“It sounded bad.“ “I didn’t like it.” “It normally sounds a lot better.” Have you ever heard someone describe live music using those words? There is a 75% change it’s not your fault!
Working in live sound, I’ve managed to unintentionally teach my wife how to listen to music. She’ll comment on how well an instrument sits in the mix when she listens to a new CD. She’ll notice when a live music set has something wrong and can often identify the problem. If only everyone knew how to critique music.
The problem you have, as the sound tech, is when someone walks up after the service and says something like “the music usually sounds better.“ Or, you might even hear about it later in the week when it comes to you via word-of-mouth; “my friend’s mother said the music sounded bad.“ What do they mean? What was bad about it? What did you do wrong?
The 75% chance your mix is not the problem
There are four reasons why live church worship music sounds bad. Four reasons means 25% chance each could be the reason for the problem. While you could have more than one reason, then we get into adding percentages and honestly, the next think you know, it turns into “if two drummers are walking in opposite directions, what are the odds that one of them is going a paying gig?”
Reason #1: It’s your mix
From the point of view of someone in the congregation finding fault in your mix, it’s likely one of the following points;
- Poor volume balancing. You might have pushed an instrument too loud or buried a lead rhythm instrument that makes it hard to follow the tempo. You can fix this by building your mix through performing volume balancing where drums are first, then you layer other instruments, until your vocals are sitting on top.
- Instrument(s) not audible. I’ve been at a few events, church or otherwise, where I’ve found the mix sounded good but one instrument wasn’t even in the mix. What’s up with that? (Subscribers to this site will get a bit more on this point in an upcoming email.)
- Vocals not heard. You let your instruments dominate the mix while having your vocals play second fiddle. Second fiddle is a term for describing something that’s not treated as primary importance. Fix this by remembering that vocals are number 1 when it comes to worship music. If people can’t be lead by the vocal line, then you don’t have it loud (or distinct) enough.
- Lack distinct sounds. Listening to music, you like hearing distinct sounds. A mix where instruments blend together and all sit in the same place in the mix is a mix that lacks depth. Fix this by creating a general mix with volumes balanced correctly and a bit of EQ work for removing bad frequencies. Then make changes so you have a distinct mix where instruments and vocals occupy their own spaces.
Reasons #2: [In a whispered voice] Poor musicianship
Poor musicianship isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’m not casting judgment. I’m just saying these points can result in a bad sound. Having played on a worship team, I can say I’ve either seen this first-hand or have been guilty of one or two myself.
- Singers not singing in key. Could be a singer getting over a cold. Could be a singer who doesn’t have the ear they think they do. Could be a singer who is unsuccessfully singing a counter-melody or a harmony line.
- Musicians don’t know the song. I’ve had a handful of times when I didn’t know a song as well as I should and ended up making chord changes at the wrong time.
- Musicians can’t play as one unit. This is usually because they don’t all know the song as they should. However, I’ve seen it with singers who would stylize and throw off everyone else. I’ve seen it with…well…for whatever reason, the song doesn’t sound like it should.
Reason #3: Poor Arrangement
A worship leader should be good at song arrangement or have a musician who is good at it. Bad song arrangement can be seen with…
- Arrangement drastically different than what the congregation likes/expects. I’m all for re-arranging a song but if the congregation doesn’t like bass, then don’t have a “bass-only” verse. Don’t make it a ska-version when the congregation likes piano-centric songs.
- Arrangement too slow. I’m calling this an arrangement issue. People sing slow songs slower than they should. If the arrangement calls for a slow song, then establish a suitable tempo and stick with it. Otherwise, the congregation will slow down the band.
- Arrangement too difficult. There is a time and place for everything. If an arrangement calls for fast-paced tempo changes, chord changes, and key changes, then it’s not the right arrangement for a team of rookie musicians. They will destroy the song and die trying to survive the arrangement.
Reason #4 Poor music choices
Working in broadcasting ere long ago, I learned about one of the most important jobs; music director. The job of the music director, in brief, is adding music into rotation and removing songs from rotation. The trick to doing a great job is giving the listeners new music which fits their likes while rotating existing music in and out so it doesn’t grow stale. As this relates to music choice for worship songs…
- Playing all new songs. A worship team can’t perform all new songs and expect the congregation to fully worship. When I was on a team, we worked in a new song by first playing it as a “song for reflection” where the congregation listens – no singing along. A week later, perform it in the worship set. Do it again the next week. Then, it’s safely become familiar to the congregation.
