Sound Reinforcement & Friction With Others
During any event where live sound is being mixed from a central locations, the sound technician is the person in control of the sound board; as a result, others will perceive him/her to be the person to whom they should direct both their complaints about the sound and their advice to the technician about how the system should be run. The sound technician needs to exercise restraint and use wisdom when responding to these well-intentioned inputs, and seek first to understand, serve, and assist.
This section gives some common points of friction, and proposes methods of dealing with them. These solutions should not be treated as gospel as each human interaction is unique; in other words, use these proposed solutions as a starting point for working out how you will respond in each situation that arises.
Whenever someone approaches the sound technician and complains that the sound level is too high (or to low, for that matter), it is important to understand where in the room that person is sitting. The individual may have seated themselves directly in front of a speaker, or too close to the drum kit, and so it may be necessary for them to move to a place in the room where volume levels are naturally lower.
Sustained exposure to sound levels above 90 db is harmful to our ears, and so I always have a db meter with me at the sound board. As part of a dialogue with someone about sound levels, I often pull out the db meter and show it to them; I talk about how I always keep sustained sound levels below 90 db. In most instances, this reassures them and their concerns are alleviated.
In other instances, it isnít the volume level that the person is bothered by, but something else. My favourite example of this was the person who told me a particular band was too loud, but after they returned to their seat I noticed that even when the band was playing very softly they sat with their fingers in their ears. It wasnít the volume that was the problem, it was the style of music. There isnít much you can say to this sort of person, but it is important to listen to them and treat them with respect.
When people listen to music in their cars, or at home on their stereos, they often fiddle with the EQ and boost the bass, or treble, or both, or put the graphic EQ into a V or at an angle, or do other funky things that alter the sound emerging from their speakers. Because they become accustomed to this altered sound, anything else sounds wrong to their ear.
When these comments arise, try to find an example from the music being played at the moment the comment is uttered in order to provide the person with a reply. For example, if the complaint is about a lack of bass, examine the current music to see what bass should be present in the mix and then talk about the presence or lack of bass that you hear. Help the person to understand that sound reinforcement is about using the amplification system to help everyone in the congregation hear what is happening on the platform, and if there isnít any bass being produced by the band then there isnít any to amplify and then hear.
Musicians and public speakers are notoriously opinionated about how they sound in the house mix. Generally, they are also completely ignorant about sound reinforcement. When someone on the platform wants to direct the house mix, the only real alternative is to have them come down off the platform and hear the same thing that you are hearing.
In my experience, these comments most commonly originate from the person who is in charge of the event. This places the sound technician in the awkward position of having to somehow either educate or appease the leader, when that leader canít be simultaneously on the platform and standing beside sound technician. The only way I have found to work these situations is to find someone (other than the sound technician) who the leader implicitly trusts, then suggest to the leader that this trusted person be his/her ears while you adjust the mix.
I have found that singers often ask for their EQ to be changed, based upon what they hear in their monitor. If you are running a separate monitor mixing board where the singerís monitor EQ can be adjusted separately from the houseís EQ, there isnít a problem. However, in most church-related situations you donít have the luxury of a separate monitor board.
The key in these situations is to find some compromise between what the singer wants and what you need for the house. The first time this request comes up will probably be in a situation where you donít have time to educate the singer about the differences between the house sound and their monitor, so be prepared to be the sole compromiser when this first comes up; then take the singer aside at a later time and explain the dilemma. Work to reach a compromise that allows the singer to feel confident about their voice in the system while still allowing you to have the sound you require to make the house mix sound good.
A similar problem sometimes arises with instruments too; whereby the musician adds effects or EQ to their instrument's sound which enhances the way the instrument sounds in the monitor but which causes the sound to be less suitable for the use in the house. Use a similar approach to the one given in the previous paragraph: work with the musician, explain your dilemma, and work to find some middle ground that meets your collective needs.