We are in our summer schedule at EBC, and this means our Sunday pattern changes from two morning services to one joint all age service at 10:15. And we also have a break from our weekly rehearsal schedule, so meet earlier before the service for sound check and a brief run through. So far so good. This week was the first of our summer series, and I had managed to scrape a band together from those that weren’t already away enjoying the sun! The band all arrived for 9, knew the songs, were plugged in and we were good to go. But then:
Our sound man, who was also tasked with operating the lights, had a real struggle to get them switched on. After a few attempts, a more detailed look through the manual, and some third party advice, we eventually got the system running…having lost 25 minutes of set up and sound check time! Then we started on our level check and monitor mix, and started working through our set. All went well, sound was good on stage, and the band was sounding good. By this time we already had an audience, although the service was not due to start for another 45 minutes. We finished with plenty of time to spare (some 25 minutes…a miracle!), and so met to pray before the service and then on to do our usual pre-service preparation. And then as I came off stage I was accosted by several people to let me know it was “too loud”, “you were so loud the doors blew shut!” and another person who had spent the previous 10 minutes walking around with their fingers in their ears.
Now I appreciate that too loud is too loud, I don’t want the worship to be a painful experience in any respect, and everyone has limits. But, of course, the purpose of a sound check is as much for the sound man to set the levels as it is for the band to warm up and set their stage levels. And this happens in the context of sound check before we are ready to let the congregation in. We need the space and time to be able to do this privately, so when we start the service with a hall full of people, everyone is good to go in the band and the tech team. Of course there is going to be a bit of time needed to get the monitor levels straight, get some control on overall levels and EQ, and then move towards getting a comfortable balance. But this shouldn’t be observed, or worst still criticized by the congregation.
I make sure my team is well trained, well briefed and ready to lead, and I trust the sound on stage is representative of what is happening out front. And currently we are working hard on this extra dimension that I have little control of during the service…we have a great set of songs, a competent band who can play them well, and an excellent sound system and equipment which reinforce us. Our sound team are now moving beyond the basics of balancing levels to using EQ, discerning between instruments and different leaders, and more proactively mixing the sound during a service.
I am more than open to constructive criticism after a service, and I have had (and continue to have) many discussions about the music and the band we have in our Sunday services. But to have that reaction just before we start the service is deflating, demoralizing and destructive…I felt beaten up before I’d even set foot in front of the congregation. I rarely run closed rehearsals and sound checks, as we have a lot of through traffic in our church, and running two services on a Sunday morning does mean the hall is generally open from start to finish.
Keep it shut!
But after this experience, we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to keep the hall shut until 15 minutes before the service starts, so our rehearsal and tech time is not observed and we have the freedom to test, make some noise, make some mistakes and get the levels right. This will also mean our Sunday set will be a surprise (I especially try to keep a closed door policy when we have a drama or performance song, as seeing the run through can lose the impact in the service). And we’re trying to move the lighting responsibility to another person, as running the sound is and should be a full time role for Sunday that requires 100% concentration for the whole of the service and before.