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How to Become a Better Problem Solver with Church Sound

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru
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It’s Sunday morning rehearsal, time is strapped, and something goes wrong with the sound. It worked just fine last week, why is it not working now?

You frantically search for a solution but can’t seem to figure it out. Everyone is staring, waiting on you…the pressure is on.

Have you ever been in this situation? We all have. Becoming a good problem solver with church sound takes experience, but this post will give you a good head start.

Take time to think through the problem.

This may seem obvious, but when the pressure is on, we often jump into frantic action while forgetting the most important first step: take time to think through the problem.

At a recent funeral service I attended, a musician went to the stage to perform a special song. He began to play his acoustic and nothing was coming through the sound system. Then, he began to sing and still, nothing.

Half way through the song, the sound suddenly came on full-volume, startling everyone in the room. I imagine that something was muted, and when the sound tech finally realized it, he frantically unmuted without taking time to think through a better approach.

If the sound tech would have taken just a few minutes to think through the problem, I bet he would have first pulled the faders down, then unmuted, then slowly pulled the faders up to fix the problem without startling the congregation.

When problems arise, let your first step be to relax and put on your thinking cap. This one thing will save you from a load of embarrassment.

Follow the signal path.

When something is not working, one of the best ways to solve the problem is through process of elimination. Follow the signal all the way from one end to another.

Let’s say the bass guitar stops working (or has a slight buzz). Here are the steps to take next:

  1. Is it the guitar itself? Easiest way to test this is by plugging another instrument with the bass guitar’s instrument cable.
  2. Is it the cable? To test, try a different cable.
  3. Is it the direct box? To test, try a different direct box.
  4. Is it the stage snake? To test, try plugging into a different channel on the snake.
  5. Is it a setting on your mixer? To test, bypass everything (EQ, compression, etc) and make sure your gain is set properly.

These tests will take a few minutes to complete, but I bet you’ll find the issue. Otherwise, you are left with a guessing game, trying to fix the problem without first aiming at your target.

Choose the least distracting solution, even if it is to do nothing.

A few weeks ago, I was playing keys during an intimate prayer moment. Then, all of a sudden, my MacBook froze (which runs all of my keyboard sounds). I could have easily freaked out (and probably would have in the past) but instead just put my hands in my lap and bowed my head in an effort not to distract the congregation any more.

It’s these moments that you accept what happens and choose the least distracting solution, which will often be to do nothing at all.

Forgive yourself.

The more you problem solve, the better (and faster) you’ll get. So, quit giving yourself a hard time when you make the wrong choice or take forever to fix a problem. You’ll get better.

Seriously, stop beating yourself up. One of the best ways to learn is by making mistakes and then finding the solution. Never let failure define who you are, instead let it launch you into bigger and better things.

You might also enjoy: 5 Tips for Achieving Consistent Sound from Week-to-Week

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5 comments on “How to Become a Better Problem Solver with Church Sound”

  1. "Forgive yourself" is probably the best advice in this whole post. Seriously. Learning to troubleshoot and eliminate issues in the signal path is 100% on-point for problem-solving. However, being discrete and not beating yourself up for it for the rest of the day or even weeks, following, is great advice.

    Think of yourself as a ball player who just dropped the ball. You have to let that go and make sure you're ready for the next ball that comes your way. It's hard, when you think everyone in the room is staring at you with their laser beam eyes, but you have to solve the problem and then forgive yourself. 🙂

  2. In regards to changing the cable, do that at least twice. Murphy's law states that if at first one cable goes bad, the one you replace it with may not be much better (unless it is brand new and never used before). Cables rarely go bad, but I cannot count the times that the replacement cable wasn't much better than the replaced cable, and I scratched my head doing every thing else on the list again.

    Secondly, make sure the power is on (and a lot of items in the audio chain use power). Could be someone turned something off that you never knew had a switch, you blew a breaker, or any number of other things. For that reason, it is important for Sound techs to know how their system is put together.

  3. Perform a solo source check on every source BEFORE the service. Yes, things can still happen, but doing this will refresh your short-term memory as to 'what is where' and, if not prevent the problem, will at least help you realize a quick solution.

    Now, about that time I inadvertently left the digital key change in +3 half steps after doing a dub between services.... and then used it live for a soloist who actually needed -1 half step..... when they finished, I grabbed a talkback and publicly apologized.

  4. Whereas, everyone may not have this luxury, my approach is to go to the church on Saturdays and set up everything that is to be used on Sundays. Any batteries to be used are checked with a battery tester and all rechargeable wireless mics are checked to see if they are fully charged. Then, a thorough test is run to make sure every connection, cable, and microphone are working properly. It does not matter if something worked perfectly the last Sunday. Retesting is done!!!

    Keeping equipment properly stored and maintained will minimize future audio problems. After a service is over, all of our microphones are stored in air-tight cases. All cables are wrapped according to the "over/under" method and stored safely away where they cannot be damaged. The first thing I teach "new recruits" to audio is how to properly wrap cables.

    However, with all of the careful preparations, the most faithful attender at our church will be present, and his name is Murphy. One way to counteract Murphy, is to plan in advance options to do quickly if a problem arises, whether or not, it is a simple one, or a catastrophic one, such as when an amplifier, processor, or mixing console fails. One of the things I do is to provide as much redundancy as practicle, particularly when wireless microphones are in use. It is advisable to have a wired mic, or at least another wireless mic nearby just in case a problem arises.

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