The Difference Between What and Why

Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Photo courtesy of Michael Coghlan

Last weekend I had a cool opportunity to attend a very unique concert. It was unlike anything I had seen and I was grateful for the chance to go. As much as it was a cool musical experience, it was a less than stellar sound experience. 

 As I sat there listening to the choir and orchestra members position themselves on stage—and I could hear them clearly because all the mic’s were hot—it occurred to me that there is a vast gulf between knowing what a given piece of gear or setting does and why you change it. 

Leaving all the mic’s on is just one example. There were numerous EQ challenges and many times when the drums more than overpowered the main instrument. In fact, it sounded a lot like the sound guy dialed up each mic to a good level, and left the faders at unity. So while he technically had good gain structure, he had a less than ideal mix. 

The Great Divide

I understand this challenge. On the one hand, I have seen many sound techs who know music, but had no real understanding on how the equipment works. So while they may be able to force some sort of mix together, they typically lack the technical skill set to make it great. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen as many (probably more) sound guys who really have no understanding of music but can quote specs, theory and technical gobbely-gook all day long. But they lack the knowledge of why any of that is important. 

Science and Art

It’s true that we need to have a firm grasp on the technology we’re using to accomplish the goal of a great mix. But I think even more than that, we must understand the art. The craft. And that is the hardest to teach. I’ve said for a long time that I can teach someone with a modicum of technological understanding how to use the technology. But they have to have an understanding of how music works in the first place if they expect to be a great engineer. 

I believe one of the reasons mixing comes so easily to me is that I grew up listening to music. I bought my first pair of headphones at age 9 and spend the entire summer in front of the hi-fi listening to records. Throughout Jr. & Sr. High, I spent at least 3-4 hours a day listening to music. 

Knowing what it is supposed to sound like is the first step to getting it there. But there’s even more. Knowing when to mute mic’s and when to open them up is another skill that takes time to learn. There are two ways to learn this—spending hundreds of hours behind the console making hundreds of mistakes (and hopefully learning from them) or being mentored by someone who already did that. You can imagine which way I think is better.

Choose Wisely

In the climactic scene of Indian Jones, the villain drinks from the wrong chalice and turns to black ash. The wise old sage says, “He chose poorly.” When choosing people to mix, I have found it’s generally preferable to chose understanding of music over pure technical chops. 

This is not to say that highly technical people can’t mix, it’s just that they usually take a lot longer to get there. And while it may take a musically literate person a little while to get up to speed with the technology, they will usually be better engineers in the end. 

The best scenario of course, is a mixture of both. Those folks are rare, however. When it comes to putting up a great mix, knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing is probably more important than knowing what you’re doing. At least that’s my experience…


Don't Miss This Week

As crazy as it was, I sort of miss sitting in this seat...

As crazy as it was, I sort of miss sitting in this seat...

This post is sort of becoming a tradition here at CTA. In past years, I've written it as a reminder to myself as much as anyone else. This year, as I'm not going crazy getting for Easter services, I thought I would post this again to encourage you. As much as it's hard sometimes, what you do is important. Don't miss out of the great opportunity you have this week to serve our Lord!

Easter week is one of the toughest weeks of the year for most church techs. Typically, we’re gearing up for a bigger than normal service on Easter (and typically more of them). Many of us  also have a Good Friday service or three to produce. And for some reason, it seems that the rest of the church staff has no idea that our workload goes up by 50% this week and so all kinds of other stuff gets scheduled between Palm Sunday and Easter just for fun.

I have had a hard time with Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) week for quite a while. For a long time, I looked at it as just another super-busy week that was going to keep me at work for 12-14 hours a day for a week. In the last few years however, I’ve come to see it differently. I’ve said before that it’s struck me recently that we get to do this. By that I mean, we have such a unique opportunity to share the gospel with hundreds or thousands of people this week in a very creative and compelling manner. 

We get to do that!

Moreover, this is a week that we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We mourn his death on Good Friday. And we celebrate his resurrection on Easter. 

Go back and read that again. It’s quite a week! Easter week is the culmination of what Jesus came to do on this earth. He came for this very specific purpose, to die in our place and pay the debt for our sin.


For my sin.


For your sin.


That’s significant. In fact, it’s everything. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why we work late, prepare, rehearse and plan. It’s why we have extra services. It’s why we settle in to the tech booth for hours on end.

Don’t miss that! 

Don’t miss what we’re celebrating. 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples asked him to quiet the crowds. He told them,

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

It has occurred to me that every week, our job as the Church is keep the stones from crying out. Jesus will be praised; the question is, will it be by His people or by the rocks and stones? We get to be part of keeping the stones quiet. 

Don’t miss that!

Finally, remember the words of Jesus,

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Matthew 11:28-30

For many of you, this has already been a long week. But it will be an amazing weekend. If we truly understand the truth of what we’re celebrating, we can’t help but be changed by it.

What else would you rather be doing this weekend?

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Tech Guys--Help Your Worship Leader

This week we’ve been talking about how to strengthen the working relationship between the musical and technical artists of the worship team. And I phrase that very intentionally. I really do see us as one team with two disciplines. It’s important to maintain that perspective as we try to solve the challenges that we face whenever people are involved.

Last time, I shared some ideas on how the worship leader can help the technical staff serve the whole team better. This time, I’d like to share some things I learned in my nearly 30 years as both a volunteer and paid technical artist.

Be Prepared

This may seem somewhat in contradiction to my previous post in which I implored worship leaders to communicate early with the technical folks. However, the two go hand in hand. Once your worship guy tells you what the weekend will look like, make sure you can pull it off. You should have time in your weekly routine to set up for the weekend in advance (or at least early) and make sure it all works before the band arrives.

