Consultants and the right Sound System

I was reading a forum and someone was expressing frustration with consultants. This person had brought in several consultants to help that person's church determine what to do to install a new PA. The person has been at this for a year and had received so many different answers that this person seemed frustrated in not having a decisive answer agreed upon to present to the church. . . .

A consultant is expected to provide a solution to a problem that has many viable answers. These answers are viable because just like a car, a sound system is made up of many parts. So just like there are many options when choosing a car, there are many options for the final sound solution. That is why the consultants don't like giving pat answers and why like the original thread of the "It depends" noted all of the frustration in lack of decisiveness that he felt with consultants. Every church is expecting different performance specifications. When I was touring, the PA that I had met our specs so it worked in multiple locations to varying degrees of success.

So with the car analogy, there are brand decisions and the cost differences related there. Each brand has different specs involved. Why do some people spec some brands over another? Well simply, it has to do with the concern over reputation. Why the concern? That is how you get your jobs and keep your family fed. Just like my mechanic will not ever tell me to go down to the giant megastore (you folks in arkansas know) to get parts for my car, but go to certain parts companies that cost more. He doesn't want inferior (in his opinion) performance to affect my opinion of him. The consultant will spec and and use stuff he trusts.

Everyone must make their profit. Otherwise they wouldn't be feeding the family. But, where this profit is made will vary from company and such.

Consultants that only consult make it straight. They make money off of their knowledge not equipment. Also, the cost the consultant will charge will also be based on his reputation (perceived expertise). So it is simple. The less the client knows what they want, the more time it takes to figure it out. The more it costs to consult the job. (BTW - this idea works with other contractors in the building trade - hence the reason a good architect is worth it.)

Installation and design/build folks can put that profit in several areas. They have the design/consultant area, they have the equipment area, they have the installation labor area. That is why you can take two bids with two similar systems and get ranges. If you are spec'ing specific equipment, some guys can't get it direct and go through wholesalers, therefore another discrepancy.

One thing that I do to try to get a better feel for an apples to apples comparison is to have just racks and stacks as well as FOH console and speaker processing bid on first. This limits the choices that the people make, allowing me to see what is going on in the bid. Plus, the items above are the bulk of any PA cost. Once I choose the company I wish to use, then I will ask for a comprehensive bid but with the new items separated out.

If I was a small church, I would make friends with larger churches that are doing something similar to your vision. The larger churches will have more experienced staff that can be a valuable asset. I know that in the large church that I worked for the smaller children's rooms were set up with the same amount of equipment that a smaller church would use in the main auditorium. Visit several of these churches and take notes. Most larger church engineers seem willing to help for not much if anything since they already have their day job. They usually won't be able to provide the services nor attention that a consultant can but most smaller situations don't need that to get something usable. But they can tell you what they would do based on their experiences.

All in all, the creating of a PA is like making a car. There are so many decisions that affect other decisions in the process, it is very hard to get the exact same answer from different consultants or installation companies. There are usually several "right" sound systems for a situation and not everyone will agree upon what is the best between the "right" choices. But that doesn't make any of the "right" choices wrong, just different.

My daughter turned 16 and wanted a car. I got her something that gets good gas mileage, fairly reliable, decently safe, and didn't cost much (since statistics show the first car accident happens in the first five years) nor required a loan. It is a good car and it meets the needs to get around. But she wanted something that looked cool, got worse gas mileage, wasn't as safe, and would require getting a loan. It took years before she saw the wisdom of my decision. I was her consultant. Still, I had a choice of many different cars that met her needs. If someone else was consulted, she may have gotten a different car. It would have cost a different amount as well. But I am sure that a good "consultant" would have chosen a car based on similar criteria and not hers. If that was the case, then who was right? The cheapest? The most reliable? All I know is that her decision wasn't. Why? She didn't have the experience to make a good one.

rules when putting in a new install

Rule of thumb when planning conduits underground in a building.

If you need 1, put in 2.
If you need 1" pipe, put in 2" pipe.
For main runs from FOH to amp or stage location never use anything smaller than 4" .
A pipe filled more than half full is full.

PVC pipe is relatively cheap and the cost difference between 2" and 4" is negligible. It is extremely, significantly (can I make the point even stronger?) cheaper to put pipe in the ground when the building is being built than later.

Always put your pipe the deepest into the ground, save sewer and water.
Never run your pipe within 2 feet of electrical.

Electrical rule of thumb.

Always run your own ground and ground rod.
Spec an isolated ground buss bar in the breaker panel.
Don't forget to use isolated ground receptacles.
Get audio/video on its own isolation transformer.
Make sure that every location that the audio/video system is plugged in is run back to the same box.

the subsnake style of wiring

I can't tell you how many churches that I have been in where there are cables running from one side of the stage to the other. Interesting phenomenon. Like a audio spider web set up to entangle whoever is walking across stage that is being "managed" through judicious use of tape that will eventually mess up the carpet.

What causes this mess? Well, designers have always assumed that once you decide where things are going to be on stage that you will never change. Therefore, they have created this notion that you put floor pockets here and there to meet the current needs. That may have worked years ago, but today's production environment is in constant flux.

So why not do what I did at the last church I worked for. Before settling into a situation with an installed PA system, my experience was with portable and roading systems. You utilized the sub-snake concept.

The concept is simple. You have the main bundle of inputs (snake or whatever) come to either one or two locations and run smaller bundles or snakes from there.

In my auditorium, I had the main snake run to an XLR patch panel in the amp room which was located just behind the stage. This represented the back of the console, so I never needed to crawl over the large console to make patches. Plus I knew that 1 on the snake to the FOH was 1 on the console.

From back stage I had 6 locations permanent boxes (in one auditorium there was a privacy wall and we put panels on the backside of the wall to save cost) on the stage. Drum booth, Stage Left Back, Stage Right Back, Mid center stage, Pulpit Left, Pulpit Right. The general rule was to put in more inputs in these locations than what you needed. So 12x4 in drum booth, 24x4 stage left and in stage right, 8x2 mid center stage, 2x1 in both pulpit locations. All of these locations came back to that patch panel and I used 2 foot XLR's for patching.

Why XLR patchbay? Normal patchbays need to be "cleaned" at least once a year with the expensive ones or monthly on cheap ones. You have to buy patch cables and enough that you don't run out. In the XLR patchbay, you can use any mic cable in a pinch, or make your own (try making a TT cable someday!). I had one patch that took over 5 years before it failed and all I needed to do was unplug and plug back in with the XLRs.

When the stage was being designed, we made sure to make it hollow. The architect didn't understand but we knew that the current setup would change inside of a year. The hollow stage allowed us to put holes wherever needed at later dates. In fact, we ended up putting in a hole in the front far left and right and used just the floor box cover in those locations. I could feed a snake or drop the mic cable under the stage and route it back to the backstage patch panel (another good reason for XLR).

