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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Losey

How to Soundcheck Like a Professional | How-to #10

Updated: May 2, 2023

Soundchecking is an essential part of any live performance. Especially as far as Christian church audio goes, good practice will separate your production from all the bad ones. But unfortunately, soundcheck is often overlooked in churches. It allows the musicians and sound engineers to ensure that the sound quality is consistent throughout the performance, prevents any feedback or technical issues, and ensures that all instruments and vocals are audible to the audience. In this article, we will discuss the basics of sound checking, including the purpose, order, and some quick terminology.

It is important to understand the purpose of soundchecking. Soundchecking ensures that the sound quality is consistent throughout the performance for all people involved. The audience will head great sound quality no matter the instrument they hear. In addition, soundcheck also allows musicians on stage to hear consistent audio. Soundchecking also helps prevent feedback or other technical issues during the performance, such as mic pops, crackling or distortion which can be distracting and just plain destructive to the message of the church. It also ensures that all instruments and vocals are audible and balanced so that no one input is overpowering the others.

The first step in soundchecking is to understand the proper order of operations leading up to soundcheck as well. The first step is to set up microphones and instruments on stage. That includes running XLR cables, turning on phantom power (where applicable), and setting up talkback mics between any music producers on stage and your FOH/Monitor engineers. Once everything is connected, the next step is to test input levels. After input levels are set, you can shift focus to adjusting and setting monitor levels for the musicians. This ensures that the musicians can hear themselves and each other on stage. Lastly, you can focus on fine-tuning the EQ and effects for the front-of-house engineer who is mixing for the audience.

Lastly, knowing the soundcheck terminology is important to make sure you are on the same page with the sound engineer and musicians. Familiarize yourself with some of the following terms in order to communicate appropriately and productively. Gain refers to the volume level of the microphone or instrument. EQ refers to the frequency levels of each instrument or vocal, which can be adjusted to ensure a balanced sound. Feedback is a high-pitched squeal that can occur when the microphone picks up sound from the speakers, and can be prevented by adjusting the position or volume of the microphone. Distortion is when a sound source becomes clipped or crackling at louder volumes. Noise floor is the base level for background noise underneath the desired audio signal. Reverb is an effect that makes the input sound like it is in a larger space. Delay in an effect that makes the input sound like it is an echoing space. A high pass filter (HPF) refers to an EQ adjustment that removes all low-end frequencies in an input channel.

Preparation for Soundcheck

A successful soundcheck is largely the result of thorough preparation and communication between the sound engineer and musicians. To get this started on the right foot, it's important to arrive early and be fully prepared.

Arriving early allows you to set up your equipment calmly without feeling rushed or stressed. It also gives you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the instruments and equipment, which can be particularly useful if you're setting up in an unfamiliar church. Taking some time to understand the layout and stage patching can help you make the most of the soundcheck and improve the overall sound quality of your performance.

Check that all the equipment is present, and inspect it for any signs of damage or wear and tear as you are setting it up. You should test all cables and connections to ensure that they are working correctly and have no issues with connectivity. By being thorough and organized, you can avoid any last-minute surprises and technical issues that could otherwise ruin your performance when you will already likely be stressed for time.

If time allows, based on load-in, and set-up, introduce yourself to the musicians or engineers and discuss your sound preferences. Not only is this particularly important if your teams have any specific requirements or requests, but you can also start the process of developing a professional and friendly working relationship. By starting with introductions, you can ensure that the best possible communication is achieved, and any potential personality issues are addressed before your performance. When troubleshooting is necessary, your respectful communication is actually more important to solving the issues rather than being right on the solution of the issue.

Overall, being fully prepared and communicating effectively with the sound engineer is key to a successful soundcheck and further than that into the church service.

Performing Soundcheck

Technically, the soundcheck includes the line check. Line check is the literal check of the properly patched signal between the microphone or input source and the soundboard. At this point, there is not necessarily a concern for the quality of the signal, just whether or not the signal travels appropriately to the correct input channel.

After establishing proper patching, we can begin soundchecking with each musician as they arrive. This will be important to relieve yourself as the sound engineer of the stress of managing all things simultaneously. As the bassist walks in, run to the audio board, check their gain, and get them playing for 15 seconds. All you care about at this point is their input gain. Worry about all other processing like EQ, compression, and gates later. This will let them get plugged in, hear themself accurately, and get their personal monitoring taken care of. When a vocalist walks in, have them check their own mic by singing into it. Gain them does probably 3 dB or 4 dB less than the target gain because vocalists tend to be louder when singing live. Being louder is only an issue if we don’t create the margin for it during sound check.

By the time you are ready for the full band soundcheck, you have already soundchecked and line checked each individual. This is hugely helpful for your blood pressure. Now you can start to do all the fun stuff which I won’t get into in this post. Now you can get to mixing FOH audio for the audience but only after you have the musician’s monitor mixes squared away. Maybe this will be my next book but enough of that for now.

Troubleshooting Best Practices

It’s not a question of if troubleshooting is needed, but when troubleshooting is needed. The first thing you need to do when you encounter a problem is to prioritize it among the rest of the issues you are experiencing. So with that in mind, as you are going through the line-check when you encounter an issue, write it down! Go through the rest of the channels and continue to write down the issues. Once they are complete, then look through your list and prioritize them because you don’t have infinite time. Here’s an example:

  1. Bass guitar popping

  2. Background vocal mic is not patched correctly

  3. Guitar input sounds unusually thin

  4. Kick drum mic crackling

  5. Lead vocal distorting regardless of gain input

This is a very real example of potential issues and you have to act as triage to determine which is most intrusive. You also have to have some sort of understanding to what is most important to the mix as a whole. I’ll reorganize the list in order of what I would consider most important to least important.

  1. Lead vocal distorting regardless of gain input

  2. Kick drum mic crackling

  3. Bass guitar popping

  4. Background vocal mic is not patched correctly

  5. Guitar input sounds unusually thin

Most of the time priority is clear in its importance. Vocals especially in church should be most intelligible. After that, kick drum and bass guitar should be addressed next because they are foundational to the beat of the music. Next comes background vocals. While not popularly less important than two instruments, background vocals are “only” supporting lead vocals (and I say only with prayer and grace). The assumption I’m making is that it is important for people to hear what is being said, more than hear it in melody and harmony. The guitar here is the least important because it is still heard. It should still be fixed if there is time, but there is still only a limited amount of time and you may have to choose. Whatever you do, instruct your musicians to pretend as if everything is going well and continue with rehearsal and run-through. That rehearsal still needs to happen but you shouldn't stop everything while you try to get something fixed or under control. Believe it or not, there are more important things than a cable getting set up correctly. Not the least of these is that musicians can walk on stage with confidence but even more important is the message of the gospel which is the whole reason you are meeting to begin with.

Conclusion (TLDR)

  • Introduce yourself

  • Good preparation separates good production from bad ones

  • The order of soundcheck is crucial to a successful soundcheck

  • Familiarize oneself with soundcheck terminology

  • A successful soundcheck depends on communicating effectively

  • Soundcheck each individual musician before the full band soundcheck

In conclusion, from active listening to developing empathy, these tips can help you build stronger relationships and achieve greater success in both your service within church sound. Yes, soundcheck is important but ultimately, soundcheck is an opportunity to demonstrate the gospel to your teams. Communication is a two-way street, and it requires both speaking and listening effectively. So take the time to practice these skills and keep an open mind when engaging with others even with something as seemingly unimportant as a soundcheck. So don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. You may be surprised at how much you can improve your soundcheck and reliability by improving your communication.


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