Vocal EQ Cheat Sheet

The Perfect Sound Check

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru

Frustrated with sound checks? Are they taking too long?

I am pretty sure that every worship team member has been fed up with sound check at some point, if not every week.

Although there are probably several ways to perform an efficient sound check, I’ll walk you though the process I have settled into after ten years of leading worship.

Step 1: Check Gain Levels

Most churches have the luxury of the same team members week after week. Others have rotating musicians or will occasionally have a new member on the team. When this happens, the first step is to set the gain for everyone who was not on the team the previous week.

You should also develop the habit of checking gain on every channel at the beginning of every rehearsal, even if they were on the team last week. There is always a good chance that guitar amp or keyboard settings are not in the same place they were last week.

There is a lot of confusion around the gain knob, which is why I wrote an entire post to clear things up. If you are unsure of gain’s purpose, be sure to read this post:

How to Set the Gain on Your Mixer

Step 2: Set the Monitors

If you do not have the technology that allows band members to adjust their own monitors, you will need a pair of headphones on hand. Before taking orders from each band member on what they want, have the band play through an entire song.

While they are playing, put on the headphones and listen to each monitor mix, making adjustments to give them a nice, even mix. Of course, if it is a vocal monitor, have the vocals a bit louder than the instruments and vice versa.

Once this is done, ask if anyone needs changes and adjust accordingly. But, don’t let band members abuse this privilege or way too much time will be spent on monitor mixes.

Not sure how to listen to monitor mixes in the headphones? Look for a PFL, AFL or Solo button next to your Aux or Bus send master volume knob/fader. When engaged, you will be hearing the monitor mix instead of the main mix in your headphones.

Step 3: Set the Main Mix

Now, simply have the band continue practicing. The more they play, the better. You may need to communicate this to the worship leader if too much talking is taking place.

At first, I like to start with the faders all the way down. Then, as they are playing, use the following sequence to get a solid mix.

  1. Bring up the kick drum and bass guitar until you have a nice solid foundation with plenty of energy in the room.
  2. Bring up the guitars and keyboards to the appropriate place for the song. At this point, the sound should fill the room.
  3. Bring up the snare drum until you feel its energy and punch. Then, mix in the toms and overhead microphones to complete the drum mix.
  4. Mix in the background vocals so that they blend in with the instruments.
  5. Bring up the lead vocal until it sits right at the top of the mix.

Keep in mind, you will need to use EQ to get everything married together instead of clashing with one another. Here are a few posts on EQ to help you out:

Step 4: Set It and Leave It (just kidding)

So, you achieved a great mix - awesome! You can just set it and leave it, right? Wrong. Every song should have a different sound. One song may have a prominent electric guitar while the next may have a prominent keyboard part instead.

A good sound tech listens to each song several times through so they understand how it should be mixed. Here are some things to listen for:

  • What is the lead instrument? Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, synth?
  • Where do the other instruments fit in the mix? Are they audible or so blended you can’t even pick them out?
  • Where are the background vocals? Are they right under the lead vocal or mixed in with the instruments?

Diagnosing Problems

No sound?

If you have a microphone or instrument not working, the best way to diagnose is following the signal path. For example, start by changing the microphone. If that doesn’t work, change out the cable. Then, change channels on the stage snake. Finally, change channels on your mixer. At this point, you should have been able to narrow down where the problem is and fix accordingly.

Feedback/Ringing Microphones

The best way to ruin a worship service is to struggle with feedback problems, which is why I wrote this post to help you eliminate them:

3 Ways to Eliminate Feedback During Worship

No Energy

Energy comes from the drums and bass guitar. Start by bringing up the kick drum and bass guitar. Then, bring up the snare until you feel its punch. You also want plenty of the toms (especially the floor tom). Finally, use the overhead microphones to complete the sound scape with high frequencies.

Keep in mind, if you do not have a good set of subwoofers, energy will always be lacking. You may find this post helpful: Does your church need a subwoofer?

Too Loud

The answer to this problem may seem obvious (turn things down, right?), but often times it is an EQ problem. Revisit the list of EQ posts above to make sure you are using EQ to its fullest potential.


