Scenario: It’s 5 minutes before the service is due to start and the band leader is getting stressed because the sound guy has had a battery-related catastrophe and is nowhere to be seen as he attempts to source new ones.
Or the sound guy is getting frustrated and pleading for the musos to please just play a song- any song for long enough for him to actually manage to mix the band, while the band leader is slightly preoccupied in helping the newbie drummer to play in 6/8.
Or everyone in the band is struggling to hear themselves and the tech is being harassed from every vocal mic on stage, and it’s all feeding back and if the pastor wasn’t two feet away they would scream at each other.
Sound in any way familiar?
A friend once remarked to me that the majority of musos he knows struggle to not be proud, and most of the sound guys/girls he knows are tempted to be condescending. The musos may feel their creative output is being damaged by the tech’s lack of care/musicality, and the tech’s only response is to judge the musicians under their breath for really not having a clue what the difference between a DI box and a subwoofer, never mind what a good sound actually is!
We hope that through this post we can start to rebuild what we often lose amongst the creative snobbery, fear of man and technical pride that we creative types can put out, sometimes without even realising. We can start to rebuild an idea of teamwork that is God-glorifying, self-denying and family loving in a way that it maybe often isn’t.
As a start, lets have a think about where our attitudes can be flawed.
I reckon there are two main reasons for musos to sometimes struggle to treat their techs well. Most of us will either err on one side or the other, or probably if you’re like me, go between the two depending on your mood!
After all, we are the trained musicians! We create the beautiful sound that people rave over. We are at the front of church. We have creativity and talent. We have spent maybe years cultivating our gift. So of course we know exactly what levels thing should be set at. Of course we need to hear ourselves above everything in the mix. How much skill does it take to push a few buttons? My violin on the other hand…
Actually we are not always that confident in what we are doing… so if we can’t hear ourselves, we panic that we are out of tune and are tempted speak sharply to the techie with the common phrase: ‘yes I do need more. more. MORE!’ Or if we forget to mute before unplugging, or wave our mic in front of the speaker causing feedback that renders the rest of the band temporarily deaf, we automatically frown at the sound desk to deflect the blame. ( It’s amazing how often this has hidden the fact that I’ve been secretly thankful for feedback that conveniently covers my bum notes…)
Where would the band be without us? Nobody could hear or see anything if it wasn’t for our work/gifts. We’re precious, and sometimes even crucial to our church services (or so we think). We let the power get to our head, and quickly think we know all there is to know about everything – tech, music and mixing. Plus we are pretty good at getting technology to do what we want it to; even the most complicated of technologies… phwarr look at our egos grow! Because we know best, we can be so quick to shut down the acoustic guitarist as they try to suggest the best EQ for their guitar or politely suggest you turn on the phantom power (+48v) when the DI box isn’t working.
Working away at the back, we’re almost invisible. No matter how hard we work, the congregation rarely notice us, except when something goes wrong. We can be so quick to feel jealous of the praise the band might get, when we probably played such a large part in making them sound that easy and enjoyable to worship with. What’s the point of working hard if people don’t even notice it? Or it might be the opposite, we might feel so vulnerable as everything goes wrong and we just can’t get the band under control. We’re so quick to pass the blame on to the band or shout at them, all because we turned up late for sound check or we just feel too much pressure.
Hey look – similar trappings for both musos and techs… maybe we aren’t so different after all!
So what can we do about it?
Is it time we start trying to not let insecurities or nerves put a division between us and the band/sound team we’re supposed to be serving alongside? When everything is going wrong and we’re getting stressed with each other, it’s exactly the time we need to be working well as a team – stop what you’re doing and go over to pray with them!
As techs, we need to care for and serve our musicians. If you want your mix to sound the best it can, you need the musicians to play the best they can. To play the best they can, the band need a good stage sound. We often neglect checking and rechecking our monitor mixes, thinking we need to concentrate on front of house sound and just keep the monitors as quiet as possible. If we as techs start serving our bands and making sure they’re happy with what they can hear, we’ll be working with a better sound at source – both tonally and musically. By serving the band, you’re enabling them to serve and lead the congregation in their service and praise of God. Honouring them and putting their relationship with Christ first is what’s crucial, not getting the best kick drum sound you can or even starting the service bang on time.
As musicians, we need to care for and serve our techs. It’s important you can hear the rest of the band, so do spend time making sure your monitors are appropriate. But we’re not touring with our own monitor engineer, so leave the monitor mixes alone as soon as you can. Be patient with your tech as they battle with problems… there are always problems! We need to prioritise our relationships, not our perfect performance. [Side note from Bertie: Please also bear with us as techs, we’re a socially odd bunch who love technology. We’re sorry for the times we snap or forget to encourage you; it’s a privilege to serve God and his people alongside you!]
It’s going to be crucial to remember that it’s not ‘them’ and ‘us’, and it’s definitely not all about ‘me’! Can we solve all the problems and do everything on our own? Probably not, we need each other and each other’s gifts. Is our role and service in church important to God? Yes. But is our role and service in church more important to God than their role and service? No.
We can’t do music well without each other and the fact that one of us serves at the front of the building and one of us serves at the back shouldn’t put a divide between us… we need to work together as Christian brothers and sisters, remembering all the time the example of Jesus’ servant-heartedness in putting others before himself (Mark10: 44-45). We are privileged enough to have the opportunity to help our church family sing praise to God and enable the church to let the word of God dwell richly within us as we sing truth to one another. What a great job to have!
No doubt this opens up a lot of issues including leadership, team management and servant heartedness. Although we don’t have space to discuss these now, many of these issues are addressed in other blog posts already on the site, as well as ones coming up in the next few months. Hopefully this post will just work as a can opener to let out our wormy thoughts, and help us to pray, challenge ourselves, and perhaps change the way we serve and build relationships in our teams.
Bertie Styles -Christ Church Mayfair
Heather Cowan- Christ Church Kensington