Saving Time with Line Checks

In my last post, I mentioned the importance of always preforming a full line check.  Going through each channel and checking that you have the proper signal in the right place can save you a lot of headaches.  But in my busy week, I know it is all to common to try and find shortcuts.  In the past I have skipped a full line check to get to another project, and it always seems to come back to haunt me.

We all too often fall into the mindset that if it worked last week, and no one messed with anything, it will work this week.  For those of us who don’t have to tear down a stage every week, that is tempting.  But that makes two dangerous assumptions.  First, that no one actually did mess with anything, and secondly, that the gremlins that tear apart the audio system did not strike this week.  The gremlins struck me this past Sunday.  A bass amp that was working perfectly at rehearsal on Wednesday was making a loud buzzing noise Sunday morning.  It turns out that the surge protector went bad.  No one touched it, it just worked when we turned it off Wednesday, and not when we turned it on Sunday.  And I am sure everyone has a story like that.

For that reason, every single week I run a full line check.  I check every input and output line before rehearsal on Wednesday.  This does not prevent every problem, but it prevents a lot of them.  That way I have time to find and troubleshoot any problems before the band arrives.  Here is the process that I have developed.  I have found that it streamlines the line check and ensures I don’t miss anything.  I will also share a brief glimpse of my process to set the stage, which can set me up for success or failure during the line check.

Most weeks, the majority of my stage does not change.  But there are always things that do.  I power up the system and start playing music through the mains and monitors.  This not only gives me something to listen to while I work, it also ensures that my outputs are working properly.  As I am setting up monitors and in-ear packs, I can listen to them to make sure they are receiving the audio signal.

As I set my stage, I verify every channel, even the ones that never change.  I visually inspect the mics and cables to make sure they have not moved or been damaged, and that they are still plugged into the correct channels.

For me, this is where I start to contemplate efficiency.  It is natural, easy, and time consuming to jump around the stage from one line to the next.  For me, I find that I save time and energy by following my input list channel by channel, which typically follows my board inputs from right to left.  This means I start with the drums, then click and loop tracks, bass, guitars, keys, and vocals.  Having the same sequence ensures I don’t miss anything, and that I don’t check the same thing 5 times.  (just twice, typically).  I do the same thing for my outputs, once my inputs are done.  From Aux 1-8, I set and verify each stage output.

As I am setting the stage, I am updating any changes on my input list.  Once everything is plugged in, then it is time to check the board patching.  Again, I go through each channel in order and double check it against my input list.  Most weeks very few things change, but I check everything anyways.

Now I get to the actual line check.  For me this can be the most obnoxious part of the day.  Proper line check procedure requires that you check each channel with the other channels muted.  This not only ensures that you are getting the signal to the board, but that it is coming through where you are expecting it.  Many digital consoles allow you to control the board through an iPad or laptop, but I don’t currently have the software to do that with mine.  So to do a proper line check, I would be constantly running back and forth from the stage to the board.  Now I probably need the exercise, and it is not as bad as those who have the board in a balcony, but I am lazy.  So I have enlisted the help of my worship leader.  He comes in for ten minutes and runs the board, so I can check each line.  I know others who do the opposite, and run the board while a second person checks the lines, but I have found that most of my mistakes happen on the stage side, so that is where I work from.

I have my worship leader unmute a channel, I will check a line.  He will let me know that signal came in on that channel and only that channel, mute the channel and we move on to the next.  We can go through all 15-20 wired lines in about five minutes without issues.  I check the wireless channels separately, since I keep the batteries at the console anyway.  If we do come across an issue, I will see if there is an obvious, easy fix; but if it is more complicated, I will mark that channel on the input list and come back to it.  No sense wasting the worship leaders time while I trouble shoot.  He has enough to do before rehearsal without watching me run around.

All in all, my line check takes about ten minutes and does not require me to leave the stage.  The worship leader is happy because any issues are discovered and resolved before the band arrives.  I am happy because the entire band does not have to wait around and watch me troubleshoot a problem only to find out that I never plugged the cord in.

And the final step to improve efficiency, we ask the band to come in and set up early enough to be plugged in, tuned, and warmed up before the rehearsal downbeat.  Because I have already completed my line check, if a problem develops, I can start with their gear.  Now, things have been known to go bad between line check and rehearsal, but this at least gives me a good starting point.  It also allows me to set my gain structure as the band warms up, which really speeds up my sound check.  Look for a follow up post soon about running efficient sound checks.

I have found that line checks are an essential part of my set-up process.  I cannot even express how many issues they have prevented, or how many problems have occurred when I have skipped them.  Remember, this is just my procedure, and there is no guarantee it will work for you.  But I think it is a good starting point.  If you have any comments, suggestions or questions, please feel free to put them in the comment section below.

Happy Mixing,

Aaron