Thursday, July 22, 2010

How Not To Run A Sound Check

How Not To Run A Sound Check: "Some of you know that I work part-time for a live concert production company. One of the concerts we did not long ago was a church doing its live-CD release concert in a college amphitheatre. And this is how their sound guy ran the sound check: He started with the drummer, used his talkback mic to tell him to hit the kick. Three minutes later the drummer was still hitting the kick as the engineer was EQing and compressing it. Another minute or so and they moved on to the snare. In all, it took about 30 minutes for him to sound check the drums. There were also 2 electric guitars, a synth player with 2 keyboards, 4 vocalists, a bass player, and an acoustic guitar player. Long story short it was the most painful sound check that my boss and I had to sit through. And that was before they actually started playing music and asking for changes to their monitors.

That experience stuck with me and actually got me to thinking, is our sound check an inefficient use of time? I’ll let you guys be the judge. Here is how a typical Thursday night rehearsal is run for us. The audio guys get there around 6 to 6:15 to make the necessary changes to patching the differences between last week and this week. If there were 3 vocalists last week and this week there is only 1, microphones and monitors are struck from the stage. In all not that much changes from one week to the next so it usually doesn’t take more than 15 minutes to half an hour unless there is a choir or the layout of the stage has to be changed for something special on Sunday. At around 6:15 the musicians start coming to set up their stuff. The keyboard and electric guitar players are usually first because they have a lot to set up with their pedal boards, amps, keyboards and stands. As soon as they are up they’ll just start playing through some stuff to finalize their tones and save patch presets. This gives us a cheating start to set gain structure and maybe pull out one or two harsh frequencies in the EQ.

At 6:30, rehearsal officially starts. We un-mute the monitors and after the worship pastor discusses a few arrangement details for the first song or two, he will pray and they’ll just jump right into the first song. At that point the FOH is now working and the monitor engineer is watching the musicians to see if they use semaphore to ask for more or less of something in their mix. If changes must be made that are critical they will stop the song and ask for monitor changes, otherwise they’ll go through the whole song. After they run through that song, musicians will ask for changes to be made. However, I use The Short Guide To Mixing Monitors to train guys on how to mix monitors, that way the musicians can continue to play and speak their changes to the monitor engineer directly standing near them.

The band will go through the entire music set-list, which is four or five songs, sometimes stopping to make quick arrangement changes to the songs. After that the worship pastor will sometimes ask the tech guys if we need them to go over anything again. We usually end around 7:45 or 8PM. After that we will shut down, everyone will gather on the stage to quickly discuss the vision for this Sunday, and then we will pray. After that will go to a Starbucks around the corner to just hang out, fellowship, and keep up good relationships with the musicians and tech people who are available to come hang out. On Sunday morning we come back, do a quick run-through and turn the rough draft of what we were working on Thursday night into a final draft before first service.

Our previous worship pastor wasn’t too savvy with sound check efficiency. He would ask us to get the monitors and gain structure set BEFORE the band started playing music. Yeah, go figure that one out. In the end I’m not sure who wanted to punch each other more, us punching him or him punching the sound guys. Needless to say it caused huge divisions and distrust between the tech guys and musicians. He just didn’t get that we need to hear the music to set gain structure and levels against.

My question to all my readers is how do you run your sound checks? (Use the comment section.) Also can you spot ways we can streamline our sound checks to make better use of time, or can you spot areas where your MO is really efficient.