If I gave you a choice between mixing and setting up the stage, I know which you’d pick. However, it’s the work on the stage that gives you everything you need for mixing.
Recently, a discussion came up surrounding the best process for training volunteer sound techs. Many people said they have techs start with stage set-up and eventually progress to mixing. The idea seemed to be “if you can handle setting up the stage then I’ll you can progress to mixing.”
Might I give a different point of view?
Everything you do, on the stage, drives your rate of success behind the mixer.
The Four Reasons To Start On Stage
1) Builds band relationships. You’re on a team with the worship band. Spending time on setup gets the new tech the face-time with musicians to build trust and that team-work mentality. This goes a long way to preventing the “us-versus-them” mentality. A team with a great relationship is a team what works together.
2) Learn signal flow. The most common reason for not getting sound in a channel is a signal routing issue on the stage. The responsibility of correct signal routing comes down on the shoulders of the sound tech, even in the cases where musicians set up their own equipment.
A new sound tech gets a great opportunity to learn all about signal flow when they are setting up microphones, direct boxes, and guitar equipment. Combine an experienced sound tech in the booth with a new tech on the stage for the line-check process and you’ve got a great educational situation for the new tech.
3) Learn how to mic an instrument for your room. You can mic a piano several ways and get a different sound with each method. Stage work gives new sound techs the opportunity to learn the different ways of miking an instrument and what works best for the room.
One day they’ll be behind the mixer and instead of trying to “fix” a bad sound via EQ, they’ll know to try changing the microphone location.
4) See the sanctuary from the point of view of the musicians. Being the sound tech is a high-pressure gig. However, at least you don’t have everyone looking at you. Every new sound tech needs to spend time on the stage just to know how that feels. They need to know what it feels like when you are relying on someone at the back of the sanctuary to make you sound your best.
Not only does natural stage setup help with this, but any time during the service that a tech needs to run on stage, send the new guy.
I have two take-aways, First, if you’re a new sound tech, please consider stage work as a crucial aspect of live audio production. A great working relationship with the band, a solid foundational knowledge of signal flow and instrument mic’ing, along with a healthy dose of “what it’s like on the other side” will enable you to work your best behind the mixer and benefit everyone with what you do.
Second, if you plan on training a sound tech, consider stage work as an aspect of their training that will make them better behind the mixer, not just more rounded in their skill set.
Chris Huff is a long-time practitioner of church sound and writes at Behind The Mixer, covering topics ranging from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians – and everything in between.