Kent Morris can perform a one-man line check with ease. He’s a live sound engineer for those including Paul Baloche, Israel Houghton and In Touch Ministries. He writes for trade publications including Live Sound, runs Cornerstone Media, and works as an instructor at Peavy. So, when I had the opportunity to hear him speak at Sweetwater’s GearFest, I grabbed a seat.
His talk was titled, Navigating the Rapids of Live Sound, and he spoke on everything from venues and riders to stage plots and mixing methods. I took copious notes and have extracted out points that apply nicely to church audio. I’ve added my own thoughts as well.
1. Live sound is about creating unique experiences.
You might run three services per weekend but each congregation member only attends one and therefore, we need to make each one the best. The first two should not be practice for the third.
Kent said that during the event, we should mix the event and not think about what we could have done better. Save the production analysis until after the service. I’ve missed a mic cue or two because I was lost in thought about “what I should have done.”
2. Expect equipment failure.
His exact words were, “it worked great…just before the band played.” We need to be pro-active to prevent problems and we need to be professionally reactive when problems do occur. So when the computer, I mean digital console (think about it), decides to re-boot mid-service, tell the congregation it will take a few minutes for the system to come back online. Don’t freak out – be professional.
3. Anticipate the need.
Musicians have gear that uses batteries. Batteries die. Pastors bring in last minute guest speakers. Think about all of the last-minute problems and needs you’ve had. How many should you have anticipated?
4. Think who, what, when, where, and how.
For example, your church is going to have a worship night with two hours of music and musicians rotating in and out. How will you take care of this event? Think on those questions.
5. Simple wins every time.
You can mic anything with a wired Shure SM57 and it will sound good. Might not be great, depending on the application, but it works when you’re having RF problems. Same with mixing. You might have the latest digital console with 400 plug-ins but it doesn’t mean you should use each one.
6. Don’t be pressured into doing anything unsafe.
Kent spoke of a time when he was pressured by a city mayor to run audio outdoors during an impending thunderstorm (if I remember the story correctly) and he said, “you can buy all of my equipment and run it yourself, otherwise, it’s all going back in the truck.”
Whether it’s sketchy electronics from a musician or something else that could cause personal injury or fire, you have to draw a line and say, “no.”
7. Note power needs on stage plots.
Stage plots are a great way to plan for musician placement and audio production needs though we usually think only in terms of audio; mikes and cables and monitors. Note power needs like pedal board power and guitar amps because you’ll have to run power to them.
8. Plan for patching.
It used to be easy; a microphone was plugged into stage jack number 1 which went to mixer channel number 1. Now, with additional routing options, we can have mic #1 go into box #4 – plug #3, which goes to something else which ends up in channel 18.
Label all cable plugs with the patch plug where they go. Also keep a schematic at the console so when you have a problem, it’s easy to follow the path. We use this method and it’s great.
9. Unsure of volume – start low.
I’ve seen microphones passed around the congregation and I never know what I’m going to get. Start the fader volume on the low side and bring up. It’s not jarring to the audience as happens when you start loud and pull back.
10. All tasks matter.
They really do.
11. Use battery backups.
Digital consoles are computers so when the power goes out and comes back, they have to reboot. In the case of consoles with two power supplies, use the following; primary power supply is plugged into the wall and secondary power supply is plugged into a battery backup.
12. Know how to do a one-man line check.
Kent mentioned he does this (when he must) by using the Whirlwind Q-box. It can generate sound though a built-in speaker or through the output jacks so he can test everything on stage using the box.
During his talk, he said something with which I highly disagreed. Jokingly, he said audio techs are people who couldn’t make it as musicians. I’d explore this idea more, but I see my guitar needs dusting.
The Next Step
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