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Who Defines “Good” Sound? The Sound Tech As An Equal Worship Team Member

To do an effective job the sound technician needs control over every detail related to the craft of developing a great sound.

For speech, the job of the sound technician is simple – to see to it that every word is heard clearly, preferably at a comfortable listening volume.

On the other hand, the music mix is very much left to the taste and discretion of the sound technician and the music minister, and in general, it should sound like a professional recording.

That is to say, a musically pleasing blend of the instruments and voices, enhanced with the tasteful use of effects devices to produce an overall sound that is very close to what one would expect to hear from a polished recording of that same music.

The sound technician and the music minister should hopefully come to an agreement as to what that finished mix should sound like, with the sound mixer should deferring to the taste of the music minister – and yet in the same breath – the music minister learning to trust the sound technician to do his/her job during the service.

These two comments can’t be separated – they must be considered together!

In most churches, only the sound technician is in a position to make decisions during the actual performance, and in effect, also becomes the producer. If you’re the music pastor and will be on the platform during the worship service, then the responsibility of the music mix must be delegated.

To delegate something means that you give it to someone. The word is a verb! It requires action.

Consider these definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for the word delegate:
– To entrust to another
– To appoint as one’s representative
– To assign responsibility or authority

It doesn’t mean relinquishing total control, but letting go of the mix in order for the sound technician to take it.

I can tell you that I’ll let you borrow my car, and I can even hold my keys out to you, but until I let go of those keys and put them in your hand, you can’t go drive my car.

Hopefully two things will surface: the sound technician and music minister will find that they have very similar tastes in music and what a good mix sounds like; also, the sound technician’s creative input will be valued highly and considered an objective and positive force toward a pleasing end product.

The craft of sound mixing is to shape all of the musical elements into a polished, finished product, in much the same way that the music minister shapes the sound of the choir, for example, into a polished, finished product.

Each does the best he/she can with the tools provided. And neither is a miracle-worker.

Every Detail

Most sound technicians want ownership of the mix. They want to make the decisions about which microphones are chosen and how they’re placed. To do an effective job the sound technician needs control over every detail related to the craft of developing a great sound.

This includes having some measure of control over where and how instruments are placed on the stage. Even though it might look cool, the sound technician doesn’t want the acoustic drum set sitting in the choir’s lap! If it is, place $3,000 worth of mics on the choir and all they’ll amount to is a $3,000 hi-hat mic!

It’s also a personal issue – just as personal as the way a musician grabs the chords on the keyboard or guitar, the choice of notes that a bass guitarist or soloist makes, or the subtle nuances in performance so important to a drummer, percussionist, or even worship leader.

A friend of mine, Dale Alexander, is a musician and highly regarded church sound consultant. Dale has created the term “mix musician” to describe what it is that the sound technician does at the sound console.

When he first mentioned this to me, I didn’t get it. It didn’t feel quite right. Maybe it’s because I made my living for several years as a professional musician, and over time had changed my career to being a recording engineer and live sound engineer.

For some reason I didn’t equate the two roles. When I sat at the console, I didn’t feel like I was playing music. But lately I’ve come to better understand it, and have to agree with Dale’s description.

When I’m at the console mixing a service, I feel basically the same emotions as I used to feel when I was playing keyboards in the band. Looking back on my years of mixing, I realize that I have felt those same “player” emotions since the day I mixed my first song. The title fits.

Emotions & Attitude

Now when I mix a worship service, I’m quite literally worshipping just as much as any other musician on the stage. I can’t exactly close my eyes or throw my head back or even raise my hands, but the emotions and attitude of worship are still there.

Accepting the “mix musician” as an equal member of the worship team, means affording the same right to freedom of expression that musicians and singers are regularly enjoy. We could have a similar discussion when it comes to stage lighting or video graphics.

Someone needs to make the final say, and I’m not about to tell you who that person should be. It can be different for every church, so you need to figure out what works best for you.

But please embrace the tech team as equal members of your worship team.  You’ll be greatly blessed by the end result.

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