- Playing songs with difficult timing. Certain songs don’t lend themselves to worship songs even if they are worship songs. I hear this when half the congregation is singing it right and the other half is singing when they think they should sing.
- Playing songs all with the same tempo. Bringing in my broadcasting background again, songs on the radio are not played randomly. One of the components of the song schedule for the radio hour is tempo. It’s usually something like this; play 1 fast tempo, 1-2 medium tempo, and 1 slow tempo. Playing songs with the same tempo tires the listener. For that reason, tempo rotation is key to keeping people listening to each song.
Speaking of poor music choices, I recently played Air Supply’s “Lost in Love” on the jukebox at the local bowling alley. While it’s a familiar song for many people my age, I found out it’s not one we tend to admit loving. #EmbarrassingMoments.
There are a variety of reasons for complaints like “it sounded bad” and “it normally sounds a lot better.“ While your mix can contribute to a bad sound, there are obviously other reasons for a bad sound. Leading worship and playing / singing on the worship team well…those are hard jobs. Just like your job, they take determination and dedication to present the best sound week after week.
If you are a sound tech reading this, please take this as encouragement that even when you have a great mix, you can get negative comments…and it’s not your fault.
If you are a musician/singer/worship leader reading this, please take this as an encouragement that we sound techs know you have a difficult job. However, please see your work as more than playing a set of songs. You must pick the right songs for your congregation, arrange them in the right way for your congregation, and play/sing them like you have known them for years.
Do you need help building a solid mix? Audio Essentials for Church Sound will show you how you can do it every week.
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Imagine not worrying about the new sound tech on your team. Imagine if they came to you with years of experience. I’m in that very situation. Here’s how I’m adding him to the team.
First off, because this has been a topic of discussion here on the site…he is a church member. He started attending the church and shortly thereafter mentioned he’d like to join my team at some point. We both agreed that he needed to spend some time at the church with his family and in due time I’d gladly add him to the team. That time is now.
What to teach the experienced sound tech
This weekend, I’ll be running sound and he’ll be helping me. Being a new team member, naturally, I want him tagging along with myself a few times before he is on his own. There are six key pieces of information any experienced tech should know when they are working in a new room.
The six key pieces of information
1. Equipment location
Mixing in different churches for everything from church services to weddings, I always ask where the equipment is located. Therefore, I’ll show him where all the audio equipment is located on the stage, behind the stage, and in the sound booth. He doesn’t need to spend five minutes looking for a condenser microphone.
2. Instrument mic’ing
I don’t need to teach him the process of mic’ing the piano or the djembe. However, I do want to show him the best way I’ve found to do it. I’m not saying he has to use my methods. He might find a new way that gets a better sound. He deserves the ability to be creative and use his own skills and talents.
3. The sound check process
We’ve been using the same process for a long time and it works great. He needs to learn our process and follow it. I don’t want each sound tech to use a different sound check process. Predictable and routine processes benefit everyone because they know what to do and when to do it.
4. Volume average
You know how picky a congregation can be concerning volume. I know exactly our average SPL readings. I’m likely not to tell him about this right away. I want to see how loud he mixes in the room. Once he hits his perfect volume then I’ll step in and say something if necessary. I’d rather he judge by his ears first and then compare it to a number.
5. Musician quirks
Worship leaders have their quirks. Musicians have their quirks. You have your quirks. He needs to know what not to say or do when it comes to the musicians and the worship leader. What might be perceived as a joke to one person could be perceived as a critique by another. I want him starting off with a good relationship with the band. Most experienced sound techs should be able to successfully work with people regardless of knowing their background but let’s be honest…every little bit helps.
5. Congregational mix preference
This is not about volume. Each congregation has preferences in how they like their music mixed; heavy drums, light drums, heavy guitar, heavy vocals, etc. Our congregation likes a mix I’d equate to contemporary Christian pop music. He needs to have that mix in mind so the congregation can focus on worship.
6. Using the recording device
The days of recording to a tape are long gone for most of us. Our CD recorder has a simple step for recording but an easy step to miss after recording. It has a “finalize” function. Miss that and the CD can’t be read.
Is that it?
The rest, I’m leaving up to him. The first time he is on duty, I’ll watch him and only speak when necessary. He needs room to work and find limits. I will only be present in case of problems or I need to make mix recommendations. I want to show him respect for his experience while keeping that in balance with teaching him the uniqueness of our church.
You train a person new to sound by teaching them the technical, the creative, and the uniqueness of your church. When you get an experienced sound tech on your team, don’t short-change them by not teaching them these six key pieces of information. And let them express their skills and creative talents. They might have something to teach you.
