Many churches have a rota of church sound techs who take turns doing the sound desk on Sunday mornings. It’s great having a small team of enthusiasts to do your live sound, but you will have some guys who have a prep process they follow each Sunday and other who just switch stuff on pretty haphazardly without any planned process. The problem is that some weeks the sound will be great and other weeks, something will be just not right, but nobody is sure what it might be, so you have no consistency in quality of sound from week to week.
I’m not that great at planning, but if you want more consistency and to get the best out of your sound system, you need some kind of PA training and agreed sound check process and checklist that you follow. So I thought it might be helpful to lay out what I would recommend and reasons why, and I have placed a link at the end of this article to a free PDF checklist you can download and use for your own church audio.
If you have growing sound teams, rather than having to repeat soundcheck instructions every time you have a new person join, why not make your own training videos and make them available through your church website or on social media? Remember to get started before the band arrives to give you the time to run an effective sound check.
If you have two people in your tech team, it is easier to follow if one person is on the mixer and someone else on stage to do testing, but if you are on your own it is still possible, but just a bit more challenging. I wrote an article about how to build a church tech team from scratch and provide some worship training and help you do an effective sound check. You can read it here.
1)Switch on order – mixer first then amps
This is so easy to get wrong or forget if you don’t have a soundcheck checklist to remind you what order to switch on and switch off. I always advise for powering up – sound desk + EQ unit first, then power amp, or powered loudspeakers if you have them and monitors last. If you do it the other way you will get a loud pop or bang through your speakers and will cause damage over longer term. Also it’s worth having a word with other well meaning members of the congregation who might be trying to help by switching stuff on for you. Thank them kindly, but explain that there is a certain order things need to be turned on and best to leave it to the sound guy.
2)Check over your mixing desk
Have a once over check over your live sound mixing desk looking up and down all the channels and settings. Does anything look off? Has anything been changed since last week?
3)Check you have some sound
Run an iPhone or laptop through the desk with some music to check that you do actually have sound, before playing about with mics and instruments. if there is a problem, better to eliminate it at this point than waste time.
You may be interested in my list of my 15 favourite audio products for churches. Click here to read more.
4)Check vocal microphones
With all vocal microphone channels switched on, test each mic in turn that it is coming through main speakers. Also, make sure that mic labeling and connections to snake multicore match up with labeling on the mixer. If things have been moved about during the week or unplugged, you might find mic numbers all muddled up(it’s happened to me quite a few times!). Also use a systematic way of setting the gain for each channel.
5)Check instrument microphones
With instrument mic channels all turned on, test each one in turn on various instruments e.g. violin, flute, drums, acoustic guitar etc. Check that instruments match up with channel numbers on the mixing desk. If mics are using phantom power, make sure this is enabled on the mixer. See my article on the Shure SM57, an excellent mic for instruments.
6)Check wireless microphones
With radio mic channels on and receiver switched on, check all wireless mics are coming through main speakers.
7)Check wireless mic batteries
Check batteries are good enough to last through to end of service. Make sure that spare batteries are available or a spare mic set is nearby the preacher should the main wireless mic fail during the service.
8)Check instruments that use a DI box
Check any instruments going through a DI box, such as electric guitars, bass guitar and keyboard. Check they are coming through main speakers.
9)Check instrument batteries
Some musicians check this themselves, but if you are the sound persons on duty and it is your job, double check batteries in guitar and bass active electronics, and always make sure you have a few spare 9V batteries on hand.
10)Check guitar pedals
Again, some guitarists want to do this themselves, but if it is your responsibility, check pedals power up ok, connections are good and that they are working correctly.
11)Check vocal mics in monitors
Take a note of main volume settings, and turn down/switch off sound to main speakers and check that vocal mics are coming through monitors and levels are ok. Check out my other post about floor monitors.
12)Check instruments in monitors
Again repeat monitor check procedure for guitars, bass, keyboard, violin, flute etc.
13)Listen for hum and crackles
Before the sanctuary starts filling up, have a listen for unwanted hum or crackling sound from the system – read about tuning a church PA system. If you do, try and find out which cables are causing the problem and replace if you can, until you can investigate more fully at another time.
14)Tidy trailing cables
For safety reasons, check the stage area for cables that are trailing or to taught that could cause an accident. Use duct tape where needed to pin cables to the floor.
15)Get a copy of order of service
Make sure your sound techs all have a copy of the running order for the day and take note of any special instructions for particular songs e.g. where there might be a song with solo instrumental, or an instrument that only features in one song but not the others.
16)Check monitors with whole band
With all the musicians and singers, and with main volume turned down, check that everyone can hear through the monitors. Can each musician hear themselves and can singers hear the instruments ok? Is it too loud, too quiet? You might need to adjust monitor mixing when you turn main speakers on, but this will allow you to get the monitor levels near where they should be without interference from the main loudspeakers. Monitor mixing is one of the most important things to get right, so it is worth taking a bit extra time to do this.
17)Check whole band through main loudspeakers.
Now with the main volume turned up, check overall sound? Can the band still hear themselves ok? Are singers coming through clear? Do you need to adjust monitors a little bit? Have a walk around the room to hear what it sound like in different parts of the church building.
18)Debrief with worship band
After the service, it’s always worth having a chat with the worship team to see how things went. Were there any problems, with monitors, cables etc. What could be done better next time?
19)Switch off procedure – amps then mixer
As a rule, I will always do the opposite of my switch on procedure, again to protect loudspeakers from damage. So switch off power amp/powered speakers and monitors first. Then switch off mixing console and rest of gear last.
To download the free PDF checklist – click here (Save as….to your PC)
Frank Edwards is the founder and owner of churchsoundtips.com and has over 10 years experience running sound in his local church.