How many of my sound friends out there make suggestions to the band during practice? I’m curious if this is a common practice or just something I like to do. As many of us know, the sound person plays a vital role in how the band sounds to the people in the seats, and just by having that person setting the mix in the room the band has already placed a LOT of trust in that person. But is it stepping over a line when they start making suggestions to the band for how to play a certain song?
My answer … it depends. What does it depend on? Well, many things. Let’s discuss it.
Every situation is slightly different but there are a few ground rules that I think the band and sound person to lay down before the sound person should be making regular suggestions. I had a recent occurrence where one of the volunteer sound operators suggested a few things to one of the guitar players about his tone. The guitar player listened and changed his tone a bit and the two electric guitar players sounded better blended. This is a situation where it worked out great, the guitar players even said they’d love to hear that input from the sound operators if what they are doing isn’t working.
And therein lies the key ground rule. The band’s willingness to take the sound operators suggestions. This isn’t necessarily a pride issue if the band doesn’t want to hear the sound person telling them how to play their song, if often can be, but I don’t want to start out dismissing it as just a bunch of snobby musicians who think they’re better than the lowly sound person. The band needs to trust the sound person, and if the sound person is telling them how to make their song better, it may only be his or her opinion and the band might not care to hear another person’s opinion. They are the band for a reason, in a church they are often chosen by the Worship Pastor/Leader/Director to play just as they played in their audition, or to play the songs just as they heard them on the recording they learned from. Music is subjective and everyone has an opinion, so to hear one more opinion can often just dilute the relationship between band and sound person to “do your job, I’ll do mine” instead of the harmonious relationship it could be where band and sound person work together to make a beautiful piece of music.
I would suggest the Tech Director or Sound Leader or whoever leads the sound team, speak with the worship leader/director and ask them what their policy is. If they say they would rather the sound person just run sound, and let them deal with guitar tone stuff and laying out how the band plays, then leave it there. Do your job as a sound person as best as you can. Often times the worship director will agree to let the sound person make suggestions here and there, but they don’t want it to become a regular thing (“what will be their suggestion for this song!”).
I find the most common times a band needs some input from the sound person is when there are two electric guitars. Ideally the two guitarists will have worked out who is playing what parts, but sometimes they don’t have that communication and you get two guitars playing either the same thing, or two different things that just don’t work together. If they aren’t listening to each other closely enough, they may not even realize that the sound they are hoping for in the mix, just isn’t happening because the two guitar sounds just aren’t working together. A gentle suggestion can go a long way in this situation. But again, only if it is defined that the sound person can intervene.
I am curious what your set up is like. Do you make suggestions to the band?