CTA Classroom: Sound Checkin' Pt. 1

Soundcheck time can be one of the most productive times of the weekend from an audio standpoint. It can also be one of the most frustrating. I have seen soundcheck turn normally mild-mannered and reserved musicians and engineers into angry combatants. My brothers, this should not be. As I’ve been traveling around helping more churches with their weekend sound issues, I’m amazed at the lack of organization prior to a rehearsal start. Many teams just jump right in and ask for monitor changes pretty much constantly for the next 3 hours. I suggest this is not optimal.

Soundcheck can be very efficient, productive and dare I say fun; but we have to do a little work first. Because there are so many different ways to do a soundcheck (because there are so many different church situations), I’m not going to prescribe one. What I want to do instead is offer a series of suggestions that hopefully apply to all situations, and you can create your own plan. Sound good? Here we go...

Line Check First

Few things will frustrate your musicians more than having to stop soundcheck to troubleshoot a bad cable, DI or patch. Before the band even arrives, go through and line check every single line that you’re using that weekend. Even if it’s the same cable you used last week, in the same channel with the same processing. We typically don’t check the actual DIs themselves, but we do pull the mic cable out, attach a 57 to it and make sure we have signal. If it’s an active DI, make sure phantom power is on. And don’t forget the wireless mics. Make sure those are on and working.

Declare Your Intentions

A few minutes before soundcheck is slated to start, I will get on the stage announce and say something like, “Hey everyone, good afternoon. We’re going to start soundcheck in 2 minutes, so if you could get plugged in, get in place with your ears in and ready to go, it would be great!” Once we actually start, I’ll say something like this, “Hey guys, we’re going to go through each channel one at a time so I can get levels. Once you hear the level stop changing, you can set it in your ears (if using personal mixers). If we could have only the instrument I ask for, it will make it go really quickly. Let’s start off with the kick.” Making sure everyone knows what is coming up will help them stay focused. This is important because as we all know, most musicians are very ADD. 

Stay Organized

Some like to start from the bottom (drums and bass) and work their way up to the top (vocals). Others work in reverse order. Personally I prefer and normally do the former, but which way you go is up to you, and depends on your situation. Whatever you do, stay organized. Don’t start with the kick, then do piano, then guitar, then snare, then vocals, then cymbals. Develop a logical order that works through each instrument and stick with it. Use the same order every week. I suggest you talk through this order with your worship leader in advance as well, just to make sure what you’re doing works for the musicians as well.

OK, that gets you started. Next time, we’ll be back with some specifics on cruising through soundcheck so fast your musicians will actually get an extra half hour of rehearsal time

Roland

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Fall Conference Update

After a week of budget posts, I figured we could lighten it up a little today. Duke suggested we give you a quick recap of where we’ll be this fall. There are a bunch of shows and conferences that you might well run into us if you’re attending, so this is your chance to plan.

Lead Lab—Sept. 21, Tulsa, OK

I’ve been able to get to two Lead Labs so far, and the response has always been great. Some of the top TD’s from churches all over the country come out to share their knowledge and insight. Duke and I will both be at that one, so if you’re around, make sure you say hi. I’m flying home the next day, but Duke will be heading to the Lead Lab in Denver the next day (Sept. 22), so for all you Mountain Time Zone folks, you can say hi to the Duke. 

SALT—Oct. 21-23, Nashville TN

SALT has been one of my favorite conferences the last two years and this year will be even better. I have the privilege of heading up the audio track (that’s right, an audio track at a visual conference!), and we have some great things planned. Duke, Van and I will be there, as will our pals, Brad Duryea and Andrew Stone. There’s no better time to visit Nashville than the fall, and there is no other conference that encourages such community and restoration. You really want to come to this one. 

WFX—Nov. 17-21, Nashville, TN

Though it’s at a weird time this year (the week before Thanksgiving?), we’ll all be at WFX. I’ll be hanging out in the CCI booth along with Duke and most likely Van, so be sure to stop by. It’s also likely that we’ll do a podcast while we’re there, so make sure you follow Twitter to see when and where we’ll be doing that. 

Bonus Supplement—Where’s Duke?