Next, we purchased little 6 input snakes and ran them from the primary locations to central areas where needed. Like the keyboard location, who had a guitar player close so I just ran the guitar cabling through the keyboard snake.

Amazing! Its a flexible system. Want to move someone, then just take their stuff and re-route the snake to the closest location, re-patch backstage so the new stage inputs go to the same console inputs.

In one auditorium, we had a digital console that had a "stage box" with just the control cable going back to FOH. So I placed the "stage box" on stage and ran sub-snakes to it, since it literally represented the inputs to the console.

the perfect mix

Mixing is like creating an ice cream sundae.

The band gives you all of the ingredients plus you can change texture through the use of effects. So you have to assess what you have before you can create the final product.

The rhythm section is like the ice cream. It needs to stay in a cohesive group (not melting into sludge) and always be there as the basis (foundation) for the toppings.

The lead instrumentation is like the toppings. You can handle a lot of flavor for short periods of time but you don't want to flood the ice cream. Some toppings don't work as well with other toppings either, so you must give balance to the flavor overall.

One cool thing that I like to do is to hide a flavor to reveal itself as you eat on this sundae. Like putting a cherry in the middle of the ice cream.

Like all analogies, this one breaks down at a certain point.

But . . think of something. If mixing music is like creating a sundae for people to enjoy, then this sundae is magical in that you get to constantly change its flavoring throughout the whole experience. Maybe even giving them some odd tastes through the process, since you have no control over the ingredients.

But you can always make sure to leave them with a good taste in their mouth at the end.

Because that is what draws them to try your sundae again.

perception is reality

While I am in the vein of psychological mixing. . .

I once was doing one of my part time gigs at a church over a period of several months. Before they had asked me, I had already set up a weekend thing with another church so I had the church use a friend of mine for that one weekend that I was pre-booked. I call my friend after the weekend was over and she told me that everything went well, no issues.

The following weekend, I asked the music director and Pastor what they thought of my friend's mixing because I was hoping to get her this gig on a more permanent basis. They both responded that they had got comments about not hearing the violin enough.

So I called my friend back asking about the violin specifically and she told me what I already knew. The player doesn't play much and when they played it wasn't very good. So she never really brought the violin up much in order to make a better mix.

There in lies the difference between what I did instinctively and what she didn't do.

Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that I never really used the player much either due to the exact same reasons. But, I would try to find at least once during the service and push the violin forward for even a short period of time. I did it because, knowing church politics, I didn't know who's kid this player was and if I would offend someone of value (read: monetary value) by not letting them hear the violin at all.

So think about it. They loved my mixing because I found maybe 30 seconds or less where the player sounded halfway decent and let the audience hear it pronounced but didn't like her mixing because she didn't - yet technically her mix may have been better by not subjecting the audience to the sub-par music.

Even though I had the violin up for an extremely short period of time, if someone was asked, "Did you hear the violin?", they would answer. "Yes." They didn't realize that the amount of time but the fact that they did hear it. This ties into the old coaching trick of telling the players in the huddle the most important thing last before they go back into the game.

Something to keep in mind when doing contract gigs. And interesting when thinking about people's perception of what we do and how their needs may not line up with what is actually the best thing technically.

hybrid drum kit

Had an idea recently after coming home from one of those church gigs.

Years ago, we started with acoustic drums. Needed loud monitors, etc and the church folk had a cow (maybe a pig as well). So the advent of the electronic drum kit came into play. Churches opened their arms. Then the musicians complained about it not being real. Drummers rose up with arm injury potential and that the "feel" wasn't there. The modern church now has swung back into using real drums with lots of Plexiglas involved.

This is fine. I like real drums.

except . . . when they aren't in tune or need new heads.

For some reason, churches will fix a bad snare drum or kick drum. I theorize that is because both of these instruments tend to be relatively more stable in tuning until someone physically breaks the head. But the church has spent all of its budget keeping the piano in tune and no money is available for the poor toms. So the thought seems to be, "Why fix something that only gets hit once or twice in a song?"

BECAUSE IT SOUNDS BAD (sorry for the scream . . I feel better now)

Here's the idea. Let's compromise. Keep the real kit except for the toms. Use triggers, or pads and only present the audience with the electronic toms. Why not? I have done so many recording projects where I basically replace the toms anyways. I would venture to guess that many, many albums out there have been done exactly the same but no one wants to admit it. (dirty little engineer secret - don't tell the drummers)

I leave it to you. Natural drums with electronic/triggered toms. Don't need tuning, don't need heads replaced and if the drummer behaves will save money in the long run. Think about it.

(I foresee an invention here. Electronic toms with speakers in them so the drummer gets the believable feel of the pad actually making the noise.)

chest over head voice

I was thinking the other day about why we like singers that sing in their chest voice (that breathy, somewhat softer tone) vs the opera full voice (head voice). Then again some people like that operatic tone (head voice) over the chest voice.

I don't know if you ever noticed while watching a movie or especially on TV that when people whisper, they are actually heard almost as loud as when someone yells or guns go off. Having posted TV shows over time, I noticed this years ago and have followed suit in my mixes. The interesting thing is that your brain gets audible cues from the tone of the voice as to what is going on.

See a whisper in your ear can be just as loud as a yell at 10 meters in real life. So your brain will process the non-real world of TV just the same based on its experiences.

Back to singing. In order for you to hear that soft chest voice sound in real life (without some sort of amplification), the person singing needs to be right close and in your personal space. Intimate. But the full out head voice needs to be back away from you in order to not blow you away with volume. Performance.

It is my conclusion that the person that prefers the operatic head voice sound likes the stand back and watch aspect of the performance. It is easy to disconnect and spectate. But the chest voice intimates. It gets into your personal space, infers relationship, closeness.

Think about it, your body will respond psychologically to its environment whether real or not. You watch a program and the dog is killed. You don't know this animal other than the 10 minutes that you have seen, but you still well up with emotion.

So someone sings the line all formal and operatic "I love you!" - its grand, aggressive. Then someone is allowed into your personal space, is less than six inches away from you, face to face, and sings ever so gently "I love you" - intensely intimate, meaningful.

It wasn't until the advent of the modern PA that you could get that tone in a larger more public venue. Still, watching a performance on stage, just like TV and Film, is a one to one experience that is shared by all. That is why you feel connected with people in the room afterwards. You have all shared the same personal experience.

