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What does pro audio have to do with chess?

Pro audio is like a game of chess; the best player always plans ahead

“Planning ahead pushes you toward victory” – Sun Tzu

In the life of a sound-tech, you’ve got your mixers, your cables and your mics. You’ve got your patching, plugging and playing to do and if I told you it’s a lot like chess you’d probably just point a microphone in my face and say “Does this look like a Rook to you?”.

In chess you have to be able to think more than one move at a time. It’s a game of cunning strategy and if you don’t think one step ahead of your opponent he will Sun Tzu you and you will lose the game. Working with audio is similar. You have to think ahead and keep everything in mind. Signal flow doesn’t start and end with you plugging in a cable, or adjusting the gain levels.

You have to think things through right to the end or feedback will win the game and taint your reputation. As Sun Tzu said: “Estimating completely creates victory”.

Thinking ahead and keeping all the factors in mind greatly reduces the “troubleshooting brainstorm” that goes on when something doesn’t work.

It also enhances you ability to think quickly on your feet, getting the show or the recording back on track in no time.

A couple of things:

Where does the signal go?

How many stages does the microphone go through before it hits the desk? Are there outboard effects involved that can affect the sound in some way? Check all of the following:

  • power source
  • mixer
  • plugs
  • snake
  • monitor mixer
  • splits
  • microphones etc, etc.

Be aware of the monitors.

If you are controlling the monitors from the FOH (Front of House, the portion of the building that is open to the public), will the monitors be sensitive to you tweaking the gain knob? Be aware of post/pre fader buttons as well. Also, when you have many bands playing, you go through a lot of monitor settings. A good way to store this is with a trusty digital camera. That way, you set all the monitor settings just the way you left them in the sound-check and everything goes smoothly.

Think things through.

When packing for a gig you have to go through everything and make sure you have everything you need. This means writing things down! I don’t know how many times I’ve forgotten that necessary XLR/MiniRCA cable that was desperately needed for the show. Make a list and go through it dilligently.

Have a plan

You have to think about every instrument and have a contingency plan if things go wrong. Extra DI boxes, extra mics, a couple of extra cables. Keep everything in mind and think like a grandmaster.

So there are quite a few things you have to think about before hitting record or giving a thumbs up sign. And before you set up for a new gig or a recording, take some inspiration from the grandmasters of chess and always plan a few moves ahead.

What do you guys think? I’d appreciate all your suggestions in the comments.