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Big Digital Sound Boards & Church Sound Guys

Whew – tough title. It’s sad but true, in the professional audio engineer world, church sound guys get a bad reputation. They’re stereotyped. More often than not, they are the electrical / technology aware and savvy folks who are recruited into running sound. This poses a challenge to these friends because they may not know anything about sound and frequencies, nor anything about music or how a band should be mixed. Thus the sound coming through the speakers during services may be less than ideal. I do believe that everyone is trainable and has the ability to learn new things, and I’ve met many church sound team members who are open to learning how to run sound better which is awesome and the mindset that they need to have. Granted it’s also church sound engineers who deal with the most amount of politics of trying to have to please the congregation on a happy medium for a loudness, or quietness if you will, level.

Last night I was hired by Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago (the same church that Senator Barack Obama attends) to come in for the afternoon and train their new sound engineers and stick around through part of a worship band practice and help them learn the ropes a little bit. They have two Yamaha PM1D digital sound boards which is the same consoles that Willow Creek uses, which is also why I was hired as I have a pretty fair amount of experience around the console. Historically, this church has hired outside sound engineers to mix their services, however they are wanting to transition to having in-house engineers on staff that mix the services from week to week. I was working with two engineers (who I believe were hired that same day) who both had watched the professionals on the console, but never had hands-on experience. They both really caught on well and had a lot of good questions and the whole evening I felt was a positive experience for them.
This was fun for me as well – the south side of Chicago is where Caucasian folks are the minority, definitely a change of pace which felt awkward, but in a good way too – allowing me to experience what other minorities might experience in our world. The worship practice was nothing short of a full African American culture too with lots of feeling and soul behind the music, etc.
There are times where I feel a lack of confidence. Despite the fact that I have toured for many years, ran sound in….sheesh, maybe 350 different rooms? Been on staff at Willow as a sound engineer, hired by multiple bands, etc., there are shows where I just feel uneasy and nervous on how the sound is going and question myself on if I really know what I’m doing. Man – that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Then there are days that are polar opposites and I feel like I’m hitting a home run. This training session was a positive experience for me as they, makes me laugh, considered me the “Yamaha Expert”. This past week I mixed monitors for the midweek service at Willow and some of the band members were commenting me on that it was one of the best monitors mixes they have ever had. What a compliment, but at the same time, what a standard to keep having to live up to! 🙂
I absolutely love running sound and having the opportunity to have 24 channels of a quality band at my fingertips. It’s a competitive field though…running sound and being an audio engineer. I think that’s what makes me loose confidence sometimes if I have a few bad shows in a row. If you can’t make it sound good or do your job well, there are plenty of others out there who can. Maybe it’s that mentality too that keeps me striving forward and learning new tricks here and there and trying to make every mix that I have my hands on the best that I can. Who knows, maybe I’ll even get to run sound a few more times.
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