During Kerith Community Church meetings, my standard role is as an electric guitarist. I’ve assumed this role on literally thousands of occasions over nearly five years – often multiple times in the day and at a whole host of locations. When I play guitar, I have two feet planted firmly and overwhelmingly in my comfort zone. It’s a large part of my job so you’d sort of expect that I guess. Yesterday, however, my role was very different and an ocean separating it from my comfort zone. It was scary.
For the first time, I was a sound guy.
You may or may not have noticed that in pretty much any concert, show or church meeting there is someone stood at the back with a box of tricks. That person has the seemingly impossible responsibility of making everything sound good. The sound guy. After yesterday’s antics, I admire these people and their complicated role. Looking after the musical part of a band is easy, but mixing, EQ’ing and working with the band from a sound perspective is not easy. And I’m saying this even after the support of my friend Andy Emery to get me started!
I’ve decided that life is a bit like a sound desk. How’s how:
1. You have to balance the levels of your life.
One of the fundamental jobs of a sound technician is to ‘mix’ the band; that is, to ensure that the volumes/levels of each individual instrument work together rather than overpowering each other. It’s a fine art – believe me! For example, if just one instrument is too loud it can be very distracting, whereas if an instrument like the drum kit is too quiet, the song may lose the sense of momentum that it would otherwise have. Of course, you need to be able to hear the vocals clearly above the rest of the band too.
We have to balance the levels of the various areas of our lives in order to get a good mix. Whether that’s friends, family, work, leisure, education, fitness or faith, it’s crucial that we balance everything well. It’s fine to do a fantastic job at work but if your home life is falling apart, something is clearly going wrong. Recently, I’ve been challenged in my fitness; it’s lingered just a little too low in the mix for quite some time and I’m currently trying my best to rectify that, but I’ve still got a long way to go. What do the levels in your life look like?
2. Your ‘mix’ will never please everybody.
The more you work in the kind of role that I do, the more you’ll realise that everyone who mixes sound has different tastes and approaches. In my experience, very few sound guys are the same. At Kerith, we receive phenomenally varied feedback from people each week depending on who is running the desk. Some people will love it while at the same time, others will passionately loathe it. Some will adore the level of the electric guitar in the mix while others will complain that the keyboard is being drowned out by some six stringed hooligan. Unfortunately, until we are all uniformed robots, the opinions of others will always differ.
Everyone seems to have differing opinions about how you live your life. I have as many people telling me that I spend too much time at the gym as I have telling me I don’t spend enough time at the gym. Some people tell me I work too much whilst others ask about my hours to ensure I’m doing enough. You get the idea. Like running a sound desk, there are basic principles that are important to follow. As Christians, it’s important for us to achieve a life balance that is rooted in the Bible, but once that’s ensured it’s open season. It’s challenging but vital that we balance our lives in a way that is beneficial to us rather than the whims and opinions of others.
3. Louder is not always better.
Experience shows me that new sound guys tend to find their answers in cranking up the volume. Ear piercing loudness has an amazing ability to cover up poor mixing…but that’s mainly because it makes your ears bleed. Louder volumes can cover a multitude of sins, but it’s not always better. In fact, prolonged exposure can be quite dangerous.
Achieving a balance among various areas of our live is important, but ensuring that we don’t drive ourselves too hard also is pivotal to our well-being. Once we start exceeding our natural limit, we can cause serious damage – not just to ourselves, but also to the people around us. Keeping our output to a safe level is much more sustainable long term.
What are your thoughts on the sound guy / life connection?