How do I get control of my room?

By request, I am going to share some solutions we found to common situations. Churches and clubs both have similar issues. Sound systems under high demand, low budgets, inadequately trained techs and usually unprofessional talent.

The problem with the talent is often, they don’t understand reality.

I have, without making this stuff up, watched singers point microphones into a floor wedge and yell at me over the feedback. They just stand there, with the mic hanging at their side, while it makes those funny dolphin noises.

“There’s something wrong with these speakers.” Yep. Seriously.

The were only three solution I could figure out. One. Explain why it was feeding back as diplomatically as possible. Two. Strap a football helmet on them and duct tape the mic in the ideal position. Three. Just kill them.
The diplomatic explanation is usually the best way to go. Regardless of how you feel at the moment.

I have also had them turn monitors away from them because they were too loud or distracting. Naturally, they complain later that they can’t hear.

Not just the church crowd here. I had a nationally known rapper do this. He went out and had a small rampage on stage, knocking things over during a “song” and then yelled at me because he couldn’t hear. I just pointed at the monitors, now aiming toward the walls and audience. Then I pointed at all the lovely red lights flashing on my limiters. “Sorry. That’s it.”

Confession. I hate working rap shows. Multiple reasons and experiences. I literally refused a thousand dollar day rate to work festivals featuring rappers. Just too many bad experiences with too many arrogant and violent people. Not interested. Not worth it.

How about stage volume? Anyone ever fought that monster?

Live drums? Automatically have to raise all levels to gear over them. Guitar amps onstage? More volume to get above those. That keyboard player who brings his own sound system so he can hear himself in stereo. Another 10 decibels of noise to deal with. Add in a large choir with enough monitors to cover them and a full band who always needs “just a little more,” and you have chaos.

What is the solution? Take control. Someone has to.

If this is a church, talk to the music or senior pastor. But first, make sure you have a legitimate solution. Again, attitude is everything. Don’t go in angry. Go in looking for solutions.

Here’s the part most people don’t like. Ready?

Not everyone is going to like you. Really. In fact, most unprofessional singers and musicians are not going to like anyone who tells them the difference between this world and the one they live in. I still have people, church members, who hate me. Just for trying to explain reality to them.

“I need to sing a special this morning. We need to edit this tape and take out the second and third chorus. I want the lighting to change like this. We need seven microphones for my other singers.”
Not making this up, either. A woman actually came to me with this, ten minutes into a church service. Not a professional singer. Not a regular vocal team member. Someone who I never heard sing before. Guess what I told her.
“No. It’s not possible. We can work that out for next week, if we can get together for specifics. But I can’t do any of that right now.”
She still hates me. Ten years later that woman will still tell you that I am a jerk.

Part of problem solving is making decisions. Part of making decisions is separating what is realistic and what is not. Part of that process usually means telling someone they can’t have things that only exist in their imagination. Physics never requires your opinion to work.

Something else to consider is who gets to be the bad guy. If you are truly there in a support role, don’t make the pastor or music director take the hit. You tell them no. The whole performance can suffer when the resentment from the ignorant points toward their leader. Sometimes you just have to take that bullet for them. Don’t have them translate your solutions and suggestions. Talk to your people.

Another person approached me with this grand idea of suspending a live human from a cable, suspended fifteen feet over an audience of other live people. They planned to swing them out of the balcony and lower them into the crowd.
They had no understanding of construction or safety or apparently gravity, either. They just assumed that because it worked in their head, the laws of nature would just cooperate.
“Nope. Not unless you are planning to build a suitable steel structure that we can have professionally installed and inspected. It’s not going to happen. You are not gambling anyone’s life on that.”
They didn’t like me, either.

Oh. Yeah. The vintage guitar player on the stage. What about that guy? You know the one. He has a heavily worn guitar so everyone can tell he plays a lot. He has an amplifier that weighs nine metric tons and produces more noise than a space shuttle launch. Most of them also have a rack full of crap and pedal boards that look like something from a bad science fiction movie. These guys will demand that their sound be left at a certain ridiculous volume because that’s where it has the perfect tone. Even though your room only holds 200 people, he plays like it’s an open air amphitheater with ten thousand fans. Want to know how to deal with that guy?

A massive dose of reality.

That tone, the one he will fight to protect, is only there where he stands. Have someone else play through his rig and take him into the middle of the room. Does it sound the same? Nope.
Everything affects that tone. The microphone on the cabinet. The cable it plugs into. The mixers. The amps. The speakers. The size and shape of the room. The carpet. The audience. The various levels of hearing damage he has already inflicted on everyone. All of that affects his precious tone.
The best solution? He has to trust you to help him reproduce that tone. Offer to help him make the audience hear what he hears. Seriously.

If that amp has to be at jet engine levels, it can’t be on stage. Find a closet storage room and stick that amp in there. Run a microphone to it and adjust the volume, mic position and EQ until his monitor sounds like that amp. He gets his tone, you get control of the stage volume. Then you can add him into the house and monitors as part of a mix.

Drums need to get a drum shield or go digital. One or the other. Mic them and feed them to his monitor or headphones. He may not hit as hard when they hurt his ears like everyone else’s. it’s hard to teach drummers finesse. But you can beat them into submission with a solid headphone mix.

The problem is that you lose control of the house mix when stage volume dominates it. Think about it. The house speakers are focused at your audience. They create direct, controlled sound for your audience.
One monitor, turned towards a rear wall bounces off and then adds delayed, indirect sound to the house mix. Add a few more. Then add guitar amps, that are physically twenty milliseconds behind the mains from the rear of the stage. Add a snare that is doing the same thing. Then stack it up because everyone needs to hear themselves over the guy next to them.

Madness. You cannot mix the house clean, when the monitors are dominating the room with muddy crap.

Take control. Explain the problem. Explain the solutions.

If its important for them to sound good to the audience, the stage volume has to compromise. They can’t have a full, clean house mix when the monitors are just as loud as the house. Pick one. One has to back down.

Now. Hear this, too. If you are a volunteer tech who barely knows which end of a mic to sing into, do not jump up there making decisions. Sit down. Read more. Ask questions. Find solutions. Get on the same page as the music director and pastor.
If you know there’s a problem, but don’t know a proven solution, don’t act like you do. You will make it worse.

The best way to solve these problems is by finding solutions. Not by making more problems. Guessing and arguing is not finding solutions.

My book will be out soon. There’s going to be a whole lot more about this covered in there. Stay tuned.

4 Responses to“How do I get control of my room?”

  1. August 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Very well written… as a church sound operator I undersand Exactly what you are saying…. But this applies at many gigs… not just church…

    • August 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Yep. I agree. It was a response for another reader asking how to deal with musicians sabotaging the services. Thanks for the support.

  2. August 22, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post, Erik — this is *really* helpful information. In one post you’ve described several problems I’ve already dealt with in my limited time volunteering at church! My big takeaway is that until I have more time behind the board at church, I need to keep clear lines of communication open with our technical director. I have no problem talking with the musicians about my concerns, but so far, in my limited experience – it just hasn’t made a difference. Maybe I don’t lack “authority” or am not confrontational enough. I have no problem being the “bad” guy — but I also have no problem admitting when I don’t know something. And right now, there’s more that I don’t know than I do.

  3. August 22, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    I don’t know if confrontational is the goal. Think of it more like helping coach them towards excellence. However, you can’t coach a game you don’t know how to play. Keep on reading. Prosoundweb.com has hundreds of great articles.
    I will gladly help you navigate through the muck as a much as I can.

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