Live audio production is easier than you think.
After taking a bit of time off, I wanted to come back and start fresh. And to my long-time readers, that means I’m taking a new approach on some things. I wanted to start with the simple idea that audio production is easier than you think. But let me clarify…
- If you are fearful of touching the mixer or get anxious when you run sound (your heart rate increases), I want you to know your job is easier than you think.
- If you don’t run sound and want to know why your sound guy seems to have problems, know that it’s not easy because it takes dedication, technical training, and creativity to be good at it.
How Can I Say It’s Easy?
Recently, I took it upon myself to learn a second language…Chinese. And that includes learning the Chinese characters. Am I crazy? Probably. But here’s the thing…
At first glance, trying to read Chinese seemed impossible to me. And speaking it, wow, what was I thinking? I was afraid I’d misspeak and sound like an idiot. Instead of asking, “Where is your restroom,” I might accidentally ask, “Pardon me, where is your hamburger?”
Then, I discovered a few key details about the written and spoken language that gave me these HUGE AH HA moments! I’ve got a long way to go, but I’m excited and I’m progressing at a great rate. I’d almost call it easy. And that fear of misspeaking is GONE.
When I wasn’t burdened with anxiety, the learning came faster.
I’ve used this experience to look back on what I know about live audio production, what it takes to succeed, and how I’ve been teaching it. And I’m changing some things and improving some things so you can have more of those AH HA moments.
It’s All About The Anxiety
Live audio production is easy when you learn there are essentially two components of it:
- The work that needs done – work that any sane person can be trained to do. There are people from 13 to 73 that are great audio techs. And probably even above and below that. These are people who were willing to put in the time to learn and were able to get past…
- The psychology aspect of live audio production. It’s live. If you screw up, the whole room knows it. If something breaks during an event, all eyes are on you. And sometimes you feel like you’re juggling several tasks at once. It’s the psychological side that gets to us. When you can figure out how to dominate this area, it’s all going to be easy.
What Haunted Me
“Just don’t screw up.”
That was the biggest one and in the early days, I did screw up and make mistakes. And when something went wrong, I would panic. Over the course of 20 years, I learned how to minimize the chance of problems, how to work proactively to prevent them, and what to do when they occurred.
But there was that anxiety. Always present. It caused doubt, worry, and it had me questioning myself. Today, that anxiety is gone, replaced with delightful excitement at the start of every event or service.
I was no longer worrying about what could go wrong. Instead, I was looking forward to the great things that could happen.
“Did I remember to put new batteries in that microphone” has been replaced with, “I can’t wait to see the congregation worshipping together.”
What You Need to Know
I can step you through all of the technical aspects of audio production and I’m confident that you’ll learn everything you need. However, if you are constantly worrying if you can do it, constantly doubting yourself, constantly worried about, “what if I mess up,” then you aren’t going to learn the technology as fast…or at all.
The knowledge isn’t going to stick.
It would be like trying to learn to drive a car while the whole time you are worrying that the brakes are going to fail. You just can’t focus.
How to Deal with the Psychological Aspects of the Job
Here’s what can happen when a top-level audio engineer is running sound at a live event:
SOMETHING GOES WRONG
No matter how skilled you are, there are things beyond your control. That’s part of the game. Therefore, start by knowing that not all problems are your fault. You will be responsible for rectifying them – that’s expected of you. I’ll show you how to plan for those in a future article.
But here’s the other thing:
EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES
The difference between rookie mistakes and mistakes of a pro come down to frequency and severity. By having certain processes in place, you can avoid the majority of mistakes. These are things you should learn and I will teach you soon. These play a huge part in my confidence level seconds before the service starts.
Why You Will Succeed
I’ve been around long enough to see and hear my share of production mistakes from others. When I think back on them, the only ones that stand out to me are the times when the audio tech obviously had no idea what they were doing and it was obvious they didn’t care.
Compare those to the times when a simple mistake was made and quickly rectified – I don’t immediately recall those. Your congregation likely won’t either. So let go a little of that fear.
Do you know why I had those AH HA moments when I first started learning Chinese? It’s because:
- I wanted to learn
- AND I was putting in the effort
- AND the more I learned, the faster the puzzle pieces fell into place.
You will succeed because you are reading this and desire to learn the art of church audio production.
You will succeed because you are putting in the effort.
You will succeed because you’ll accept that mistakes happen, things break, and soon you’ll know how to prevent mistakes and what to do when something does go wrong.
You’ll be at a place where suddenly all of the puzzle pieces of tech production will come together and when the day comes when something does break during a service, your first thought isn’t going to be, “RUN!” Instead, it’s going to be, “I’ve got this.”
Beware the Killer Self-Doubt
One area of self-doubt that can come up is the quality of your mix. I’ve had days when I thought my mix could have been better but felt like I couldn’t figure out how to improve it. What was I doing? Had I lost it?
A few thoughts on this:
- Some songs are harder to mix given the band and the arrangement.
- If the band, or even a musician, is having a bad day, that will affect the quality of your results.
- We should always strive to do our best.
- We should be willing to, during rehearsal, completely scrap our mix and start from scratch.
- We should always strive to improve, try something new, push ourselves beyond our comfort zones (best done during practice).
- When in doubt, ask.
It’s this last place where I want to finish.
I have times when I get stuck on a song. A time when I feel my mix isn’t where it should be. And when that happens, I just ask. I can ask my production director. If another audio guy is around, I’ll ask for his input. Many times, the response is the mix sounds great and nothing needs to change – a sign I was overthinking it. But, sometimes, I’ll get the suggestion to make a subtle change to a channel or effect and then the mix is exactly what I want.
Don’t think of doubting your mix as a problem. See it as you recognizing your need for someone else’s opinion, and that’s a good thing. And when you first start mixing, you should be doing this a lot. It’s not because you aren’t good at mixing, it’s because you’re just learning. Ok, maybe you aren’t good yet but my point is that asking will help you far more than just assuming you’ve got it down.
One Final Thought
Next time, I’ll get more into the negative psychological side of audio production and what you can do about it. I’ll cover everything from the normal anxiety to proactive work to how to receive complaints from the congregation.
If you’d like to know what to do during those rare times when something does go wrong during a service, check out this article: