God Requires a 2-hour Sound Check
Cooking shows, do-it-yourself home repair shows, YouTube step by step videos - they all have one thing in common – prep time. No matter if you are cooking up some red-hot chili or tearing down a weight-bearing wall – you must take the time to prepare with the right tools, ingredients, and a plan. And when you have other people involved, it takes a lot of clear communication to nail your target every time. We reap what we sow.
Slow cooking. Great ingredients. Great chili.
We most certainly are not giving ourselves enough time to sound check in a meaningful way.
As church leaders, we know the importance of things being done decently and in order. (1 Cor. 14:40) Yet, so many of us are rushing through sound checks and rehearsals, mainly to get our volunteers on their way. While it’s admirable to respect people’s time, is this giving our best to God?
I happen to know that God requires at least a 2-hour sound check. Sound ridiculous? Maybe. But we most certainly are not giving ourselves enough time to sound check in a meaningful way. What’s worse is that most of us gauge the skill and likability of a church sound engineer based in part on how fast they can get through sound check.
“Jim is great is a great sound guy – sound check is always so fast and efficient.”
“I’m not so sure about Zack back there. He takes forever to get us what we need.”
One of the most common and sincere questions I receive when speaking to church leaders is how long worship and tech teams should be spending on sound check before rehearsals. 10 minutes? 25 minutes? A whole hour? My answer to them is often challenging.
While it’s important to establish a good length of time, what’s even more important is to have sound check last approximately the same amount of time every time. We get ourselves in trouble when presets and normalized settings start to dictate the freedom to get the band moving as soon as possible. Would we entertain a similar notion of rushing through rehearsal to get the media team home as soon as we can? Probably not.
Better ingredient tip: Even if things are going well in this area…add at least another 10 minutes to your current sound check. Then, never go backwards!
I was serious about the 2-hour sound check thing. But let’s put that on hold for a minute. We’ll get back to it … I promise.
In addition to length, the consistency of conducting sound checks the same way every time is immeasurable. This builds confidence with both your worship team and in your FOH engineers. Everyone knows what to expect and in what order. While the individual elements of sound check are not the scope of this article, here are a few bullet points that will help keep things in focus.
Remember: this is NOT your sound check checklist, just some tasty tips.
1. Talk to your worship leader. Say good morning. Chat for at least 10 seconds. Then, you can get any last minute changes that have not yet been shared. Remember, relationship is everything.
2. Don’t skip the gain stage step. Don’t assume the signal gains are good enough! While you may be able to get by with the musicians, you may suffer in your front of house, auxiliary rooms and video streaming feeds. Adjustments later will cause chaos and lack of confidence. Don’t punt on the gains!
3. Let’s find unity. Make everyone even happier by clearing your compressors and gates. Then, taking the time to reset your monitor sends to 0 (unity) before mixing monitors will clarify more than just a musician’s mix!
4. Walk the stage. After the musicians are “happy” with their mixes, you need to know that usually this doesn’t mean they are completely satisfied. You need to actually walk the stage, listen to the wedges yourself, and then make suggestions on what you can tweak for them. You’ll probably get more requests face to face than across the great chasm between the booth and the stage.
Feel free to mix the house. There is no shortage of actual checklists to help you conduct great sound checks. Now, back to the point. Build in a cushion of extra time – then stick to it!
Here are a few benefits of locking in a longer time for sound check:
1. Clear expectations. The worship leader, band, lyrics operators and even the pastors will benefit from knowing how long this process takes. Boundaries are respected more. No one feels that his or her time is being wasted.
2. Expect the unexpected. We all need to be ready to respond to last minute requests from pastors, speakers and the worship leader. If there is additional sound check time required – it’s covered by the time cushion!
3. Accepting the needs of one another. There is an underlying importance on consistent and longer sound checks that needs to be explored. When a team member rushes through sound check, they are often faced with a dilemma. They either start making needed gain or processor adjustments during rehearsal (which drives the musicians crazy) or they half-heartedly mix the house. If your rehearsal is on a Thursday night, for example, they may end up tweaking things on Sunday resulting in the “It was fine on Thursday, but everything changed on Sunday” type of complaint from musicians. Longer sound check times will alleviate this dilemma and show respect for one another.
Finally, engineers really need to be rehearsing along with the band.
Another question that has often been asked is, “How long should it take to get a good house mix?” This is another slippery question. This depends on the mixing style of the engineer. Do they focus on a simple relative mix first? Or, do they individually build a mix from the ground up causing the house to sound “weird” in the process? Pastors and other leaders should understand the process in their house. Either way, by the end of rehearsal, it should sound great!
Regardless of mixing styles, our engineers should be taking every bit of rehearsal time to mix, tweak, and be watching for potential problems. They should be scanning the stage for mid-rehearsal cues from musicians. They need to focus on shifts in song leaders and solo instrument moments. And if your church uses a digital rig, they need to be exploring scene presets to customize each song.
Community is important. But this is not the time to kick back, relax and just chill with the other media guys. It’s time to work! Essentially, everyone needs to be rehearsing with the band. They need to know every song and part as well as the worship leader. And believe it or not, longer sound checks promote the ability for this to happen.
Whether you call it rehearsal, sound check or Tech Perfection Quest, taking all the time allotted behind the console to make the music sweet and the message clear is our ultimate goal. With clear communication and expectations we strengthen our community and stay together in unity.
So, you see? God likes 2-hour sound checks. And I’m pretty sure he likes carpenters…and chili.
Great. Now I want chili.