There I was, enjoying my morning bacon and eggs, flipping through posts on Facebook. I came across one in one of the production groups I follow that really caught my eye and made me laugh. It read:
TRUE or FALSE: Anyone can be trained to be a great sound technician.
I should have noted the author and group so I could give credit (or maybe it’s good I didn’t…). To me the answer is so obvious, I initially laughed, but then it occurred to me where the answer was coming from. Most likely, the question came from a tech leader at a church—likely smaller—who is getting pressure from their leadership to develop a large, professional grade sound team. And the pastor simply can’t understand why they don’t have a team of amazing engineers. I mean, it’s so easy, anyone can do it, right?
I would (and have) argued that next to the preacher, the FOH engineer is the hardest job on a Sunday morning. To be a truly great sound engineer will take years (yes, Virginia, years) of dedication to training, learning and getting better at your craft. The amount of knowledge one must possess to be a great engineer is staggering. The number of hours one must mix to become great is dumbfounding. Check out my friend Dave’s post on learning to be a great FOH engineer. It Takes Time
Here’s what I have discovered after nearly 25 years of technical leadership in the church. For every 500 or so people in the church, there might be one, maybe two that could be good FOH engineers. Now, that doesn’t mean they have the time, willingness or desire to become FOH engineers, I mean, they could. Most can’t. I know, I’ve tried to train a lot of people with good hearts who want to serve but have no idea how to mix.
It’s More Than Mechanics
I’ve already said it’s not possible that anyone can be trained to be a great sound engineer. But how about an operator? Can we train almost anyone to at least operate the board? No. My wife is a great example. She’s a fine woman but were I to bring her back to FOH and start showing her around the SD8, her eyes would glaze over and she would likely walk out. She’s a former musician and has a little bit of musical/mix knowledge, but learning to operate that console is not in her scope. There are a lot more people like her in our churches than not.
I remember working with a fellow volunteer way back in the day. He was a solid volunteer; always there when scheduled, generally had the pastor’s mic on when it was supposed to be and had a good attitude. But he was a terrible mixer. Sure, he worked as an electronics technician doing board-level repair, but he didn’t for the life of him have any idea how music fit together. I used to have vocalists offering to pay me $20 to take over and mix their special on weeks he was mixing. He knew how the board worked—heck, he probably could have built it—but he had no idea how to mix music.
Art and Science
It’s been said many times that being a great FOH engineer is a weird mix of art and science. We need to understand and almost unconsciously know the technology, but we also need to know music. We need to know how music fits together, and how sound propagates in a space. We also need to be therapists and counselors to the band if we want to get the best performance from them. It’s a weird mix, and most don’t possess it.
Your Final Answer
False. Not anyone can be trained to be a great FOH engineer. In fact, I would go so far to say that most people wouldn’t even make good FOH engineers. I’m not being elitist, this is just what I’ve observed after 25+ years doing this.