Sound checks can be helpful and instill confidence OR they can be awful and scare the living fire out of you. But, they are part of the worship leading experience – and since I’ve come through many dangers, toils, and snares with sound checks myself, let me share a few tips to help yours be a success.
1. Make a personal connection with your operator.
Whether it’s someone you work with week after week, or someone you are just meeting because you are a guest leader, GET TO KNOW YOUR OPERATOR. If you are a worship pastor, be sure you do a great job pastoring this person. Know their family, their vocation, where they live, and how it’s going in their life. If you are a guest musician, take the time to have a short conversation and find out their name, how long they’ve been at the church, and what they care about in the role in which they are serving. Use their name every time you address them. A personal connection with the operator is vital to achieving the level of communication you will have to have to enjoy a shared ministry in worship.
2. Only one voice speaks.
Nothing frustrates a sound operator more than a group of six or eight singers and musicians all calling for something different during the sound check – and often, the requests contradict each other. He will soon believe he can’t make anyone happy. This is easily fixed if you will train your musicians to communicate only to you about their needs…THEN YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE GIVING FEEDBACK TO THE OPERATOR. Often, artists have a musical director in charge of a sound check, allowing the artist to focus on other preparations.
*** Added note: It is important your operator understands YOUR EARS are the only ones he has to satisfy. If he responds to every suggestion from the church or musicians, you will never have consistently good sound. Not great at hearing balance? Appoint someone who is and let them be the one voice that calls for tweaks. ***
3. Don’t rehearse during the sound check.
REHEARSALS HAPPEN ON OTHER DAYS. The sound check should be a time focused on setting everything up for a great worship leading experience. The added stress of learning a song while trying to set levels makes both efforts very difficult. There’s nothing wrong with full run-throughs, but stopping frequently to learn material can be death to the sound check experience.
4. Start on time and don’t waste time.
If your band takes time to set up and be ready, give them an earlier call time than your singers, or have the understanding that if the sound check begins at 8:30, that means every player is plugged in and in tune before that time. ALWAYS START ON TIME, even if you are missing people. If your people are thinking, “We never start on time, “ they will never be there on time.
5. Have a Routine.
DO IT THE SAME WAY EVERY WEEK. Here’s the way it works best for me:
- Set instrumental levels before vocals (and if you use a click or loop, set those levels first, as well),
- When the players have what they need, bring the vocalists on stage. Test each mic then start running a song,
- Allow enough time before the start of worship time so you have cleared the stage before people begin arriving. Nothing busts a worship groove more than a sound check going right up until the start time.
6. Don’t start and stop too much.
Ears have to adjust to sound levels. If you begin with one setting, but keep stopping and tweaking, the ears of the players and singers will not be able to adjust to the room or the sound. RUN THROUGH COMPLETE SECTIONS OR SONGS BEFORE YOU STOP AND START TWEAKING. And again, only one person gives feedback/adjustments to the operator.
7. Always be gracious to the operator.
NEVER PUBLICALLY CRITICIZE THE OPERATOR, but rather look for every opportunity to honor the service of those serving in the role. It is a thankless responsibility but a necessary one. Operators are rarely noticed unless something goes wrong. FIND WAYS TO ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR SERVICE AND DEDICATION on a regular basis and in public ways. They will be loyal if they feel appreciated for their service.
8. Handle mistakes with care.
It is easy to become critical or harsh when someone makes a mistake that has a serious affect on the sound check or worship time. The wise leader is the one who can maintain focus on the task at hand without unduly reacting to human error. If a deficit in knowledge caused the error, invest in a training opportunity for your operator. If it was a simple mistake, laugh and move on. DON’t EXPLODE OR EMBARRASS YOUR OPERATOR. EVER.
9. Always pray.
END EVERY SOUND CHECK WITH A TIME OF PRAYER bringing the focus back to the reason everyone has gathered. Pray for the technical systems and the operators, as well as, the instrumentalists, and singers. Ask God to be honored with the sacrifice of praise offered through all the efforts of the team and with the hearts of each one.
Sound checks are necessary for ministries that use music in worship – which is just about all of us. So, take them seriously and make them better. Your focus should be on the awesome responsibility of leading God’s people in worship, instead of being distracted by technical issues. Successfully planned sound checks allow you to accomplish the needed preparations for the worship of the day, while also allowing you to enjoy the blessing of leading well.
Director, Lifeway Worship