At Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana, we believe that sound check and rehearsals are vital to having excellent worship services.
My saying is, "Practice happens on your own time, rehearsal happens at this time."
These times allow for planning, preparing, and polishing service elements, well in advance to executing them in service.
What I thought to do for this article is to give an overview of the weekly processes, as done at Granger.
Weekly Production Meeting
Every Wednesday afternoon, the Creative Arts team meets to discuss all service elements for the upcoming weekend, and the weekend following. This allows everyone to be caught up with what's going on, when it comes to each element of the service, service flow, and anything the teaching pastor may need for the services.
Before this meeting, the Production team has already generated stage plots and patch lists, along with posting them to the service plan on Planning Center. Having these documents available to everyone allows for all to be on the same page for the weekend.
Wednesday is the typical day for stage setup. First thing on Wednesday morning, the production team meets to go over the stage plots, inputs list, and who is scheduled to play for the weekend. Once everyone understands what's needed, tasks are divided, while laying out and spiking the stage (to ensure that all set pieces are in the same exact spot each time they are set up), patching everything, setting up the consoles, and setting out in-ear monitor packs, earbuds, and microphones for everyone.
Once everything is set up, a line-check is done. Line-check is where one makes sure all the audio patches are correct, making sure audio is passing through both consoles. The line check process is crucial to preparing for weekly rehearsals. By doing this, one can identify and fix issues well before rehearsals, and avoid wasting time during rehearsal.
For the line checks at Granger, a device called a Q-box is used. It sends a tone down each of the audio lines that will be used for the weekend. That is to identify that the lines are working, and that the patches are correct all the way through the consoles, to both the PA and the in-ear monitor systems.
If an instrument or amplifier is available, then the instrument is played, to make sure things sound good at the source. For example, the drums are played to make sure they’re in tune or play through the guitar amps, to make sure they’re working, and the tubes are good. Even if you don’t know how to play the instruments on stage, you can always learn how to play simple notes, chords, or beats to check that everything sounds right and is working properly.
At the beginning of our weekly rehearsal, which is usually on Wednesday, a full sound check is done. At Granger, the front-of-house tech will use the talkback microphone to have each musician play their instrument, in order of how the console is configured. For us, the process begins with drums. For example, the drummer will start by playing the kick drum at a slow pace, after which one can dial in gain, EQ, audio gating, and compression.
While this is happening at front-of-house, the monitor tech will send the kick drum audio to the drummer, according to how much audio level the drummer would like. This process continues for each input, musician, and vocalist.
Once going through each instrument individually at front-of-house, the process is turned over to the monitor tech, to get monitors set for each musician. This is accomplished by having the band loop a portion of a song that will be played for the weekend, and the monitor tech will give the cue for each source that they're sending.
The musicians and vocalists will signal which source they would like in their mix, by holding their hand up and dropping their hand once the source is at the desired level. After going through all of the sources, the next step is to double check that each person feels good with their mix. If not, they will then communicate with the worship or music leader about any changes they may need.
Here is the order of how the in-ear mixes are built:
During the in-ear process, the front-of-house tech will begin to dial in a basic mix. The sound check process usually takes about 25 to 30 minutes, but it depends on how many musicians and vocalists there are for a given week.
After having completed sound check, rehearsal begins. For us, rehearsal is not the time for the musicians and vocalists to practice. My saying is, "Practice happens on your own time, rehearsal happens at this time." Rehearsal should be where one begins to pull all of the musical and technical elements together, to where every musician, vocalist, and technician is expected to be well prepared to execute their tasks.
During rehearsal, each element is run individually. There are not a set number of times that an element or song is run during rehearsal, but an element is rerun as many times as needed, to get it right. After running an element, feedback is received from the worship leader and band, and then the goal is to encourage, critique, and adjust from front-of-house, as needed. Those involved giving feedback are the front-of-house tech, a rehearsal support person, and me. For us, each of those positions is staff.
Once feeling good about each element, the service is run in the order of the service flow, and an audio recording is then made from this. The audio recording is then posted to Planning Center Online for everyone to review for the rest of the week. The rehearsal recording allows both the worship and production teams to review the rehearsal, and prepare for the weekend.
The first weekend service here at Granger begins at 5 p.m. on Saturday, but before launch into the weekend service, a service brief, sound check, and full-service run-through are done. The production team arrives on campus about 1:30 p.m. and turns everything on and verifies that everything is working. Then between 2 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., our band and tech volunteers arrive to set up and check their area.
At 3 p.m., everyone involved in the weekend services huddles together for our service brief. At that time, someone from the Creative Arts staff will talk through the service order, and as a team, a discussion is held on all service elements and flow, with an allowance for time for anyone to ask questions about the services.
Around 3:15 p.m., the worship and audio team will do a quick sound and monitor check. During this time, the band will play a portion of each song to check their monitors, and front-of-house will check their mix.
Finally from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., a service run-through is done. During the run-through, there is a rehearsal of all service elements, just as everything will happen during the weekend services. Once the run-through begins, there is no stopping to fix problems, unless it's catastrophic. Doing this allows one to identify issues, and allowing one to react just as one would during a weekend service. After the run-through, any issues are corrected, and any elements are redone when there is a feeling that another run is needed.
At 4:30 p.m., our weekend worship and production teams meet for a brief vision and prayer time, before our weekend services. This time allows to focus spiritually, pray for the needs of others, and to cast vision to our team.
Even though there's a good bit of work that goes into it, we never want to forget why we are doing what we do, and who we are serving with the ministry God has entrusted to us.
Following our 5 p.m. service, our teaching pastor, worship leader, service producer and myself meet to debrief the service. Everything is covered from service flow, the timing for each element, and any musical or technical issues.
Sometimes, there may be a decision to go as far as reordering the service, if there is a feeling that it will benefit the two services on Sunday. At the end of the meeting, I will collect all of the notes, and send them off to team leaders to go over the next morning.
That morning, around 8 a.m., the team leaders for IMAG, Lighting, Audio, and Worship will meet with their teams to go over any issues from the Saturday evening service, and to encourage them about the things that went well. Then at 8:15 a.m., all musical and video elements are run for the service once again. I'm sure all have had the issue of, "It worked fine yesterday!" only to find things are not working today.
This time allows for our band and technicians to warm up, and to make sure everything is working correctly. The goal is to have this time wrapped up by 9 a.m., to then open doors to our auditorium.
As you can see, there's a lot of planning, preparing, and rehearsing that go into our weekend services.
We feel, though, that each of these steps is necessary to achieve the level of excellence set forth by our leadership.
In the words of Benjamin Franklin: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail." This is a statement most have heard, but I find most people rarely practice it.
By doing our best in preparing for our services, it is with the aim of putting forth our best to our church and God.