Sound is probably the hardest position to run among those on a church’s AVL tech team.
From day one, I emphasize how important communication is.
Most people are intimidated by the thought of running sound. It can take several months to a year to get someone ready in such a role, so commitment is certainly an issue.
At the current church where I help out, we start by interviewing our new people, to see what their interests and strengths are. Then we have orientation, where we have them shadow each of the positions, to see what they may truly be interested in.
Then we will train them in an area that we find that they are best suited.
Once we decide on training a sound person, for instance, we will schedule a sound training day. Usually it’s held on a Saturday morning for a few hours, with each of the sound people.
Before that scheduled day, though, I will go over the basics with the new person, and have them shadow me for a few weeks, so that they can begin to become familiar with the board and the basic terms. By doing this extra step, it will allow them to actually learn something during the scheduled training. It is also good to have other people on hand to fill in things that I miss, while helping to keep me from becoming too technical, which might confuse the new volunteer.
Sometimes we forget that volunteers don’t know what we know, and as teachers, we can sometimes end up talking over their heads. Having other volunteers on hand helps act as a buffer, when I get wordy. It also helps them develop a relationship with other volunteers, to where they may begin to feel more comfortable when thinking about asking a question.
One of the first things that I will have a volunteer do as part of the learning process is to listen to their favorite group, using headphones. From there, I will ask them to close their eyes and try and pick out each voice or instrument individually that they hear.
There is a book I like by David Gibson, “The Art of Mixing.” In this book, he teaches people to think of vocalists and instruments as balloons. Close your eyes and think of a black box, open in the front. Now begin to visualize balloons added to this picture. Try to determine if the balloon is in the front or the back of the box. Is it high or low, left or to the right of the box?
If the balloon as you visualize is more toward the front, that means it is louder; toward the back, it is softer in sound.
For right or left, it has been panned, and up or down means that it is controlled with equalization.
Then try to understand why each was put in that particular place.
While we generally do not pan in a church setting, we do equalize and turn up and down. This exercise can help the new volunteer visualize this concept and make it easier for them to grasp when it is time to start touching the board. I like to train hands on during Wednesday night practice, and they usually go live for the first time on a Sunday night.
During their first few training sessions, I show them how I get the mix set up. From there, I usually have them move a slider or two up and down, to break the ice and show the volunteer that it is easier than they might have initially feared. At that particular moment, it is good to get a couple of quick wins under their belt and let them live on that, until the next session.
As time goes on, I let them make more and more adjustments on the console, all while keeping it simple, and building on the wins.
During practice, I explain as much as I can about what I am doing and why. I will also give the new volunteer a CD recording of the service, for them to listen to and make notes for questions, during the next practice or training.
Once I go hands on, I start with setup and sound check.
It is crucial that they know the flow of the signal, so that they know how to fix things, when they go wrong. It also helps them figure out where the problem may be coming from, before they start. It is usually only one or two things that need to be checked. The more you know about how the system works, the faster that you can fix it.
Following that, we set things up on stage and talk to the singers and musicians during setup and sound check.
From day one, I emphasize how important communication is.
You will be asked to do many things by those on stage, and you cannot give them everything that they want. If you have not developed a good rapport with the volunteer, this will not go so well.
Once I get a sound at the board, I check the house and the stage area and listen. I want everything correct, before service starts.
To learn more about what I teach, refer to my article, "Live Mixing Tips: Practice is Key, Take Some Chances."
While we are doing sound check, I remind them that live sound is different from the sound that comes from a CD. in this live setting, you have sound bouncing off walls, and being absorbed by people, for example. Getting the sound right begins in practice. When you fill a room with people, though, it can change the overall sound drastically, to where you usually spend the first half of the first song dialing things in. I will also give the volunteer a program to take home and look at, to visualize mixing.
The key is to anticipate.
Once you get the mix set for one song, look ahead to what is coming to be ready to make your changes as soon as the song ends.
I also take notes during practice about solos, and who will be speaking, so that I can make the necessary changes before they happen. By doing this, I can avoid missing anything.
When they first start mixing, I have the new volunteer compare their recording to mine. The goal is to get them to a baseline and then they can add their color to the mix, once they have the basics down pat.
The volunteer should mix a session like yours without flair, many times, before you let them experiment. They need a good foundation first.
Then you can slowly help the volunteer develop their own style. There is a lot to learn at the sound board, and it can be a daunting task to learn and to teach.
Take it slow, keep it fun and pile on the wins.
Also keep in mind that you need to teach in a stress-free environment. It can be very stressful to that volunteer the first time that you mix, and one encounters feedback.
Teach them to be calm, listen, analyze and then fix. It is faster this way. I can fix most things in a second or so. With practice, so will they.
Once your volunteer is ready, then start by creating a problem during practice and help them put this into practice. You will be glad that you did, because the first few moments live can be scary and if you have taught them well, the volunteer will not panic, and the they can start to work on their own sound.