Lousy Church Sound--Another Perspective, Pt. 2

This week we’re talking about lousy church sound. I’ve sure heard my share of bad church sound, as I’m sure many of you have. The impetus of this series is an article that originally appeared on Worship Ideas. Last time, we talked about the premise that pro-level sound requires professional operators—something I generally agree with. 

However, the author’s next premise is that volunteers will never be able to run a modern sound console. To wit: 

Churches are discovering the complexities of modern worship. In other words, you can’t have a new mixing console that resembles the cockpit of the space shuttle and expect a volunteer to (ever) be able to get it to work right.

I think there are two problems with this statement. First, the only console I can think of that resembles the cockpit of the Space Shuttle is the Midas XL8. And the few churches that have installed those have professional operators on staff because the consoles themselves cost more than a quarter million dollars. Second, lumping all digital consoles in with the complexity of an XL8 or perhaps a Studer X, is really unfair. 

Volunteers Actually Can Mix on Digital Consoles

I know this firsthand as I’ve trained people to do it. Because I know so many TDs in churches all over the country, I know they also have teams of volunteers who do a great job mixing every weekend. I know of volunteers who mix on various Yamaha desks, Digico SD-series, Allen & Heath iLive’s, Avid’s, and even Midas Pro-series consoles. 

The one thing that almost all those churches have in common is that they have a professional technical director on staff who maintains the console and trains the volunteers. As technical production systems become more complex, this is almost mandatory if great results are expected. 

When I was TD of Coast Hills, I had a volunteer who got good enough mixing on the Digico SD8 that most people in the congregation couldn’t tell if it was me or him behind the console. Of course, I did a lot of the setup work that helped him be successful, but from an operating/mixing standpoint he could do a great job. 

Great Volunteer Teams Have a Great Leader

I have come across a few churches that have a great all-volunteer tech team, but those seem to be the exception, especially once the church reaches about 1,500 in average weekly attendance. By that time, the building is big enough to have pretty complicated production gear, and most volunteers simply don’t have the time to dedicate to learning every the intricacies of the system. 

The teams that do really outstanding work almost always have a staff TD leading them. The TD can take the time to learn all the ins and outs, develop processes and systems and train the team to be successful. So while I support the idea that it takes a pro to maintain pro-level gear, I reject the notion that it’s impossible for volunteers to ever get it right. They just need the proper support and training. 

It’s All Professional Grade

It’s also important to remember that really, all the equipment we use for production in modern churches is pro-level gear. To look at it differently, my friend Norm Stockton is an accomplished, professional bass player. He plays MTD basses for a living and has played in many churches. I’ve had the pleasure of mixing when he’s been playing many times. But just because he as a pro uses MTD basses doesn’t preclude say a math teacher from putting in the time to become proficient enough to play well enough for a church service. Likewise, just because the Digico SD8 is out on tour with more than a few bands, doesn’t mean it’s too complex for a high school student to learn to mix on. 

Like anything, it comes down to time, dedication, natural aptitude and proper training. In both cases, having a pro doing the training will make it all go a lot better. 

Well, it’s the second in the series, and I have now said it does and doesn’t take professionals to get professional results. Where do we go from here? Let’s talk money. Next time…

Roland