Imagine your musicians in a classroom. Imagine the door is padlocked so they can't leave. You are the instructor. You can teach them anything you want about sound. That's exactly what I'll be doing in two months and this is what I'll teach them.
First off, I'm not going to padlock the room. Our musicians, for the most part, know that when I make recommendations to them on anything audio that it's because it will benefit the listeners – the congregation. I'll be teaching a thirty-minute session during a worship workshop and my goal is simple; teach the musicians specific skills that will improve their sound.
1. Proper Monitor Usage. There are three components in proper monitor usage; volume, distance, and mix.
A. Volume. Stage monitors, specifically the floor wedges, can be so loud as the sound reflects off the back wall and makes the house mix sound muddy. The monitor volume should be set for playing in sync and singing in the same key. The monitors are not like IEM's and therefore the volume level must be respected.
B. Distance. The closer the musician is to the monitor, the less volume they need to hear. The inverse square law makes this point clear. When they practice two feet away from the monitor yet move back four feet during the performance, they likely won't hear the monitor and the solution is not more volume.
C. Mix. The monitor mix needs differ per person. A common "universal" solution we've found is that monitors get a low house mix and then we bring up the levels for the channels they need. They don't need a loud full mix and then more of themselves. "More me" in the monitor can be an indication of too much of something else.
2. Proper Vocal Microphone Usage. We've all seen the problems which can be observed as either 1) eating the microphone or 2) holding it by their naval. Therefore, I'll be teaching them about;
A. The proximity effect. The proximity effect says the closer you hold the microphone to your mouth, the more bass response you'll hear in the microphone. While the topic of different microphones and their ability to deal with the proximity effect is a great one for us audio folks, it's not something I want to thrust upon the musicians. Promiity effect is something you and I cn remove with a little EQ and on point C you'll see why this is necessary.
B. A crazy little thing called gain. When they hold their microphone too far away from their mouth, I can't set the proper gain level, which means they might not get heard by the congregation.
C. The proper microphone location. Holding the microphone consistently up to their mouth, I can make their voice sound its best and guarantee they will have a perfect fit in the house mix. They need to know why that's important and that knowledge will promote change. They also need to hold it at the correct angle.
[Note: Dave Stagl made an excellent point in the comments that I should have mentioned. The farther away the microphone from the singer's mouth, the more gain required and the more likely stage noise like cymbols, monitor wedges, etc. can make their way into the microphone. We can deal with the proximity effect but we can't take out those extra sounds.]
3. Understanding Signal Flow. I'm not talking about an hour long dissertation into the realm of audio engineering. The point of teaching them about the concept of signal flow is getting them to know their inputs from their outputs. Audio cables and plugs aren't like electrical cables where it's easy to know what gets plugged into where. An input plug on a DI box looks the same as an output plug. The instrumentalists should be able to know how to plug in their equipment into the stage and when/where DI boxes are required. It's not directly "improving their sound" but if it's saving time during setup, which gives them more time to practice and me more time to work on their mix.
4. Proper Usage of Sonic Space. You and I can only work with what the band gives us. Therefore, let's have them give us the best sound possible! Teaching about sonic space, I can explain to them how to bring depth to a song. I can explain how depth is what can take a song from "ok" to "great." This might be through the usage of guitar capos or a background singer singing at a different octave or different piano arrangement that allows for the guitar in a song to shine. Song depth means more emotional appeal. Isn't that their goal?
Our musicians have picked up a lot of this information from me over the years but we've never had a formal training. This way, I'll know that ALL the musicians will have the same knowledge. You might want to teach a small class yourself but you are stuck with the question…
But what about…
"…the fact that the worship leader is territorial?"
"…the fact that our musicians think they know everything?"
You and I hear what the congregation hears. You and I have a job to create the best sound possible. Approach your worship leader with the idea of a "small and simple" training session that shows how they can get a better overall sound. Tell them your mixer is like a huge musical instrument and that, like the musicians, you are trying to play the best music possible so the audience feels the emotional impact of the music.
How to teach the class
I'll be holding the class in the sanctuary so I can demonstrate the topics that I'm teaching. A singer will eat a microphone or stand 2 feet away from a monitor and then set back a few feet. The more "hands on" the teaching, the more memorable it will be. I've used this method whenever I've taught anything to a group and recommend you use it as well.
I've taught techie skills to musicians one-on-one. It's a great feeling to later see them teach others. I guarantee that the quality of sound I get from the musicians after my training session will be noticeably better than where it is now. And if you teach it from the perspective of "we're all on the same team" then I guarantee you'll see great results as well.
Question(s): What Would You Like To Teach Your Musicians?
Thought? Questions? Comments?