Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Easing Sound Checks

A sound check can be your best friend, or it can lead to a lot of stress (both for you and for the band). For the church sound volunteer, this is a make or break time. A well run sound check puts everyone at ease, gets your levels set up properly and dials in good monitor mixes for the band. A poorly run sound check will get everyone aggravated, add stress for the band, and set you as the FOH engineer up to fail. Obviously, the former is a more desirable outcome, so let’s consider a few ways to get there.

Arrive Early

Nothing will put you farther ahead in the sound check game than arriving early. Get there early to go over the set up, line check, label the board, check the monitors and generally make sure everything is ready. Scrambling to figure out why the bass is showing up on the click track channel will not make sound check go smoothly.

Know Your Setup

Have an input list. Label your board. Make sure you know which aux sends go to which monitor mixes. Figure this stuff out in advance, not when the band is standing on stage starring at you. Remember, planning will set you free.

Know the Musician’s Names

This is a little thing, but it makes a big difference. Instead of saying, “Hey bass player, can you play your, uh, bass please?” you can say, “Steve, give me some love on the bass!” People like to hear their name. Label the board with their names if you have to. And don’t forget to say thank you when you have enough from them. Instead of barging on to the next instrument, try this, “Thanks, Steve. Justin, can you play a little somthin’ somthin’ for me, please?” This helps, I’m not kidding.

Use a Talkback Mic

Again, small thing, big difference. If you don’t use a talkback, you have to yell to be heard. Do you like to be yelled at? Didn’t think so. Neither do musicians. Plus, if you work the talkback mic correctly, you can get your Barry White voice on and sound all smooth and cool. That makes you sound like you know what you’re doing. That is a good thing.

Proceed in an Orderly Manner

Instead of bouncing all over stage, run the sound check the way you’d build a mix. Drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals. It’s not a bad thing to start off on stage and tell everyone what you’re going to ask for as well. Then they know what to expect and things will move faster.

Make Sure They Have What They Need

This is especially important if the band is using Avioms, PQs, HearBack or whatever. Don’t move on if they’re still dialing in their mix. It’s not a bad idea at the end of sound check to stop and ask, “OK, I got what I needed, are you guys all good?” Goes a long way.

Don’t Mess With It When You’re Done

This is a biggie. Once you get the gains and EQ dialed in, don’t mess with it too much. I say too much because quite often, musicians won’t play as loud or sing as loud as they will later on, and you’ll need to back off the gain a click to avoid overdriving the preamps. Or you could give yourself some room just in case. Either way, try not to mess with it. Same with EQ. Tweaking EQ all over the place will radically alter the sound in their ears, and make it sound like you’re changing gain. So get that dialed in early, then “freeze” it. Again, if you need to adjust slightly, do so. But don’t suddenly take 6 dB out at 800 Hz and expect to not get noticed.

There are a bunch of other tips I’ve picked up along the way, but those will wait for another day. Happy sound checking!

11 Comments

  1. phil@philrowley.net

    Great suggestions, as usual! The way you wrote this suggests that the sound guy has some “leadership” in conducting the sound check. Usually, I’m used to the worship leader being the one to go through each instrument until the mix is to his (and the sound guys) liking. Are there any cons to this method or should the sound guy be the one to have the final say in conducting the sound check?

  2. phil@philrowley.net

    Great suggestions, as usual! The way you wrote this suggests that the sound guy has some “leadership” in conducting the sound check. Usually, I’m used to the worship leader being the one to go through each instrument until the mix is to his (and the sound guys) liking. Are there any cons to this method or should the sound guy be the one to have the final say in conducting the sound check?

  3. justin.langman@gmail.com

    @Phil

    My theory, the sound guy should lead the ‘sound check’. He is the one who is actually setting the levels and eqing instruments. Once sound check is done, he then hands over to the worship leader for ‘practice’. In my experience, worship leaders sometimes do not understand the difference between sound check and practice, and just like to get started and hope the sound guy catches up.

    If the sound guy is not competent behind the desk, it will be near impossible to lead through sound check with any authority. In this case the worship leader will naturally lead through ‘sound check’. This happens with a couple of our guys, then I get the complaints later about how bad practice was, and find out they never did a proper sound check because the worship leader never let it happen – just jumped straight into song practice.

    Even after many expantions, our worship leader still tries to turn ‘sound check’ into ‘line check + practice’. We have to do a proper sound check as we are now using scenes in our digital desk and mixing IEMs. If you don’t do a proper sound check, the whole thing falls apart.

    Hope that make some kind of sense. There is no problem either way, just preferred methods. Whatever works for you is the correct way. Justin.

