Okay, so this post could really have been titled, “How To Sound Check For A Cappella Groups”, but since the ICCA and ICHSA events only give you 10 minutes in which to sound check, they are what I’ll address specifically.

Now, I know what you’re thinking– “I only have 10 minutes to sound check for a 12 minute set…how is that even possible?”.  That’s true.  You cannot and should not try to run your whole set during the sound check.

Here’s what you SHOULD do:

  1. Start with vocal percussion.  Have them perform a normal VP kit with kick, snare, and hi hat for about 20-30 seconds.  This will make sure the sound technician can adjust levels and EQ.  It will also give you a chance to make sure you can hear yourself in the monitors.
  2. Move to bass (or lady bass…er, alto II if you’re a female group) and perform a typical bass line from one of your songs.  It should ideally be something very bass-like (dm-d-dm-dm), not something on open vowels or words.  Do this for about 20-30 seconds for the same reasons stated above.
    ProTip: basses should never sing loudly into a microphone.  Keep your mouth right on the mic and focus on warmth and depth of the tone along with the initial attack of the consonants.
  3. Combine bass and VP and let the sound tech tweak for about 20 seconds.
  4. Have each soloist sing into the mic they will use.  Sing 20 seconds of the actual song you will do in your set.  Make sure you sing your softest and loudest passages. Pass the microphone around if you have to do that within the set.
    ProTip: Avoid switching soloists in the middle of one song.
    If you are using only individual microphones for bass, VP and soloists, skip the next step.
  5. If everyone in the group has an individual microphone, sing a representative line from one of the songs.  Do not use a soft pad like “Ooh” or “Oh” or “Ah” or one of your more instrumental/rhythmic parts.  Pick something louder and on words, if possible.  Make sure each singer can hear themselves in the monitor.  Spend 10-20 seconds per singer (less time the more singers you have).
    ProTip: If you don’t have enough individual microphones for your whole group, do not use them for more than just soloists, VP, and bass.  If you’ve never practiced on individual mics, same rule applies.
  6. Start and finish each song, singing about 40 seconds on each (20 seconds at start and 20 seconds at end).  When ending a song, make the transition to the next song immediately (and in the same way you will do it in your set..so if you blow a pitch pipe, do that.  If someone hums the note, do that.  If you just get your pitch internally and go, do that).
  7. Make sure everyone feels comfortable with the monitor levels, and make sure your music director feels comfortable with the house levels.
    ProTip: Actually practice on a sound system similar to the setup you will have at your competition.  Don’t have one?  Ask friends.  Someone in your college/high school/town/area has a sound system suitable for practice. 

That’s it!  The whole thing should be well-practiced and memorized, the same way you would prepare your actual set.  There should be NO TALKING on stage, unless someone is communicating with the sound engineer.  The whole process should take less than 10 minutes and will have you set up for success!

Final ProTip:  Make sure you’ve had people from outside groups watch and provide feedback on your set before you compete.  Put on at least one public performance in advance, too.  Finally, get an expert who has judged, competed, and won ICCA/ICHSA Finals to score and coach your set– every group that has won in recent memory has!