That is my reason that the chest voice wins in popular culture.

the human mix

I have noticed that many engineers tend to get into the technical head side of mixing that they forget the psychological response of music on people, let alone themselves. We all live and experience this life through the ports (senses) of our physical bodies. That can't be forgotten. When mixing, it is more than just the assembling and balancing of instrumentation (which is a good thing). I always equate it to riding the wave, or herding cats. You are creating something but this creation is based on the already created active tones that the musicians/singers are sending to you. Yes, you are assembling a complete creation, but you must go beyond that and give guidance to the creation (ok, that sounded a little too metaphysical).

I can't tell you how many times I have done a gig at a church where people (usually the leadership) will come up to me afterwards and lay glorious compliments on the sound of the service. I am sitting there thinking - I didn't do that much. But as I ponder later, I realize that I made a lot of little decisions. Like - this player isn't helping the song at the moment, so I will put him in the background and highlight someone who is. This singer is way off pitch so I will hide him/her. That guy is doing something cool, so lets hear it.

Church gigs are unique in the fact that usually there isn't an arrangement and the musicians may not even do the same thing from rehearsal to performance. (I am always amazed at how little instrumentalists will listen to each others parts but insist on doing things that will tear the song apart - but that is another topic all together). So yeah, in a sense, I guess I must be doing something different than the other guys, but I keep thinking, why aren't they doing this?

I can only come up with a couple answers. They aren't musical enough to understand the bad things being done by different musicians/singers on stage? They are actually not thinking about the music because they are caught up in the "headiness" of the thought. All brain, no emotion. I think that most people can tell when things aren't right, otherwise I wouldn't be getting the gigs I get. Its not the engineers that are seeking me out to come help them out. Obviously, the engineers don't think anything is a problem.

We live in emotion driven bodies, listen with them. Don't turn the emotion off just because you are doing a heady technical thing. The console is actually a musical instrument in that regard. You are in the process of creation, a creative process. This isn't like building a building with a set of plans. You may have an idea of what you want to create, but it may not come out that way. Music is a journey, going somewhere. The engineer is simply trying to guide it and keep it looking as good as possible on the way. Music is emotion so emotion must be a key factor in making good decisions.

under air

Don't want to get you claustrophobic or anything.

When talking to people that are unfamiliar with sound, I like to point out that we live "under air". We live in a sea of air. Just like fish swimming in water, we live and move through this physical thing that is air. Air molecules are just as solid as water or anything else that is around us, it is that they are not as dense and therefore we can breathe them inside and strip off the oxygen and push out what is left.

The cool thing about this is that is helps to realize the real challenge that live audio engineers have to deal with. It is like taking a dropper and putting a drop of color in the water (like a singer projecting out of the mouth). Taking a hose and sucking that color out, processing it so that it is larger in volume (pun intended) and pushing that out of hoses into the same container of water. The goal is to not get any or as little of as possible of the new larger volume of color back into the little sucking hose, but only get the original drops as produced by the singer. That is the art and science of sound reinforcement.

In the studio, you usually are using headphones or in the case of like a TV show, the new larger volume is actually being put into other containers. This is why you can watch a TV show and the performer can have their mic so far away from their mouths. Unless they need loud monitors, the TV audio guy can open the mic way open and pick them up from far away. But the poor live guy has to put that same mic back into the same pond and is pulling his hair out.

Just like fish can't live outside of water, we can't live outside of our air. It is something to think about.


It seems that people attribute a lot more to the sound engineer than what is actually his/her capabilities. Its like all forms of common sense just go out the window and this mysticism sort of guru-likeness is placed on us.

If the person doesn't sound good, we can magically make them better. Yea, there are certain tools for pitch correction now and anybody sounds better with some effects on their voice. Its like the engineer is the crutch for the performer and therefore the reason for all things when its not good either.

I can't make a player play a different note. I can't make a singer sing the correct intonation. But it is assumed that I can. Admittedly, the studio does let you mess with things more but in a live situation, there are limitations.

I see the engineer like a painter or a cook. I am presented with a palette of colors or a pile of ingredients. I then start making the best thing I can out of the ingredients/color choices that I have. Musicians are creators of these things and I am limited to what the musicians create. Like a good cook/painter, I can combine things to make a "whole" that seems better than the "parts", hence the mysticism.

But certain flavors and colors just don't work well. It is always frustrating while mixing sound to have a band that just doesn't get the concept of arranging. I have done so many bands (church's seem to be worst at this) where the instrumentalists just are listening to each other. So I have to spend a lot of time hiding things under things or just flat out not using them. This is not only frustrating to the musicians but also to me since I want them to succeed in their endeavors. But garbage is garbage, all I can do is to try to make it look like nice garbage or just call it "found art".

The actual physical part of my job, I learned while still in a crib. Slide this, turn that. The thing that makes me valuable is to know what to push or turn, when and how much. It always blows people away when they look at a large console. So many knobs. I always try to point out that the bulk of the console is just a repetition of one set of knobs, but people rather like believing that there is a supernatural thing going on around me.

I had this lady in a black gospel church that I worked with years ago come up and tell me that she could feel the angel wings brushing on her shoulders during the music. I asked where she sat. Come to find out, she was right in front of the subs that were soffit mounted in the walls left and right of the stage. I tried to explain that the physics of sound tells us that when a frequency is longer than the object it encounters, it bends around it. Therefore she was feeling the low end push on her. She just ignored that and left me saying how much she appreciated me helping the angels show up.

choir monitoring

So you have a choir and the monitor is so loud that you can't hear nothing but it in the choir mics.

Here is something that I actually implemented successfully at the church. We had a small group choir type of thing of 12-16 singers. We purchased a pre-made FM radio transmitter and little FM radios and ear buds made by Koss (had like a foam to create a seal in the ear). I sent a single mix to the transmitter located right underneath where the group stood on risers.

For a church wanting to do this on a larger scale.

I ran into several churches that required dues or even had the choir members purchase their robes so the concept of letting the choir assist financially isn't a new idea. I was suggesting letting each person supply their own radio with the requirement of some sort of earbud (not phones). Since they were bringing a personal radio, they can keep up with the batteries as well. The church is only out the cost of the FM transmitter.

Another take on this.

There are many performance halls around the world that are wired for multiple language translation by putting in a volume control and headphone jack in each seat. Why not create a handrail/safety rail in front of each choir row (traditional churches already have modesty rails in the first row anyway) and putting a headphone jack/volume control in each position where you are powering all the headphones from some sort of central amplifier.

All of these ideas are cheaper than the "professional" buying one IEM transmitter and multiple recievers for a mass quantity of people. The pre-wired rail idea removes battery costs. Basically each choir member would either pay a due to finance a set of earbuds or provide a set themselves.

healthcare - OT

This is off topic for this blog, but hey, its my party and I can cry if I want to.

