Get Your Worship Team in Shape with Virtual Sound Check

As a worship leader, it can be challenging to improve your worship team's playing; you're not just in charge of your team - you have a role to play as well.

So, how do we separate those two jobs of playing, singing, and evaluating? I've got a tool for you that I think is the most underutilized and underrated “helps” for your worship team. We're going to dive in and check it out.

If you're a worship leader, you have a multitude of jobs; and you have to do a lot of them, all at the same time.

You're managing all of your band, making sure that they're playing the right parts. Making sure they're in time and in tune, and the arrangement fits - what your congregation is going to enjoy. You're managing the singers, making sure that they're singing at the right time and singing the right part and, hopefully, they're in tune, too.

On top of that, you have to nail your parts.

And in the midst of all of that stuff you have to manage, you're supposed to be engaging in worship yourself - because your church congregation won't go where you don't. What if you could separate yourself from the situation? Where your time spent playing and singing, and worshiping, could be different from evaluating the band - and making sure that everybody's doing everything right?

Well, with Virtual Sound Check, you can.

Virtual Sound Check is a way you can record all of the multi-tracks, or all the individual inputs from your band, and play them back through the live sound console without the band on stage. We're going to be talking about how you can evaluate your band to improve their performance and find the problem areas, and the things they need to practice to make your worship team sound better. Then you won't have to focus on that part as much. You can focus more on entering into worship.

How Can You Leverage This Tool?

So, how can you leverage this tool to improve your worship team? I’ve got three steps for you:

Step 1: Improve Your Monitor Mixing

The first thing I suggest you use with Virtual Sound Check is improving your monitor mixing. In-ear monitors isolate the player's mix from everybody else. So if it's awful, nobody else can tell. People often are trying to learn how to mix monitors while they're playing or singing. It's very challenging to mix your monitors, and play and sing well, at the same time. If you don't want to give up playing and singing well to mix your monitors (people won't do that), it can be difficult to juggle all of these things at once.
Add that to the fact that nobody at their guitar lesson, or their singing lesson, learned how to mix monitors.

Using Virtual Sound Check at the beginning of your rehearsal lets you record a song that you know well, and allows you to play it back. Then people can mix their own monitors without having to worry about playing their instruments at the same time.

It also frees up people who are more experienced to come and help those who are less experienced. Sometimes people can “ratchet up and up” and things get louder until it's just a big mess, and everything is super loud. To avoid this, somebody with more experience can say, “Hey, I feel like the electric guitar is too loud in your mix. If we pull that down, we can hear the other things we are missing.”

Try Different Techniques

You can also play with different techniques for setting up your monitor mix. Some worship leaders I know rely very heavily on the crowd mics for their monitor mix so they can avoid the temptation to pull one in-ear monitor out and have it dangling (which looks ugly). Or the click track gets picked up in their microphone, and then they are only mixing in mono - they don't have both sides of their ears to mix from. That's a big problem that mixing with crowd mics can help overcome.

Teach How to Mix Quietly

Another thing you can do is teach people to mix quietly. Mix at a level where they feel like they have to lean in to hear. You can adjust and your ear will adjust to that difference of level, but when you can lean in and hear everything clearly at a low level, it's much easier on your hearing. Especially if you've got long rehearsals or a long morning of worship sets.

I've actually had people get chills and tear up a little bit when they finally figured out how to use their in-ear monitor system, and they can hear clearly.

Some people just suffer for a long time with a bad monitor mix, and they don't know how to fix it. So even if you've been using in-ear monitors for a long time, do this with your team and make sure that everybody's got a good mix.

Step 2: Band Evaluation

The second thing that you can do with the Virtual Sound Check to improve your worship team is band evaluation. Leave some time at the end of your rehearsal to playback one of the songs that you played during rehearsal, just to check and see how everything's fitting together.

Recordings don't lie. Sometimes we have this different idea of how we sound when we're on stage, compared to what it actually sounds like in the room. Not all of that has to do with the sound tech - so don't go blaming people quite yet.

