There are two factors that can cause frustration during a worship team rehearsal. The first occurs when musicians are sitting and waiting for the technical pieces to be ready so the rehearsal can begin. The second occurs when the sound team are bombarded with requests for different monitor levels while they are still trying to set up how the sound is translating through the house system. These issues are valid concerns for everyone involved, but how can we eliminate these situations when we have limited resources and a largely volunteer-based team of people?
Virtual sound checks give the sound team a chance to refine the sound of their worship team without everyone being present. The idea is to get a multitrack recording of the music and then play it back through each individual channel on the sound board so you can change the parameters such as EQ, compression, balance, panning etc. This allows you to establish a good mix for your church sound.
Here are a few ways that you can use a virtual sound check to improve the sound of your service. We’ll start with set up, but it is also encouraged that you to research your specific equipment so you can apply it to your own situation.
Step 1: Recording the Sound
You will want to use a multitrack recording so that you can manipulate each instrument separately. Many digital desks can give you an onboard USB option to record and playback multitrack files. Analog desks will require the tracks you want to playback to be routed into a Digital Audio Workspace (DAW) in a one-to-one fashion. For example, if you want to record and playback 10 channels, you need to input 10 channels into the DAW. Focusrite, Zoom, and PreSonus are examples of brands that make devices which can take multiple analog signals and digitize them. Pro Tools is an example of a DAW but is quite expensive. There are other inexpensive or free options such as Reaper or Garage Band. Once the sound is recorded, in whatever way is functional for you, you can send it back to your soundboard where you can practice mixing.
Step 2: Learn Your Space
During a service, you are in the sound booth so it can be hard to get the perspective from different areas of the room. Play your track and then walk around the room to get a sense of the following:
Are there any spots where the bass is booming?
How clear are the vocals around the room? Can they be heard?
Are there any points of sound reflection in your space?
If you listen carefully, it can help you as you EQ different channels and get a sense of what the room is going to add to the sound that comes out of the speakers.
IMPORTANT! Without people in the room, the sound will be different. It won’t be a copy and paste situation. You will have to make small adjustments once the congregation are present and there is a live band in the room. However, this step will help give you a baseline understanding of the room and what you should be listening for on a regular basis.
Step 3: Play With Effects
Go through effects such as reverbs, noise gates, and compressors. See what they do to your sound. An easy way to do this is by going through one by one from one extremity to another. Start by applying one type of reverb and turn it up to 100% then down to 0%. How does it sound? Give yourself time to learn how these effects change the sound in the space. Once you have gone through everything, try to manipulate each effect as needed to get a good sound for your recorded tracks.
Step 4: Play With EQ
Go through each track and add or remove different frequency ranges to see how it impacts the sound of each instrument or voice. Learning what frequencies to add or take away will enhance the clarity of the overall sound of your group. Once you have done this, you should repeat step 2 so that you can hear the changes you have made in the context of your space.
IMPORTANT! Each instrument is different. Invest time in learning how to EQ the instruments that your worship team uses regularly. Make sure that you do not EQ singers as one sound. Listen to each vocalist and EQ them individually.
Step 5: Compare Your Mix
See if you can find a recording of the song you have used to practice with and compare mixes. Obviously if you are trying to compare to an eight-piece worship band with choir backing and horn/string sections, you may not be able to achieve the same sound. The idea of comparing your mix is to see if you are getting an overall audio picture that you are happy with.
Virtual sound checks are a great way to rehearse what you bring to the sound of the church service, just like anyone playing an instrument would do. It’s also a beneficial way to train new people on the sound board before they assist with the sound for a live service.