Creating a thorough soundcheck process is one of the best ways ensure that a consistent audio mix is achieved at church each week.
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.
Step 1: Getting to the 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.
Step 2: Pre-Soundcheck Checklist
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.
- Either way, it is important to test each input and output connection on stage to ensure that everything is working properly prior to the soundcheck.
- Arrange stands, position microphones, run cables, and connect monitors as required.
- Connect all cables and do a line check to ensure that audio signal is sent and received through the cables and that it routes through the correct channels.
- Ensure that fully-charged batteries are installed in all wireless audio components.
- Listen for buzz or hum and troubleshoot any bad cables or equipment.
- Label the mixing console channels to match what is connected on stage.
- Anticipate monitor mix requirements where possible in order to pre-assign monitor channel levels.
Step 3: Approaching the Soundcheck
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.
Step 4: Basic Soundcheck Checklist
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.
- Begin with muting all audio inputs.
- Use headphones and signal level meters to assist with setting and monitoring gain for each source.
- Select a channel and solo it to adjust the gain for proper signal level.
- Adjust microphones and apply EQ or basic effects as needed so that sources sound good in the main loudspeakers.
- Mix the source into monitor channels as required and requested. (Those with personal monitor mixing system can skip this step.)
- Soundcheck similar channels or instrument groups together once initial levels are set.
- Check each vocal mic and make sure that the signal is going to the correct monitor channel.
- Have the worship team play and sing. They can start separately or all together depending on the size of the team and the arrangement.
- Communicate with team members to verify the monitor mixes and signal levels an stage are adequate.
- Begin building the mix in the main loudspeakers. Add EQ and effects as needed.
- Walk the room and listen for nuances. Adjust levels and channel EQ to develop a consistent-sounding mix.
- Remember to soundcheck the pastor’s mic!
Step 5: Going from Soundcheck to Main Mix
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 underpowered 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.
Step 6: Preparation + Practice
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.
Recommended Resource: A comprehensive soundcheck checklist is included in the free Great Church Sound mobile app, available for Android and iOS mobile devices.