CMS Northwest—November 13-14, Seattle, WA

I’ll be commissioning a system in Omaha that week, but Duke will be hanging out with the Christian Musicians up in Seattle. Make sure you swing by and say hi. 

LDI—Nov. 23-25, Las Vegas, NV

LEDI, as we like to call it is the annual celebration of all things lighting. As our resident trade show hound, Duke will represent there as well. I’ll be sleeping off all the extrovert time from SALT, but you can say hi to him.

So there you go. Now you know where to find us this fall. As we always say, if you see us at a conference or show, please come say hi. We love to meet readers and listeners (unless I’m on an hour of sleep and already drove 4 hours, then I might be a bit out of it…). Happy conferencing!

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Church Tech Budgets--End of Life

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of Ken Mayer

Not that end of life. Photo courtesy of Ken Mayer

As we reach end of life, I think we’re reaching the end of this series. Again, I’m talking the lifespan of equipment, not tech directors. Last time, I made the distinction between capital expenses and budgeted expenses. One of the keys to staying on top of capital expenses is to have an end of life plan.

Every piece of equipment has a fixed lifespan; stuff just doesn’t last forever. That means that even the nice, shiny new equipment I’m putting in today will need to be replaced. And I’m not sure anyone ever considers that.

See, I think most churches look at A/V/L equipment as a one-time capital expense. They buy all the stuff they need once, and forget about it for a long, long time. At least until it breaks. At which point there is a sense of panic and urgency to get it fixed or replaced. 

When I was at Coast Hills, I decided fairly early on to run some end of life projections. The rationale was simple; I knew there was a lot of outdated gear to replace right now, but there was a significant amount of equipment that would needing replacement in about3-4 years. And when you start looking at the numbers, it wasn’t chump change. Take a look:

As you can see, we’re talking some serious dollars. Now, I’m just considering major systems; that is systems that have a price tag over $10,000. I figure the smaller stuff will just get rolled into the normal yearly operating budget. We will always have mics, DIs, single light fixtures and maybe even a video monitor or two to replace. But when it comes to the big stuff, we need to think that out in advance. And here’s why:

Over 10 years, the church needed to spend almost $300,000 to keep pace with their equipment’s end of life. Is that something that needs to be planned for? I think so.

Defining End of Life

This big can be tricky. We can’t clearly define “end of life.” Not all equipment will just drop dead at 10 years old. However, we do know that all electro-mechanical devices will begin failing at some point. We have to take some educated guesses as to when our systems will need replacing.

We also have to guess roughly how much it will cost (in today’s dollars, anyway), based on equipment I know that is roughly comparable today. Obviously, there are a ton of variables in this plan, but it’s a best guess, Mr. Sulu. 

It’s important to keep in mind that these are not budgets, they’re not completely spec’d out systems and you don’t want to be held to these numbers. Rather, it’s an estimate for planning purposes. And, you may be able to stretch some of the equipment life to even out the graph if yours looks like mine did.

Making a Plan

Once you map it out and see what your situation is, you have a basis for coming up with a plan. It’s very possible that to strictly follow an EOL plan, you would have to spend more money than the church has. So that means you have some decisions to make. You can stretch the life of the gear, but you need to know—as does leadership—that you’re running on borrowed time. You can also change the way you do services. If you have traditionally relied on a lot of moving light effects during your service, and your moving lights are beginning to fail, you either need to plan to replace them soon, or go for a different look. 

These are conversations you can have with leadership once you’re armed with information and facts. The beauty of this process is that it takes all the emotion out of it. And, you don’t look like a child constantly asking for new toys. When you present the information this way, your stock goes way up and the conversations tend to be much more civilized and productive. 

It also removes the burden from you as things start to fail. When you clearly present the problem and give leadership the responsibility of figuring out how and what to pay for, you won’t be held accountable if things start breaking. You’ve done your job—pointing out the reality of the situation, and they have to decide how to allocate funds. If you go passive-aggressive and just wait for it to break, you’ll look incompetent. Always be proactive about this. 

Well, I’m not sure this was the exhaustive, definitive guide for tech budgeting, but hopefully it’s been enough to give you some ideas on how to get started. If you have further questions, or if there are others areas I need to develop, let me know in the comments. And now, it’s time for something completely different…

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.