Back to the Basics: Rehearsal

Part three of our Back to the Basics Series is all about the rehearsal. Rehearsal can be a really good time or a really rough time for an audio tech.  Hopefully in the studio world your artist has come ready to record but will still need some time to warm up to the space and get used to the monitoring setup.  In the live world however, rehearsal is a whole different animal. Rehearsals are used to help get the consoles dialed, get the monitors dialed in, make sure the PA is working well, checking RF setups, etc.  If you read the last entry you have spent a good amount of time preparing and making sure everything is ready, if you haven’t prepared your space, rehearsal will likely have some issues. But, let’s assume you have. Everything is wired correctly, you’ve line checked to make sure all is well, and you’ve helped the band get situated and plugged in before rehearsal starts.

After everyone has arrived and is all ready to go start sound check ASAP. No one likes to stand around and get started late. Our monitor techs have been working with each band member beforehand if possible to get gains on the monitor console set as early as possible for everyone. For us at CCC sound check is primarily to get a general mix going for the band in their ears that will be refined as the night goes on. At the FOH console we make sure that at the very least the lead singers mic is open and at full volume during this time (at best, the entire band is up and raring to go).  We do this to create the environment the band will use their IEM mix within to help create it faster and avoid lots of stopping during rehearsal to adjust each mix.  We always start with the click, then add the whole drum set (we have a basic drum mix that gets everyone started with gains set and ready to go), then we add the bass guitar, then each electric, the acoustic, and lastly add the piano inputs.  We don’t set levels in isolation because that isn’t how they are listening to their mix, they hear the band as a whole during the service so we make sure to have that full sound when we do sound check.  We check the vocals separately but make sure to add them together where possible so that once again. Once again the idea is that we are giving them as much of a full mix as we can for them to adjust not just individual pieces.  Lastly, we have several tracks that run during the service that have added by default to everyone’s ears and can be adjusted on demand where necessary.  Doing that saves time by not adding an additional 12 inputs or so that we need to get set.  

At FOH however it’s a different picture. We’ve created a very general mix that can be used to start with (mentioned above to help get mixes set faster) and since gains are dialed in at monitors we only need to trim our gains here and there as necessary (this step is added because of our how consoles work, if your consoles audio is split first or  your just have one console that won’t apply).  Most of the time during sound check is spent working with our outboard waves processor dialing plugins to the player’s style and intensity. We do have a template for Waves to help speed the process  but compressor thresholds must be set each time, gates must be adjusted as trim changes, any dynamic compressors or gates (i.e. C6, F6 etc) must be set correctly.  The template is only there so we can avoid needing to do a full setup each time but rather start with something that’s close that just needs to be dialed in. But since the whole band is playing for about 15 minutes during the check there is no need for a frantic pace, we can move step by step making sure everything is set correctly. The big thing here that gets the operator to a mix faster is the use of templates.  For instance, we have a template for our sound board that includes things like an already programmed in EQ for each channel that gets reloaded every week, proper bussing already programmed, channel strips labelled before rehearsal starts, and also things like delay and verb settings already dialed in. These all save time during rehearsal and allow the technician to quickly configure and focus on improving the mix rather than spending all the time making the mix.

Rehearsal time is also a great time to start listen to the musicality of the band.  Are there any solos you need to be highlighting? Are your gates opening when the drummer is hitting those toms? Do you have enough headroom before feedback to be able to push the voices if you need to? Personally, I like to start making note of who is doing the guitar solos and what parts of the song will require me to push a certain aspect of the mix to bring extra depth. If you have near field speakers they are great to use to check for tonality issues in voices, guitars, and also to listen in on the gate actions.  But you need to be careful not to wear your ears out in doing so.  Too much soloing will fatigue your ears much faster than listening to the PA. Ear fatigue should be something you are aware of as the night goes on. Make sure you do all your EQ’ing first and take care of things that don’t depend on rested ears to do well.  I find that by the time our first run-through has been completed at full volume I need to have my EQ’s set and ready to move on to mixing FX and working with our Waves Multirack because at this point after about an hour of mixing at 92 db, ear fatigue will start to affect what you are hearing (note this isn’t to say you will suffer hearing loss just that, like every muscle in your body, your ear drum will start to get tired and not operate as well as it did earlier that day).

One last thing I like to do at the end of a rehearsal or recording session is to very quickly bounce a 2-track of the master bus and upload it to an audio host like soundcloud.com or another medium so the artists can start to hear what they sound like. It also allows players time to practice at home to an actual recording before the weekend comes.  In some cases I’ll even do some immediate playback in virtual sound check if there is a song I’d really like to hear again or get our Worship Pastors opinion on so that he can speak into my mix.  Remember it’s our job to make sure we are accurately amplifying the band not completely changing tone and musicality to fit our tastes.  Regardless of how you rehearse, continue to communicate with the band leader and have him/her listen in on your mix from time to time, get their opinion, and strive to the type of sound tech that rehearses well!

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