Of course there will be last minute adjustments from time to time, but we can handle them because we are prepared. If you can be ready for the 80% you know, the 20% you don’t know about isn’t so stressful.

Be Early

The question from a conference goer last week was about how he could get his sound guys to show up on time and be prepared. This sort of frustrates me. We need to take it upon ourselves to be there not on time, but early. The entire stage should be fully set up and ready to go, and line checked before the band arrives. Nothing frustrates a worship leader more than having to wait for the sound team to get their act together. Folks, this is unacceptable. Show up early, do a great job and watch how much better the whole weekend rolls along.

Get Out of the Booth

So often, I watch tech guys sit back in the booth, arms crossed about their chests while the band comes in and gets set up. If someone on stage asks where to plug in, the sound guy will use the talkback mic to tell him, “The cable!” That is not how it should be.

Get out of the booth, go down on stage and be there when the musicians arrive. Talk with them, find out about their week, help them set up. Make sure they have what they need to be successful that weekend. I have done this for years and I can tell you without reservation that those 15 minutes of “extrovert time” will make a huge difference in the weekend. And not only the weekend, but in the way you are perceived and treated overall. Yes, I know it can be hard. Do it anyway.

Be a Team Player

I’ve heard tech guys spend most of the weekend tearing down those on stage. I can assure you that is not the way to win friends and influence people. I like to joke about worship leaders not knowing the lyrics to the songs they are leading as much as anyone (and that’s probably another post), but when I’m in the booth, I do my best to encourage those on stage.

The truth is, being up there, exposed, in front of the whole congregation is hard. Most artists, despite how they act, have big confidence issues. If you can build them up and let them know you have their back no matter what, they will do a better job. That, in turn, makes your job easier.

One of the nicest going away cards I’ve ever received was from one of our younger vocalists. She specifically thanked me for always encouraging her and putting up with her goofy requests. She told me how much that helped her and built her up, which made it easier to lead worship. That kind of stuff makes a lasting impression.

Like I said last time, this is not an exhaustive list. There is a lot more we can do, but I’ll leave it here for now. Oh, and one more thing. To quote my friend Andrew; Don’t forget to not suck.


Today’s post is brought to you by Digital Audio Labs, The Livemix monitor system is simple for volunteer performers to use while providing professional tools for great mixes. Featuring outstanding sound quality, color touchscreen with custom naming, 24 channels with effects, remote mixing, intercom, ambient mics, and dedicated ME knob, Livemix provides more and costs much less than competing systems.

Worship Leader--Help Your Tech Guys

Last time, we talked about relationships. You’ve heard me say it before, but it’s all about relationships. Last week, I was at a conference helping to lead a class on music-tech team dynamics. The first question raised was about getting the tech team to be on time and ready for sound check. That got me thinking about ways the worship leader can help the technical group do a better job—which helps you do your job better. That means there really is some incentive for you to do this stuff.

Communicate. In advance.

Tech guys are usually planners. We like to know what is happening before it does. We like to know how many musicians are going to be on stage and what they will be playing. We like to know how many handheld and bodypack wireless mic’s we’ll need. And we like to know it before Sunday morning.

Years ago, I worked for a church that had Saturday rehearsal for a Saturday service. We really didn’t know until we showed up at 2:30 who would be on stage at 3:00 practicing for the 5:00 service. This created much stress. So I started asking the worship leaders for a band list on Wednesday. That way, I could think through how best to accommodate all the needs for the band in advance.

It took a while for them to get used to the idea of planning ahead, but once they saw the results—faster set up, quicker sound checks, smoother rehearsals, better services—they were all over it.

You’re probably doing this anyway with the musicians, so simply let the tech guys know. This is especially important for smaller churches that may be on the ragged edge of capacity for their systems. Having a few days to figure out how to get everyone in the board will make your tech’s—and thus your—lives easier.

Communicate. As a Team.

As I said, you’re probably already communicating with the musicians and singers throughout the week anyway. And if you’re not, you should; but that’s another post. Why not simply include the tech guys and gals in that email? Make sure they know what songs you’re doing and how you want to do it. That helps them prepare, and they may even have ideas that will make it better.

One worship leader of mine always sent out an email to the entire weekend team every Thursday. It was a short, simple email most weeks that included the theme for the weekend and some encouragement for being involved. It’s not a huge deal, but it helps everyone know—techs and musicians alike—that we’re all in this together.

Equip and resource the tech staff.

I hear from worship leaders often who are frustrated that their sound guys (for example) don’t do a great job. I always start by asking, “How do you train them? When was the last time you brought someone in to do some real training on mixing?” That’s when the line goes dead on the other end.

Look, the technical arts are hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone could do it. Most cannot, and even after someone knows what the compressor threshold does, learning how to use that properly takes years. You cannot expect pro-level results from volunteers who have never been properly trained.

Figure out how to get them some training and ways to practice their craft. This will cost money. Get over it.

If the team is working with outdated and severely compromised equipment, figure out how to get it serviced or replaced. As a worship leader, how long would you try to lead worship on a guitar that refused to stay in tune for more than one verse? How long would you lead from a piano that had 12 keys that only occasionally produced sound?  I would guess a weekend. You would get it fixed or replaced because it’s important. Making your tech guys fight with equipment that only occasionally works will not help them help you.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if you start here, you’ll find your technical artists become more helpful and less grumpy. Next time, we’ll look at it from the other side of the booth.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.