There is a well known, but little spoken of, fact in Church life that sound guys often turn bitter. They may not backslide, but they go bitter and often get resentful, and end up leaving the sound team with more than one chip on their black-tee-shirt-clad shoulder. It’s one of those things that happens on a pretty regular basis in many churches across the country and something we at Hope City Church are on the way to solving.
The story is always the same – the new sound guy comes bounding onto the sound team, eager to ‘make a difference’ and use his skills to build church in a practical way – without the sound guy there would be no band, no worship, no preach and no souls saved! Then 6 months later, the once-perky sound guy has become a sullen shadow of his former self: under-appreciated, over-pressured and usually pretty annoying to all but the other sound team members. What terrible events take place in those formidable six months to transform elated enthusiasm to absolute apathy? Well I’ve found that it’s a mixture of things!
The ‘them and us’ Mentality
First of all we have the ‘them and us’ mentality that seems to come with the territory and surround the sound desk for a good one metre radius. It’s the musos (or musicians) vs. the sound guys, the leaders vs. the sound guys, pretty much the whole world vs. the sound guys. For some reason, sound guys seem to feel that the world is against them, that we conspire at the beginning of each meeting on the best new ways to annoy the sound guys and make their job harder. It’s not true, but I can see why they feel that way. If you think about it, the sound guys have a pretty specialist job – if you’ve ever looked at your average sound desk, you’ll know it’s slightly more complicated that ‘just making things sound good’ – all those knobs and buttons actually do something! Your average Joe hasn’t got a clue what happens back there at the hallowed ground of the sound desk, but a few crazy facts that I discovered when I went digging was that ‘sound check’ isn’t just about checking that there is a sound, fold back isn’t ‘fall back’, and don’t get me started on reverb and delay (because I haven’t got the foggiest!!) So when the sound guy gets told “it just doesn’t sound right” – you can understand why they’d get a little peeved – and apparently “it sounds a bit like he’s down a well” doesn’t overly help either.
The Blame Game
Then we have the age-old feud between the musos and the sound guys (otherwise known as The Blame Game). If worship didn’t sound great on Sunday you ask a muso what happened and you’ll invariably get the response “I couldn’t hear myself in the fold back”, or “I didn’t have enough delay on my voice”. Ask the sound guy the same question and you’ll hear “she wasn’t even singing” or “he clearly didn’t know the chords”. It’s a feud in the same league as the Capulets vs. the Montagues, the Jedis vs. the Dark Force and SuperTed vs. Texas Pete. This feud isn’t helped by the fact that when worship sounds amazing, the worship team are praised from the stage with hardly a mention of the sound guys, all of whom know deep down that the musos only sounded amazing because of the subtle fusion of volume, reverb and delay and the perfect levels that they worked so hard on that morning.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! I mentioned at the beginning of this expose that we are well on the way to solving these little problems – our current head of sound has stuck it out for 7 and a half months and shows very few signs of leaving the church soon – so we must be on to a winner! Here’s what we did…
The first problem we wanted to solve was to break down the invisible yet astoundingly robust wall of division between the musos and the sound guys. We toyed with the idea of throwing a pyjama party, where both teams could sit in a circle, share marshmallows and really get to know each other – but that was vetoed due to there being girls AND guys on both teams, and it wasn’t deemed to be morally right to have them all sat around in their night clothes (we could have split the teams into men vs women – but we realised that was a totally different type of feud that we had no hope of solving ever and would probably cause more problems than we already had) so the pyjama party idea was quickly abandoned. The solution we settled on was to get the musos to JOIN the sound team. It was an incredibly simple idea -and one that, when it was suggested by a sound guy who was pretty new to the team, we all smirked and began to roll our eyes. But mid-roll we realised that it was pretty much the perfect solution! The musos knew sound, they knew music, and they had a vested interest in making the band sound great! This also solved the problem of us not having enough sound guys (due to the aforementioned get-bitter-and-depart issue). So we did it – every musician is now on the sound team, and we always have a sound guy and a musician at the sound desk for every service. It’s grown the team, and has all but destroyed that pesky ‘them and us’ mentality because ‘them’ has effectively become ‘us’ – so unless we have a masochistic schizophrenic on team, The Blame Game has run out of people to blame!
The second problem we worked on was the general ignorance of everyone but the sound guys as to what ‘good sound’ actually required and the inability to communicate what changes the leaders on the front row actually wanted. Having the musos on the sound team helped, because more people understood the specialist sound terms, but another thing we put in place was to invent a new role and team who sit on front row near the leaders and are on comms to the sound desk throughout the service – it’s team we imaginatively titled The Comms Team. The basic role of The Comms Team is to be translators. The person on comms relays what the leader is asking for to the sound guy, but translates it from “she sounds a bit like Minnie the Mouse” into “she sounds pretty treble-y, can you work on the EQ?”. The person on comms knows enough about sound to be able to relay the right information, but also has enough social skills (which, let’s be honest, is an area some sound guys are challenged in) to in turn, be able to translate the sound guy’s response of “for goodness sake, she’s only just go the mic and she wasn’t even meant to be getting on the stage yet, I’m not a magician” into “they’re working on it, it’ll be done in a second” – thereby making everyone happy!
The final problem of not getting enough recognition for what they did was solved by telling the sound guys in no uncertain terms that, although we love them and appreciate the hours that they put into making services great, they are doing what they’re doing for God and need to get their affirmation from Him! We do try to make sure that they get told when things sound amazing, and they will sometimes get gifts presented to them as a thank you at mid-week meetings – but ultimately what we now have is a secure, confident and happy sound team, who know they can speak to someone if they have a problem and understand that they are part of something a lot bigger than themselves!
Sarah Dunys is the Program Manager of Hope City Church and oversees the weekend services and day t day operations of Sheffield.