Now that you know the most important aspect of being a sound engineer – the heart – let’s get into some of the more practical things you will need to know to be good at your job. We aren’t going to talk about the specifics of running the soundboard just yet; we are going to look at some fundamental things you need to know in order to effectively run sound at your church. You may understand all of the technical aspects of sound but if you don’t know the following principles, none of that technical stuff with matter very much. Not only do you want to know these principles, but you want to put them to practice each and every time you are running sound. The following principles can be used as an abbreviated checklist of things to apply as you serve in the sound ministry at your church.
Be the First One There
This is arguably the most important principle on this list. As the sound person, you need to make sure that you do your best to have everything ready to go whenever the worship team is going to play, whether it is for the service or the rehearsal. You are in charge of setting up the stage and putting everything where it needs to go. This means that if the worship leader says rehearsal will start at 7:00, you will try to show up at 6:30 and make sure everything is set up and ready to go for when the team members being to show up at 6:45. This includes ensuring all microphones, direct boxes, and supplied instruments are in place. Being prepared and on time shows your team that you care about them and care about their productivity.
Know Your Team
Hopefully the team you run sound for will have consistent and committed members so that you can learn how each person plays or sings in order to set up and mix them effectively. But, even if you don’t always have the same people, you will learn to recognize a pattern of traits in people. For instance, some electric guitarists tend to want to be louder than they should and many singers tend to be more timid when singing alone. Knowing and understanding these types of things will help you get the most out of your team and out of your overall sound.
Know Your Audience
Knowing who is going to be sitting in the chairs at your service is very important when deciding how you are going to set the overall volume in the room. If you are mixing for a worship night you may want to err on the louder side, whereas if you are mixing for a regular service, you may want to mix it more conservatively. A general rule of thumb is to keep the level max between 90 – 95 db. Talk with your lead pastor and make sure that you are mixing in a way that will best fit your congregation and the vision of the church.
Know Your Stage and Your Room
When you are training and getting ready to mix sound at your church, you need to make sure you have a good idea of the acoustics of your room. Just like it is important to know your team members because of their unique sound, each room will have a different sound. Even more specifically, every room will have sections where it will be harder to hear one thing or another. This is why it is so important to move around while you are mixing sound, which we will talk more about later.
Know the Songs
Just like the worship team listens to the songs, the sound person needs to listen to the songs. For instance, if there is a guitar solo, you need to know where it is in the song as you may need to turn them up for that specific part of the song. Knowing what the instruments are doing at each point in the song is very important to how you mix. You have great control over how things will sound to the congregation so when the worship leader sends the email with the songs to you, make sure you listen to them.
Keep Mixes Consistent
There are two main areas that will need to be mixed: stage (monitors or in ear headphones) and house (rest of the room). You as the sound person can tweak and change the house volume depending on the song, but after things are set in the monitors for the worship team, don’t change them! The monitor mix is based on what each person on the stage needs to hear. It can be very frustrating for a worship team member when the sound on the stage is constantly changing. Find out what the team needs in their monitors and leave it that way.
Keep Stage Volume as Low as Possible
As the sound person, you will always need to protect against the levels becoming too loud. If you or your pastor set a boundary that you won’t let the decibel level go above 90 dB in the room, but the stage volume (measured from the auditorium) is at 87 dB, you have a problem because the level is already close to its max. Let the musicians know to ask for only what they absolutely need in their monitors to keep volume levels down. If they can’t hear something, the solution shouldn’t be to crank everything up, it should be to turn down what is not as critical in the mix.
Move Around the Room
You most likely have a sound booth or space at your church where you will mix the band and determine how things will sound. While it is good to do this, you also need to move around the room to hear how everything sounds. How things sound in the sound booth are not indicative of how things will sound in the middle, side, or front of the room. It is for the reason that you should walk around and listen to how each section sounds. While it is next to impossible to mix levels that will sound ideal everywhere you sit in the room, you want to get the best possible sound out of the room you are in.
Make the Vocals Priority
There are a lot of differing opinions on what needs to be loudest and most clearly heard in the mix. Although everything in the mix should be clearly heard, one thing, however, should always stand out above the rest: the lead vocals. The lead vocals are what people are being led by, so they need to be heard and they need to be clear.
Understand Each Instrument Is Unique
Every instrument has a unique sound. While you are equalizing, your goal is to bring out the unique properties of the instrument to get as natural of a sound as possible (like an un mic’d version of the instrument) and give it a place in the mix. For example, the electric guitar may need more mid-high frequencies to be able to cut through the mix, and the bass may need to be given more mid-low frequencies to fill the bottom end of the sound. We will talk more about this concept in our trainings to come.
- In your opinion, what do you think is going to be the hardest part about being a sound engineer? Why?
- Why do you think it is important that you apply these principles when mixing sound?
- Do you agree that the vocals need to be the clearest in the mix? Why or why not?
- Out of the ten principles listed, what do you think are the top three in order of importance? Why?
- Which of these principles do you think will be hardest to implement? Explain.
- Would you add any other points to this list? Explain why or why not.
- TAKEAWAY: Meet with a mentor and talk through each of these points. Have them answer any questions that you may have. Beyond that, think through how you are going to apply each of these principles to your sound ministry.