It seems like sound checks are the most important wastes of time in my week. You can’t mix without them, but you just want to get them over with as soon as possible and get on to the rehearsal or service. So here are a few key thoughts on how I speed things up.
- Be Prepared: Making sure everything is set and ready before the band shows up is crucial. There is nothing that wastes more time in a sound check than fixing a problem. And nothing more frustrating when you know you could have easily prevented that problem. So make sure you check everything in a full line check beforehand.
- Know Your Musicians: I keep a close eye on who is playing what any given week. I have come to learn what many of my regular musicians prefer, so I can have a basic monitor mix set before they walk in the door. For example, I have a lead guitarist that wants only click, guitars and lead vocals in his mix, so I have that set beforehand, so I have a lot less adjusting to do during sound check.
- .Start Early: My worship leader has set the expectation that all musicians should be plugged in, tuned, and warmed up before sound check begins. (If you do not already have this expectation, I highly encourage you to talk to your worship leader about it). Of course, that does not always happen with every musician every week, but someone is always there early. As they are playing and warming up, I start setting their gain structure and EQ settings. That will be one less line you have to sound check later. On a good week, I have most of my gain structure set before the scheduled start time.
- Set Gain: Many people go through line by line and set gain. This is good strategy, but time consuming. In my room, things don’t change enough to make that worth the time. My bass, rhythm, and lead guitar always run through the same amps, my lead vocal is always the same, and has the same mic with the same settings, My drum mics are usually always in the same positions. Plus, I have a digital console on which I can recall settings in case anything gets changed. So, instead of going line by line, I have the band run through the verse and chorus of a song they are very familiar with. I tweak my gain during this time, but don’t touch any other setting. Then after this I do not touch gain again unless absolutely necessary.
- Adjust Monitors: This step can look a lot different based on your console, your band, and your preference. With the way my board is set up, it is easier for me to start with one musician and adjust whatever they need, then move to the next musician. On other consoles, I have found that it is easier to go through channel by channel and see who needs more or less of what. Find a system that is clear and concise, and use it consistently.
- Repeat: I have the band run through the same section of the same song, and check ears again. This allows us to dial in the monitor mixes so that everyone has what they need.
- Move On: This step might seem obvious, but it is important to remember. Sometimes it is very beneficial to repeat step 5 more than once, but it is far too easy to just keep tweaking indefinitely. At some point (sooner rather than later) you have to end sound check and start rehearsal. Typically, I have the band run the verse/chorus of a song twice, adjust ears twice, and than have them move on. Every single time I end sound check I tell the musicians to let me know if they need anything else. I don’t want them to settle for a bad monitor mix, but I don’t want to take 30 minutes tweaking one person’s ears.
Typically, my sound check takes 10-15 minutes. Some days it is faster, depending on how many people arrive on time [read early], some days it takes longer, but that is my goal. One thing that helps ensure this is efficiently mixing the monitors. Not just the system of how you progress through the band, but also what adjustments you make. Look for a post in the near future about mixing monitors.
In the mean time, if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please leave them in the comments below.