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Church Sound: Come On Musicians And Technicians, Let’s All Sing Kumbaya!

I have to admit my first thought was, "yeah, all of these prima donnas have that same complaint."

By Gary Zandstra August 16, 2011

When I walk into a performing arts center where the console is located up in the production booth, a million miles away from the stage and without even a hint of direct coverage from the main loudspeakers, I wonder how anyone can mix in this setting. 

Yes, I know mixing theatre is different than mixing a band, and monitor loudspeakers at the mix position help. But I’ve always found it difficult to mix in these types of situations.

I was thinking about this recently during a rehearsal when I was trying to do the worship team’s monitor mix by listening to it on headphones. 

I thought I had a decent mix, but one of the vocalists said she couldn’t hear herself. I have to admit my first thought was, “yeah, all of these prima donnas have that same complaint.”

Nonetheless, I dutifully put the headphones back on and listened. It still sounded good to me, and if anything, she was actually a little hot in the mix…

After completing another song, she again complained… er, I mean asked for more monitor.

A little perplexed (and perhaps a bit perturbed as well), I began the walk from the balcony front of house position to the stage, all the time thinking that maybe her monitor was unplugged or that she must be really insecure if she wants that much of herself in the monitor.

I arrived on stage, talked into her mic, and it sounded just fine. And after listening to the monitor while I was standing there, she said, “Oh, thanks for fixing that.”

I hadn’t changed a thing… and was thinking some things that were best left unsaid.

Since I was already on the main floor, I went backstage to grab some fresh batteries for the senior pastors’ wireless pack, and when I came back out on stage, the band was once again rehearsing. And no matter how you slice it, with live brass players, the stage volume is pretty hot.

And it dawned on me that the “prima donna” vocalist was actually nothing of the sort. With the brass section playing, she really could not hear herself. There was not enough overall level to overcome the acoustic sound of the brass on stage. 

The fix was easy – when I got back to front of house, I added about 6 dB to the monitor send. She smiled, gave me a big thumbs up, and all was good.

I came away with several important lessons:
1) Don’t expect the musicians to be able to communicate why they can’t hear themselves.  They may not know exactly why, they just know that they can’t hear.
2) Always, always keep the sarcastic comments to myself. Monitor adjustments for musicians are usually requested for a valid reason, and saying intemperate things doesn’t help regardless.
3) Unless you actually walk out into the space to get an actual point of reference for what his happening, there is no way to put together an accurate mix.

The bottom line is that musicians and technicians need to have “Kumbaya moments” where we trust and respect each other in pursuit of the goal we all truly share.

Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 25 years.

About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.


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Steve Olsen says

I feel your pain. As we built our new church a few years ago, my pastor looked at me like I was crazy to want the AV desk in a place where he could put chairs wink. But he does like the sound.

I sometimes run the monitor mixer instead of FOH in my “other life”. I try to never have a performer ask more than 2 or 3 times for a level change. Sometimes it isn’t their mix. It could be a misplace wedge. You would never know unless you stand in their shoes and hear what they hear.

Dale Alexander says

Portable acoustic barriers are wonderful things to have in your arsenal.  As the stage volume goes up the audio experience for the several front rows of congregation/audience is reduced substantially (if not the entire house sound).

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