Nothing’s more frustrating than creating a sub-par mix because the musicians don’t understand what they’re doing and the audio engineer doesn’t have the authority to say anything.
In church audio, a professional level of musicianship can’t be demanded but musicians do need to think like professionals.
Such musicians aren’t intentionally causing problems. They’ve adopted poor habits or aren’t able to perform at the expected level. The mix suffers and the congregation suffers.
What to do?
The audio engineer doesn’t have the authority over the worship leader or the musicians. They can’t be told what to do or how to do it. That’s to say, not in the ways usually ascribed to those in leadership.
There are ways to help, despite this limitation. I’ve seen a few problem musicians myself. The problems can be corrected when the right steps are taken while keeping in mind their emotional well-being.
Three Problem Musicians…
Their hearts are in the right place but they don’t realize the impact of what they’re doing.
1. The amp lover.
The amp lover is the easiest to correct. The problem they present is insisting their amp be the source of their guitar monitor (mic’d or not) all the while having it pointed at their knees and cranked too loud. They love their tone but don’t understand live production needs.
2. The stylizing singer.
Singers are on the stage to do one of two things; lead the congregation or support the lead singer. When they sing outside of their expected melody, then they are no longer leading or harmonizing. They sing too freely and it’s hard on the other singers and the congregation to follow along.
3. The double-duty musician.
There are some musicians who can sing and play an instrument at the same time while doing both tasks very well. And there are those who can’t.
A musician might say “God has blessed me with a great voice and a love for the drums so I feel I should use both gifts at the same time.” I had a worship leader tell me that.
Just because God blesses someone with two similar talents doesn’t mean He’s telling them to use both at the same time. Their heart is in the right place but when their double-duty results in doing one or both tasks poorly, then their sound suffers, other musicians have problems, and the mix suffers.
This worship leader would occasionally miss the snare or tom head and hit the rim.
Let’s start with the amp lover.
The first level of assistance is showing them how they can point the amp up at their heads for a better sound. If this means the church buys an amp stand then so be it.
Let’s say the musician does move it but still cranks the amp. Or, they don’t listen to the recommendations. Then what?
Talk with the worship leader. Explain the effect of the amp on the overall sound and its negative effect on the congregation. More than likely, the congregation is already unhappy with the sound. Give them a week or two. If nothing has changed, record the next service and give them a copy of the worship set after the service.
They will hear for themselves how the amp is negatively affecting the mix and they’ll take steps to get that problem resolved.
Next, the stylizer.
Working with the stylizer is a bit harder. I haven’t found anything that I could say to the musicians that would help. It was only in going to the worship leader that changes started to take place.
Much the same way as with the guitarist, give them a copy of the worship set so they can hear the impact of the stylizer. Go one step further. Recommend bringing in a vocal coach who doesn’t attend the church. Have that vocal coach attend a few services and then have them work with all of the singers. This way, not only will the stylizer have a professional point out their problem and show them how to overcome it but the coach can help the other singers so everyone benefits from professional instruction.
Finally, the double-duty musician.
This is the hardest of the three. Their heart is in the right place. My recommendation is if you’re good friends, sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with them. A copy of the worship set might help but focus on being honest with them.
My discussions with the worship leader who sang lead and drummed started with, “whenever you sing lead for a song, your rhythm playing becomes inconsistent and the band feels it and the congregation hears it.”
For stylizing singers try, “whenever you sing while playing, your singing volume is all over the place and sometimes, whether you realize it or not, you’ll miss a few lines when you sing harmony.”
In my case, it took many months until they finally accepted it and committed to doing only one of the two for each song. And once they did that, they felt freer on stage and thanked me for talking with them about the problem.
If you don’t think a direct discussion with the musician will help, talk with the worship leader about it. If the problem’s with the worship leader, go to them if possible. Focus on recognizing the desire of their heart and the leading of the congregation in worship.
Whether on the tech crew or worship team, each person is working for the congregation. The goal is presenting an environment conducive to worship so the congregation can worship fully and without distraction.
Working behind the mixer is more than technical work. It’s also about helping everyone reach that goal.