In this introduction to running sound, I want to relate an experience I had which illustrates an important point. One time several years ago, a gospel group I was in was getting ready to set up for a service. We were in the middle of the routine that was always necessary … carrying our equipment in from the trailer. One of the “older members” of the congregation stopped us as we were carrying our equipment into the church to ask, “You didn’t bring the BIG microphones along did you?”
It only made sense, in her mind, that the size of the equipment would correlate with the expected loudness of the coming musical extravaganza! If we used smaller microphones, she reasoned, it would probably not be as loud. Well, we all know that it isn’t the size of the microphone or speakers or even the mixer that makes it loud. It is the guy who runs the sound! Even though there are many different pieces of equipment that make that sound system work, the “brains” (or “No Brains”) of it all is the guy setting behind the Sound Board. And that sound board is his primary means of doing such a wonderful job that no one notices him … or such a poor job that everyone in the service has looked back at him at least once!
That’s right! If you are a great sound guy, no one will ever notice you. Well, I guess that is overstated. Because no matter what you do when you are running sound, someone will think you are either running it too loud or too soft (and there is likely to be several people in the same service who think it is too loud and several others who think it is too soft). Nevertheless, in the perfect world of “soundtopia”, a sound person who did a perfect job would never be noticed. OK, you get the idea.
And, in general, if you are running sound and people are looking back at you … take this hint: THINGS AREN’T GOING WELL!
So, as a sound tech, the goal is not to be noticed. If you are one who needs a lot of accolades, the Sound Ministry is not for you. You will likely never get any thanks (except at times from the musicians and/or worship leader …. but these times will be vastly outweighed by the times that they are not very happy with you). But you will likely have some people who want to tell you how to do your job. Such is the life of a sound tech.
You will spend your time in the back of the room, looking at the back of everyone else’s head, running the sound board. Actually, it’s called by many names. “Mixer”, “Board”, “Console”, “Sound Board”, “Sound Console”.
So, why would you want to take this job on? Well, despite my rather cynical description above, running the sound is actually challenging, fun and rewarding … all at the same time. So welcome to the fraternity (yes, I know there are female sound techs … this is just an expression!) of the Sound Ministry!!!
Starting with the Mixer as the first lesson is probably not logical. In fact, as I thought about where to start, the most logical thing is to talk about terminology. However, when someone volunteers to be a Sound Tech at church, the first thing they are presented with is the Mixer. And, in many cases, it is extremely daunting. All those knobs, buttons, LEDs … how in the world can anyone know how this all works?
Well, relax! Running sound is actually fairly easy. If you are an individual who likes music, you have all of the natural talent that is required. If, you don’t like music … well, perhaps there is another ministry you would be better suited for.
OK. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at the sound board
We can think of the sound board as being two logical “sections”. The first section is “input”. This section does exactly what it sounds like … receives the input from the devices making “noise”.
If the first section is input, then what do you think the second section is … of course … “output”. In this section, we are controlling what is going out to the amplifiers … and ultimately, the speakers!
Below, is a picture of a basic 16 channel mixer. The Input Section is on the left, the Output Section is on the right. You mixer will probably look different than this, but it will still be arranged similarly. Some mixers with more input channels have channels on the left and the right with the output section in the middle.
The input section is made up of many “input channels” or “strips”. A single input channel has all of the controls in a line for the particular input channel. The mixer pictured above most likely has either more or less buttons than the one you are using. That’s OK. We will talk about the controls that are on the above mixer because all mixers are more or less the same … it is just the quantity of the various controls that change. (OK … this is a generalization that is not entirely accurate … but it will work for our purposes today!!!)
The output section is made up of various controls that allow you to control the inputs as “groups”, that allow you to enhance the sounds from various input channels and finally to control the overall volume levels.
Look at your mixer. Can you tell where the input section is and where the output section is? If you have trouble, ask someone who is running sound today where the various sections are.
In the next lesson we will look in detail at the various types of controls in the input section and describe what they do and when you would use them.