Whether preparing for a tour with the likes of Israel Houghton, flying in to mix for a conference or special event, or getting ready to serve at my home church – one of my main priorities is to be prepared.
Preparation results in readiness, and for me, it means I’m ready to participate in the leading of the worship experience. What I mean is, I am acutely aware that how I mix can add to or detract from how the congregation is led into worship.
Picture this – a worship singer or musician knows all their lyrics, melodies, parts, chords, instruments & sounds to such extent that the right sound flows from them as second nature. This allows them to disengage thinking through the ‘how to’ sing or play the song, and concentrate on the artistry and even more importantly in our worship context, the ‘where to’.
It’s the ‘where to’ that is important. If we are leading people to worship, we are most effective in doing this when we're not following a chord chart, not following lyrics, not engaged in working out how to do something as we are doing it.
As technicians, musicians or singers, we are most effective in leading into worship when the task of what we are doing can be performed as second nature, allowing our skill, artistry and craft to be applied.
Importantly, this makes way for us to understand and operate in the authority that has been appointed us. Have no doubt - if you are on stage, or part of the production team, you have been duly appointed and authorised to jointly lead the congregation into worship. It’s the understanding of this authority that ultimately allows us to flow as a team with what God has in mind (in context of the church service).
So for me, preparation is removing the potential obstacles that could distract me from the ‘where to’ by having to deal with the ‘how to’.
There’s a mental checklist that I work through, to have things as ready as possible, knowing that there is a tremendous responsibility attached to what I do.
The sound engineer is the funnel of the cumulative efforts of the entire worship team, relaying across to hundreds or thousands of people in the congregation. We can choose to be a bottleneck by way of attitude or lack of preparedness, or be a conduit of heaven's purpose.
So here’s just a few thoughts and a couple things from my check list that might be a help:
Know the material
Just like the musicians and singers, we need to know the songs back to front. We need to know what parts to expect from each instrument and vocal, when they will occur, where they should fit in the mix, and how they might vary in different parts of the song.
Know your environment
Whether mixing in a familiar space or not, be proactive to check that all the system elements are working properly. For example, run some signal through all the speaker elements to ensure they are all working properly. Go and check that the mic placement on all the instruments is optimal etc etc.
Know your team
The truth is that it is much easier to produce a fantastic mix from a great band and singers, with quality sounds and tones. It's part of our job to make all the vocalists and musicians feel at ease, knowing we are excited to have all of their own efforts translate as an important part of our mix.
Working together is the key. Sometimes we may need to make some suggestions about tones, sounds or techniques to get the best results. This is most effective when there is trust, respect and friendship - so make friends with your team!
The first thing I do when working with a new team is to make introductions and make friends. Let them know you are interested and excited to be serving together, and you are going to do your best to make them sound great! No friendship = no function.
Know your tools
There's so many elements to a live sound system. Just the console alone has more technology than the NASA space command centre that put man on the moon.
You don't need to know everything, but know the key tools that are in the toolbox. There's plenty of online resources to use to get into the basic and advanced functions - like here.
Know your ability
Always be open to learn. Its easy for a singer or musician to find a teacher and have weekly lessons, but that is rarely the case for a sound engineer - so take the initiative to find your own resources to upskill. Here's some examples
Record your stereo mix and listen back to review what you can improve. Put it in your car or iPod and listen back during the week. Make notes about what changes and improvements you can implement.
Set the atmosphere
Be the guy behind the console with one hand in the air, engaging in worship (whenever you can). There’s nothing like a booth full of tech’s leaning into worship.