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Church Sound: But Does It Sound Right?

A couple of "instructive experiences" on knowing what you're getting into ahead of time...

Recently I took a compact line array rig out for a demo that was also a live event. The system included six full-range line array modules and four 18-inch-loaded subwoofers, driven by 12,000-watt amplifiers—and there were four more 18-inch subs sitting in the corner.

The demo room wasn’t all that large, and when I walked in and saw the size of it, and then pondered the scale of the system and those four extra subs, my first thought was, “We have way more PA than we’ll ever use—I hope we don’t hurt anyone.”

I was then introduced to Rick, who was running the event and also serving as the front of house mixer, and after exchanging pleasantries, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be needing the subs. Rick simply gave me a tight smile and said, “We’ll see.”

We finished setting up the system and Rick patched in his iPod, and we began listening. By the conclusion of the first measure of music, I realized my statement about not needing the subs was wrong. The music was hip-hop, and while the full-range line array had a solid, balanced attack, it was having a hard time going as deep as the program material demanded.

The combination of the 18-inch subs handling the deep, really low frequencies combined with the overall solid performance of the full-range boxes was the right ticket. This was furthered because Rick divided the subs into two groups, each with its own aux send so that they could be further tailored and optimized.

The system rocked the house; the only problem was the occasional tripping of a breaker because there weren’t enough separate electrical circuits to spread out the power load.

Another issue was that I had to eat humble pie, but Rick was nice about it and chose not to rub it in. (Maybe it was because I brought a free sound system for him to use.)

This brought to mind a similar experience…

A few years ago, I was providing a system and doing front of house for an outdoor event, and one of the opening acts for the day was a Tex-Mex band.

As we got them wired up, the guy playing the acoustic guitar started playing to do a monitor check. I was busy and didn’t pay much attention, but I do remember thinking that what he was playing didn’t sound like an acoustic guitar to me.

When the band launched into the first song of their set. I did my usual PFL (pre-fade listen) check on vocals, bass and drums, and was just about to PFL the acoustic guitar when someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You need more guitar in the mix.”

I thanked him, raised the guitar about 10 dB, and then PFL’d the guitar channel—and was very confused by what I was hearing. It didn’t sound at all like an acoustic guitar, plus the guy was playing it like he was Eddie Van Halen.

Luckily for me, the gentleman who asked me to turn up the guitar was still standing next to me, so I asked him to listen to the guitar through the headphones because I was pretty sure something was wrong.

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But to my surprise, he said it sounded good. After my initial shock, I realized that I couldn’t put together a good mix for this band since I had no clue as to what they and their music were supposed to sound like!

At this point I again turned to my new friend asked him if he’d ever mixed before. “A little bit,” he replied, “but I don’t know my way around the board that well.”

To which I responded, “That’s OK—I can drive if you tell me where we’re going.” So I spent the next half hour getting a lesson on what Tex-Mex should sound like as my friend and I co-mixed the group.

The moral of both of these stories is simple: always know what you’re getting into ahead of time so you can be properly prepared both in terms of having the right gear for the gig and to do justice with the mix.

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