Do you have a new person ready to join your team? Get them a copy of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. This book takes them step-by-step through all aspects of church sound. They’ll learn how to set up the stage and how to meet the expectations of the pastor, the musicians, and the congregation. They’ll also learn how to create a solid music mix every time.
TEHRAN, Iran — Midas’ Iranian distributor, Ertebat Sedaye Bartar Co., has sold the first PRO6 live audio system, together with a Klark Teknik DN9696 high definition audio recorder, to the country’s leading rental company, Ardestani Brothers.
More details from Midas (www.midasconsoles.com):
Company co-founder Hasan Ardestani is one of Iran’s top FOH engineers, and the company provides sound systems for a variety of events, including concert tours by the country’s leading singers such as Mohammad Esfahani , Reza Sadeghi and Mohsen Yeganeh.
After receiving their PRO6, Ardestani Brothers deployed it in one of Tehran’s biggest and most challenging venues, Milad Hall, which is used for concerts, conventions and seminars. To date, the PRO6 has been used to enhance performances by the Azerbaijan Symphony Orchestra and traditional Iranian singer Hesmedin Seraj concert in Milad Hall.
“The PRO6 sounds superb and no matter how hard you push the system, there will always be more head room,” says Ardestani. “There is no compromise with this system, and you can really notice the superb quality and the difference it makes.”
Ardestani Brothers also announced plans to add some Midas PRO2s to their inventory.
DELRAY BEACH, FL — Multi-instrumentalist Amber Leigh, an independent artist who does close to 200 gigs per year, is backed by a band with its own gear and sound mixer. Recently, the band added a Turbosound NuQ portable PA system.
More details from Turbosound (www.turbosound.com):
"The idea is to be truly independent without sacrificing quality," said Holland Ryan, the band’s sound engineer. "So we got a small NuQ system from Turbosound. It's compact, lightweight, and sounds incredible. So if the venue we're playing doesn't have their own sound system, like an outdoor festival or a hotel ballroom, we can still put on a quality show. It's been amazing."
"With Turbosound speakers, each night I step on stage, I know my performance will sound terrific, and the audience will get to hear the show the way it should sound every time," said Leigh.
The Turbosound NuQ system includes four NuQ-12DP mains and four NuQ B-15DP subwoofers. All are self-powered, eliminating the need for an amp rack. Typically, Ryan double-stacks a pair of the B-15DP subwoofers on either side of the stage, with one NuQ-12DP on a pole mount above them. A second NuQ-12DP is then mounted on a tripod stand to the side, aimed as needed depending on stage width and the shape of the venue.
"Having the NuQ system has been fantastic for us. It's extremely flexible and easy to use," Ryan said. "I can use all of it or part of it and provide great sound for anywhere from 100 to 1,500 people. The subs are under 100 pounds and are on wheels, so I can set the whole thing up by myself if I have to. And with the on-board DSP, I can optimize the performance for any situation. All I need is a power source and we're good to go."
For an independent artist like Amber Leigh, a self-contained rig like the Turbosound NuQ system helps ensure consistent sound regardless of the venue. "That's always been our goal," noted Ryan. "We could be playing a gymnasium, an outdoor park, small club or a hotel, and know that we're going to sound good. Everyone who hears it is intrigued at how compact the setup is, and how polished and professional it all sounds and looks. It's the kind of thing that gets you invited back."
For gigs around their home base in Delray Beach, the Amber Leigh Band travels by van, carrying everything they need in a 6-by-10-foot trailer. The Turbosound NuQ includes the PA system, and a rack of in-ear systems serves as monitors for the five-piece group, with Ryan controlling it all from a single Allen & Heath iLive-T112 console.
"The simple fact is, you can't always afford to hire a full PA and crew for every gig," Ryan noted. "Being self-contained means we can do more gigs and know that the audience is getting great sound, no matter what kind of venue it is."
Having used the Turbosound NuQ system for a couple months now, Ryan is convinced the band made a smart choice. "The NuQ is the cleanest, clearest, flattest sounding box I've heard in a very long time," he concludes. "The output they provide in such a compact size is almost insane. I can produce sound in the mid-90s decibels for over 1,000 people and still have plenty of headroom to spare. And when I push the system close to its limits at big shows, it doesn't get distorted, and it stays accurate, with none of the midrange honk you get from a lot of other systems. It's really amazing."
CHICAGO — TC Furlong is supporting two Chicago-based theatrical productions with Shure UHF-R wireless gear, each presenting different audio challenges: the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Sondheim Follies at Navy Pier, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Showboat at the Civic Opera House.
More details from Shure (www.shure.com):
A veteran of concerts, conventions, and everything in between, the Shure UHF-R wireless system has earned a reputation as the warhorse of wireless systems. Having shared the spotlight with mega-stars and mega-ministers, it’s no surprise that UHF-R was chosen to support two classic productions presented by two classic theater companies in two distinctly different venues in Chicago, each of which posed unique challenges. Local wireless experts TC Furlong Inc., based in Lake Forest, Illinois, provided audio support for both shows.
At the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Sondheim Follies at Navy Pier, 20 channels of UHF-R wireless system were used, with a mix of standard and micro-bodypack transmitters. “One challenge was coordinating with existing wireless mic and intercom systems at the venue,” said Jeff Cech, general manager at TC Furlong. Cech used Shure Wireless Workbench software to help make this task simpler. After the frequencies of the existing systems were entered, Wireless Workbench calculated compatible frequencies for the UHF-R systems quickly.
The Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Showboat at the Civic Opera House presented a different challenge: finding enough clear frequencies in the congested RF environment of downtown Chicago. “Available spectrum at the venue was scattered throughout the TV broadcast band, so we used UHF-R systems in three different frequency ranges,” said Cech. A total of 18 channels of UHF-R wireless systems were fed by a single pair of directional antennas connected to two UA845 wideband antenna distribution units, which fed RF signal to all of the receivers.
ATLANTA — Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball tour kicked off at Philips Arena here March 17 with an L-Acoustics K1/KUDO WST line source system provided by Solotech US Corp. of Las Vegas.
More details from L-Acoustics (www.l-acoustics.com):
Harnessing the power of Springsteen and his 17-piece band is FOH mix veteran John Cooper who has provided mixing services for "The Boss" for the past 10 years. Cooper also performs mixing duties for many other high-profile artists, including Sheryl Crow, Wynonna Judd, Ringo Starr and Lionel Richie.
The K1/KUDO system provided for the Wrecking Ball tour consists of 60 K1 enclosures, 16 K1-SB subwoofers, 24 KARAs, 48 KUDOs and eight SB28 subs. In many venues, the audience is in 360 degrees as the set design allows for unobstructed views from the rear. Sixteen V-DOSC cabinets are also brought along to provide delay fill in venues when necessary.
All L-Acoustics speakers are processed and powered via the LA8 four-channel amplified controller and all LA8s are contained and interconnected via the LA-RAK. The tour also boasts the first wide-scale use of L-Acoustics' LA Network Manager 2 software providing advanced control and monitoring of more than 76 LA8 controllers.
"Solotech personnel have been outstanding; they show a great attention to details," said Cooper. "At this point in time I have not heard a more refined, accurate and musical sound system."
Springsteen's first concert tour since 2009 is presently scheduled to play dates in North America and Europe through September, with stadium dates recently added for Boston, Vernon (NY), Chicago, Washington DC, Toronto, Moncton (NJ) and Philadelphia. Solotech is providing full audio production services for the entire US Wrecking Ball tour.
For more information, see the Production Profile written by editor George Peterson in the May 2012 issue of FRONT of HOUSE Magazine. An online version is posted here:
ELK GROVE, CA — For LifePointe Christian Church, which was converting a Harley Davidson showroom into a 400-seat church, David McLain, project manager with Olympia, WA-based CCI, recommended a NEXO PS15 system including three PS15s, one CD18 and a 4x4 NXAMP.
More details from Nexo and Yamaha (www.yamahaca.com):
“Pastor Chris Delfs sought out a new location where they would not only own their space but could create a unique, new culture,” said McLain. “They weren’t looking for a NEXO system per se, but were looking for good advice.”
McLain noted that the space, measuring only 60 feet deep and with less than 20 feet of trim, wasn’t well-suited for a line array. The asymmetrical horn pattern of a PS15, he added, “reaches the back rows with ease.”
“David actually discouraged a line array approach in this case, and if you look at how much the HVAC and lighting impacts the trim height, the PS solution was much better,” said Steve Armstrong of PROS Inc., independent rep firm for NEXO.
