Church Sound: Learning The Foundational Stuff


Do not read this article.

You’re probably looking for technical advice and I’m not that guy.

We have many fine authors on PSW, including Chris Huff and Mike Sessler and Curt Taipale and many others for that. They’re the church sound gurus. Not me.

I’m just the guy who writes the foundational stuff about survival. Not losing your mind. Dealing with pastors and leaders and your own families. All the stuff we already know but sometimes forget.

But since you’ve already read this far, you obviously want the foundational stuff. The first statement told you not to read this, yet here you are. Let’s get started.

Following Directions
This area obviously needs work, since I just told you not to read the article.

The fact is, church sound is a support ministry. Nobody comes to church to watch us work. In fact, I was taught that the only reason anyone knows we are there is because we goofed something up.

Forget to turn the pastor’s mic on, allow feedback to roll around, leave a bad cable plugged in making noise for two weeks in a row, forget to turn the pastor’s mic off when he leaves the platform… That’s when everyone wants to know who we are.

We exist to support the ministry and help translate the vision of the pastor and worship leader to the congregation. We make the magic happen by doing this professionally and with a good attitude.

We do this by learning and growing, by asking questions, and by listening. We don’t do this by being un-teachable and arrogant.

Treating It Like A Ministry
It is. Like I said, it’s about support and translation. We support the vision and ministry of the church. We translate the music and message through all that beautiful gear and out to our people.

Ministry really means service anyway. If ministry means something else to you, sort that out now. It doesn’t mean spotlight on us and make all the decisions. It doesn’t mean we fail if nobody sings our praises at the end of service.

If we don’t treat this like our personal ministry, we become bitter and/or constantly search for the next promotion. It’s not a foot in the door to “real ministry” or a stepping stone to something better. If that is how you see it, don’t get comfortable in that mix position. You will move on. One way or another.

Learning To Mix
To the new people, this seems like the entire reason we’re here. Like that person who joins the Air Force to fly planes. There’s a whole lot of training that has to happen before anyone allows someone to take a gazillion dollars worth of gear out for a joy ride.

Unless you really enjoy the thought of crashing and burning, slow down and go through the process.

If you aren’t willing to roll cables, clean up the stage and sound booth, show up on time and do the small stuff, then you shouldn’t be trained mix. Show yourself faithful in the details and then, eventually, you’ll be shown how to work with the big toys.

Mixing is an art form. It’s a balance between multiple skills. Technical skills to understand what’s being controlled and how to do it. Musical skills to feel and hear the balance and blending of tones to create pleasing sounds. Diplomatic skills to understand the people we’re serving, as well as becoming a part of the team. All of that comes together when we mix.

One skill is not enough, and they’re not learned overnight.

And don’t just jump into mixing with a full congregation or audience. Assist the front of house tech, watch them work. Learn the monitor system and how the sound check works. Mix rehearsals. Work the conferences and classrooms. Work your way up through the ranks so you’re actually prepared when it matters.

Ah, yes. That awe-inspiring ability to find and solve any problem that arises. The spectacular skill-set that allows someone to “just know” what’s wrong and spring into corrective action.

This is what separates the veterans from the beginners. Reaction time and deep understanding of the system do not happen spontaneously. The ones who solve problems, faster than most even acknowledge them, have been doing this for a very long time.

Troubleshooting comes down to true understanding. Simple. If you’ve set that system up hundreds of times, you know how it should work and why it doesn’t. If you’ve been mixing for years, you know when something is wrong and what it takes to fix it.

No matter how long we’ve been doing this, we need our foundation to be solid. It’s built on everything I’ve covered here, and doing it right will help in maintaining a position for as long as you desire.

Now. Go do it.

Senior editor M. Erik Matlock has worked in professional audio for more than 20 years in live, install, and recording. Read more of his random rants and tirades here.

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