From the Sound Booth

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By Wade Kirk

When a worship leader says there’s going to be a rehearsal, a sound tech automatically knows some sort of a sound check is going to be involved. Let me first make the distinction between a rehearsal and a sound check, for they are not the same. A rehearsal is music-based; the band learns to play the songs. They decide on musical arrangements, vocal parts, solos, etc. The worship leader is in charge during a rehearsal. The purpose of a sound check is to get the band to sound good through the house system and to make sure the musicians can hear what they need to hear through their monitors in order to perform their best. During a sound check, the sound tech is in charge. To correlate the two, a sound check is to a sound tech as a rehearsal is to a musician. They are both important. Rarely are rehearsals and sound checks completely separate in the church world. They are usually incorporated together. There is nothing wrong with combining them. In fact, it’s necessary sometimes. There’s no way a loud drummer is going to be able to rehearse effectively with singers and an acoustic guitar without some sort of sound reinforcement. He can’t hear them; he needs a monitor. Because they can’t hear themselves over the loud drums, the singers will blow out their voices by straining them too hard. They need a monitor.

Back to the question: does a sound tech need to be at every rehearsal?
It depends. There are many factors to consider when you answer this question. Mainly, does the existing band require a legitimate amount of technical support to warrant a sound tech to be at the rehearsal? If so, request your sound tech to attend. Often, he’ll be willing to show up if his schedule permits. It’s likely that being at the rehearsal will also give him a head start on his mix for the Sunday morning service, and that means he can probably sleep in a little!

A band comprising of two singers, an acoustic guitar, and a percussionist doesn’t need monitors to rehearse. Sometimes it’s more of a distraction for a band like that to rehearse with a sound system than without. They would be more productive and be able to focus on the music more if they didn’t have to worry about the technical side.

Sometimes the band needs monitors to rehearse, but it’s not crucial for the sound tech to stay the duration of the rehearsal. He could set up the equipment needed for the band and get them started. After the musicians have a decent enough monitor mix to get through the rehearsal, the sound tech can show the worship leader how to turn off the gear when they’re done, then leave.

On a side note, just because the worship leader wants the sound tech to be present at a rehearsal doesn’t mean he needs to be present. I’ve attended many rehearsals because the worship leader wanted me there more as a technical safety net than as a sound tech focusing on the monitor and house mixes. He wanted me there just in case something went wrong, and he didn’t want to have to deal with any problems himself.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s never a bad idea for a sound tech to be at a rehearsal. Still, you have to consider how productive it would be for the sound tech to be present. For some churches, it might actually be a better decision to not have their sound tech at the rehearsal. There may be more important tasks needing to be done. Maybe he needs to fix broken equipment that is expected to be working on Sunday. He may need to install new gear in a room, and it’s always a good habit to check in on the high school volunteers running sound for the youth department. He may also want to spend the evening eating dinner with his family.

Many other elements play a role in deciding whether the sound tech should attend a rehearsal. How comfortable is the worship leader with the sound tech? How comfortable is the sound tech with the worship leader? How well do they work together? Can the sound tech quickly dial in the mix Sunday morning? The questions go on and on, but that will give you a rough idea.

There is no definite answer to whether a sound tech should attend a rehearsal. Every band is different. Every service is different. Every worship leader is different. Every sound tech is different. You’ll have to decide yourself. If your sound tech is willing to be at every rehearsal, by all means let him attend. If that’s your case, though, you have a good sound tech. Technical skills can be acquired through proper education and honed by experience, but the willingness to serve isn’t a trait that can be taught.

 

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    6 comments on “From the Sound Booth

    1. I am the Director of Worship Music at my church (average attendance is 1200 people between 2 services), and have a great relationship with the sound technician (my co-worker) who oversees all areas regarding audio and lighting.

      Here are some things we run into on occasion, and I would like some feedback on how what we do could be improved on this topic of sound technicians being present at rehearsals, etc.

      For our weekly rehearsals, our sound technician will typically set up the equipment, patch everything into the soundboard, then perform a sound check for us when the musicians arrive. He will even do some of the mixing that evening. It is always nice to have him present there for that time. Like what was stated in the article, he is not always present for the whole rehearsal (he has a young family and many other things he oversees).

      However, our sound technician is not always running the soundboard on Sunday mornings. We have sound tech volunteers who rotate on a schedule. Usually that volunteer will just come Sunday morning to run the board. But, each tech has different preferences with mixing and sound, as well as varying knowledge differences about the equipment.

      This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does cause some inconsistency for the worship team between rehearsal and the morning of. What we get used to at rehearsal then gets changed at the service, and it can cause some high stress for people involved both on the stage and in the booth. I have believed for a while that it would be beneficial to have the sound tech who is running the board on Sunday to be present for the rehearsal, if possible, to get things set up and in place ahead of time so that Sunday morning isn’t a run-around. This would also give them the opportunity to hear some of the music, get a feel for the style/mood for that morning, hear what the blend is between the vocalists and instrumentalists (since we are constantly rotating our music volunteers) and appropriately and creatively mix according to those details, all for the purpose of aiding in ‘storytelling’, much like visual effects in the church.

      I am worried at times for my sound technician co-worker, who I feel puts in a lot of work to get things set up and turned on (even if he is not running sound that Sunday), then mixes the board only to have it changed on Sunday morning. I do not want him to feel like he is putting in more work than he can handle, and then feel like his work at rehearsal is wasted due to the changes on Sunday morning. What are your suggestions/thoughts on this?

      I have tried to make it a goal to get to know more of the sound/technical side of the worship to have a better understanding of what my co-worker does (it is an art! And a difficult one at that). He has even graciously shown me how to patch chords and mics into our system, turn them on, and even a little information about sound levels/mixing. I am no expert, but this has allowed me to set up for smaller rehearsals when the sound technician does not need to be or cannot be there, and I have gained a greater appreciation for what sound techs do.

      I am thankful for Worship Leader Magazine and the opportunity I have to continue to educate myself in these matters.

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        From my perspective (having invested 11 years of my career working full time in churches as an Audio Director and Tech Director, and several more years mixing FOH in large churches), there is no “if possible” to discuss. Assuming the complexity of the music mix and the gear in use warrant it, and in your case it sounds like it does, your sound techs should make the commitment each week to be at the console for soundchecks, rehearsals, and of course the services. If there are multiple services on the weekend, they really should be there for all duplicate services.

        Yes, I know that everyone is busy. I’ve heard (and lived) all the stories myself. But if your goal is consistency, then the volunteers need to make attending rehearsals as much of a priority as the musicians do.

        The only other conceivable “out” is to record the rehearsals on digital multitrack, and schedule a time for the sound tech to use the “virtual soundcheck” feature as their rehearsal time. Doing so would be fraught with issues and is clearly NOT the preferred solution. But if you find yourselves between a rock and a hard place, the virtual soundcheck option might be worth a try.

    2. It sounds like the underlying purpose of this article is to complain about showing up to rehearsals. Everything we do in church is a service. If you don’t want to be there, then don’t run sound anymore. As far as setting up and showing the worship leaders how to shut it off…that’s the sound guy’s job. Not trying to be rude, but we don’t set up our guitars, walk off and tell you to do sound check on your own. I consider the tech guys to be part of the team. They are invited to every worship team meeting and get-together. They even join us for prayer before service. A team sticks together. Oh…just so you know, I was the sound guy for many years , so I have seen both sides. I agree that not all tech guys are included in the team the way they should be. But small frustrations can turn into lifelong resentment if its not addressed correctly.

    3. One thing I would suggest is to get a sound level meter. I won’t fix all your mixing issues, but as far as level of sound consistency it helps for your sound tech and your volunteer to know. I have six guys on rotation for sound and media, and they all hear differently, have different preferences. Some Sundays the music was too loud, and others it wasn’t. I got a sound level meter for them to have a visual guide and taking out their physical differences and preferences. It’s been good and I just started it two months ago.

    4. I tend to agree that the sound tech doesn’t necessarily need to be at every practice. But we do things a little differently – we use Planning Center Online to practice on our own during the week and we expect the sound tech (for that week) to also listen and get familiar with the songs. We even post online the soloists/groups involved so everyone should know what is supposed to happen by Sunday. We also use in-ear monitors which for practices doesn’t really require a sound tech to be there because we are mixing our own box for our own personal sound – so theres is no real reason for the sound tech to be there for that – again unless they want to to get a better sense of what it will sound like on Sunday (which I agree with the author depends on the ability of the tech involved).
      So with that being said, I again agree that there are different levels and expectations of everyone and each church/worship team will need to sort that out themselves.
      But one thing I strongly agree with – make sure the sound tech(s) are part of the team and include them in everything.

    5. You’ve shared great insight Wade, and I’m so glad you did so without making any blanket statements. Truly, “it depends” is the answer. Allow me to offer some additional points for your readers to consider.

      Most sound techs want to work alongside church worship teams that are serious about their efforts, players who arrive having already learned the songs and ready to put it together. Because at that point the sound tech – an equal member of the worship team – should also be at their post to work on their mix, working on vocal blends and music blends, sorting out what effects settings to use and where, learning any last minute changes that the musicians determine should be made, and so on. In other words, the sound tech has every need (and right) to rehearse with the live band as the players do.

      And while this conversation is about the sound techs, remember that the techs who build and run the video graphics as well as any theatrical lighting should be at the rehearsals as well. Ideally, the entire worship team — musicians, vocalists, AVL techs — would wrap up the rehearsal with a run-through or “mock service” to make sure the transitions are smooth and to catch any “Oh, man, I didn’t think about that” surprises.

      I would err on the side of the sound tech being at rehearsals as highly important, unless the worship team and tech decide together that it’s not necessary. And maybe that’s a decision to be made weekly? Frankly, the worship music set in a lot of churches is so simple that asking the sound tech to be there for rehearsals would not be beneficial. Let’s just say that if your entire FOH mix consists of four faders, staying home for an evening with the family or friends is better for all concerned.

      Finally, please also remember that this is a two way street. For any lazy worship teams that show up at rehearsal to learn the music (instead of having learned it before they arrived) – asking the sound tech to endure that process is disrespectful of their time and commitment.

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