. If not… Well, it will be a regular gig.
And, if you are really that good….
You planned far enough ahead to know who you were working with. You attempted to get a basic input list and some kind of stage plot. If, by some miracle, you got all that in advance; you have your monitors in the ballpark. Side fills, front wedges, drum fill, etc. should have the bugs worked out of the EQs. Lead vocal mic pushed to clean sound and slightly ridiculous level in the front monitors. You probably know that by now. If not, I will be doing more posts about the step by step setup for various gigs I have worked.
The chances of any show or event running smoothly, without someone taking charge are slim. If the band has someone in charge and knows what they want, great. Follow their lead. Step back and run with whatever they need. Become part of the band by flowing with them. Offer suggestions if you see something becoming a problem, but step into that helping role. If they are as lost as a ball in high weeds, take over. Explain that there is a schedule to follow, and that you will walk them through a quick setup and soundcheck the way you “usually do it.”
I made good friends over the years doing this. Most young acts are happy to get some coaching from a veteran of the biz. Very few resisted my direction once they saw I was trying to help and willing to slow my pace for them. That was also true of the road dogs. We almost always clicked like I was one of them, once they saw that I was willing to follow their lead and make things happen.
Attitude is everything in this business. Be conscious of your attitude at all times. It will make or break you in crunch time.