Matt Abts: My 5 Soundcheck Rituals

Matt Abts

From its foundation as a trio in 1994 through the tragic loss of bassist Allen Woody and on to its present configuration as a four-piece, Gov’t Mule has mixed its blend of Deep South groove and virtuoso extended jams on the back of drummer Matt Abts. Countless gigs throughout the past decade at venues great and maybe not so great invest Abts with a particular authority on the art of making the most of your soundcheck.

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1. Be The First One There

When I get to the soundcheck, I just want to play — you know how drummers are. So I get there before everybody else and start warming up the kit on my riser, to make it sound good to me before we even start doing the monitor mix. That’s hard to do when everybody else shows up, because they all make so much noise that you can’t concentrate [laughs]. So if I can play alone on a beautiful theater stage for 15 minutes that can actually make my day.

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2. Trim Your Mix

I’ve learned not to put too much into the monitor. I rely on the monitors for the vocal mix. And I need the keyboards in the mix too. I usually leave the bass guitar completely out; I hear plenty of it onstage. Guitar is different: Most guitar amps are very directional, so if they’re faced straight ahead toward the audience, you can’t hear them on the drum riser. So I keep a small Fender Twin 12" amplifier to my right, on the corner of my platform. I have a knob right there to adjust it, if I want more or less guitar. That way, everything I’m hearing is clean and my mix never gets cluttered.

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3. Keep Your Sightline Open

My monitor man is looking at me throughout the whole gig, so that the instant I signal him he knows that I want something. Usually it’s so simple that I can mouth it; I can go “Keys up!” or “Keys down!” Of course, not every theater is the same, so every once in a while he’ll have to set up someplace different and I’m looking for him where he was last night. That’s why he’s started saying, at the end of the soundcheck, “Hey, Matt, I’m over here! Remember that tonight.”

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4. Build The Mix On The Bass Drum

The bass drum is the most important thing; everything centers on it in my monitor mix. If the bass drum is happening, I feel a lot better. I don’t need that much snare — it’s got a loud whack, you know? And I never put toms in my mix; you just don’t need them. As long as the bass drum has a full body, I love it.

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5. Check The Setup As Carefully As The Sound

A lot of drum techs will set up the kit for themselves. It’s a natural thing for anybody to make it comfortable for himself or herself. For example, I sit a little higher than most drummers, and sometimes techs have forgotten to raise my stool when they’re done. You’ve got to remind them that they’re setting up the kit for where you sit. If you don’t, and if that’s screwed up even one little bit, you can be in trouble when the time comes to play.