Problem – The wrong sound tech

It takes the right person to mix sound.

Too many people want to treat the sound system like an appliance. Turn it on, leave it alone, don’t mess with it. That is NOT how it works and never will be.

It’s like buying an $85,000 grand piano. You don’t buy the thing then get mad and bent out of shape when it won’t play itself. If it makes terrible music we all know it’s the player not the piano. But let a sound system go into feedback or a wireless mic not work and before the sun sets a sound committee is forming ready to throw out that piece of junk and replace it railing against the contractor that put it in to boot! When in fact, you first need to see if there is something broken, next see if the speaker system is the problem, and lastly put your sound tech choice under a microscope.

Come to terms with, wrap a big bear hug, around this fact:

You must have a qualified sound tech if you ever expect to get the sound you want . . . .
. . . . . even if you have to pay for it to get it.

A sound system is really a musical instrument and is to be “played”. That is why those faders have finger notches and slide up and down. That why there is a sea of knobs to turn. They move for a reason.

Most people don’t have a clue how to mix sound. That’s the problem and a major challenge I face every time I install a system. I can design and install the best sound systems you’ve ever heard. But who is going to sit behind that console when I leave? That person can take my system and make a service flow with joy and the worship experience. Or that person can ruin the best efforts I have put into it and everyone else on the platform. A poor sound tech can hold every ministry hostage. And some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Would you buy that $85,000 grand piano and search for a volunteer or two willing to attempt to play it? Of course not. But church folk do that same thing with a sound system and get mad when it doesn’t sound good.

Assuming you have the right sound system for your acoustic space and application, the only reason you don’t have breath taking musical performances is because your sound tech only knows how to turn up and down the master volume and start a CD player. That is not a sound tech.

To be fair most folks have volunteers doing the best they can to fill in a place they feel they can be of some help and have never had any sound mixing classes of any type. But in this case, doing your best won’t get the job done.

I am not a pianist. You could put me behind the best piano ever built and I couldn’t play a tune if my life depended on it. But I would reliable. I’d try it every Sunday morning. I’d do my best. And irritate everyone in the building, drive the music director insane, and embarrass the people that talked everyone into to buy it.

It would be obvious that the reason any “song” I would attempt to play sounds terrible is because of my inability to play. We separate the fault of the piano from my skill to play. The same thing applies to sound systems but it’s not obvious that the sound tech is the problem because most folks want to think a sound system is an appliance – not an instrument.

Naturally you need decent sound equipment just as an accomplished pianist can sound better on a well built instrument rather a piece of junk. But a good player can make a rental piano sound great and someone like me that can’t play a lick make a fine instrument sound awful. I don’t care how simple or sophisticated your system is. I guarantee I can make it sound better than it has when I sit behind the console. I know how to “play” the mix. The point is, know that you need both: the right sound system to fit your application and acoustics along with a good sound tech.

A sound tech MUST have an ear for music. Must, must, must! There is no exception. When I offer to train the sound tech on a new system or for any client, the first thing I ask is “Do you play an instrument?” They don’t have to play well, just have enough experience to know what to listen for. Then I perform a couple of simple listening tests on the prospect to find out what I need to teach. I can teach what the knobs do and how the system is set up. I cannot teach the art of hearing the mix at least not in such a simple environment. I do offer a “hearing the mix” class starting at $3,500. The class is expensive because of the enormous time commitment it takes.

The art of hearing the mix is what it’s all about. A technical genius that is tone def is worthless behind the mixer. It’s not about “technical stuff”. It’s all about knowing what to listen for and what to do about it at the right time. It’s art. It’s hearing the mix. It’s about hearing the texture, the grainiest of the mix. It’s about hearing problems coming and fixing them before the audience is aware of it.

The right sound tech becomes part of the mixer and the choir director’s mind. The sound tech knows to build the mix as the crescendo is coming so the audience is captivated by the dynamics and feels the emotion of the music. The sound tech can anticipate where the choir director is headed measure by measure. It’s like the sound tech knows what the music director is thinking. And all of this happens in such a way that the sound system and sound tech blend into the background and are never noticed by the audience. All the audience knows is they’ve had an outstanding worship experience. And that’s exactly what you want!

Your choice of sound tech is critical. I cannot state this enough. You must put as much thought into your choice as you would choose your music director. Yes – it’s that important.

One final point. Is your sound tech hearing EXACTLY the same sound the audience is hearing?

You can have a great sound tech but handicap that person by putting them behind glass, in a closed in room, an alcove, or in some spot where they are not hearing the same sound the audience hears. The ARTICUALTION COVERAGE TEST© can find out.

 


 

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