“I’d been hearing a lot of talk about NEXO speakers over the past few years,” and have listened to various models and I was impressed enough to recommend them for a couple of rooms, particularly given the outstanding support I’ve been receiving from Yamaha Commercial Audio Systems,” said McLain. “I didn’t really know the extent of the NEXO lineup until I had opportunity to listen critically and extensively to their whole selection of speakers at a demo at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center in California. The Cerritos Center is an awesome building. We used their beautiful main room to try out the NEXO speakers. I spent the first demo day designing speaker systems for rooms using various software, and I liked the way the NEXO speakers worked in the planning, and also liked what I saw in the computer models. The NS-1 software was easy to work with, so I imported some real-world rooms, like LifePointe, that I’d been working on. It appeared the NEXO PS Series would provide excellent coverage.
“I have to admit, there’s a fair bit of skeptic in me,” McLain continued. “A box that promises a rectangular coverage pattern had better do more than just advertise well! It needs to offer an actual rectangular coverage pattern. And, more importantly, it needs to sound good!
“In the next day’s listening tests, I measured 112 dB at the back of the listening room, and, I have to say, it sure didn’t feel like 112 dB,” McClain continued. “In fact, it didn’t sound like a PA playing. It sounded like a woman was right there singing to me. Yamaha brought in a live jazz drummer and they just sounded louder, like there was no PA in between. Even the little NEXO PS8 two-way sounded way bigger than its small size. And, all of the subwoofers for the line arrays – which were shaking my pant legs at 100 feet – are cardioid subs. Even during the “fairly loud” cuts, we could easily hold a conversation on the stage behind the subwoofers.”
Armstrong added that Pastor Delfs also appreciated CCI’s insistence on NEXO. “David has provided LifePointe with five previous systems and each one has progressed in terms of quality and capabilities,” he noted.
“Every Sunday, one of our congregation members emotes about the system, which is so significant to my passion to lead people to a better way, that I’m thrilled beyond words,” said Pastor Delfs. “I love the NEXO sound system. David and CCI hit it out of the ballpark.”
For more information on CCI Solutions, visit www.ccisolutions.com.
BRATISLAVA, Slovak Republic — Sound specialist Patrik Kvacka is using his new Midas PRO2 console, the first sold in Slovakia, to support concerts by Berlin-based Jazzanova and a U.K.-based jazz and electronic band, The Cinematic Orchestra.
Kvacka ordered the PRO2 after attending a demo of the new console staged by SBL Acoustics, Midas’ Slovakian distributor. He was among more than 60 sound specialists and engineers attending that event.
"The dimensions of the PRO2, combined with its weight, capabilities and price, is exactly what I was looking for,” said Kvacka, who has several years’ experience of mixing on a Midas PRO6. “The PRO2 gives me everything that I need.”
For more information, please visit www.midasconsoles.com.
HELENSVALE, Australia — Dominica Sound worked with DiGiCo’s Australian distributor, Group Technologies, to provide a DiGiCo SD11 console for a new performing arts center at Helensvale Primary School.
More details from DiGiCo (www.digico.org):
In these financially difficult times, maximizing the potential of facilities has become a key issue for the education sector. At the same time as delivering high quality education in line with modern expectations, schools need to ensure that their facilities generate their own revenue. These are the reasons why one Australian primary school has invested in DiGiCo, opening up a new market for the console manufacturer.
Helensvale Primary, located on Queensland's Gold Coast, recently finished a new performing arts centre, complete with a full audio-visual solution designed, supplied and installed by Dominica Sound via DiGiCo’s Australian distributor, Group Technologies.
“The school was previously hiring halls at its local arts centre for its events, but wanted to become self-contained in order to cut some of the operational overheads,” says Steve McCallum, director of Dominica Sound. “At the same time, they wanted to ensure that the space could accommodate a wide variety of events and be rented out to other schools - generating income while, at the same time, saving the other schools money."
Measuring around 40m x 25m, with a stage at one end and elevated seating at the other, the 1100-capacity venue needed a high quality audio system and so a DiGiCo SD11 digital console was specified.
"We went with DiGiCo because it turned out to be a higher quality and more cost effective solution than anything else,” says Steve. “The sound quality of any other digital console wouldn't have been anywhere near as good as the SD11, so it was a simple choice."
Another big advantage of choosing the SD11 was the ability to configure the console for non-technical individuals, such as teachers and student AV operators from other schools.
"Helensvale holds a talent show at the end of every school day. The SD11 is setup with every input on every layer so anybody can walk in, clearly see which fader belongs to which input and begin using the desk. The teachers have commented on how easy it is to use. They just turn it on, select the inputs and then control volume, it's that simple," Steve continues.
"Everyone loves the new system. One of the teachers has told me that they feel like they've won the lottery!”