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.