Without ever stepping foot in your church (or movie theater, or elementary school cafeteria—or wherever you meet), I can tell you how your Sunday worship sound check goes:
The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up.
The electric guitarist just isn’t “relating” to his sound, so he follows suit and cranks his Boogie.
The bass player feels like he might be a little low in the mix, so he ups his thump.
The acoustic guitarist is now completely buried, so he asks to be turned up in the wedge.
The alto can’t hear herself. “Can I get a little more of my voice in the monitor?” she asks the sound tech. Knowing what’s coming, he reluctantly consents.
In a few moments, all the worship leader hears is alto. And asks for his voice up. The tech does his knob-twisting duty. He’s the worship leader, after all.
Within moments, the soprano has her left index finger in her ear and a rather displeased look on her face. The sound guy thinks to himself, “Here it comes…” And it does. So up her voice goes.
The drummer, meanwhile, feels the energy from all these additional dBs and assumes it to be the Holy Spirit telling him to play louder. He follows and obeys.
The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up…
Names and instruments might differ, but this is the sin of “More ME!” at work.
And as you can see, it’s self-perpetuating.
As we continually to ask for more of ourselves in the monitors, we inadvertently:
- Create a volume war between onstage amps, monitor wedges and the drums.
- Ruin the house sound because of all the monitor bleed.
- Fail to listen to each other, causing the “6 people playing the same song on the same stage in the same key at nearly the same time” phenomenon.
- Dishonor each other’s gifts, talents and skills – including the sound engineer.
What are some ways to repent and renounce this sin of “more me”? Here’s a laundry list of suggestions. These range from quick fixes to expensive solutions. Do what you can with what you have.
1. Do a reverse, “house-only” sound check.
Cost? Painful, but free.
2. Guitarists/Bassists/Keyboardists, get rid of stage amplifiers.
Guitarists/Bassists. Move to an amp modeler like a Line 6 POD or a SansAmp.
This cuts down on the stage volume to allow others to hear better. But now how do you hear yourself? Here's a cheap solution: run one ear bud out of the headphone jack of the POD. You’ll want to get a volume control to keep it from blowing your ear drum.
Cost: $200 – $500 for the modelor. 8 bucks for the volume control.*
Keyboard players, if it doesn’t cut your “out” signal, do the same as guitarists with an amp modeler: run one earbud out the phone jack on your keyboard. Again, you’ll want the volume control.
Cost: $20 to $200, depending on what kind of buds you buy.
3. Invest in a personal monitor system. (Google Aviom, Elite Core PM-16, MyMix, etc), With this and some decent buds, you can forget wedges altogether.
Cost: $4000 – 6000. (If that's too much to swallow, check out the "poor-man" Aviom solution I used at a former church)
4. Put cans on the drummer. Run the drummer’s monitor through a headphone amplifier instead of a wedge. Often times, you have more aux channels than monitor amps. So use one of those open aux channels to give your drummer his own mix.
If you can’t afford good in-ears for him, nobody really minds when the drummer has the Princess Lea Cinnamon Rolls on the sides of his head. He’s probably barefoot and wearing plaid shorts with a Hawaiian shirt anyway. A couple cans on the side of his head won’t distract anymore than that.
Cost: $50 – 500 – depending on the headphone amplifier and in-ears/headphones.
Remember, every wedge you can physically remove will help ebb the escalation of volume and reduce the sound clutter on your stage.
5. Use electronic drums. Sometimes that’s the best you can do for your room and your budget.
Cost: $800 – 2500
If you abhor electronic drums as much as I (and every drummer in the known universe) do, then here are two other options:
6. Play to the room. This is free, but sometimes the room is just too small for anything but jazz tapping. Jazz tapping is great for, well, jazz. For modern worship, bleck…
7. Use a drum shield. Here’s the deal with Plexiglas shields - they give the illusion of helping control the sound. But usually it just bounces it to another part of the room. To really control the sound you need a fully enclosed shield with sound absorption. This also means you need to mic the drums.
Cost: with the drum miking, you’re now into it for around $3000.
Maybe jazz tapping isn’t so bad?
8. Remove and reduce. When someone ask for "more me" in the wedge, sound tech, please learn to ask this question. I call it the Socratic Sound-Guy Method:
“What can I take out or turn down in of your monitor?”
If you can't hear yourself in the wedge, it's not usually because you're too low. It's an overcrowded mix. As mentioned in the “reverse sound check” article linked above, Kent Morris says that we should only put in our monitors what “keeps us in time and on pitch.” See that post for more on this.
Cost: the Socratic Sound-Guy Method is free, but it may cost you some dirty looks and snarky comments.
So there's a few suggestions. But I'm sure are other great suggestions. Let us know in the commments section:
What do you do in your situation to help curb the sin of MORE ME?