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9 comments on “The Perfect Sound Check”

  1. I have a problem with the sound tech/producer mentality. Few churches have a professional producer on the board. As a keyboard player, I'm mixing myself, using the volume knob to bring in and fade the strings/pads, playing when necessary, not playing when I decide to bow out. There's nothing worse than a sound man who thinks he's a producer deciding when I should/should not be in the mix. Last week I was playing and the leader actually stopped and said, "why can't I hear the piano?" The sound man sheepishly admitted that he was emphasizing the acoustic guitar on this song and muted my keys. His decision. Not mine, or the leader's. Now granted, the worship leader is my husband and one might wonder if I'm not like Linda McCartney, and just on the team because he loves me, not because I really have anything to add to the group (which, in Linda's case, is up for debate) but I've been told that's not true. 🙂 I've functioned well for the past 30 years with a really good sound check, and then just leave the keyboard player alone and she'll take the lead when necessary, and add the frosting when necessary. As for the guitars...isn't that what volume pedals are for? (It's an honest question...) Thanks for your insight! I appreciate every article you send.

    1. Hey Angie - thanks for the comment. I used to be a control freak when it comes to running sound. I had a sound tech, but he pretty much couldn't make a change unless I asked him to. Then, I figured out that I could do my job better as a worship leader if I let my sound tech take ownership of his job. Truth be told, micromanaging never helps anyone. People need the freedom to use their gift in the way they see fit.

      In a nutshell, as a worship leader, I find it much better to let the sound tech be the sound tech while giving them little bits of guidance as needed. Keep in mind, I personally train sound techs when they join the team, so my vision for how the sound should be has been thoroughly communicated to them.

  2. Kade, thank you so much for listing out the approach you take to build a solid main mix. I surely will be mimicking this approach. Quite honestly, as a sound tech/leader, I should be listening to each song several times so I can better understand how to mix the song. I'm really glad you mentioned this. It hurt so good to hear! I'm learning lots.

    You're an OUTSTANDING leader!!!

  3. Thanks for this Kade, I’ll be passing it on the the tech team. My only addition would be to set clear expectations on WHO is leading the sound check (especially at the beginning). I have been trying to get our sound guys to take a more “forceful” role in commanding people attention so it’s quick and efficient. When they are not I’ve noticed I end up having to lead it for them, which since I’m on the stage and have iems, doesn’t work well :-).

  4. While I am solely a volunteer servant in this field, no formal educational background to back my opinion here.
    However, I've always been a sound guy that loves music.
    I began learning the A/V trade about a year ago so I'm very green. My feeling are as such: we are not separate, meaning the band and the tech team are ONE in the SAME. Only separation is expertise (maybe, some are very versatile) so we should approach sound check as such. Both sides working together to worship God and give him glory. Practice is practice and sound check is sound check. We tend to get in God's way when we allow these types of things Fester.

  5. Kade,
    Thank you. I feel privileged honored that you took a second to at the least acknowledge my input and appreciated it. I can't express to you enough how instrumental your content has allowed me to grow rapidly in this field. I read and watch every lesson you share. Some times multiple times. Our chairman of A/V at my church has done this for many years and he tells me regularly how I've far exceeded his expectations for the time I've been involved. So much so that in many areas, he's quick to ask me what we should do or how some things work. I give my ministry all I have because I deeply understand just how important our roles are as well as fully knowing how serious what we're doing is. If we as the worship team are not expressing that our efforts are because of what's been done for us as Christians through Calvary and knowing our service is simply a vessel for God to work in others then it's nothing more than live band karaoke and will be interpreted as such. How can we lead worship if first and foremost we're not worshipping ourselves.
    My greatest drawback with our work is that we just don't set aside enough time as a team to work through problems with intent on understanding every aspect and perspective from each element. Meaning we run through the songs (usually 3-4 songs) within an hour or so, which that would be sufficient if every member was regular and very proficient with how everything works.
    Much of the time is spent on the individual needs (in ears or stage mix) to satisfy the singers or musicians. I feel like our part is equally important to a successful service. We need time to focus on each element to get the right balance ( which I think would improve their experience also) with assurance that they realize we need practice and experience from a live real time session without having to work on what they need with minimal time to dial in things. If it were up to me, I'd suggest running through the service for their practice and fine tuning to satisfy their needs, then a second run through for us to tighten up the mix and generate an environment where teamwork is the foundation and confidence ensues among us as we grow together in Christ for Christ. With this heart and mentality within a worship team, there's only one result in the end, God's holy Spirit moves freely and abundant and changes lives. I know this is long, I'm sorry. But I couldn't resist letting you know my heart and expressing my gratitude to you because your teaching is the reason I have been able to grow within a short time frame and very little actual time behind the board practice.
    Thank you sir,
    Your service has been fruitful and multiplying God's blessings to many more than you'll ever know.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Martin! I love your heart and it is no wonder the chairman appreciates you so much - you give it 110%. We can all learn from that!

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