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How to (Not) Run Sound at Church (humorous rant) Drum Microphones
Old 18th November 2009
  #1
How to (Not) Run Sound at Church (humorous rant)

DISCLAIMER: intended to be funny, not a jab at any one person or place. These are culled from years of experience both on stage and behind the board

Ok, so you want to help with the music at church but you can’t sing or play an instrument? Never fear, we have the job for you! It’s called ‘Soundman’ and its right up your alley. You get to play with all kinds of cool equipment and exert massive amounts of control over the presentation of the music; and the best part is – No experience required. You may think “but wait, aren’t there guys who spend their whole careers learning to do this well?” True, but as you’ll soon learn, Church Sound is different than sound everywhere else. Things like physics, acoustic principles, and general sound mixing theory take years to master and require much patience to learn, but they have no place in Church. The beauty of church sound is that you can do pretty much whatever you want and make up your own rules, as long as you know who to ignore and who to blame. Let’s get started.
1.Know who is in charge. Early on, you will need to find out to whom you directly report. This will most likely be the pastor or worship leader. If it’s the pastor, you’re in luck, because the best way to keep him happy is to make sure his mic is on when he speaks and keep it from feeding back. Also keep everything quiet at all times – music, videos, etc. This is because the most vocal complainers that a pastor hears are people over the age of 65 who think that everything is too loud. If you keep them happy, then they keep the pastor happy, and he will not bother you. It’s called trickle-down mixing theory. On the other hand, IF you report directly to the worship leader, your job will be tougher, because he/she will care more about how the music sounds, and thus you can’t just phone that part in. However you can usually keep them happy by making sure their voice and whatever instrument they are playing are loud and clear, both in the PA and their monitor. If the WL doesn’t have a lot of experience with sound reinforcement, your job is much easier, because he/she won’t be able to articulate any direction to you and will quietly blame themselves for their lack of vocabulary. If the WL DOES have experience with sound, then God help you, because then you’ll have to go learn to…
2.Know who to ignore. Much like in nature, running sound is about asserting dominance, similar to taking over a pride of lions. In the real world, no matter what you do; there will always be someone who knows more than you do or is more skilled than you are. It’s a universal rule that must be accepted everywhere EXCEPT church. Here you have the luxury of patently ignoring anyone who threatens your knowledge. Whether this person actually knows what they are talking about or just THINKS they know what they are talking about, it is important to treat them the same. After all, YOU are the person currently standing behind the board, and thus have the power. It can be helpful to come up with assumed reasons why each person shouldn’t be trusted.
a.They’re too old and they want everything quiet
b.They’re too young and they want everything loud
c.They’re a musician (more on this later).
Also, it helps to have a good arsenal of stock excuses to use anytime someone has a problem with how the music sounds, but we’ll get to that later. But first, here’s how you can stop a lot of complaining right away….
3.Be nice. Now being in church, everyone is supposed to be nice anyway, but it is especially important for a sound man. As you will come to learn, attitude is very important, much more so than skill and experience. For the average churchgoer, they can’t tell when something sounds bad, but they can tell when you’re being a jerk, so you need to figure out a way to manipulate others while being nice. Be ready and willing to serve, show up early, set up and tear down equipment, etc. These things don’t require any musical or mixing skill and look good. It is much easier to learn to act like you know what you are doing than to actually know. In addition, being nice to everyone makes it especially hard for all but the most hard-headed musician to give you any kind of constructive criticism. They won’t want to hurt your feelings because of all that you do. Frequently tell the band members and leaders that “it sounds great!” thus making it even more awkward for them to disagree with what they believe to be your schooled opinion. Sometimes being nice isn’t enough, however, and you will have people who still insist on giving you their opinion. Here are some pointers to help you survive that.
4.Musicians cannot be trusted. They will always expect their instrument to be loudest, and do not have the capacity to view the big picture. Is this true? Of course it isn’t, but it’s very important that you believe it anyway. As musicians gain more experience and maturity, they will hopefully become more humble and open-minded to counteract their increased skill. Prey on their humility. Insinuate through actions and words that the reason they think the bass is inaudible is simply because they are playing the bass and can’t be objective. Make them second-guess themselves. If your WL doesn’t have the vocabulary to express what is wrong, make him/her awkwardly realize this by asking some very specific questions about Db or Hz (Don’t worry if you don’t understand those terms, no one will know). If you get stuck in a conversation with a musician who knows his stuff and can call you on your mistakes, cast their knowledge into doubt by reminding them that they are on stage, and thus can’t know what it sounds like out at the board. If they get past that, then…
5.Blame the room. Bass player angry that you told him to have zero stage volume and then you don’t put him in the PA? Say, “It’s the room, it makes the bass into the ‘lead instrument’ and you can’t hear anything else.” If this is during rehearsal/sound check, say it’s because there are no bodies in there to absorb the lows, so you have to turn it down. If it’s during a service, use the same excuse but reverse it – All the bodies in here are absorbing the lows, so you can’t help it. No one will notice. The room is an inanimate object that can’t be changed without spending lots of money, so it’s a good scapegoat. Use the room excuse for feedback problems, intelligibility problems, too much volume, too little volume; it’s like a Swiss army knife. No one really understands these magical acoustical principles anyway, so it’s ok if your answers don’t make scientific sense. You can also blame the room for why all musicians should play at whisper volume. It’s why drums should be in cages, and guitar amps should be in separate rooms. If you have made the mistake of running sound in a secular venue (IE – the real world), and don’t believe this, you are wrong.
6.All stage instruments should be silent. Those pesky musicians will give BS excuses like
a.“My amp doesn’t sound the same unless I turn it up past 1.”
b.“The line-out on my amp sounds terrible. Can we mic it instead?”
c.“Drums don’t sound the same when played with hot rods”
d.“The drum cage only makes the drums quieter but the cymbals stay loud. