The Soundcheck!!! Part 3

We’ve learned why we need to have a soundcheck, and we’ve learned what I consider to be the difference between a line check and a soundcheck. So now it’s time to get into what else needs to happen during the soundcheck.

In Part 2 we talked about what a line check is. It is when we check all our inputs to make sure we have signal, and maybe set a little bit of gain. But today let’s start to actually get our settings proper.

My preference is after going through each input and doing a line check, and getting a bit of a gain settings going on each input, I will ask the band to play through a song. Our band at church knows that during this song their monitors will not sound great, but this song is to get a proper gain setting on each input so that we can get the monitors set properly. So for the first song I go through each input and make sure my gain setting is where I want it to be. I do this because as I said in the last article, I find I get a more accurate gain setting when the band and singers are actually playing through a song than if I just ask them to sing for me during the line check.

I can usually get my gain settings set in one song, sometimes I ask them to play the song once more. I know my settings are still not 100% after that first song, but they are pretty close. Then once I have the gain settings set I can go through each singer and ask what they need adjusted in their monitor and get a more accurate setting for them. If I try to set their monitors without having the gain settings set properly then everytime I change the gains I will affect their monitors as well, therefore basically doubling my work. All while doing this, the band can be setting their personal mixers as well, sometimes I get word from the band that one of the inputs isn’t coming through as loudly as they need, or something is way too loud, so that is something else that needs to be fixed right away so we can get the band hearing themselves properly so they can practice the songs.

Once the band has played through 3 songs, (or the same song 3 times) I find we basically have things set. Not the mix (is the mix ever really set? lol … maybe another article for some time), but getting the gain settings proper and their monitor levels set allows them to feel comfortable to really start rehearsing their songs knowing they can hear everything properly.

Once the band can hear themselves, I can start EQing things, compressing things, adding effects, basically thats when I start mixing things.

That ends the soundcheck part. The big thing that I want people to take away from this mini series on the Soundcheck and the importance of it is that we need to get the band comfortable first. If the band isn’t comfortable then they will not play properly and the mix will not come together properly. So get the band comfortable first, then start mixing and it saves all of us time and energy, especially in a church setting where our musicians are often volunteers donating their time and talents for us.

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The Soundcheck!!! Part 2

Last time we discussed WHY we need to care about soundcheck and how important it is.  Today I want to start describing what I do and how I do it during soundcheck and why I do it that way.  Before that, I want to reiterate that this is how I do soundcheck.  Some do it different than I do, and they have good reasons for that.  The main thing is to understand what you need to do and why.

So my first thing that I want to mention is that I like to differentiate between soundcheck and line check.  I consider my line check to be when I check all the inputs, make sure they are coming through the system properly, and that everyone can hear all the inputs in their IEMs or personal mixers.  After I confirm my line check, I proceed with the soundcheck, which is where I get gain structure and EQing sorted out.  Some people do these at the same time, I do not, I’ll explain why a bit later.

To start the line check, I pick an instrument, I always start with the Kick drum.  I ask our drummers to play it hard, consistent, and not too slow and not too quick.  I make sure I get a good input from it and I make sure everyone has the kick in their ears.  Then I move to the snare, and continue going through all the inputs for the band that week until everything has been checked.  I don’t spend much time on gain at this point and I don’t even touch the EQs or anything else.  I only even touch the gain if the channel is clipping a lot, or if there is barely any signal.

The reason I don’t like to start touching the gains at this stage is because I prefer to set the gains while the band is playing a song.  I find that if I set my gain levels while line checking, then that part takes me at least twice as long and I still have to make adjustments once they start playing since most musicians play their instruments at a different level while actually playing a song than they do while line checking.  Or at least that is my experience.

So after I’ve line checked the whole band, I’ll get them to play through a song.  Our worship teams all know that at this point their IEMs wont sound great yet, but they know just to play through this first song even if they can’t hear everything great because I need to get the gains set before I start touching anything else.  As we all know, gain affects everything else in the channel strip, so why start EQing or setting Aux sends when the gain has not been set yet.

There are 2 or 3 instruments that I change this rule for.  Toms.  Tom toms.  I love toms.  I love when a drummer does a great drum fill and the toms sound great and add that extra presence in that section of a song.  The problem is that toms only get played at those moments.  The snare, the kick, the guitar, the vocals, they keys, the bass, they are all playing for most of most songs, so I can get a good gain level on them during a run through of a song.  But the toms are often just played with a fill, and not repeated much (except for some songs).  So I will get the drummer to do some Tom fills for me during the line check and I will set my gain, set my EQ and any gates/comps that I want on them as well.  Once I see where they are playing them in a song, I will watch for that section of the song and pay close attention to them when they hit them on a fill so I can make sure my settings are working properly and make adjustments as necessary.

So that’s the line check part.  Next up I’ll explain how I go through my actual soundcheck.

P.S.  It’s Christmas on Friday, I hope everyone is ready for Christmas Eve services and that they run smoothly.  Get some rest and enjoy the holidays!

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The Soundcheck!!! (Part 1)

The sound check! Ask a sound guy what that means. Ask a musician what that means. Ask a Service Director/Producer what that means. Ask your Pastor what that means. Did you just get at least 4 different answers? So what is the sound check? What is it’s purpose? What is supposed to happen during this “sound check”? This is part one of a mini series I’ll be writing on how to make sure a sound check is done properly to benefit everyone involved.

First off, as with anything, there are multiple ways/theories/approaches to doing a sound check. I have my way. I’m going to share with you my way of running a sound check. You may have a different way, as long as you have logical reasoning why your way works for you, all the power to you! I’d love if you’d leave a comment here and share your approach because I (and any readers) would love to hear some other approaches as well.

Before getting too deep into it though, why? Why do we need a sound check?

It is during the check that the sound person can make sure all the inputs are patched properly and have adequate signal coming through, then they can start setting compression, EQ, FX sends. Also the band can use the sound and line check to make sure they are hearing all the instruments correctly, they can get their monitors adjusted (or adjust themselves if they are using personal mixers) and know that when the actual performance time comes, they’ll be able to hear everything properly. Basically, it makes sure everyone has what they need, musicians and sound team alike, to do their task properly.

I’ve been in situations where the sound check was needed to be done really quick. It usually results in myself being somewhat nervous as the first song is about to start because I’m not confident in my settings, so what happens if all of a sudden the electric guitar kicks in and its way above the other instruments in the mix? What happens if the lead vocalist isn’t loud enough based on my guess of where their fader should be and no one can hear their first couple of words? It also can result in the band not hearing themselves properly as well, which can mean a singer singing out of key, I’ve seen musicians actually stop playing to change their settings on their personal mixer, or they aren’t in time with one another because they can’t hear each other. And even if the levels are good enough that nothing necessarily jumps out right out it might just be that the mix is bland because there hasn’t been that proper time to get the FX levels set right, or the EQ set properly so the instruments aren’t spaced out properly in the mix and it sounds too thin, or too muddy.

When the musicians aren’t relaxed, they play more uptight and will often make more mistakes because of that. Sound engineers can be the same way. Things don’t sound right, there wasn’t enough time to get things set properly, now people are listening and while not everyone can hear it, certainly some people can hear the changes as I try to race to set my EQs and get the mix not to sound like a bowl of mud.

It just creates a tension filled scenario for band and sound people. A soundcheck can be done relatively quickly, but they also shouldn’t be rushed and thought of as just another routine thing. We will get more in to that in the next couple of articles, but first off we just want to make the point that some time needs to be set aside, prior to starting services, to do a proper sound check to make sure all our musicians and sound operators can be comfortable enough to relax and mix the way they were meant to mix.

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Sound Operator Band Suggestions, Yay or Nay?

How many of my sound friends out there make suggestions to the band during practice?  I’m curious if this is a common practice or just something I like to do.  As many of us know, the sound person plays a vital role in how the band sounds to the people in the seats, and just by having that person setting the mix in the room the band has already placed a LOT of trust in that person.  But is it stepping over a line when they start making suggestions to the band for how to play a certain song?

My answer … it depends.  What does it depend on? Well, many things.  Let’s discuss it.

Every situation is slightly different but there are a few ground rules that I think the band and sound person to lay down before the sound person should be making regular suggestions.  I had a recent occurrence where one of the volunteer sound operators suggested a few things to one of the guitar players about his tone.  The guitar player listened and changed his tone a bit and the two electric guitar players sounded better blended.  This is a situation where it worked out great, the guitar players even said they’d love to hear that input from the sound operators if what they are doing isn’t working.

And therein lies the key ground rule.  The band’s willingness to take the sound operators suggestions.  This isn’t necessarily a pride issue if the band doesn’t want to hear the sound person telling them how to play their song, if often can be, but I don’t want to start out dismissing it as just a bunch of snobby musicians who think they’re better than the lowly sound person.   The band needs to trust the sound person, and if the sound person is telling them how to make their song better, it may only be his or her opinion and the band might not care to hear another person’s opinion.  They are the band for a reason, in a church they are often chosen by the Worship Pastor/Leader/Director to play just as they played in their audition, or to play the songs just as they heard them on the recording they learned from.  Music is subjective and everyone has an opinion, so to hear one more opinion can often just dilute the relationship between band and sound person to “do your job, I’ll do mine” instead of the harmonious relationship it could be where band and sound person work together to make a beautiful piece of music.

I would suggest the Tech Director or Sound Leader or whoever leads the sound team, speak with the worship leader/director and ask them what their policy is.  If they say they would rather the sound person just run sound, and let them deal with guitar tone stuff and laying out how the band plays, then leave it there.  Do your job as a sound person as best as you can.  Often times the worship director will agree to let the sound person make suggestions here and there, but they don’t want it to become a regular thing (“what will be their suggestion for this song!”).

I find the most common times a band needs some input from the sound person is when there are two electric guitars.  Ideally the two guitarists will have worked out who is playing what parts, but sometimes they don’t have that communication and you get two guitars playing either the same thing, or two different things that just don’t work together.  If they aren’t listening to each other closely enough, they may not even realize that the sound they are hoping for in the mix, just isn’t happening because the two guitar sounds just aren’t working together.  A gentle suggestion can go a long way in this situation.  But again, only if it is defined that the sound person can intervene.

I am curious what your set up is like.  Do you make suggestions to the band?

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What Does A Church Tech Director Do During The Week?

As a Church Tech Guy, a question I often get asked is “What do you do all week?”.  If you’re a Church TD, you know what I mean, and you probably also know what I mean when my answer involves a deep breath before I say anything.  I thought I’d write this post to let people know what I do all week as a Church Tech Director (CTD).

First off, there is no regular work week for a CTD.  I work Sundays-Thursdays most of the time, giving me Friday and Saturday as my weekends.  There are sometimes events that happen on one or both of those days that affect my weekend, but in those cases I take another day off in lieu of that time.  As for hours, most of my days are fairly typical 9-5(ish) type of days.  Sundays I am at the church around 6 or 630 and I am here until all 4 services are finished which gets me out of here at around 2pm.   Tuesdays is when our worship team has its rehearsal so I stay until 9pm making it a 12 hour day.  Due to that 12 hour day I often leave a bit early on Thursdays to start my weekend :).

Well that’s how I get to my 40 hours.  But the question still remains, what do I do the whole time!?  Well, there are a few tasks that need to be done every week.  Obviously, Sunday mornings are one of my busiest times.  Sundays are when I’m making sure that everything AVL (Audio/Video/Lighting) is working in all our rooms, and helping make sure our main services are running smoothly as well.  Then during our 4th service I am usually editing one of the other message videos to put on our website.  

Monday mornings are when I upload sermon videos and message audio to the website and also edit the music section of the service video to send out to our worship team for review/evaluation purposes.  

Tuesdays I have our Service Planning meeting with the rest of our Service Planning team in the morning, and then Tuesday evenings is our worship practice.  

That is all the regularly scheduled things I have to do each week.  Yes, thats right, all that stuff probably totals about 10-12 hours of work.  A little more than 1/4 of my work week.  

This is why a CTD’s work week is so hard to explain.  I fill the other 30 hours no problem each week, but each week is slightly different, which is why it’s hard to explain what I do all week.  Some weeks I will have a video or videos to edit, which can be really time consuming, or just quick videos with little editing required.  Some weeks I will have a stage redesign.  Although I don’t do the stage design work, everytime a redesign happens, I have to take care of the lighting requirements to go along with that redesign.

Sometimes during a Sunday morning, we have a problem that I can’t fix on that morning.  After developing a work around to get us through that Sunday, I will need to spend time fixing that problem during the week.  It could be something as simple as resoldering a broken XLR cable, to fixing a problem in the DSP for our speakers, getting on the scissor lift to re-aim a light, change a bulb in a projector etc etc.  

Along with being a troubleshooter and maintenance guy for our Tech Equipment, there’s also the part of the job that is more administrative.  We are a church, with one paid technical staff member, so everything we do on Sunday morning is done with our amazing team of volunteers.  What this means is that I am constantly scheduling volunteers in planning center.  I am also in charge of keeping the volunteers up to speed with new software, new equipment, and re-teaching them stuff on our current equipment and software.  So I am planning training sessions for all our AVL volunteers to keep them up to speed.

I also keep a section of my week open for my own personal growth.  I like to read blogs from other CTD’s and tech professionals.  A really good I read regularly is http://churchtecharts.org/.  I also research new equipment we might be in need of, and keep up to date with my budget to make sure I’m not overspending on things.  

Those are all the jobs that take up the other 30 hours of my work week.  For most of the year, it works out very close to 40 hours (give or take) each week.  There are definitely some weeks where I have less to do, but those weeks are more than taken care of during those weeks when I don’t think I will have enough time to get everything done.  I’m lucky in that my job is setup in such a way that if I am seriously overworked, we can find a way to either postpone certain projects, or find some help for me to get those tasks done.  At times like Christmas and Easter, my hours go up a bit, but so does everyone’s here, pastors and directors alike.  We are about to enter an expansion phase, where we will be opening a second auditorium and will be having multiple venues running at the same time on Sunday morning.  While we get our volunteers trained on the new way of doing things and the new equipment we will have, things will get a little busy for me.  That’s par for the course though.

I hope this gave a bit of insight as to what it is that I do all week.  Obviously every CTD has a slightly different layout for their hours and their tasks depending on the size of their church and the scope of their job, so this doesn’t apply to everyone, but I would be most CTD’s can find a number of similarities with my to do list each week. 

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Always Learning

I’ve been mixing sound for about 14 years now.  Obviously I’m experienced, but there are many, many people who have been doing it for much longer.  I went to school for audio engineering and have been a paid Technical Director for the last 4 years, so I feel comfortable saying that I know what I’m doing when it comes to mixing live sound.  I’ve had many people tell me they love my mixes, and I can talk the talk with even the top sound engineers and not get lost in the conversation.  So I feel good about my skills.  I’ve never been in a place where I’ve felt I can’t learn more, but I know that I’ve got a good foundation of knowledge and skill.

So, I feel good, I’ve stroked my ego a bit and people reading are probably getting sick of me.  Now to the point of my blog post for today ;).

Over the last couple of times I’ve been the sound guy for Sunday Morning services, I’ve not been impressed with the sound from the Toms.  I’m not a drummer, but a bad sound from the toms when a drummer does a fill can really kill a mix for me.  If they’re too loud, it takes away from the rest of the kit, if they’re too quiet, then why did the drummer even do a fill since we can’t hear it? If they’re too boomy it just sounds awkward, if they’re too muddy then there is no definition to them and they might as well just have one tom thats not tuned instead of 3.  So when I couldn’t get the toms to sound good, it frustrated me.

My first though was, they must not be in tune.  So i went and asked the drummer if he tuned them, and he hit them for me and while they weren’t perfect, they sounded fine without the mics on them.  I also know the mics I’ve got on them, Sennheiser e604’s, are good mics for Toms, and they are working fine.  So it must be my EQ or comp settings.

