The phrase "load in" refers to the time during which musicians start carrying all of their gear into a club or venue for a show. It is a prearranged time that usually starts an hour or so before the soundcheck. Load in time should be used for setting up and preparing for soundcheck.
Usually, load in time is the same for all of the musicians on the bill for the evening, but the bands who are conducting their soundcheck first (also known as the headliners) start setting up on stage. The other musicians simply bring their gear into the venue and store it out of the way until it's their turn to take to the stage.
Basic Rules for Loading in
Load in time is not the same as doors open, which refers to the time when the audience can start entering the club - not a great time to be carrying in your gear!
- Pack the Van Properly: The van owner should have this down to a tee. If your gear is organized neatly, it's much easier to take out and put back. Consider packing the trailer right after the last rehearsal prior to the gig, so it's locked and loaded prior to the show!
- Arrive at the Gig on Time!: That means about one and a half to two hours early. However, there's an adage in the music biz that even if you arrive three hours beforehand, load it will take three hours, so plan ahead!
- Everyone Should Pitch In; No Slackers Allowed: Assign roles beforehand, so everyone knows their job. If you're the cables guy or the gal wiring the board, know your role and master it. On the other hand, some musicians prefer to have everyone in the bandmaster all the tasks. The singer should be able to set up the drums correctly; the drummer should be adept at setting up guitarist's amp, etc.
- Wrap Cables Properly: Nothing will tangle up your time like a 30-foot mess of speaker wires and mic cables (instead, use a spool for mic cables to connect them end to end). Also opt for electrical cable reels with a hand crank, available at any hardware store. Hook all mic cables together and just reel off the ones needed.
- Use Tools to Be Efficient: Use rolling traps, a hand truck, or a dolly to make load-in more efficient since you can roll in more at once. You may want to try a sturdy collapsible cart to handle all the heavy gear. Go for larger rubber wheels as opposed to hard wheels which absorb shock better on parking lots, bumps and other transitions.
- Aim for the Soundcheck to Begin Thirty Minutes Prior to the Show: Unless told otherwise by the promoter or venue manager, don't cut it too close to show time. No one likes additional stress right before a show!
The time allotted for loading in also includes a soundcheck. It consists of setting up equipment, working with the house sound engineer to position mics appropriately, arranging cables into the mixing console and playing some songs so the engineer can set sound levels. It is also a time for the band to acclimate to the way they sound on stage in the venue.
Artists who change up their performance during a concert tour during the course of a concert tour often use soundchecks to try out material, whether including something new or opting for an old throwback. As such, avid fans often try to sneak their way into a soundcheck for a covert preview of their favorite artist's new songs. Musicians have been known sometimes to perform off-the-cuff songs during soundchecks. Some artists, like Paul McCartney, have a penchant for including these live takes on an album.