Over the last ten years I have presented workshops to hundreds of worship and technical teams offering practical, common sense solutions to the problems we are having in our churches as they relate to music and sound.
It was one of our presidents who said, “The problem with common sense is that it’s not too common”. He was right, whoever he was. Common sense, every day practices that every professional musician and tech apply at every gig are virtually unknown in the church.
Why? Because those serving on their worship and tech teams are volunteers and have never done this professionally outside of church.
The ones serving on our teams are salesman, schoolteachers, housewives, cops, etc.
and don’t have any real world experience in what it takes to make it work.
I’m going to write a book someday and I’m going to call it:
“Everything I learned about Church Sound, I learned in my Bar band.”
(I am taking orders now if you’re interested)
In it I will demonstrate all the things that we had to learn by doing it the wrong way so many times. The advantage we had was that we were playing together all the time: Five to six nights a week and rehearsing in our spare time. When you’re playing together as a unit things will really start to gel. You start listening more and getting to know the people that you’re playing with; their strengths and their weaknesses; what works and what doesn’t.
I was playing in rock bands in the sixties. This is before musicians had monitors.
(Think Beatles Shea Stadium). In those days, we had to listen to each other. This is a concept that is foreign to a majority of worship teams. We had to hear ourselves in the space or the environment that we were playing in and respond to it accordingly. Our worship teams only hear themselves through a monitor. They don’t hear their neighbor standing next to them because if they did, they would ask the sound tech to give them “More Me!” They don’t hear the room either.
Music is just as much about listening as it is playing. One thing that will definitely improve the quality of your worship service is when the musicians will have more time to gel and listen to each other and to the space that they’re in and stop playing all the time at the same time. It would be so refreshing to see a musician on a stage, at a service, actually laying out (not playing). This is called arrangement.
As a sound guy, if I have eight musicians all playing at the same time, at the same dynamic level, with all the same patterns; background vocalists all singing unison, three guitar players playing Les Pauls in the same fret position, no new sounds appearing or fading away, I can tell you, without exception, that this is impossible to mix or to make sound musical.
A band that is arranged mixes itself. Worship leaders: Take time to arrange the band. Give them direction where and how you want them to play. Do not leave this to chance. Start by mimicking the songs you’re covering. as close to the original as possible, even if you don’t want to do it his way for worship, it’s a useful practice to learn how to play together.
One of the reasons are platforms are so loud is because we aren’t listening to our surroundings. Arrangement will go a long way to helping reduce the levels and here’s another common sense approach that will help:
At your next rehearsal, have the band turn off the monitors and just try to play by hearing yourself in the room through the main house system.
This will be a very strange experience at first and will definitely take some getting used to. (Just the rhythm section is fine for now, no vocals are necessary yet). After a ten-minute fun filled jam, ask yourselves, “what couldn’t we hear?”
You might say, “I couldn’t hear the acoustic guitar, or the hi-hats”
Before I turn the monitors on and start adjusting, I will try to move musicians closer to the things that they CAN’T HEAR and farther away from the things that are too loud.” Isn’t that what we do in life? We move in to the things that are hard to hear and shy away from the loud noises. It’s no different here. It’s common sense.
Once you’ve moved everything as much as possible, it’s now time to turn on the monitors. Now, what do we start putting in the monitors?
What you can’t hear acoustically. That’s it! What I can’t hear next to me or in the room is what I need in the monitor.
I had a worship leader standing right in font of a kick drum. It was literally shaking his pant legs. You know what he was asking for in his floor monitor? Guess!
Yep! Kick! I said “Whoa! Wait a minute. Are you serious? You can’t feel the kick drum? He said “yes, I can feel it and hear it.
I replied, ”So why do you want it in your monitor?
He said, ”Because I always have I guess.”
Old habits die-hard. This will take some practice but if you apply some common sense practices, you’ll solve a boatload of problems and save a lot of money spent on technology that may not be necessary.
What do musician’s require performing well? It’s not what you think. It’s not a CD mix. You don’t have time to give them one either. You need to give them what they need, not what they want.
Randy Weitzel, a dear friend who happens to be one of the best monitor engineers on the planet, gives us a recipe for what’s necessary in a musician/vocalist monitor mix:
You need to hear yourself.
You need to hear a tempo reference, snare, and kick; sometimes it’s just an acoustic guitar
You need to hear a pitch reference, so that you can play and sing in tune.
That’s it. Keep it simple. Use common sense. Practice, practice and practice.
Until next time.