For some reason I went straight to my gates.  I gate the toms, as most sound people do.  I don’t want to get rid of the boom of the toms, but I want to tighten them and not get the sound of the cymbals and/or snare in the tom mics as much as possible.  So i tightened the gates, thinking that was the problem.  Now they sounded like the drummer was hitting a tree stump.  So that obviously wasn’t the issue.

I started working with the EQ.  I’m going to give away what I had been doing wrong here but just let me get there ;).  I look at Toms as one of the lower instruments in the EQ spectrum, i like to boost the floor tom around 120, the mid around 150 and the high around 180.  Our room is also fairly hi-mid heavy, so I find I’m taking those hi mids out of most channels.  So on the 4 band parametric EQ, I was cutting the low up to anywhere from 80-140 depending on the Tom.  I was boosting the mid-low at the already mentioned spots.  Then I was cutting at around 500-700 on the mid high EQ, then i was cutting anything from about 3khz and above on the high EQ.  It made sense to me.   But my toms sounded like garbage.

After a few attempts at changing the low frequency I was boosting, and even messing a bit with the mid high I was cutting, and continuously adjusting my gate settings, I knew I needed some “re-education” on EQing Toms.  So I went to the internet.  I googled “EQing Toms” and read a ton of articles.  One thing that kept coming up that I wasn’t doing, stick attack.  All of the articles mentioned boosting around 1-4Khz to pick up the stick attack.  I knew this.  But I not been thinking about it while trying to fix my issue.

So the next week I was on sound, I added around 2db of 1.5-2K on the Toms.  Wow.  They sound way better.  A bit more touch ups were still needed (on the gates, and on where I was boosting the mid-lows) but i had a much more solid foundation to work with.

SO why go on the internet and admit my mess up that took me much longer than it should’ve taken to fix?  Because we are all still in need of some “re-education” from time to time.  I was not using my ears properly, and had missed a key part of EQing the Toms.  It will be something else in a few months that I’m not able to fix right away, but the biggest thing is that we need to keep learning our craft.  There are a lot of areas to keep in mind when mixing a full band, sometimes something we learned years ago and have been doing without thinking about it for the last 10-15 (or more) years will get forgotten and we need to relearn it.  So keep reading posts about your craft, whether it be sound, EQing, or lighting, or basic camera operation, whatever it is that you do, keep learning and keep reminding yourself of the things that you don’t want to just become so natural that you actually forget you are doing them.

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Mixing Monitors: The Results

Last week I posted about the importance of mixing monitors properly on stage so as to not hurt the musicians ability to hear themselves, but also so that they aren’t so loud that it hurts our main mix.  We had a good talk with our worship team to let them know our plans going forward and they were on board and were really happy with the results.  If you haven’t read the post yet, take a read here.

Tuesday night at worship practice we had a few of the musicians from Sunday morning and we asked them how they felt it went on Sunday.  They said things were different on Sunday, with the monitors being quieter they really noticed the “room” more.  A few of them said it was too quiet for them, so obviously some adjustments are still needed.  I’ve encouraged the team to make sure to let me (or whoever is running FOH sound) know right away if changes are needed.  As much as I want to control the monitor mix, I don’t want the musicians to feel they can’t ask for corrections in the mix.

The sound in the room was good on Sunday.  We didn’t need to push the sound as loud (although we still might have haha).  The most important part though about this is having the band feel more comfortable.  I said a few sentences ago that a few of the band members actually felt they couldn’t hear themselves enough, that means we may have tilted the scale too far the wrong way.  The vocalists did feel more comfortable, the sound wasn’t blasting their ears, but was loud enough for them to hear themselves, and it showed in their comfort level onstage.  That comfort level onstage, where they aren’t worrying about what they’re hearing will result in better singing/playing by them, which will result in our mixes sounded more defined.  

This is a continual process, and making change in a team of volunteers that are only on every 3 weeks or so will take time, but we are headed there.  The process of reminding the musicians/singers/sound volunteers that we are all together in making the mix right, we all have our part. 

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