There are many times I am asked about running a “sound check.” The questions are usually different: How do YOU do a soundcheck? When you are sound checking, what are YOUR steps? How can we effectively do a sound check? What’s the best practice for running a sound check? These questions are basically all saying the same thing–our sound checks are not going as well as we would like–can you help us?
So here it is: the basics of running a sound check for your group before leading live worship. If you are effectively running sound checks at your church and they are fitting your needs then don’t keep reading, it will not be of much use to you. However, if you need a plan, some better execution, or general help in this area–keep reading and then pass this info on to your friends who may also need it.
PLOTTING THE COURSE AHEAD
Basically these are all of the non-negotiables of running sound for a live worship service and it is a detailed plan of communication between your sound engineer (FOH) and the worship director (music leader). It allows for everyone to be on the same page, because there is nothing more frustrating than not knowing what is going on. To ease your fears, most church services run with the same set-up for weeks/months/years at a time– unless there is a seasonal stage or set design that causes everything to shift. The easiest way to assure the set-up is complete is to use a stage plot design. I am using the one from my church as it is right now, but you can create your own with ease:
ALL SYSTEMS GO
Once your sound system is on (which should be the same procedure each week unless you are running sound for a “mobile church” where you are doing a complete tear down each week) you will want to tune the monitors (wedges) closest to the microphones that will be using the wedges.
In the example above from my church the only wedges being used are for the choir since we are using in-ear monitors by AVIOM for the rest of the people on the platform. Start by having a mic on a stand in front of the wedge just like it would be for a service. Mute everything in the main speakers, and mute all inputs except the chosen mic. Also mute all the wedges not being used. Next, gradually turn up the microphone gain until it begins to feedback. Identify the frequency that is feeding back and adjust the PEQ settings for that mic to remove any unwanted sounds (or at best reduce them to being almost inaudible). REPEAT for the remaining floor wedges on the platform.
Finally, it’s time to tune the room. (In theory, if this is done correctly, you really shouldn’t have to do it very often-maybe once or twice a year–unless you are a “mobile church.”) Play a song that you are very familiar with through the system, but make sure it represents most of the frequencies “from the highest of heights to the depths of the seas” (thank you, Laura Story and Chris Tomlin). Notice how the song sounds through this system, in this particular room-and use a graphic EQ to adjust the GEQ (most digital boards have these for you) and remove frequencies to bring the system into tune where this familiar song sounds “normal” to you.
ALL OF THE ABOVE SHOULD TAKE PLACE BEFORE INSTRUMENTALISTS AND VOCALISTS ARRIVE…
and NOW, the “beauty” begins!!
Start by setting the master faders to unity (it will be indicated by a “U” or on some boards as a “0”. Now remember that for the most part, you will want to run all of the individual channels that are plugged in below the level of the master fader for the remainder of the time. It is actually a Biblical principle (Matthew 10:24). Now, you will never forget it.
Next, have each musician play their instrument so you can begin to check their levels. Have a check list of your inputs to make sure none are missed.
While working with each instrument/mic, adjust the following, in priority order:
♦ Gain — Use the light up meters to find the “sweet spot”, usually where green turns to yellow on each onboard meter.
♦ Fader — At “zero” or below. Remember to keep it below the master.
♦ Gate — Primarily used on kick, snare, toms, and sometimes overhead choir mics–depending on the size of the ensemble. (I have only ever had it once on a vocal mic for a person who loved to talk a lot while others on stage were leading.)
♦ EQ — Reduce certain frequencies to tune in a “good” sound
♦ Compression — Primarily used on vocals to give them a “punch”
♦ FX sends — these are common to use (but not always necessary-less is usually more), most notably on vocals, but drums can have added FX to supplement the sound you are desiring. This is not recommended for acoustic instruments.
CAN “they” HEAR?
Some sound engineers set monitor levels concurrently with each person they are line checking, while most that I know will come back through the group to adjust monitor levels for each instrumentalist and vocalist. Either way is acceptable, but just make sure everyone can hear what they need to hear–even if what they are requesting seems odd to you. In our situation above, we are using in-ear monitoring stations by AVIOM so each individual can control their own levels of each instrument and vocalist.
THE “Sound Check”
So that was a lot of work to get to what is the actual “sound check.” But, all of those steps make this next one so much more enjoyable. Things may have sounded terrific to the musicians as individuals, but once the entire groups begins, things will need to be adjusted for them, most notably in their wedges. As far as the “house” (main room-FOH) sound goes, this will be where you will want to make tweaks to assure that nothing is getting “buried” in the mix. It also gives you a chance to assure that things aren’t competing with each other in similar frequencies such as the kick drum and bass guitar. Let your ears guide you, and know that as soon as people begin to fill the room, you will have to be on top of your mixing game and adjust along the way. This is what I refer to as active mixing-and will be covered in a whole other article in the future.
I hope this article can help you in the mixing world when you run your next sound check. Shoot us your questions or comments.
What tips do you have for effectively
running a sound check?