So I went in for my normal doctor appointment recently. Here is "my doctor" that I only see for 20 minutes a year. This is someone supposedly that I entrust my health concerns with but if I dare take more than 10 minutes in his presence, I get this distinct feeling of discontent on his part. This is the guy that I have to have sign off on anything in order for the insurance to cover it.

And if I am in an emergency situation, can I talk to him?

No, I must go to an emergency room and deal with complete strangers. And then, after the emergency is taken care of, he walks into the hospital room like he was in charge of the situation all along. If I was an ER doc, I would unionize and force my recognition into the situation.

I find it interesting that in our modern healthcare, that I really don't have a doctor in a personal way. I have a system, a system that is being controlled by the dictator of insurance. I told my insurance representative one time that "I don't have a doctor, but an insurance company." She took a step back and told me that my "health care is physician directed." If this is so, then why does my doctor's office have a sign posted at the check in desk stating that every health insurance is different so it is the patient's responsibility to determine if what the doctor is going to do is going to be covered. Why am I responsible financially if my "physician directed" me to do something and then the insurance won't cover it?

I am so tempted to pull out the cell phone and call my insurance company one day in front of my doctor to get their approval on whatever he is attempting to do. Or maybe while I am lying there in the ER, I must be wheeled outside (can't use a cell phone in the hospital.) to contact the insurance company. Oh, wait, its not inside business hours. I can call that free nurse line and all they say is go to the ER. Oh, wait, I AM ALREADY THERE!!!

This is just a ludicrous system, I have a insurance system that has so much double talk due to lawyers protecting them and a doctors office that has lawyers protecting them with their small print that you have to sign off on. I am paying hard earned money for both of these entities that are trying so hard to cover their tails that they are quickly becoming of little value. So do I need a lawyer to come with me to the office?

I can see it in the near future. Right off the lobby in every doctors building will be a personal counsel service that will attend your office visit. Of course, they will have their own document that covers their tails as well.

lapel eq

Most churches today are or are beginning to use headsets for the VIP's. I think this is great for many reasons. But the interesting side effect of this is that less and less engineers are having to use lapel mics regularly. They haven't honed those skills in dealing with the omni lapel that limits your gain before feedback into a slim margin smaller than the width of a human hair.

I recently read an article where the writer was noting that all live engineers must serve the mistress of feedback. I laughed out loud. A good engineer will always be asking the question of "will this cause feedback" in the forefront of their minds before doing anything, especially during the event.

This last year, I hired to work a weekend at a church because I think that they wanted their lapel rung out. Nothing against the engineers there, its just that I have so many years of experience ringing out lapels that it sorta comes second nature. I believe that was why they hired me that weekend. Not that I like doing it. It is one of those skills that you gain but wish that you never had to gain, not unlike unloading a trailer attached to a burning suburban. Or knowing that you have the right to check out your child from an emergency room no matter what the nurse tells you because you want both children that went through an auto accident in the same hospital, not two that are 45 miles apart. (another story there)

So for those that haven't had the luxury of doing much of this (ringing out a lapel, that is), I will pass on some of my tricks.

If you can have the control over the micing of the individuals you might try a unidirectional mic. I have recently run into the new DPA uni mic and it was amazing as far as not needing an excessive amount of processing. The big downside to uni mics is that if anyone ever does the stupid thing of putting it on facing the wrong way, you look extremely stupid because it is extremely hard to get any gain before feedback in those situations. Even with that amazing DPA, I was right there all night. In the past, I actually preferred omni's simply because it takes the stupidity factor out. Get the mic in the vicinity of the mouth pointed any way you wish and I can get them. Although proper placement always works the best. So placement? I prefer center about armpit level. The less barrel chested the male, the higher you can go. Females are actually harder with lapels. I read an article once that showed the eq curve that placing a mic against the chest does. It puts this amazing cut right in the middle of the female vocal range. But they can be done. The hardest thing is getting them to wear the appropriate attire.

You will need a lot of processing for the lapel. I like to start with a 1/3 octave and a 5 band parametric inserted leaving me the board eq for minor changes that happen over time. I had a 1/3 octave and a 12 band parametric at the last church I worked at. Now I can work with less but if you get all of this eq, you can pretty much make any room work. I will get the primary rings with the parametric and start using the 1/3 octave.

The biggest trick is something that is hard to teach. At some point in the eq'ing process, you will end up in a corner running out of eq. Then you must start thinking in reverse. What frequencies are you not ringing on and give some of those back. You should be able to get at least 3 or 4 dB of more gain by doing the reverse process at the end. If when you get through you end up with all of the eq point down equally, you are not done. Your final curve should be just that a curve of sorts with some spots close to zero.

I have been assuming that you already know the basics of ringing out mics, so if you need more then have a conversation with an engineer or get your hands on a book (of which there are many). Who knows, maybe I will cover that later on.

consultants in churches

Many of my friends keep telling me that I need to get into consulting. The thing is that I actually have a mild hatred for consultants. Hatred is too strong but can't think of the correct word at the moment.

You see, here is a guy that probably knows his stuff. He comes in takes measurements and touches things and in a magical 4 hours or less proclaims victory over your sound problems. Many times he hasn't been in a service, doesn't have the faintest idea of what you do.

We were building a new main auditorium. I go out and get bids. I tell everyone, "Look, we aren't the normal church. We run at near concert volume at times. Make sure you put this idea into your design." We go through everyone and finally pick our vendor. I reminded the vendor several times during the process about our volume requirements. Every time its a response of "This PA will do what you want to do." I suppose I should have put on paper somewhere but we are all gentlemen here.

PA is installed and it sounds great. It will get loud, not quite as loud as I think it should but I think that given the normal circumstances we will be fine. We come around to our big national conference season. Yeah, this church hosted a national pastors conference, a national worship leaders conference, a national children's workers conference and a national youth leaders conference every year. Usually in the same month and usually at least 2 of them in the same week. Maybe I will go into that more someday.

The powers that be decide that we should be louder for the special events (which I never quite understood since people were coming to us to see what makes us so successful - shouldn't we just show them what we normally do?) The PA vendor has a booth at several of these events. I have the owner of the vendor tell me (get this we are 6 plus months after the install), "I have never seen a church run this loud. We have done installs at some black churches and they don't run this loud."

Did they think I was lying? Back to consultants. . .

So the few consulting gigs that I have done, I have insisted that it be in such a way that I come in and look over the rig and do the normal tweaks. But I want to talk with the music minister and the tech guys separately. I want to have a music practice where I can adjust things while the musicians and singers are on stage. The tech guys can look over my shoulder and see what at "soiundcheck" is all about. I then will stay overnight and be there for a normal service to do the minor tweaks once the room fills in, all the time getting some feedback from the tech guy as to how loud I am compared to normal, etc. My goal is to not have the situation of the music minister telling the tech guys to not touch anything, but for the tech guys to feel that they had some input plus can see how I got them to that point of happiness.

