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Church Sound: Lessons Learned In Blending Science & Art

A tale of keeping the mind open to learn unexpected lessons about worship audio

Over the years at various venues, many of them worship oriented, I’ve had the privilege of working as producer and technical manager for many touring groups as they come to town to perform.

In that time, I’ve seen a lot of crazy things: miking a snare drum with the rear (strongest pick up rejection point of a cardioid microphone) of the mic pointed towards the drum head; miking a guitar amp with two mics placed tight together (and taped) with the mic heads side by side and then run in mono without putting them out of phase with each other (can you say ‘phase cancellation’?)…

Anyway, you get the idea.

But I always try to approach events and the people involved with the mindset that I can learn something in every situation. Although, to be honest, I have to admit that there have been times where a cantankerous sound guy practicing his own special brand of incompetence has caused thoughts of “every live sound guy is an arrogant idiot!” to cross my mind.

Then again, I’ve been that arrogant so-and-so a few times myself. Like the time I was trying to “help” the seasoned road guy who was using two mics on a snare drum, one on top and one on bottom, and I told him in relatively brash terms that it would never work. “You’re gonna have all kinds of phasing problems” is pretty close to my direct quote.

Fortunately this veteran, who obviously had a heart for and desire to educate the “arrogant idiots” that think they know everything, stopped mic’ing the drums and very calmly explained to me why he was using this particular microphone technique, even drawing polar patterns and phasing charts on the back of a set list as he explained it to me.

In a nut shell, he noted that by placing the mic on the bottom of the snare out of phase with the mic on the top of the snare, and doing some really bizarre (at least it seemed that way to me) equalization on both mics, a great snare sound would be achieved.

During the show that night, I marveled at how it felt like every time the drummer hit the snare drum, the crack was crisp, and really felt like it was smacking me in the back of my head. So thanks to this patient soul, I learned that phase shift is frequency dependent, and that it can be used as a positive.

Anyway, years later, another touring act came through town. The budget was tight, so the band (internationally known, Dove Award nominated) was only traveling with stage instruments and their in-ear monitoring setup. They’d be using our house system, and this meant I would work closely with their sound guy.

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