As I arrived at the church I'd been invited to play at, I was greeted by the sound engineer, Dave McGrumpypants (*not his real name) announcing that us musicians are all the same, and asserting in not so many words that his job was to whip us into shape, much like a wrangler 'breaking' a wild horse.
It seems sometimes that the sound desk acts as a significant barrier. Like a boundary between cultures, it separates the artists, being all flaky and ethereal on the platform, from the brilliantly-minded yet socially-awkward grunting technician.
All too often, the arguments stem from a perceived 'power struggle'. At face value, this isn't unreasonable... from the band's point of view, the sound engineer is there to serve the worship leader's vision, mix their monitors, and make them sound as good as possible. From the engineer's point of view, there's a specific list of tasks that need to be completed, and dealing with egos isn't on the list.
It doesn't have to be this way! We can all get along if we can establish some clarity around process.
I love running the sound desk. I believe that my role is to love the platform team by being the best sound engineer I can be. (You can read more of my thoughts about this in my article "Are Your Worship Technicians Making This Critical Mistake?") So a lot of my time behind the sound desk is spent ensuring that the platform team can hear what they need to, to perform their roles. But I also need to show leadership so that we get through soundcheck quickly and effectively.
I also love leading worship or musically directing the band. I show leadership by taking the band through rehearsal, but if I fail to defer to the sound engineer to run the soundcheck then I may face frustration when my monitor mix sounds sub-optimal!
So at some points the worship leader holds authority, and at other times the sound engineer does.
At my church, or when I'm travelling, I try to establish this process:
|Who has authority|
|Worship leader||Before anything happens, the worship team and sound engineer huddle together and pray as a group. We're all on the same team. Anything 'visionary' that needs to be shared by the worship leader is heard by everyone together. Then the worship leader relinquishes control to the sound engineer who returns to the sound desk.|
|Sound engineer||The sound engineer runs through line checks to make sure everything is plugged in correctly and audio reaching the sound desk. This involves speaking to the band, asking one person at a time to play or sing.|
|Sound engineer||If the band have in-ear monitors, the sound engineer then speaks to each person individually through their IEMs to ensure everyone's got the right pack and they're all receiving the correct signal. (This has saved so much time by identifying accidental pack swaps or patching mistakes!)|
|Sound engineer||The sound engineer builds a quick starting mix for each monitor (by eye) and checks that everyone can hear enough of themselves in order to run a song. At this point they hand back to the worship leader.|
|Worship leader||Asks the band to play/sing part of a song. Something familiar enough that the band aren't focussed on how to play, and can think about what they're hearing. After a verse+chorus (or a suitable length bit of song) they hand back to the sound engineer.|
|Sound engineer||The sound engineer works through each person in turn, asking them what adjustments they need in their monitor. Once this is finished, they hand back to the worship leader.|
|Worship leader||The rehearsal can now run through from beginning to end, although the WL might check in with musicians after the next couple of songs to see if further tweaks are required. If so, they hand back to the sound engineer for monitor adjustments.
During the rest of rehearsal, the sound engineer is free to adjust the front of house mix – EQ, dynamic processing, FX and levels – but paying attention to any further monitor requests from the stage.
This process works 9 times out of 10. Most importantly, there's mutual respect, and everyone knows who's "in charge" at each moment, as long as communication is clear. If I'm on the sound desk I'll literally hand over by saying "OK <name>, back to you" which makes me feel like a TV reporter saying "back to you in the studio". It's the little things.
If I'm on sound, I'll also make a point of checking in at the end of rehearsal, just to make sure everyone's happy. It's a disappointing feeling as a musician to finish a service thinking "well I'm glad that's over, my sound was terrible" without having done anything about it. This final check-in before a service gives an opportunity for any last minute tweaks.
Takeaway: having a clear process can smooth over a lot of roadbumps.