Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Five Things I’d Say to Young Sound Engineers Pt. 5

Today wraps up our series of advice for young sound engineers. I put all this out there, not as someone who has attained perfection, but as a soon-to-be (and maybe is already) “old soundguy,” and as someone who has learned a few things along the way. Moreover, I wish someone had taken the time to share these concepts with me when I was starting out. It would have saved me a lot of grief, and would most likely made the first bands I mixed a lot happier. To recap points one through four…

  1. You Don’t Know As Much As You Think You Do
  2. Attitude Is More Important Than The Mix
  3. Don’t Be Afraid To Say, “I’ve Made A Mistake”
  4. Be Prepared And Know Your Equipment

I should point out that each of these points still apply to those of us who are more, uh, seasoned. The last thing we need to turn into is the “cranky old soundguy.” Hmmm, could be another series. That will have to wait though because now it’s time to finish up this one.

#5: Remember It’s Not All About You

Again, this comes back to a lot of young engineers overestimating how good the really are. The worship service, or club gig for that matter, is not all about you and how awesome your mix is. The picture is a lot bigger than that. If you think that the reason the band sound so great this week is your mad skills on the desk, it’s time for a reality check. In my experience, if the band sounds really good, it’s because they are really good and my job is to not screw it up. I can help them sound better by setting them at ease, and making sure they know I will do everything I can to make them sound great. FOH and the band work well as a team in that way.

I meet a number of people who want to join the tech team and start mixing next week. I intentionally make it hard to join our tech team, especially the sound positions. I find this saves me a lot of wasted effort in weeding out people who just want to be a rock star. I make new people fill out an application. I meet with them one on one during the week and talk with them about why they want to join the team and what experience they have. And long before anyone starts mixing, they start set up the stage and run cable. For a few months. Most wash out in the first 2 phases. A few more wash out during the set up phase. The good ones stick around and become good engineers. Those are the ones we want to keep around.

Back in my student ministry days, we used to try to recruit FAT volunteers–Faithful, Available and Teachable. I’d say those characteristics would serve any sound engineer well to this day. It’s true if you’re working in church, a club, or touring. Perhaps especially the church–don’t ever forget Who you work for.

6 Comments

  1. laedelas@gmail.com

    Thanks for the series, Mike! It was enlightening. I had a question I was hoping you could answer… I’ve been mixing sound at my church for maybe 10 years, and I love it. I want to mix other places, though, for several reasons. Since it’s fun, I see no reason to limit mixing to Sunday mornings 🙂 I think experience outside the church would help me serve the church, too. How do I start mixing in a secular context?

  2. laedelas@gmail.com

    Thanks for the series, Mike! It was enlightening. I had a question I was hoping you could answer… I’ve been mixing sound at my church for maybe 10 years, and I love it. I want to mix other places, though, for several reasons. Since it’s fun, I see no reason to limit mixing to Sunday mornings 🙂 I think experience outside the church would help me serve the church, too. How do I start mixing in a secular context?

  3. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Laedelas,
    Glad you enjoyed it! I think I would start networking with the musicians at church. Typically, they’re the ones who would be playing dates around town, and my either know of or have need for someone who can mix. Assuming you’ve done a good job for them, they should be eager to work with you. Sound engineering, perhaps more than most professions, is highly based on networking, who you know and more importantly, who knows you. You might have to work for free for a while and do a good job at menial tasks to get your name out there. It’s probably a lot harder to get the work, than to do the work.

    You could also check around with performing arts centers; often they need technical help.

    Good luck!
    mike

  4. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Laedelas,
    Glad you enjoyed it! I think I would start networking with the musicians at church. Typically, they’re the ones who would be playing dates around town, and my either know of or have need for someone who can mix. Assuming you’ve done a good job for them, they should be eager to work with you. Sound engineering, perhaps more than most professions, is highly based on networking, who you know and more importantly, who knows you. You might have to work for free for a while and do a good job at menial tasks to get your name out there. It’s probably a lot harder to get the work, than to do the work.

    You could also check around with performing arts centers; often they need technical help.

    Good luck!
    mike

  5. laedelas@gmail.com

    Thanks, Mike!

  6. laedelas@gmail.com

    Thanks, Mike!

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