In the early days of Behind the Mixer (way before the podcast), I interviewed a number of people and today, I’ve consolidated those interviews into the following highlights. Many of them have moved to new churches, retired, or even moved on to something new, but their words remain relevant and helpful. Oh, and there’s also a great “nightmare story” mentioned.
Q: What’s the best part of your job?
A: That there is a purpose behind what we do. I think that all of us who run sound dream of going on tour with a band. But what we do each week hopefully has a positive impact on people’s lives. It is so important to never forget that. It is extremely easy to get caught up in the technical aspect of what we do and lose sight of our ultimate goal, to facilitate worship and win people for Christ.
Q: What’s the hardest instrument to amplify correctly and how do you do it?
A: Gotta be the kick drum. If you can make the kick drum sound natural, you can EQ anything. Almost always, there’s too much click from the beater or too much low thump, or both. And few kick drums sound great to begin with. I use two microphones; one is on the inside on the pillow, usually a pencil condenser. The second is a Shure Beta 52 kick drum mic placed at the sound hole.
I boost 2kHz on the Shure and give it a HPF while the pencil condenser gets a LPF. Usually that microphone also gets a very narrow Q boost at a low frequency that sounds smooth in the room, 47Hz, 54Hz or 67Hz are popular boost points. All that’s left is to balance the faders between the click and the thump. Job done.
Q: A musician walks in with an acoustic upright bass. The bass has no built-in electronics. How do you mic it?
A: This has happened to me several times this year believe it or not! I’ve tried several things with different levels of success. The last thing I used was an AKG 414 on a short stand at bridge height between the f-hole and bridge. I really liked the results and will use that again if the room allows. I’ve also used wireless lapel mics on the bass player, on the bridge and clipped to the inside of the f-hole.
It really depends what sound you need, I usually try to have a “safe” mic and an “experimental” mic that way I have options! I highly recommend that you try things even if you mute them during a service, try a second mic on a source and see what you can do with it. That’s the fun part!
Q: Everyone has a nightmare story as it relates to running church audio. What is yours?
A: We had a pretty well-known Christian artist come to our church. I started sound checking with his manager. I thought he was just getting starting levels before the artist came out. When I asked if the artist was coming out he said “No – I’m just doing the check for him”. Sure enough, the artist came out and we had all kinds of problems. The monitors were not right and he couldn’t figure out our mic stand that had a hand clutch to raise and lower the mic. The concert was pretty rough.
Q: What tip you would give a new sound volunteer?
A: Take every opportunity to build relationships with the musicians. Building trust with them will allow you to have difficult conversations and they will know your heart in the matter. My best friend was a worship pastor at my church years ago. Because of our friendship we shared everything with each other. It was easy to tell each other something wasn’t working and help find a better solution.
[And] Never leave home without a two Sharpies (black and silver) and some gaff tape. I keep some in my car, seriously. Yes, I’m aware of my extreme geekiness.
Q: One of your sound techs mentioned you came from a background in live TV production. What did you learn in that job that helped you as a technical director?
A: The majority of my career was as a video editor and producer but I did freelance for about a year doing live sports; minor league baseball, hockey and Arena football. Here a couple things I learned from that experience:
- If you’re 15 minutes early you’re late.
- When your job is done don’t leave (or might not get paid) see who needs help, and help them finish. No-one could leave until the crew chief called all clear.
- One thing I observed that has affected me is the awful way people get treated during productions. Directors get be very verbally abusive. I do not tolerate that type of behavior and communication during our services. It sounds like an obvious, but you’d be surprised how tense it can get when you strive for excellence without a focus on maintaining unity.
Q:What’s the best tip you received that helped improve your mixing ability?
A: An FOH engineer once said to me, “You can only turn the ‘suck’ knob down so far…” After that though, it would have to be “start with the vocals.” I primarily mix in church environments, so for me the key is always making sure the vocals are present in the mix. This gives the congregation confidence to sing out. So before I get the guitar screamin’ or the kick thumping, I will work on getting a good vocal sound.
Once the vocals are dialed in, I’ll start with the foundation; kick and bass. I build guitars and keys on top of that, then fill in the rest of the drum kit and anything else floating around. I’ve found it’s a lot easier to build the band in under the vocals than to try to get the vocals on top of the band.
Q: If you could give words of advice to someone new to church audio production, what would it be?
A: Don’t lose sight of the purpose. It’s easy to get caught up in the toys and the production element, but it all comes back to getting the gospel out in the most effective way. And don’t think you need a big budget to do things well. My budget has been under $2000 the last couple of years. Training, planning, and attention to detail to cover a multitude of fund-lessness.
Q: What is the best way you have found to bring about a team-focused attitude between the tech crew and the worship teams?
A: Relationships, roles and responsibilities all come all play a part in this. I look at my tech people as the same team. The relationship is that the tech booth is part of the band, the band is part of tech booth. Some cross-training helps as well. When some on either teams can blend their skill it helps. However, clearly defining roles and what each is counted on for is important. A guitarist must tune his guitar and be prepared and on time. A sound engineer must know the patching and the music as well. All of this is helped with tools like Planning Center (highly recommend) where what we are doing, who is doing what and what we are doing is all organized.
Q:Why do you think there is a perceived rift between sound tech’s and worship leaders?
A: Well, first and foremost, because we worship leaders usually have a really, really difficult time simply admitting, ‘Hey, I was off-key on that part. It had nothing to do with my monitor mix, or the reverb levels, or what mic the sound guy set up for me.’ Instead, we blame the easiest one to blame, the sound tech. And I include myself in this, too. And maybe we don’t do it all the time, but it only takes one bad day for bad blood to start. Just once, I think we should try taking responsibility for a bad Sunday, even if it really was the sound tech’s fault. I think we’ll be surprised by how far that goes.
And secondly, we need to remember that on the average, worship leaders are artistic wackos. Sound guys on average are tech wackos. Not all the time, but just in general. So while the worship leader will drive the sound tech crazy by not letting him work on the issue of none of the subs turning on because he still has too much treble on his acoustic guitar eq in the monitor. But at the same time, the sometimes the sound guy will drive the worship leader crazy by trying to chase the 60 cycle hum that no one can seem to hear but him, while meanwhile the drummer has nothing in his monitor. So learning to understand each other is huge!
The sound tech should try really hard to come half way and start listening to music, and learning more about how to mix music then just how to make sure that everything is running properly and efficiently. And the worship leader should maybe take a week off and run the sound for a Sunday so he can learn how everything is hooked up. It’ll give him a much better understanding of what the sound guy goes through, and how to not cause the sound techs problems by hooking something up wrong. I try and do this every few months…..it just really gives you an appreciation for how incredibly difficult running sound really is.
Q:What mistakes do you see sound operators make when it comes to EQ’s and mixing guitars?
A: With acoustic guitars, over mixing the highs to the point where they’re shrill. With a full band playing at once, this isn’t as noticeable, but once an acoustic player is out front all alone, shrill tone is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Interestingly this is a problem I’ve even seen with notable Christian artists in concert.
With electrics, the problems I notice are not finding the right levels, (too cranked or too soft) or having too much of the low-mid/low frequencies that make the overall sound extremely muddy. I absolutely love sound guys that understand how an electric guitar works, and can communicate what changes need to be made to get the sound quality as good as possible considering the environment being played in.
The Next Step
If you dig interviews, here’s the first interview I did on the Behind the Mixer Podcast: