The pre-service soundcheck can often be one of the most frustrating parts of the church mixing experience. What should be a time to make sure everyone is ready for rehearsal/service can easily turn in to a horrible mashup of musicians noodling on their instruments, tech directors/producers trying to figure out who has which headset mic, the media team trying to check a video in the middle of a song, and you the sound guy in the middle of it all just trying to hang on for dear life!
So, here are few things you can do to help the band and the rest of the team function better together during soundcheck and rehearsal.
1. SET UP THE STAGE
This might seem obvious, but it’ll come back to bite you every time if it’s not done properly. Before the band ever loads in, you need to make sure that all the appropriate mics, lines, cabling, and equipment is set up on stage so the band can walk in and get set up without having any questions. Nothing slows down a sound check quicker than a keyboardist who gets completely set up, only to discover that their DI box is suddenly missing and you have to track it down, or when a worship leader doesn’t know what mic that they’re supposed to use. Setting the stage beforehand eliminates all of these issues and helps insure that the band can load in and get set up quickly. At my church, I even go as far as to put down a little “X” mark on the stage where each person will stand with masking tape that has each band members name written on it so they’ll know exactly where they’re supposed to set up. I also set out bottles of water for everyone and print out copies of the order of service from Planning Center for each musician before they load in. Maybe those little steps seem like overkill, but I firmly believe that letting the musicians know that you’ve prepared for them and that you’re expecting them allows you to be able to host them well and builds trust between you and the band. Think about it like the stage is your home, and you want to host your guests (the band) well while they’re there.
2. DO A LINE CHECK
Once the stage is set, take a couple minutes to check each mic and line on the stage to make sure they’re assigned to the correct channels on your mixing board. It only takes a few minutes to check, and it eliminates the frustration of trying to track down a mis-patched input during rehearsal. While you’re at it, make sure you change all the batteries in any wireless mics/in-ear packs so you don’t have to worry about anything dying during rehearsal or service.
3. COMMUNICATE WITH THE BAND
Once the band is loaded in, it’s up to you to tell them what you need to check. There are lots of different ways to run a sound check: you can have each individual musician play their instrument and check them one at a time, or you can have the band run a whole song and adjust things while they’re all playing, but the one thing you CAN NOT do…is let the band choose. When the band runs the sound check instead of you, it ALWAYS turns in to the guitarist playing a Van Halen solo, while the bassist does his best Flea impression, as the drummer twirls his sticks and spaces out wondering if the girl he’s crushing on is going to come to service. That’s what happens…always. So don’t let it! Take control of the sound check and ask the band for what you want. That’s your place as the front of house mixer. Once the rehearsal starts, it’s on the worship leaders or the music director to lead the band, but before that, it’s on you, so take charge and make it happen!
4. SET YOUR GAIN LEVELS APPROPRIATELY
Keep it in the green! Ok, maybe just a little in to the yellow…but not red! Setting your input gain level might be THE most important step during a sound check. You can worry about EQ and compression while the band is actually practicing, but if you don’t set your gain correctly, your whole mix will suffer. With your input gain set to the optimal level, everything about mixing will be easier, and things will sound better. Don’t miss this step! Just because it was set last Sunday, doesn’t mean it will be the same for this Sunday!
5. WALK THE ROOM
Your auditorium doesn’t sound the same everywhere. I guarantee it. If the only place you listen from is behind your mixing board in the back of the room, you have no idea what the people on the front row are really hearing. Heck, you don’t really even know what the people sitting 15 feet away are actually hearing. That’s why you have to walk the room. I’m a big proponent of walking the room throughout practice, run-through, and even during service if you can, but checking what things sound like throughout the room during sound check is a great way to hear instruments individually in a way that you might not be able to when the band is playing all together.
We hope this helps you have a better Sunday morning experience! We’d love to hear from you to know what you think about this blog, or if you have any questions for us about any aspect of live sound production!
-Worship Sound Guy