Never underestimate the value of a good soundcheck.
Doing a soundcheck with your sound system components before you go live seems simple enough, but it’s amazing how often this crucial step is rushed when preparing for “the main event”.
The key to successful live sound reinforcement mixing and system performance is a good soundcheck.
Even the most experienced professional audio engineers take their time to do a thorough soundcheck, even on systems they’ve used a thousand times. It’s that important.
There are different ways to approach a soundcheck, but the end result should always be quality sound from the stage to the main loudspeakers, a good monitor mix for each musician and vocalist, and a sound tech that is prepared to mix the live event.
So what constitutes a good soundcheck?
The real work starts before the soundcheck.
The lead audio tech and other tech team members should arrive early enough to fully prepare for the service or event. There are several things that should be completed before the worship band arrives and expects to connect to the sound system.
Some of those items include setting up microphones and running cables, as well as conducting an initial line check to make sure audio signals are making their way from the stage to the mixing console and on to the rest of the sound system.
It is also important to have a service order, information necessary to set up for special events, and anything else that may deviate from a typical week-to-week setup. The more information that the leadership team can provide the technical team ahead of time, the better.
This checklist will vary depending on the church and the amount of infrastructure that is already in place. A portable church will have a lot more equipment to set up and manage before the sound system can even be turned on, while other churches may have everything ready to go from the last service.
A successful soundcheck depends on more than just running through technical startup procedures. Ultimately, a good soundcheck is the result of good communication.
It is very helpful to work with the worship leader, bandleader, or section leaders (depending on the size of the worship team) to assist with managing the soundcheck. It is also useful to have a good talkback mic to communicate with people on stage. Sound teams in larger facilities will benefit from using radios to minimize shouting from across the room.
There are a few ways to start a soundcheck. Some sound techs like to start with the drums and rhythm section, move through the instruments, and then end with the vocals. Others like to start with the lead vocalist and primary rhythm instrument like a guitar or piano.
It may be helpful to think of the soundcheck in two parts. Part One is to set gain and deliver initial monitor mixes. Part Two is for building a mix, refining levels, and dialing in monitor mixes.
When setting the gain and initial monitor levels it is important to have focus and cooperation with the worship team on stage. A good soundcheck cannot be completed properly with random musicians noodling away or vocalists talking over everything.
Soundchecks can be fairly quick if everyone is respectful and ready to work through the process – this goes for both the team on stage and the team behind the mixing console.
If the style of worship is based on a lead vocalist and instrument, then consider starting a soundcheck and building a mix with this person. Doing this can help focus the sound around the instrument and vocal combination as other sources are added to the mix.
Worship styles that feature a large or energetic band may benefit from the soundcheck and mix building around the drums, bass, and other rhythm section instruments. This helps provide a solid musical foundation where other sources can be added in to complement the core sound structure.
It can be helpful to experiment and tweak this process to achieve the most consistent and reliable results.
Download the complete church soundcheck checklist and keep it next to your mixing console for quick reference every time you set up for a service or event.
Some sound techs and worship team members may assume that getting a good sounding mix during soundcheck is all that is needed to ensure success once the service starts. This is a big mistake for several reasons.
A soundcheck and initial mix in an empty room is only the start of the mixing process. The acoustic properties of the worship center or sanctuary can change very dramatically once the congregation fills the room. This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the room, the sound system, and other variables.
Instruments or vocals that are big and reverberant in an empty room can sound thin and under-powered once everyone shows up. Volume levels that were fine for soundcheck may need to be turned up substantially when the congregation starts singing along.
It is important to be mentally prepared for the shift from mixing a soundcheck to crafting a main mix.
Preparing for and conducting a thorough soundcheck is only the start of getting great sound at church. Quality results will come from practicing the procedures that work best for you and your worship team.
Commit to spending the time it takes to go through the process correctly. This might mean that certain team members show up earlier than others. It might also mean that more time is required to soundcheck. Work with team leaders to develop a process that can be followed each week.
Doing a good soundcheck is one of the most important things that will allow the prepared sound tech to establish a great mix.
Note: this originally appeared as a guest post on the ChurchTechToday blog.
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