Efficient Sound Checks

church-soundcheck

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. .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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Happy Mixing,

Aaron

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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