There's a big difference between what feels good to play, and what sounds good with the team. It's kind of like me dancing. Inside, I think I look awesome. But on the outside, it's just humorous. Listening back to your team, try to have conversations about the rhythms and the arrangement, the register where people are playing, and all the different tones that they might be producing.

Personally, sometimes I feel like a quarter note on the bass feels great. But in reality, the eighth note feels better. (Or whole notes, but the quarter note just doesn't always fit great.) You might also notice you repeat things in the arrangement a lot more than they need to be repeated, right? Sometimes it feels good to sing it again, but you've kind of lost the congregation, eventually. After the fifth “one more time” through the bridge, it gets a little old.

Listening in the room takes the in-ear monitors out of the equation.

Sometimes having a tiny little speaker very close to your eardrum can distort a little bit of how we perceive ourselves in our playing. Especially if the balance that we're hearing in our in-ears isn't the same as the balance that works for out in the room. You might think, “Oh shoot, I sound like that?” When you hear your tone out in the room, versus when you had your monitors in. Between fixing it at the source, or choosing a different mic or mic placement, that's the best place to start fixing these tone problems that you hear. You might also find that certain player's timing and tuning aren't quite as tight as you'd hoped they'd be. Sometimes this can be self-corrected.

Or when your team listens out in the room with you. They hear their timing, they hear the looseness of where their notes are falling - or they can tell, “Oh, I'm not quite in the center of the pitch right there,” and then they work on it on their own. It's fantastic when they can have the self-awareness to self-correct and make changes that fix the problem without you having to say anything. It's a lot easier to listen critically to yourself when you're not the one playing and singing.

Have Correction or Adjustment Conversations In Private.

Now, please remember - when you're going to have a conversation of correction or adjustment with one of your musicians or singers, it's always best to have it in private; because the way we play and sing, as creatives - the way we mix, even as sound techs, - can be easy to take as our identity. Or we're tied up in what we create, rather than who God says we are.

So in light of treading carefully on that, make sure that the corrections are in private and very kind, right? We want to encourage people to improve, not bash them for not being awesome. In short, value people over their skills. Okay, that rant is over.

Well, maybe it's not over.

Singers and their pitch, and their tone, is very tricky conversation to have. If you have to talk to a singer about how maybe they're not quite reaching the center of the pitch on those high notes, and it's creating a “chorus-ing effect” with the other singers that are singing that same note; be very kind and say, “Hey, why don't you try this?”, and give some singing solutions rather than just pointing out the problems. Some solutions can be raising your eyebrows and standing tall on your toes to get that pitch up. Other times it's a vowel sound issue where they would have an easier time reaching for those higher notes if their vowels were a little narrower, instead of wider. We do this so we can give concrete things that they can do, rather than just telling them where they're making mistakes.

Singing is really difficult, and singers can't just go out and buy a new instrument or put new strings on to make their voices sound better. It's their physiology. Some singers may take it very personally when it comes to criticism. So just be careful!

Okay, now the rant is really over. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Start At The Source.

I said this a minute ago, but it's worth repeating. If you have to change something about the tone, start with it at the source or the microphone. Don't change it at the soundboard first. That will keep you from chasing your tail and creating a whole lot of other problems that have to get undone. Fix it at the source as much as you can.

The next thing you might notice when you're listening altogether, is that something in the arrangement just doesn't work. Sometimes, parts that people are playing sound fine on their own. Or when they're practicing by themselves, it sounds okay. But when everybody's playing together, things start clash a little bit. It can be a lot easier to notice that when you're listening with Virtual Sound Check. Maybe your keyboards and guitars are both playing in the same register. Maybe somebody is just playing the wrong chord, but you didn't really notice it. Whatever the problem is, it's a lot easier to isolate it on the soundboard if you just turn off other things and listen to the guitar and the piano by themselves. Or the pad and the acoustic together, and make sure that all the notes are coming together.

Now I've got one more thing that you can do with Virtual Sound Check. But before I do, I want to tell you about my free virtual sound check challenge.

