Line-checks, I have to admit the one thing that I actually dislike about running the sound desk at a church, but they are a very useful tool. So here’s a really quick guide to help you get what you need out of it, and move on.
You can also give some attention to your gain structure during line-checks, so check out this post too which covers that. To old hands, most of this will already be second nature, but there’s no harm in revisiting what you already know!
First off, you need to arrange 5-10 minutes right at the start of the practice for the check, and then you should have enough time to run through the channel list, check they’re clean and get a pretty good gain level set and then get started on a very rough monitor mix.
The basic outline is to get each instrument/vocalist to play/sing on their own so you can set the gain on the mixing desk and have a listen to that channel to make sure it’s nice and clean without any hum, noise or distortion. If the channel is clean this should only take 60 seconds, and if it’s not then now is the time to fix it! (At the latest, come back to the end of the line-check if you’re tight on time)
Hopefully, if you’ve already got a rapport going with the band, keeping them quiet should be easy enough during a line-check. If you haven’t worked with the band before, then it can be a good idea to mention to the leader that if they can keep people quiet during the line-check, it would really help you out and will them save time. You can then get the headphones on and call out what you need from the musicians as you go.
To lay it out for you, the way I work through a channel list is to go systematically from left to right across the mixing desk. Otherwise I find it difficult to be certain I’ve checked every single channel that I need. First thing to do to at least check the gain pot to be sure it’s not up really high, so you know it’s not going to be stupidly loud.
Some engineer’s I’ve worked with dial it to zero every time and start from there, which can be helpful. Then get the musician to start playing and get the headphones on. So long as the level isn’t way out then it should be safe to hit the solo button.
If there aren’t individual channel meters to reference, the main stereo meters will display just that one channel’s level when using solo, and often in higher resolution than individual meters too which will help getting the gain right.
You should spot any noise or distortion almost immediately on headphones, and also look out for a quiet and ‘thin’ sound as this usually indicates something isn’t plugged in properly and is likely to pop really loudly when it makes the connection. If all’s well then all of that should take no more than 20 seconds.
My top tip once you reach this stage is to get the musicians to point up or down depending on whether they want more or less of the instrument playing in their monitors. Don’t let them get too picky, this is just a really rough level guide so they can get on with practicing straight away, fine-tuning it comes later and will be covered in the next post.
If the vocalists feel too exposed to just sing on their own, or you think they’re not singing out in quite the way they usually would then get one of the lead instruments, like an acoustic or piano etc, to play through a couple of choruses with them, and if they’re still not singing out then drop them back a bit in their monitors.
Clearly drums are going to take the longest to check, and the way I approach them is to do the kick, snare and hi-hat separately, and if you have dedicated tom mics then to do them together going round high-mid-low repeatedly as they are usually very similar in level and tone. Finally ask the drummer to play the full kit and cover all the toms and cymbals, to enable you to check the overheads.
As you get quicker and more efficient at line-checking, you will be able to start dialling in some eq settings as you go through the channels and maybe even some dynamics if you’re lucky enough to have them available on the mixing desk.
My final comment is that if you can get someone technically competent to help you out on the stage, this will really save you some time solving any problems the check throws up. For example a noisy DI box or a lead not plugged in properly can be swapped out or fixed very quickly rather than you having to run up and down between the stage and the mixing desk.
Hopefully you’ve found some of this useful, even if you are already well practiced running live sound. Are there any other little tips or tricks that you’ve discovered along the way?
P.S. Am I the only one who doesn’t like line-checking? How about you musicians?