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.