But most churches don't want that. They want the magic wand because that is what the consultants have done in the past. The last time I was "consultantized", the youth band leader brought this guy from New York in to tweak the sound. I was expecting a normal consultant but got a guy that mixes stuff. He pretty much sat there during the rehearsal and made like a couple 3 dB cuts in a couple instruments which was more of a taste thing than an actual technical reason. But the band leader thought that he was amazing and gave me that "don't touch anything" speech, only to have me change things the very next week.

So I don't know. i think there is a place for consultants but I think that they need to be involved in what you are up to, not some "miracle" pill.

former soviet union 1990

Did you know that in the former Soviet Union, all airports no matter where, ran on Moscow time. I learned this by showing up for an air flight in Estonia an hour early to find out that the plane was going to take off momentarily. So the only option for us (I was traveling with the guitar player and a band he assembled for this trip) was to take a train. Destination - St. Petersburg or Leningrad as it was called then.

Pile into cabs with the instruments (drums, bass, guitar, small rack for audio). Speaking of that rack, I travelled with this rack all over the US and 3 trips to europe to only have a single hop from Estonia to Leningrad (later that year) on Aeroflot managed to do any damage to my gear. Was a cool ride though. It was an old jet that looked like something from the 50's inside. No overhead compartments, just nets. The stewardess, in a dress, served tea in real glassware.

So, took cabs across town to the train station. This was my first train ride. The air flight is around an hour but the train is an overnight adventure. We get 1 sleeper cabin (upon later observation, we should have gotten two but monetary things were outside of my supervision). Haul the stuff into the sleeper. 4 people - 4 beds - 2 guitars, bass, 2 small racks (guitar and audio), drum kit. Kick drum happens to just hang between the top bunks over the door so you walk under it to get in and out.

I am a little claustrophobic so I head out in the isle. We meet a couple traveling musicians that speak enough english to communicate. We also meet an American who was hired to coach a russian baseball team. He loved the trains because of the tea, to quote him, noticing the girls hanging to his side. The bathroom is basically an outhouse that I decided I wouldn't use, ever.

Each car in the train has hostess who takes the tickets, and such. Our lady looked exactly how you imagine a older Russian woman. Short, stout, talked very sternly and loudly. She would come into our cabin and basically yell at us in Russian. The guys would look at her and say, "English, American, don't understand". She obviously didn't understand us and just kept yelling. I thought it was rude to ignore her so I would just sit there and look at her while she talked but would say, "I don't understand you" every now and then.

The train took off and I went back out into the isle as well as the drummer and bass player. They were talking with those musicians that I mentioned before, but I was basically watching out the windows. I turned around and noticed the lady coming back down the isle towards us.

She came right up to me and started talking to me. But this time she wasn't yelling and she had softened up her voice. I turned around and asked one of the musicians to translate for me. So he comes over, she turns to him and says something. He smiles and looks back at me as tells me that she is asking if I would like to have some tea down in her cabin with her.

I politely refused.

Later that year, we went back to the Baltic states (right before Christmas) with the same band. We had finished a gig and they took us to eat. In the evenings, it seemed that the restaurants were also bars with dance floors. So we go sit down in a corner with the local people that were hosting us.

I noticed as we walked in that there was this tall lady out on the dance floor dancing by herself. I assumed that she had been drinking and just doing what drunk people do and enjoying themselves. We had been sitting and talking for about 5 minutes when this lady came up to the bass player, who was sitting next me, and started talking in russian. He looked to one of our hosts who said she was asking if he wanted to dance. He said no and pointed to his wedding band. She just stood there for a moment and then reached over and grabbed my hand and started pulling at me. I looked at her and said no shaking my head several times but she just kept squeezing harder and pulling harder. Finally the hosts on the other side of the table started yelling "Evangelista, Evangelista" (at least that is what I heard) and she let me go.

The guys in the band reminding me that I had way with Russian women from that day on.

burning the suburban

Here I was driving mid-summer back in 1991. It was a hot day, I remember. Had spent the night where Snoopy's brother, Spike, lived (Needles, CA). I was driving a black 4 wheel drive Chevy Suburban with tinted window, air-ride shocks, pulling an 8 or 10 foot trailer with the PA gear in it. This suburban had a 40 gallon gas tank in it which I filled up right before leaving Needles. The goal that day was to get to Phoenix (Scottsdale) to do a gig at a church that evening with a gig in Colorado Springs 2 days later. This was one of the times that I had my boss (the guitarist) riding with me for this first leg of the trip.

So we leave Needles, noting that it was going to be a hot day and because of the load we were pulling, I was very aware of watching the temperature gauge. Things seem to be going well. The vehicle was running a little warm but not anything near hot. There is this rise just past Yucca (a small 1 horse town before Kingman AZ) where you pass over the railroad tracks that have been on your left for miles. Just as I crested this rise, I distinctly remember watching the temperature gauge take this steady fast rise all the way over past the red and at the same time this whitish stuff (steam?) come out of the front of the hood.

I slow down and get to the side of the road and quickly and calmly as I can. So my boss jumps out and has me release the hood. Both of us were thinking that we had popped the radiator cap and that water would be spewing out onto the engine. So I release the hood and he peers through the small crack to see what is up. I am still sitting in the driver's seat watching this. He then quickly runs to the back of the Suburban where the bottled water was at. He being like many people didn't like tap water and so we kept a supply of distilled drinking water (that day I believe I had 5 gallons of it in the back). He grabs a couple gallons runs to the front (I still thinking that we were just overheated was just sitting there watching the action). Opens the hood and starts emptying the bottles. Now he has my true attention. As I got out of the vehicle, he was on his way back to get the remainder of the bottles. I asked him what was up and he said there was fire in the engine compartment. I get in front and can see flames up next to the firewall on the passenger's side. He by now has dumped yet another bottle or two (things are getting exciting now).

My boss has this guitar - an extremely old Fender - which most people would call a Telecaster, but this guitar is older than that. For you guitar people, you will know that Fender make a guitar called the Broadcaster and then changed the name to Telecaster because there is was a Gretsch drum kit with a similar name. So he has this already near priceless guitar and then he had it carved which devalued the guitar to the purists but now it is a one of a kind piece of artwork that is still a valuable guitar. It was kept in a handmade leather/lambs-wool gig bag. When I first met my boss he showed me this guitar and told me that this guitar stayed on my body everywhere.

