Raising Your Credibility Score Pt. 2

Picking up from where we left off yesterday, let's figure out how to raise your credibility score. Following even a few of these ideas will go a long way in making your life easier at FOH. The worship leader and band will respect you more and it may even make you more popular with the ladies (or maybe not…).

Let's consider a few specific things that you can do to raise your credibility score.

Always be the first one there. If you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late. Being there early gives you the chance to pre-set the stage, and get as much wired ahead of time as possible. Doing this will make sure the musicians aren't waiting around for you to get ready. No one likes having their time wasted, and seeing you prepared and ready for them will deposit some valuable currency in your bank (I'm speaking metaphorically here…).

Strive to be a communicator. Being a FOH engineer is a lot more than just mixing. You need to be able to speak the language of musicians, worship leaders and even administrators. If you try to tell church leadership that the reason the sound is bad is because "the Rev 60 time is like, 3.5 seconds, and the mains are behind the front fills by 45 milliseconds and the subs are out of phase with respect to the mains," you're likely to encounter a glaze thicker than that on a Honeybaked ham. If the worship leader informs you that there will be a guitar solo 4 bars into the bridge and you think a bar is where the "sinners" are instead of at church and a bridge gets you across a body of water, you're in deep weeds.

Sometimes, the best way to fix a musician's monitor mix is to go up on stage and stand next to him (or her) and engage them, finding out what they are hearing and what they need to hear instead. As you listen to them talk, and to the mix, you should be able to figure out how to fix it. Sometimes simply the act of caring will solve the problem.

Be accountable—own your mistakes. Let's get this out on the table right now: We all make mistakes. I've mixed hundreds of services and I still occasionally hit the wrong button and unmute the wrong channel. At the debrief, the worst thing you can do is pretend the pastor's mic wasn't on (because they will likely start fumbling for it when they realize they're not on). The best response is to say, "Oh, that was totally my bad. Sorry about that." That will pay huge dividends; especially when the pastor does walk on stage with their pack off.

Avoid making decisions that are driven purely by criticism. If you have a good mix going, don't turn the guitar down just because someone walks up and says it's too loud. Take pride in what you do. We are artists, just as much as everyone on stage is an artist. Listen to the criticism, but you don't always have to react to it.

Develop into a detail-oriented pro. This is one of my favorites because I'm such a detail freak. Make up stage plots and input lists—ahead of time. Make sure the wireless gear is full of fresh batteries when everyone gets there. Pay attention to the way the worship leader likes their mic stand and set it that way every time. Take notes during rehearsal and hit your cues. Finally brining up the guitar just as he finishes his solo (because you forgot there was a solo and you couldn't find the right fader fast enough) will not score points. Forgetting to open the video channel for the video roll is not a way to impress the video team (or anyone else). If you take what you're are doing seriously, people will take you seriously.

Mix like a pro, listen like a fan. I've never thought quite in these terms before, but I'm indebted to Scovill for this phrase. Once you get your mix put together, go out in the house and listen. If you were a fan of this band, would you like the mix? Does it make you want to stand up and say "Yeah!" If not, get back to work. Of course, if the band isn't very good… well, that's another post.

So there you have a few ideas on how to raise your credibility score. Again props to Robert Scoville for the basic concept of this post. Thank you sir for sharing your wisdom...

Raising Your Credibility Score

This post is another in a series of articles that grew out of a breakout session at Willow Creek's Arts Conference a few weeks ago. The session was Thriving at Front of House, and speakers included Robert Scovill, Chris Gille and Scott Ragsdale. I give Scovi credit in advance for much of the content herein. As usual, it will be interspersed with my thoughts and commentary.

I hear from younger sound guys (an occasionally older ones) that they don't get no respect (with apologies to Mr. Dangerfield) from musicians, their pastor or the church leadership. Sometimes that's due to ignorance or egos, but sometimes it's because the engineer in question (brace yourself for some potentially hard words here) doesn't deserve the respect he or she things is due. With the incendiary comments out of the way, let's unpack that.

Scovill talked a lot about your "Credibility Score." That looks a lot like credit score and it's something you should take just as seriously. He talked about some guys who are consistently able to get gigs that they may not be the best qualified for simply because they built up such a reputation for being credible. Others manage to keep gigs they shouldn't based strictly on talent because they are credible. Just like a credit score, you earn points for consistently being prepared and staying ahead of the game. The more you do that, the higher your score. Then when you need to speak truth into a situation, people will listen to you. If you come off like a know-it-all punk, well, you know the reaction.

Here's the deal: We teach people how to treat us. It seems counter-intuitive, right? We all know that we like to be treated with respect. However, we often teach people that we are not worthy of respect because of the way we behave. If we are consistently late, or don't fix problems quickly or are unprepared, others won't take us seriously—mainly because we don't take our own role seriously! You've heard it said, "God is in the details," so why do we get so lax about doing sound in church because, "It's only church?" This is entirely the wrong attitude! Our church gigs should be our best gigs because they're for the King of Kings.

Texting when you should be mixing won't help win points with the worship team. Making the band wait while you figure out which mic to plug into which channel won't endear you to the band leader. Updating your Facebook status while the pastors mic is ringing will not set you up as a credible authority on live sound.

Now with this food for thought laid out there for feasting, tomorrow we'll talk about specific ways we can raise our credibility score.

It's Too Loud Pt. 2

OK, we're back to discussing the age old question of loudness in the church. Just how loud is too loud? First, consider this: Volume should be relative to:

  • Attendance
  • Quality
  • Acousitcs
  • Worst Seat in the House
  • Visual Expression
  • Instrumentation
  • Context

That list is courtesy of Chris Gille of Willow Creek. Some of those items are fairly obvious. A lightly attended mid-week service probably doesn't need to be as loud as a full-house Sunday morning. If the band is sub-par, turning them up won't help (go ahead, ask me how I know this!). The acoustics of your room play a role, too. How does your room react do different levels, and different loading (the number of people and where they sit). You need to consider how loud (or soft) it is in the worst seat in the house. What type of visuals are happening, and are they served better by loud or soft? Consider instrumentation; a solo acoustic guitar ballad probably doesn't need to be 104 dB. Finally the context. Is this a rockin' praise set or a funeral? It makes a difference.

Now that we've thought about what affects how loud it should be, we should have a means of coming up with some sort of empirical  measurement of how loud it is. The easiest way to do that is with a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter. You can pick one up at Radio Shack for about $50. I suggest you start by placing the meter at FOH and paying attention to it for a few services. What kind of readings are you getting? How loud does it get? What does a soft song look like? Do this for a few weekends and you'll have some data.

Next, you need to sit down with the church leadership and come up with some guidelines. Look at your data. If the consensus is that it was too loud for those weeks in question and you're seeing peaks of 100 + dB, then you need to back it down. If it feels like it could go up, take it up. It may take a month or two to come up with a policy, but once you do, you then have an answer to give people who ask about it. 

It's helpful to know what you should be measuring. The best setting for measuring music is C-weighted as it more closely approximates how we hear. However, there's very little research being done with C-weighting, so Chris recommends that you use A-weighted, slow. That will give you an average over the last second or so of the level. There is a wealth of data using A-weighting (for example, the maximum allowable daily exposure for 95 dBA is 4 hours—did you know that?) 

The point of all this is to get to a place where when someone says it's too loud, you can give an answer that will be supported by the leadership. And it will get to a place of consistency if you have multiple people mixing. Everyone knows the target ranges (for example, Willow runs their services between 85-95 dBA), and can mix appropriately. 

Once you work your way through this process, you will have the leadership on the same page and will know for sure if you are "too loud" or not. If you have someone chronically complaining about the level, you can eventually suggest that this might not be the church for them. Everyone has different tastes, and as we said earlier, we will never please everyone. Ever.

It's Too Loud

"It's too loud!" If you've spent any time at all behind a soundboard in a church, you've heard those words. Oddly, it's not uncommon to also hear, "It's too quiet," in the same service. This was a topic that Robert Scovill hit on in the session, "Thriving at Front of House."  What follows are some of my thoughts on the topic, some of Scovi's and some of his thoughts with my commentary. But first, here's something he said that I found absolutely fascinating.

"Mixing sound in church is one of the hardest jobs out there. Big-shot tour guys have it easy compared to church sound guys." How could this be? Isn't the professional touring world a tougher environment than the church, a place filled with grace and love? Uh, yeah. Again, if you've mixed in a church for more than a month, you know it's really easy for grace and love to go out the window with the PA is turned on. Everyone's a FOH engineer and self-professed expert. 

There's no other position that everyone feels they have as much right to speak into than FOH. Few would ever tell a children's worker how to handle a crying toddler, but just as few have a problem telling the sound guy that the guitar sounded terrible. At least in the touring world, they have system engineers, high tech equipment, a ton of experience and factory support, not to mention good musicians. But I digress.

The first thing Scovi said was this, "How you respond to that statement [It's too loud] is absolutely critical." It's critical for a number of reasons. First, it's important to know that you will never please everyone. Ever. Let's just get that out of the way now. You don't want to make an adjustment in your sound just because one person out of 500 or a 1,000 or 3,000 said it was too loud. We don't want the inmates running the asylum. 

Second, you need to believe in what you are doing. That means you need to know how loud it actually is, what the church's policy is toward loudness and how the room is responding. Just because an usher tells you it's too loud doesn't mean it actually is. On the other hand, if the Senior Pastor tells you it's too loud, you might want to look into it. 

Third, you need to figure out what the person is really saying. Here are some possible interpretations to the phrase, "Its too loud." (from Scovi)

  • "I would prefer a different style of music."
  • "I don't really like distorted guitar."
  • "I don't like the spectral balance of the PA system—especially where I'm seated."
  • "The balance is out of whack—ie. one or two things are too loud."

Depending on the circumstances it may be beneficial to delve into some followup questions to determine what the person is actually saying. If you're in the middle of the praise set, perhaps the best thing you can do is say, "Thank you so much for telling me, I'll look into it," then follow up later. 

This is where it really helps to have a policy in place regarding volume. Tomorrow we'll talk more about that; how to figure out what your volume levels should be, developing a policy and gaining the support of leadership.