Bless The Sound Board

One day I’ll go and see Sister Act The Musical again. Along with Legally Blonde, it’s one of my guilty-pleasure musicals. In it, Deloris sings the line “Bless the sound board”.

In the gig earlier this week, there was much drama around the sound board.

I arrived at the venue and asked whether it would be easy to plug in a guitar. I had brought a guitar amp (still in the car) and also had by backup case of wires (also in the car). From the looks of things, the venue was usually home to live music, so should have been well set up.

The woman at the bar was a little downbeat about it. She said that there was a sound desk set up, but things were ropey and the “reel” had a loose connection or two. I said I’d go and have a look and see what I could do.

Reely Not Good

The reel was a multicore with a panel of XLRs on it. It had a mic plugged in, not sounding especially great, and it made a crackling noise when I touched it.

After a bit of experimentation with channels, some of which didn’t work, I eventually had the mic at a good level, and my guitar plugged in next door, also at a good level. Great stuff.

I reasoned from the fact that everything on the sound desk was set to MAX, and not especially well, that this wasn’t entirely a sound board set up for sound engineers to use. A sound engineer would generally mute everything, and leave things in default settings, rather than try to make it so that if you plugged in a microphone anywhere it would probably work.

I think this was the wrong conclusion. I generally left the desk alone, as I didn’t want to prevent future people just plugging stuff in until they got a sound. I had tweaked the channels we were using in order to get them balanced right.

One of the other acts had offered to help with the sound set up, and I declined his offer. I was nearly there, and I generally don’t expect acts to be that good at sound set up. He had offered to strum the guitar while I set the levels, and I have a slightly irrational feeling about anyone using my guitar before a show… not really important, but not necessary.

Job’s a Good’un

Sitting outside away from the room, the organiser of the gig showed up. She said something about going off to sort out the microphone, and I tried to say something about how I’d done it already, but didn’t want to be that guy.

I had, unfortunately, already become that guy. The fellow who’d offered to help with the sound set up was, in fact, a music producer. The ideal person to help with the sound set up. He never got even a touch of the sound board.


Then the organiser let me know that she’d had to move the microphone to its usual channel. I don’t really know why, but the guitar was no longer plugged in, and the mic, now on the channel I’d turned down to avoid the guitar being too loud, was now too quiet.

I switched the channels around, re-calibrated the desk, and we were back in business.

No We Were Not

Though my set went well, I did feel I had to really work the mic and project even louder than usual. It may well have been the case that the mic wasn’t really working.

With the second act on, it became clear that the mic really wasn’t working right. This guy was a sound engineer, so he’d know. I tried to tweak gain levels on the desk, but in reality it was a connection problem at the stage. We had a moment where it suddenly cut in very loudly, and then it kind of started working better.

We ended up doing a live version of the sound check we’d previously missed out. I told him it was a connection problem on the mic lead, he held it that special way that makes those problems go away. Then he was like “Oooh, there’s a bit of reverb on this” – the fx channel was way up – and then we got it working.

In The Interval

In the interval the woman from the bar asked if she could help. I hadn’t assumed much about her knowledge. I suggested a cable fault, wondering when I should go and get my known-working cables from the car to help out here.

She was like “Oh, we need a new XLR, no problem” and she went off to get a better lead, which worked a treat.

In The Evening Show

For the evening show at the same venue, I brought my box of leads and ran my guitar straight into the desk. This worked a treat and there was much rejoicing.

What Happened?

In this story, it turned out that everyone was a sound engineer, and that I should have deployed my box of cables much sooner.

I shouldn’t have touched the reel, because it was dodgy.

I should have used the services of the actual music producer in the first place.

The misunderstanding over whether the sound was already set up could have been avoided.

I shouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion that the venue staff couldn’t help fine-tune the sound desk.

But we got there in the end.

My long jack cable, home made no less, did its job beautifully.

About ashleyfrieze

Blogger, stand-up comedian, musician, writer and IT nerd. Technical Editor at, Senior Editor at
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