So vehicle is on fire. Water seems to not have any effect and quickly running out. I am pondering the use of sand as I also think "guitar!". I run to the back and get the guitar and safely stow it on the sand away from the vehicle. I now think, "wallet" as I go back to the front of the vehicle to aid my boss. Because of all the travel I was doing, I was using a very small daytimer as a wallet so I could keep my schedule on me at all times. Well this daytimer was pretty big and when driving, I would put it in the center console in front. I go to the front drivers side and look in and see flames in the passengers side. I am not that interested in sacrificing myself for my wallet so I just ditch that.

I turn to my boss and we both basically agreed that we needed to get the equipment away from this fire. We go back and try to unhitch the trailer and realize that we don't have the strength to lift it off the hitch. Plan B. Unload the trailer. Which we start on. Boss jumps in and I grab from the outside and start stacking on the side of the road. I have grabbed my second piece of equipment and a guy comes right up beside me and starts helping?

Probably less than 10 minutes before all of this started, we had passed a road crew that was in transit. So as I grab my piece of gear I realize that the crew had caught up with us and had put cones out on the road and were directing traffic to the far lane. Pretty amazing for being out in the middle of nowhere. So i now have 2 other guys helping unload and I hear a helicopter. It was Lifeflight (or their equivalent) flying over past us. I turn to one of the guys and say "Why Lifeflight? No one is hurt here." He responds by telling me that they had called the fire department for us but the engine had ran off the road back on that same hump that we started burning on. One of the firemen was hurt and now that accident took priority. So the unloading continues. I did think that now we have help to try to lift the trailer off the suburban but as I look around the front I see that inside the back of the suburban is fully engulfed in flames.

I did mention that this vehicle had a 40 gallon gas tank? Just fully filled less than 100 miles ago? I learned later that having that tank full was the best thing for us but I didn't know this at that time. But working that close to flames and the tank wasn't my idea of safe. So back to the unloading. I am just reaching for a piece of gear and BAM. What a sound. Everyone stops, takes a breath. Yep still alive, Unloading continues. I ask one of the road crew what that was, he calmly responds "Tire blew up". Great. . I get to experience this at least 3 more times.

So by now we are almost through unloading and the backup fire truck shows. Its a pickup with tank in the bed and a pull start gas engine for the pump. The truck is there only a minute and it leaves. I ask someone "Where did he go?" I am informed that the guy realized that the little gas engine was empty so he was going to get some gas. We've got 40 gallons of the stuff waiting to burn and he has none. So the suburban basically burns to a shell, the road crew guys pack up their stuff, the fire truck shows up to put water on the smoldering remains and then leaves. Myself and my boss are just left there waiting for the highway patrol. We decide to kill some time and unhitch the trailer and reload it. We are basically done reloading when the highway patrol shows up. They call for a wrecker and after the paperwork is done they leave. Its another 5 minutes of desolation before the wrecker shows.

We get to Kingman and I obtain a U-haul which I drive for the remainder of that trip back to the midwest via Colorado. We get to Phoenix a little late but still in time to do the gig. My boss took the burnt steering wheel as a trophy.

Now the icing on the cake. . . I had already figured out that I was going to have a hard time getting to Colorado Springs on time before but now driving a U-haul I was really concerned. So I had decided that I would just get the to hotel and clean up and leave out that night. The church put up in this resort hotel with a PGA rated golf course (Scottsdale Princess? Don't remember due to the excitement of the day). The hotel was being renovated so the hotel upgraded us to two villas. Biggest bathtub I have ever seen - of course have to use it. A shower room - really at least 6' by 8'. The toilet in its own room with a phone on the wall! 2 sinks and a changing makeup area for the women. You know how hard it is to crawl into an amazing king size bed - dog tired from the day's events - knowing that you had to leave at 3 am (4 hours later). Did I mention that I needed to drive the remainder on my own since the boss was flying there. That drive was one of the hardest that I have done. Drove it straight with 2 hours of sleep along side a road somewhere. To this day I do not remember the route I took. I do remember crossing over a border (Colorado?) through a mountain pass with snow and other freezing stuff. I stopped at a truck stop to splash the coldest water I could get, slap myself and scream a little to try to wake myself up. Had a trucker ask me if the weigh station was open only to tell him that I don't remember because I don't remember seeing a weigh station. I got to the Springs 1 hour after we were to start playing, but the people hung around and I did the gig.

Africa (part 1)

For the last 5 years, I have had the opportunity(?) to go to Africa providing audio for an evangelist. I thought I had seen it all from all of the small churches that I have seen over the years but nothing beats the third world. I feel for these guys because I do understand that financial difficulties but still. . .

Someone, (I think I will blame the British for this since they were the last ones there), has told the Africans that seeing that little red light on the channel input or output is a good thing. Also, no one seems to have explained the purpose of the subgroup other than a way to increase volume to the stereo buss.

Honestly, I thought I might of had a just some isolated experiences. I had a conversation one day with an engineer that works for an evangelist that is in Africa so much that he keeps several extremely large PA's on the continent. At the end of conversation, I made some comment about the gain structure issues I have run into. He immediately understood :)

I believe that if that is the sound that they really want, then instead of beating on the electronics and speakers, just buy a cheap guitar distortion pedal and put it inline on the main outputs of the mixer. Seriously, its that bad.

Again, it is probably not their fault but does that really let them off the hook.

So you take all this in. I am traveling with the VIP and a camera crew. When we do individual churches, we arrive together and I have roughly 15 minutes to find the soundboard location, figure out what they are doing, and get a mix run to at least one camera. Not to mention that even if I am in an English speaking country, they still don't speak English. (Had an easier time in the French speaking countries.) Another interesting thing is that a lot of the churches that we ended up in put their soundboard up on stage (probably to save money on cabling). So you only hear what is bouncing back off the back wall to determine the PA mix.

The first thing that I have to do (after hooking up the camera feed, doing the grunt and point thing of that speaker is where on this board) is to rebalance the gain structure to try to clean up the main microphones so that at least my mix to the cameras is clean. Then try to do what I can for the mains. But gain change messes with the emotions of these people so all of this must be done gingerly.

The Africans are into putting all important people on the stage but they don't give them a separate mix or speakers. Let's just turn up the front monitors until they are loud enough to cover everyone, yeah that sounds like an excellent plan. My VIP doesn't want much if any monitor so I have to kill this speaker when he hits the stage to talk and deal with the local head Freds and their complaining to their audio guys who then try to tell me the issue (this is when communication problems can be a good thing - I know what they want, I just don't have to understand at that moment (see "rule one" blog entry)).

I will have to continue this later before it turns into a book. . .

(I will have to state that I did run into a few, very few folks that knew what they were doing.)


Its all about trust.

