Having run sound and done sound checks for years, sometimes I miss something.
Communication is a two-way street.
I have a checklist as to what to turn on, what to put out, and even then something can be missed. I say this to emphasize the importance of having a checklist of your own. It ensures that everything gets put out and turned on, and that you do not cause trauma on stage.
At first glance, it would seem that missing one thing would not be result in "trauma." And for you it might not be, but for the musician on stage, it can be very frustrating. My advice is to have a regular checklist of the things that need to be done before service, and to go through the program with your checklist to add anything to the list for the day, so that everyone can start on time.
I find that I have come in earlier each week recently, because of a problem we have been having with one of our computers at West Asheville Baptist. I use this time to set everything up going through the day's program, so that if there is a problem, I don't hold up practice because I am putting out a fire somewhere else.
At West Asheville, we are lucky enough to have a digital board, so that I can save my settings from the previous week and have a perfect place to begin the next week. If you are still in the analog world, I highly recommend that you write down your settings, after which you can then come in early to have them reset before anyone arrives. This all sounds easy enough in theory, but I understand kids, traffic, and snow, and I guarantee that this extra 15 minutes will serve you and everyone else very well.
Now that everything is ready to go, I find it a good practice to take the time to talk with the worship leader, to get insights into anything unusual that may be happening. Such as a soloist, or an instrument that is going to start a particular song. This should be on your program, but it is always good to check. It is also a good way to open communications for the day.
Communication is a two-way street.
The band, singers, and choir need to know that you care about them and their needs. I do understand that you cannot give them everything that they want, but they need to know that you care. Having regular open communication about what everyone needs and what the limitations are makes it easier for people to come to you when things go wrong.
And they will go wrong.
In order to have a worshipful service, everyone needs to be in a worshipful state of mind. If they can't hear or they don't have a microphone, that frustration can quickly derail everyone's mood.
Before writing this article, I reached out to several friends and also people on our team. I asked them for three things that they felt were necessary to achieve a smooth practice.
1. Everything being turned on
2. All equipment checked out and ready to go
3. Monitors on and mixed properly
4. Tell me what you can do
The last one hits home, because we recently had an expansion in our orchestra and there was some confusion and then a misunderstanding. After everyone had their say, I asked what could be done in the future. I was told that they felt that they should have input and that I should let them know what I could do, instead of what I could not. Three of the seven people I surveyed made this comment.
It is very hard to give people everything that they need in their monitors without being louder than the house speakers or creating feedback. But having been on stage before, I get what they are saying. We always manage to come to a compromise, however, I wonder how many people have stopped asking, because they did not want to hear that I can't do that.
From now on it will be: Let's see what we can do.
I have also found in the past that once a year or so, it is a good idea to get on stage and humbly show people how you would like them to hold a mic, and what instruments are most important for them to hear and some of the limitations of your system, but to assure them that you will do everything in your power to give them everything that they need.
We are lucky that our band at West Asheville Baptist has an in-ear monitor system, so they can get exactly what they want. The choir is harder, because as a choir ages, they do not all hear the same frequencies. In cases like this, I suggest working with the worship leader to determine the best overall sound and to place louder and better singers next to those who need help hearing.
After you have everything set up and the practice starts, I solo the praise team in my ears. One at a time, I turn them on, to find their place in the mix. Once I have their mix, I listen to the worship leader and turn them up just a bit, so that the congregation can hear them as they lead. After that, I work on the piano and then the drums. These two instruments lead our music, so they need to be heard clearly, without drowning out the rest. Next, I go through the band and then the orchestra.
Then I close my eyes and try to pick out each voice and each instrument. Once I have this, I can turn the choir up to their place in the mix. Mixing is like playing an instrument. You are constantly making small tweaks.
It is during practice that you listen for the ebb and flow of the song, noting when someone may be playing too loud or too soft, and then adjusting accordingly.
I want to add a note of caution, though.
Some parts of songs are meant to be soft, and some are meant to be loud. Once you have the basic settings, your adjustments should be minimal.
At this point, you can begin the process of turning things down. There is only so loud that you can go. I always recommend leaving room to turn up the master for chord changes, or a dramatic ending. However, keeping in mind that you can only get so loud, there comes a point where if you cannot hear a vocal or an instrument, that you begin to turn others down.
If you have a digital board, I urge you to put together groups that you can turn down. For instance, once I have the vocals mixed, it is hard to start turning them down and keep the mix, but if the vocalists (Do not include the worship leader on this subchannel) can be put on a subchannel, then you can turn them up or down as a group when you need to keep them mixed together properly and quickly.
I also suggest going on stage every day to hear what those on stage are hearing, and to walk around your building to hear what it sounds like in different locations. It will sound differently all throughout the house.
Find your sweet spot, and then go there regularly.
When you like it there, go back to your board and listen to what that sounds like. You need to train your ear at the board, so that it sounds good in the sweet spot. This takes a lot of practice and a lot of walking back and forth, and you need to do this regularly.
Also remember that as people enter the room, the sound will change. Their bodies will soak up the sound. As you make adjustments find a good place to record those settings and then make minimal adjustments from there.
These steps may be different from yours. As long as you have a checklist, a worshipful heart and communicate, you are well on your way to a great rehearsal and an even better service.