Last time, we started talking about how to train audio volunteers. We start with the system—getting them comfortable with how things are wired and connected. Then we move on with the basics of console operation; gain structure, faders and VCAs. Today, we start to get into the fun stuff.
Ear Training—Listening, Deconstructing and Reconstructing
After set up and before the band arrives, we’ll pull up recordings for each of the songs we’ll be doing that weekend. By listening to the songs, we can discuss the leading instruments, the placement of the vocals, effects styles and the overall feel of the song. Then we talk about how we are going to recreate that with our band that week. By having the example recording fresh in their minds, it’s easier to build a good representation of it.
Again, virtual soundcheck is a great tool to use at this stage of training. On our training nights, we’ll do the same thing; playing back the original then recreating it with the tracks. I will start them off using my snapshots as a starting point, then as they get comfortable, change the playback levels of various tracks to help them learn to adapt to players playing louder and softer. Once they have a handle on building a basic mix, we move onto the next phase.
Advanced Skills—EQ, Dynamics, Effects, Plug-Ins
With more and more churches are going digital with their mixing consoles, it may be tempting to start off teaching new engineers all about EQ, dynamics and effects. I’ve found this to be problematic. Learning to mix is a bit like drinking from a fire hose, so I’ve tried to throttle it back a little bit and help them learn techniques in smaller, more manageable pieces. Only after they have a handle on building a mix do we start talking about the advanced stuff. Most of our starting EQ points are saved in our show file, so when starting off, the new engineers don’t have to do much anyway.
As they gain proficiency, we start talking about EQ and how that relates to the mix. Again, virtual soundcheck allows us plenty of time to play with various settings using actual sounds without worrying about the effect on a service. If you have access to an RTA (Real-Time Analyzer), explaining the concepts of frequency distribution can be illustrated very visually. Dynamics controls and effects are taught the same way; lots of time on the console with tracks.
While it is possible to train without virtual soundcheck, it is much more difficult. However, if you have a mid-week rehearsal, you can experiment quite a lot without affecting the monitor mixes. If you can do it, even recording one or two channels at at time will prove valuable as you teach how fast or slow compression attack times affect various instruments.
Don’t Forget Relationships
Woven throughout the training process is an emphasis on getting to know the band. I tell my A2s, “Never pass up an opportunity to go talk with the band.” Some of the most successful engineers are not necessarily the best technically, but they have excellent people skills. By helping our trainees learn to relate to and communicate with the band, we do ourselves, the engineer and the entire church a huge favor.
It’s a Process
I tell new recruits that it may take 3-6 months before they get much hands-on time with the console. After that it might be another 3-6 months before they’re mixing a service. Training an audio engineer is not like training an usher; it’s a big task, but one that comes with big rewards. Both the trainer and trainee have to be committed to the process and willing to spend the time it takes to make everyone comfortable. In smaller churches, this process can go much faster; larger churches may require more time. The important thing is to develop a process, then work the process. When done well, everyone wins.