That is the truth about the sound business. Now, when you are working for a promoter or a business client, they get to hear what you are up to. But in the church business and band gigs, your client never really hears what you are doing for the audience. They go by what the people around them are saying.

In the church, these are people that really don't know anything other than it was "good" or not. Sure there are musicians in the audience. I have found that they tend to judge you solely on how you did on the instrument that they personally play or have an affinity towards. Drummers want the drums louder, guitarists want the guitars louder. I mean I was once accused of making guitars sound like keyboards and more recently was told that I seemed to not like keyboards but guitars.

How does the church keep using that guy that lords over everyone and couldn't mix his way out of a wet paper bag. Trust. Why do some churches go through an engineer every year or two. Trust (or lack of).

These musical people are putting literally their careers (and egos) in your hands. They are believing that you will make them appear as good if not better than they really are with their musical talents. It falls under the same emotions that a mother goes through when leaving her kids with a babysitter.

So my advice to any engineer. Always balance your decisions on the job with one question. "Does this create (extend) trust?" Does making "fake" moves create trust even though you always end up back at the same volume at the end of rehearsal? Everything needs to go through the trust filter.

Its all about trust. When its gone, the gig is over.

Think about it.

rule one

Rule. . . .

Figure out who is signing the check and do what they say.

Do I really have to go into more detail than that?

If so, then you deserve to fall back down into that brown muck of obscurity.
Come on people lets keep evolving. There is light up there on the top.

Actually, I did this gig once where the bus driver came over to me and explained how the artist wanted it to sound. Of course, on that night, the artist was so drunk that he only sang three songs and walked off stage. Leaving myself and the owner of the PA trying to tear down with 10 or so cussing and screaming drunk women at the front edge of the stage (these very same women had thrown their undergarments onto the stage only a few minutes before for that artist). Did I forget to mention that the artist tossed his drink down the horn of the floor wedge as he muttered some interesting language right before leaving the stage?

But the rule still stands. Besides, the artist wasn't signing our check, the promoter was and we were golden with her.

rule two

Rule. . . .

Never scrimp on the equipment (signal chain) for the head of the organization (CEO, Pastor).

Two reasons for this.

1-You do not want to make this person look bad.
2-You do not want to make yourself look bad by making this person look bad.

This is a rule. Period.

Look, this person is the one person that can create money in the organization. We all need money to live. Don't mess with the income streams.

I have met many a Pastor that feels so much for the ministry that he is willing to not spend on himself. Don't let him. He is the only person in the church that can stand up in front of the church and raise the money to keep the church alive.

Alive - Good.

Buy the good stuff for this person. Let the music people live with a little longer without the amazing gadget that "pings".

impatient God

Is it my imagination, or did God get impatient in the 21st century?

I was at a church where during rehearsal, the music leader decided to change the tempo of the song that they were playing. That in itself isn't any big deal. But the lighting guy and the video guy had spent hours programming light cues to a predetermined beat and creating a video that had the lyrics rendered into it at that same predetermined tempo. As the lighting guy is expressing this, the leader responds back with something in the order of "Can't we allow for God to move?"

So both of these guys had to just ditch all of that hard (did I mention paid for) hours of work because God moved . . .or maybe it was the energy drinks the band had an hour earlier . .

I digress. So later on I was in that ambient room that we all end up in at least once a day (you know usually tiled with a nice porcelain seat). The thought hit me, from what I know of the Bible, God always gave man enough time to do what he wanted them to do. God didn't make Noah build that behemoth of an ark in a day.

You realize that the bulk of the technological advances that I have seen in church based stuff is to allow for these last minute "God movements" (changes).

I mean here is a being that we believe to be all knowing (omniscient) but for some reason can't act on that knowledge until the last minute? That sounds pretty crazy to me. I am not a biblical scholar, but I don't seem to remember any biblical foundation for God to change his mind. Now people not hearing him correctly and needing to be nudged around and redirected. . .now that seems more biblical. Something about being sheep that wander around needing direction.

So man up and state that you didn't hear correctly or didn't get your act together in time or that you just changed your mind. Stop blaming God. Give your technical people a break and do some proper planning. I think that God did that. How else could he have had the end of the book written before it actually happened? If you need to change then don't expect the smooth show that was going to happen, because it is all going to be off the cuff now. And think about how this less than great show is going to affect the outcome on people.

Doesn't it say something about God blessing what you put your hand to. That all things work together for good. Won't this work for both sides of the coin. If you feel that you must change, then it will be ok with less and if you decide to keep the original path, then won't it work as well? Short of an aggressive - "Do not do this" from God rather than "maybe we should" from the bass player.

Finally, if God can direct a pastor months in advance what to tell the sheep, why not the music leader. Could it be that one is actually listening and the other not?

Just something to think about. Band-aids available at the front desk.

the SoundDragon

So I figure that there might be some comments about my picture.

No I am not that children's creature on TV.

My very first Father's day present was a little stuffed creature from one of my soon to be daughters. I always kept it in my booth at the church as a reminder greater importances. It soon became dubbed the "sounddragon" that chased away the audio gremlins - those unexplainable things that just happen and you can't recreate later. Now. I keep a graphical representation of it on my computer and posted on the web. I will assume that by now it has travelled throughout the web and made it on many other sites, hopefully doing its dragon thing.

spl perception

So lets talk a little about sound pressure levels. I am going to be a little vague due to legal entanglements. Any information given is for entertainment purposes only. And please stow any gear in the overhead compartments.

One of the most common complaints about sound is volume or SPL. So most churches will give the soundman an SPL meter (usually one from a place that rhymes with radiosnack) with instructions to keep it under a certain level.

Here's the deal. Go out to the OSHA website and read the documentation concerning sound pressure levels. You will find out a couple things about these magic numbers that everyone is screaming about.

First, every level must have a corresponding time associated with it. OSHA doesn't state anywhere that 100 dBspl nor any other dB amount will cause damage to hearing without a time period attached.

Secondly, you will notice that a unit called a dosimeter is used. This is different than using an SPL meter. It will take random spl measurements every so many seconds.

Finally, you will also notice that the dosimeter software will compute an AVERAGE SPL for the entire time period.

Very important.

I am not saying to not use an SPL meter, but use your brain as well. Most people that complain about volume are not really complaining about volume but HARSHNESS of the sound. 95 dBspl of 2 kHz hurts!

If you haven't read about the Fletcher/Munson curves or now known as the equal loudness contours, please do so immediately. This will tell you alot about people and their hearing. These curves were based on a subjective study (which is good in this case) of what people perceive.

My general rule of thumb is - if we can hear it well then why amplify it as much as what we can't hear as well.
Just think about that. Matter of fact.
Shut your computer off now and just ponder this until it clicks.
Then come back and read more.

