Aside from being the media director at my home church, I get the amazing opportunity to travel about ninety days a year to work with events held at other churches. I meet tons of awesome folks on the tech side and on the talent side every month. I’m constantly impressed by the tech crews at churches for their dedication to serve even when there is no money in the budget and no spare time to figure things out. I’m hoping that this article can help serve as a simple reminder for some of the mistakes you run into on a weekly basis. Here are 10 Sound Checks to Look At Before Sunday Morning:
Here are 10 Sound Checks to Look at Before Sunday Morning
1. New Toys, Should You Use Them?
With the recent advent of digital mixers into today’s churches there are far more tools at your fingertips than there used to be. Fifteen years ago, everyone mixed on an Allen & Heath analog board and if you wanted a compressor on the kick, you had to manually wire it the insert. The good thing about those analog boards is that it forces you to think conservatively about your inserts and effects. With digital boards today, every channel has an advanced EQ, compressor, gate, and many are even coming with on board RTA. Avoid the temptation of using toys just because you have them. Ask yourself if adding a compressor will truly help the situation you’re in, or are you playing with toys?
2. Gating the Preaching Mic
There have always existed two worlds with the audio realm: the recording world and the live sound world. We share many techniques, equipment, and titles, but there are some things that live in the recording world that should stay there. Noise gates are one of those things. There are always exceptions to this, but in a live environment I never use a noise gate. When I do it’s on a drum, like a tom. Never should we gate the preaching mic. It’s easy to forget that often times the audio feed gets recorded and every time that gate kicks in, the audio will drop out of the recording and sound weird. Also, you run the risk of not having a gate that’s fast enough and cutting off the first few letters of each phrase.
3. Making Unnecessary Adjustments to EQ
I was recently in a church in Oklahoma City where they are just getting started and all their gear had been donated or passed down. In these situations, it can be difficult to get any type of decent sound out of your mix. The engineer behind the board was trying desperately to use the channel EQ to fight some feedback and found a working graphic EQ. Not thinking about the channel he slapped that bad boy into the insert and started working on that feedback. Some time went by and I went up to check on him and found that he never zeroed the channel EQ before using the graphic. Once the channel was set, we found the feedback almost instantly.
4. Turn On Your Inserts
The same church had me there for a multi-day event, and the next morning we fired up the sound system to start testing gear. As we went through the channels I was perplexed as to why my countryman wasn’t working. I checked everything the night before and was preparing for a new itinerant to speak that morning. After about 5 minutes of tracing cables, checking batteries, and switching antennas, I went up to the both to find that the graphic EQ was turned off. Flipped it on, and we were in business.
5. Check Your Local Frequencies
That day didn’t get much easier. Right next door to the church where we had this event, there must have been a truck dispatching company. During the week we had no problems, but as soon as Saturday morning hit, all of a sudden our frequency started getting some cross talk. Even with antenna paddles that boosted our signal strength, we weren’t getting a very clean signal. We switched through to a different channel and decided to relocate the receiver from the sound booth to the stage so to minimize any more potential issues.
6. Setting up your speakers behind the stage
This issue is far more common than you might think. Many older churches have been retrofitted for speakers. Unless your church has been built in the past fifty years or so, it probably wasn’t built with amplified sound in mind. This is a guaranteed recipe for feedback. When the microphone picks up sound from the speaker, feedback will start building in the system. In environments where it’s difficult to get your speakers in front, try moving them around in the room to find the best sounding location with the least amount of feedback.
7. Tuning the System Before Go-Time
One of the best things you can do for any sound system is to run some pink noise through the speakers and analyze how the system responds. This can help you find problem frequencies that you might encounter from the acoustics of your room and it gives you a solid baseline for tuning your speakers to your room. A common mistake is to just read the spectrum analyzer with noise, once you think you’ve arrived at a good house EQ play some music you’re familiar with and walk the room.
8. Not Having Essential Equipment
Power sequencers, for example, aren’t super expensive and they will help to prolong the life of your sound system. For those of you who don’t know: power amps should be turned off first and on last. Not only does it preserve your system, it also makes the power up/down process so easy just about anyone in the church can be taught how to use it.
9. Forgetting to Check Equipment
There have been at least two or three times in my life when I’ve had batteries die on me mid service. It’s a terrifying experience. The first time it happened I was using rechargeable batteries, then I found out that these batteries don’t last too long. The second time it happened, I didn’t check where my trainee got the batteries from. Needless to say, he found out we recycle our batteries. Double check that you have enough batteries and that they are fresh.
10. Being Un-Organized
There are so many things happening at one time behind the mixer. Not only are you paying attention to thirty individual faders but there are transitions, cues, questions, and opinions that you’ll often have to manage. It’s easy to get overwhelmed if you’re not organized. Know where your gear is and test it regularly. Keep your booth clean and avoid the forever encroaching clutter monster that tries to eat all tech booths.
What are some lessons that you’ve learned over time in the booth?