  4. justin.langman@gmail.com

    @Phil

    My theory, the sound guy should lead the ‘sound check’. He is the one who is actually setting the levels and eqing instruments. Once sound check is done, he then hands over to the worship leader for ‘practice’. In my experience, worship leaders sometimes do not understand the difference between sound check and practice, and just like to get started and hope the sound guy catches up.

    If the sound guy is not competent behind the desk, it will be near impossible to lead through sound check with any authority. In this case the worship leader will naturally lead through ‘sound check’. This happens with a couple of our guys, then I get the complaints later about how bad practice was, and find out they never did a proper sound check because the worship leader never let it happen – just jumped straight into song practice.

    Even after many expantions, our worship leader still tries to turn ‘sound check’ into ‘line check + practice’. We have to do a proper sound check as we are now using scenes in our digital desk and mixing IEMs. If you don’t do a proper sound check, the whole thing falls apart.

    Hope that make some kind of sense. There is no problem either way, just preferred methods. Whatever works for you is the correct way. Justin.

  5. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Phil–
    What Justin said. Seriously, he’s right on. The FOH engineer should lead the sound check. It doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out affair–we schedule 15 minutes for ours. The purpose of the sound check is for the engineer to get levels set and dial in monitor mixes. Levels come first, then mixes.

    If the worship leader tries to rush this process and get on to something “important” like practice it is at their own peril. As always, it all comes down to relationship. You need to build a relationship with the worship leader and explain why you need to do what you need to do. Once he trusts that you know what you’re doing and want to make the band sound as good as possible, you’ll have his cooperation. With his cooperation, the band will fall in line.

    I would only disagree with Justin on one point: I believe the sound guy should lead the sound check. If the sound guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, he need to learn or be trained, but that’s a separate issue. Our worship leader is highly competent and a great leader, but when it’s time for sound check, I “have the con.” We move on when I say I have what I need. It’s not about ego or anything like that. It’s just that I know better than anyone else at that moment if we’re dialed in–that’s my job right then. Once sound check is done, he takes over again and we move forward. Works great.

    Those are my thoughts. Sounds like I could milk this for another post ‘;-).
    mike

  6. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Phil–
    What Justin said. Seriously, he’s right on. The FOH engineer should lead the sound check. It doesn’t need to be a long, drawn out affair–we schedule 15 minutes for ours. The purpose of the sound check is for the engineer to get levels set and dial in monitor mixes. Levels come first, then mixes.

    If the worship leader tries to rush this process and get on to something “important” like practice it is at their own peril. As always, it all comes down to relationship. You need to build a relationship with the worship leader and explain why you need to do what you need to do. Once he trusts that you know what you’re doing and want to make the band sound as good as possible, you’ll have his cooperation. With his cooperation, the band will fall in line.

    I would only disagree with Justin on one point: I believe the sound guy should lead the sound check. If the sound guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, he need to learn or be trained, but that’s a separate issue. Our worship leader is highly competent and a great leader, but when it’s time for sound check, I “have the con.” We move on when I say I have what I need. It’s not about ego or anything like that. It’s just that I know better than anyone else at that moment if we’re dialed in–that’s my job right then. Once sound check is done, he takes over again and we move forward. Works great.

    Those are my thoughts. Sounds like I could milk this for another post ‘;-).
    mike

  7. phil@philrowley.net

    Thanks guys…my eyes have been opened to a new way of thinking. Granted, there are some weekends when a quick line check or overview by the worship leader is sufficient. More complex services, more inputs, etc indeed do complicate the affair. I’ll do my best to pay this wisdom forward πŸ™‚

  8. phil@philrowley.net

    Thanks guys…my eyes have been opened to a new way of thinking. Granted, there are some weekends when a quick line check or overview by the worship leader is sufficient. More complex services, more inputs, etc indeed do complicate the affair. I’ll do my best to pay this wisdom forward πŸ™‚

  9. Church Tech Arts » Sound

    […] week, on Audio Monday, I wrote a little blurb about how I think a successful sound check should go. Several people brought up a […]

  10. bill.whitt@wadecenter.com

    Thank God for digital consoles! Our soundchecks go by in just a few minutes now, thanks to stored scenes. With the same players and same instruments in the same channels, you’re 95% ready to go just by plugging in!

    My biggest problem is that my audio guy is up to 40 minutes late sometimes. So I (the worship leader and SPD) end up somehow leading the practice and mixing until he decides to show up. If anyone’s got ideas for remedying that, I’m all ears!

  11. bill.whitt@wadecenter.com

    Thank God for digital consoles! Our soundchecks go by in just a few minutes now, thanks to stored scenes. With the same players and same instruments in the same channels, you’re 95% ready to go just by plugging in!

    My biggest problem is that my audio guy is up to 40 minutes late sometimes. So I (the worship leader and SPD) end up somehow leading the practice and mixing until he decides to show up. If anyone’s got ideas for remedying that, I’m all ears!

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