A while back I wrote a post on virtual sound check.
Simply put, virtual sound check is a mechanism for capturing the inputs to your board as close to right after the mic pre as possible, then being able to easily play that back, in the same inputs as the real band.
Digital consoles have made this process relatively easy, though the exact implementations vary.
The other day I was asked to recommend a digital console to a church who as looking to make the switch. As I pondered the options in their price range, one of their requirements kept coming back; the console should be fairly easy for volunteers to learn.
To some extent, this is a catch-22. An audio console is by nature a fairly complex device. The bigger they get, with more routing and mixing options, the higher the complexity.
When moving to digital, the complexity factor goes higher. Even the best, most user-friendly consoles are still pretty complicated pieces of technology, and as such, require the user to spend a fair amount of time on them to be proficient.
This brought me back to virtual sound check. I thought of one of the ways we use virtual sound check, and that’s to train new volunteers. In the old days, training new volunteers had to happen either during the week, with no sound running through the board, at rehearsals, or - heaven forbid - during a service.
What I love about training with virtual sound check is that we can record the entire process, from beginning to end, in full multi-track form, then play it back without the band being there. That means, our audio team can show up at 7 PM on Thursday when the room is empty, fire up the board and spend all night playing with all the knobs, faders and on-screen controls without any worry that we hold anyone up or cause distraction during the service.
It’s easy to train people on the sound check process by simply recording the sound check. I can show someone how I EQ a guitar by recording and playing back the guitar player in our band. If I want to teach on how compressors or gates work, it’s easy to do with actual sounds from our actual band.
And since we can record the entire service, we can even work on getting transitions right; like making sure the pastor’s mic is up after worship for prayer, and how to get the band turned off so you don’t hear thumps and pops during said prayer.
As all that crossed my mind, I decided to strongly recommend that if this church were to buy a digital console, they buy one along with a virtual sound check system. The more I thought about it, the more I believe that nothing will shorten the learning curve faster than giving a volunteer time on the system. And giving them time on the system with actual sound sources will always be better than not.
Since you can typically add virtual sound check to almost any digital board for between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, it just makes sense (given that you’ll spend at least $10K on a desk anyway and probably more).
There is, of course, a lot more you can do with virtual sound check and digital multi-tracking, but I think training users is perhaps the highest value add. Do you use virtual sound check? If so, how?
Mike Sessler is the technical director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA and serves as the Church Sound Editor for Live Sound International. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts. Mike also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.