Virtual Sound Check Challenge

I put together a free mini-video course that walks you through how to set up your computer and your console to get Virtual Sound Check going. After you've got it set up, there are lessons there on what you can practice at the soundboard to improve your skills. It's absolutely free and you can sign up for it through this link here: Virtual Sound Check Challenge
I've got a bunch of different consoles and digital audio workstations in there, with more coming on the way.

Step 3: Work On the Mix with The Sound-Tech.

The final thing that you can do to improve your worship team is to work on the mix with the sound tech. If you're a worship leader and you're on stage, you cannot accurately hear what the mix sounds like in the room. To be able to play the mix back, (and yes, it does change when there are people there, versus when it's an empty room), you can get a much better idea with Virtual Sound Check on how it sounds, and how all the balance and tone considerations are coming together so that you're not guessing about what it's like while you're on stage.

Now, if you've listened on stage and popped both your in-ear monitors out and heard what it sounds like - it's a garbled, jumbly mess. All you're hearing is muddy, low frequency. So you might be thinking, “Man, I need a ton more reverb!” So you ask the sound tech for more reverb until it's like an ungodly amount of reverb. (I'm not saying that reverb is sinful, but there can be too much.) So then you're asking for things for them to do, but you're not hearing what it actually sounds like, in real life.

Working with the sound tech to dial in what the balance is between the lead vocal and the background vocals, and how we're going to emphasize different instruments in different songs to be the primary instrument and what instruments can be in the background a little bit more, and to really feel what it sounds like when the acoustic guitar is way out in front of a big part of a song - You need to understand those things from firsthand experience, not on stage wondering what it feels like for real experience.

Help You Communicate Clearly

The other thing that this can do is help you communicate clearly what the style expectations are for the mix and your sound tech. What your sound tech prefers for style and tone, could vary drastically. Some guys might like metal and clubs, other people might like sitting around a campfire with acoustic instruments. But if both of those people are mixing at church, you have to have clear expectations for what it should sound like to fit the style of the song, and to fit what style works for your congregation to help them engage in singing.

There can be a ton of variation between how much low-end you need, and how much low-end the sound tech wants. It could be more or less, but you have to figure out what's right. It may be hard to communicate what it should feel like when you're on stage. Being with the sound tech in the room, walking around, leaving the sound booth and listening to what it sounds like in different spots - all of that helps dial in and communicate the things that you're feeling and wondering and thinking it should sound like in your brain, and translating that into an actual mix where real people are listening. Virtual Sound Check is massively helpful for dialing those things in.

For instance, your church's goal might be to make it feel like people are immersed in the sound. It's all around them. They can sing loud, and sing their heart out, and people around them aren’t going to hear them and get embarrassed. That's one way that you can go with “how loud” you have your mix, and that doesn't necessarily translate into a number on an SPL meter.

Another church might have the value of everybody hearing everyone else singing. So you keep the music a little bit quieter and it feels like the band is up on stage, but it's all of us singing together. Neither one is right or wrong, but you have to define that and make it really clear so that your sound tech knows what target they’re aiming at.

If you want some help dialing this in, and getting clear language for how to lead your church sound team, I developed a free guide called:
How to Lead Your Church Sound Team. You can get it here: How To Lead Your Church Sound Team
Virtual Sound Check is an absolute game changer, and I don't say that lightly. I don't think everything is a game changer just because it's new technology. Virtual Sound Check does make it possible for you to take your worship team to the next level.

If you're a worship leader or a sound tech who wants to eliminate the mystery and frustration of sound at church, you found the right place. Let me know what's worked well for you with Virtual Sound Check. And Remember - it's all about the low end. Avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves church humming the kick drum

Don't forget to check out Attaway Audio Academy if you're looking to learn more about the many different aspects of Sound and Leading your Worship team! With comprehensive, easy-to-understand courses, you'll get the skills and confidence you need to make every worship mix enjoyable.  Whether you're a volunteer, worship leader, or a tech director, you can learn to use your sound system to its fullest potential and get consistent, enjoyable mixes both in-person and online. Sign up for Attaway Audio Academy at a new, reduced price today

Click here to watch Get Your Worship Team in Shape with Virtual Sound Check on my YouTube Channel!

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