The day had finally come.
We arrived to the church early, not to set up, but to load gear for our first road trip only an hour away.
Within a worship relationship, sound check is about clear and meaningful communication from start to finish.
All of our instruments, amps and road cases barely filled the little pull behind trailer.
After team prayer and last minute checklists we were off. Our destination? Batavia, N.Y., to open the night for Elevation Worship, in front of a festival of about 2,500 people.
So many things were going through our minds; chords, lyrics, our little group's mission, how our songs would be received, thankfulness for the amazing opportunity, nervousness, and believe it or not sound check.
Sound check is the single most important experience for promoting musical excellence while bringing worship, pastors and media ministers together in unity and purpose. It's not really about making sure the lines are working. It's not really about getting enough in your monitor. And if you're a pastor, it's certainly not about making sure the house SPL meter stays below 90.
It's about relationship.
Our team has these ideas reinforced constantly.
Within a worship relationship, sound check is about clear and meaningful communication from start to finish. It's a dance that begins with a bow and curtsy and ends when the worship session ends not when the rehearsal begins!
I will leave it to you to decide who's dipping who on the very last note!
The point is, throughout the entire worship experience, it should be your goal that the band, sound team, pastors and your congregation understand one other with perfect clarity, because everyone has something to contribute. Yes, even the congregation can have an effect on where worship goes if they can be heard clearly.
Ultimately, it's how the congregation perceives the sound that causes our worship to be reflected and absorbed by both the worshippers and the heart of heaven.
Elevation Worship modeled this on that day. As our little worship collective pulled up to the huge outdoor stage, the well-known group was engaged in hour number two of a lengthy sound check. See my Worship Tech Director article, written on October 20, 2016: WTD "God Requires a 2-hour Sound Check".
It was a beautiful thing to see!
Every member of the group was quietly and tirelessly holding a hand in the air communicating to the sound team, with a point of the finger, if the instrument or voice should go up or down in their IEM.
While the monitor mix engineer communicated with his talkback mic, they continued this process until eye contact was made, and the requests were satisfied. And the best part, the members were not rolling their eyes with impatience. They were quietly smiling. They were patiently waiting. They were showing love and respect, and most certainly not looking at their cell phones.
As we listened to the rest of sound check from backstage, I talked with Ryan Internicola, President of People on a hill, our collective of regional worship leaders and media ministers that have a common goal to raise up the next generation of passionate worshippers.
Me: "So, do you think it's possible to change the standing church culture, when it comes to sound check?"
Ryan: "Do you mean how long it takes? Or, the process?"
Me: "Both, I guess. I just see so much misunderstanding and lack of respect that can creep into ministries. And yeah, churches need to start with sound checks that are longer than 15 minutes."
Ryan: "Well, I guess every church will be different with what they need. But what they truly need and what they are practicing are probably two different things."
Ryan: "The church leadership that values excellence in all areas will continually move toward investing more time and resources. The ones that hold values in only other areas won't it's that simple."
Me: "Maybe that's why Elevation Church has over 20,000 members."
With a smile, that's where Ryan my ministry partner and friend for five years went silent with wisdom.
The philosophy of excellence and vision leading to ministry growth is certainly a hot topic, volatile and can be a slippery slope. But we know that lack of vision breeds' chaos. (Prov. 29:18)
Psalm 33:3 says, "Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy." Yes, as much as we are to play a guitar with skill, we are to play our soundboards with skill. We need to practice and push ourselves to the next level of excellence.
Just as a band invests thousands of dollars in musical gear and upgrades often, houses of worship need to invest in equipment and in people to run the gear all in the effort to clarify and beautify our worship.
But all of this means little, without relationship.
The reason why our worship collective was given the chance to play and have a festival booth was not because we were a good band. It was because we have a heart to help worship teams in our region gain perspective. It was because we aim to remove barriers between the churches and promote unity in the Spirit. This starts with humbly submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21) and it all starts with sound check.
In the practical sense, this article is certainly not giving you a tidy sound check process.
For that, you should read this recent WTD article on sound check, written by Granger Community Church Production Director Tony Staires, on September 14, 2017.
Thanks to the guys over at Granger Church, it's probably one of the best practical guides of sound check and church time management that I've seen lately.
In addition, here is a quick guide of tips that may just take the same old "sound check" idea and turn it into something closer to a "heart check" moment.
1. Talk to your worship leader.
Say good morning. Chat for at least 10 seconds. Then, you can get any last minute changes that have not yet been shared. Remember, relationship is everything.
2. Don't skip the gain stage step.
Don't assume the signal gains are good enough! While you may be able to get by with the musicians, you may suffer in your front of house, auxiliary rooms and video streaming feeds. Adjustments later will cause chaos and lack of confidence.
Don't punt on the gains!
3. Let's find unity.
Make everyone even happier by clearing your compressors and gates. Then, taking the time to reset your monitor sends to 0 (unity) before mixing monitors will clarify more than just a musician's mix!
4. Walk the stage.
After the musicians are "happy" with their mixes, you need to know that usually this doesn't mean they are completely satisfied. You need to actually walk the stage, listen to the wedges yourself, and then make suggestions on what you can tweak for them. You'll probably get more requests face to face than across the great chasm between the booth and the stage.
5. Sound check doesn't end when rehearsal or the service begins!
You should be constantly "sound checking" every aspect of what could be happening with IEM's, wedges, watching direct box placement, tripping hazards, power cord management, etc.
Never stop looking at your band!
Constantly be scanning for non-verbal cues from the team that something may be adjusted or potential fires to be put out! There is nothing more damaging to relationship than the phrase, "They just don't pay attention back there." If they know that eventually you will make eye contact, this promotes trust, security and good relationships.
What about Christian Cuevas?
After our group finished up close to a 2-hour sound check, we were literally golf carted away, off to the green room to eat and freshen up before a 7 p.m. stage time. Yes, the butterflies were fluttering.
We got there to find Christian Cuevas (finalist from TV's The Voice) giving a vocal workshop to about 10 young people. He would be the concert headliner for the next night, but came early to serve! So gracious and warm-hearted, everything he said and did promoted unity and displayed Christ's love.
Later, when we were all introduced, he asked if he could pray with us before we went on. God's presence was on the place. Fervent prayer turned into open worship, singing and declarations inside that green room. The members of Elevation Worship even joined the moment. The host pastors prayed and worshiped. The sound team prayed and worshiped. We were in unity with the mission of that festival. This was our final heart check moment.
I urge you to get your media teams, worship teams and pastors together for prayer as much as possible. Share one another's burdens. Hear one another's hearts. Understand each other's valuable processes.
It's only then that true perspective can be gained and clarity will be found in your worship mix.
Yes, so much more time should be given to the process of sound check. But how much more time should be invested in the heart checks of our relationships?
The moment finally came for us to step out on stage. It was time that will forever be etched in our memories. But that's not what this little story is about.
The title of this article, "Sound Check with Elevation Worship and Cuevas" is not because we ever performed alongside them. But because were able to continue the heart of what a good sound check begins true relationship and unity in the body of Christ.
(For more on People on a hill Worship Collective, check out the Worship Tech Director January 2017 article, or go to the People on a hill website.