Also, I have never heard of a study that states that frequencies below 85 Hz at what would be considered concert volume would damage your hearing. I have heard that the very low frequencies are perceived through bone conduction and not the ear canal. Again, think about it.

From my experience, a mix with a good solid low end foundation can be tolerated louder than one without. Prove it to yourself. Go to your PA or boombox or whatever. Turn the volume up fairly loud. Now take the tone control or EQ and roll the low end off. You will now perceive this volume as being louder. Why? I believe that this comes from the fact that our brains learned early on that when a person is whispering they are closer and there is more low end on their voice to due proximity, but when being yelled at, the person is usually farther away and the proximity of the low end is not perceived. Just an observation.

Now for SPL weighting. In my opinion, since the low frequencies are not as harmful as the upper ones to the hearer, a weighting that doesn't take these into effect can be used. According to the norms I would use an A weighting. But I have took 2 different SPL meters side by side and had them have the A and C weightings opposite of each other. Don't know why they are so. So I generally, with music playing, will turn on the meter and switch between the two weightings, the one reading the lower spl will be the one not including the low end of the spectrum.

Here's the point, I am not condoning loudness for the sake of loudness. I am condoning comfortable, emotional, musical sound quality over harshness. The actual SPL will vary from event and audience. Do what is correct for the situation but don't let stupid people ruin it.

My style of eq'ing and mixing will allow me to run at an measured spl that is louder than some others because of my attention to people's perceptions.

Remember an spl number without a time attached is not legal (OSHA approved).

cassette recording tip

Just a tip for all of you still recording on cassettes for your sermons.

Only on the master recorder record with Dolby C engaged. The high speed duplication process of most small duplicators will basically undo most of the pumping and breathing artifacts, but the clarity of the voice will be greatly enhanced on the speaking.

Remember don't tell anyone to engage the Dolby C on playback.

If you don't believe me, try it.

volunteer space

So what is it with churches and not providing decent space for the technical areas? I have been in many, many, (I would venture to say maybe hundreds) of churches throughout this land and others. One common thread is the relegating as little space as possible to the technical areas. I talk with leadership and the common response is that they are concerned with losing seats. So they people in the soundbooth don't count as members?

Here's the thing. The less space that you have available, the less volunteers you can use. Therefore, the more skilled the volunteer that you are looking for must be. Or look at the reverse. The more space you alot, the more volunteers you can use for the same thing. Therefore, the less skill your volunteers need to be to accomplish the exact same task with the exact same quality.

So you build a one person soundbooth. That person now has to mix for the house (people in the room), mix for the stage, run the lights, run the video, nursery call, etc. So you are looking for a multitalented person that can multitask efficiently. I would venture to guess in the average church you will find only 1 or maybe, if your lucky, 2 people who can do all of this. So you get them involved. God forbid if they take a vacation, get sick, or just want to take a break and enjoy a sunday every now and then with their family.

The altermative. . . Build a multiperson area. Let one person run sound, one person run lights, one person run the video, maybe another handle anything else. Yeah, the sound requires a little challenge, but if you've programmed your lights so that there just scene changes, it doesn't take much execute a "go" command. Most people know how to press play on a video player. Most modern lyric programs are pretty simple.

My best workers were housewifes, and computer illiterate people. I would tell them exactly what button to press when and they would do it. Some of my worst volunteers were technical minded people because they were always wanting to change things rather than creating a well oiled machine.

The trick to volunteers is to break down your tasks that you wish to accomplish into easy tasks. The easier the task the greater the pool of workers you can draw from. I actually had to deal with complaints that the job was too easy and that I wasn't working them enough. Imagine that!

Remember, the people in the room don't remember that you can sit 5 more people but how smoothly the service went. They don't go out and brag about the empty chairs that we can fill but how amazing the service was when the lights changed and the video really hit the point. . . That will fill the seats, the ones in the front row that no one sits in.

personality spectrum

In my experience there are two main roads into the audio field as far as personalities go. The techie and the artist.

Let me explain. To do this job you need to be technical minded but you also need to be musical. I see these two skills as being on a scale. supertechnical on one end and superartistic on the other.

The true techie is not a very personable person, unless around other techies. This person will almost refuse to hook something up unless it is the proper and correct way. They will know the exact model number and specs of most pieces of gear. They take pride in doing things the correct and proper way. They usually have very aggressive personalities. Their downfall is that they tend not to be able to flow or interface with musicians well.

The true artist will just walk up to the system and turn knobs. They may not know what things really are. They won't be concerned about headroom, proper gain staging, nor if the amplifiers are clipping. They are totally into the "feel" of the moment. They take pride in being able to groove. They do interface well with musicians. They tend to have very submissive personalities. Their downfall is that they can't troubleshoot or even tell if something is wrong until there is fire involved.

In my experience, the best audio engineer is a balance of these two worlds. Unfortunately, most techies don't see the value of the artist and visa versa.

The most interesting thing that I find in delving into this is that for some reason church's (especially the smaller ones) tend to attract the supertechs. I think it is because the pastor/music director doesn't understand the equipment and the techie just bowls them over with "techie speak". They think that surely anyone who can spout this foreign language must know what they are up to. The super tech moves in and declares himself king of the soundbooth. Hence the "church soundman" stereotype. The superartist in the group will end up hanging with the band and if allowed may sit and complain about the techie's lack of musicianship.

Just a bad deal all around.

Once this has happened it takes leadership with backbone to right things. A super techie is great when buffered by a more balanced person. A superartist is great in the same situation. But both need to learn the others stuff if they truly want to be great.


Over the years, I have been asked by many of a younger type what schooling I recommend in order to get into this sound business.

Remember this is my opinion, get your own blog for yours.

In the over 20 years of doing this, My degree has never been part of the equation in getting or keeping a job.

My suggestion is determine if you are technically minded or not. If you are good at technical stuff, get yourself a BSEE. If you aren't technically minded get a Business degree and possibly your MBA. Then for your audio career, either minor in TV or Music Recording or something of that nature. Or, just go to one of the technical schools to pick up audio stuff.

Here's my logic. Both the BSEE and the Business degrees allow you maximum flexibility to get work. Both are useful in your audio career as well. What matters to production people is if you can do your job, not how you learned it or if a piece of paper says you can do it.

But, no matter what, always have a backup skill of some sort. period. Weld, roof, something. I have a friend who spent a period of time surviving by tiling floors. In my past, I delivered furniture and moved boxes in storage. Life throws curves, be ready. At least the BSEE can make more money designing circuits than any audio guy can. Some entry level business jobs can do likewise. Now you have choices, options. And when you get those kids and money gets tight, you can do them right.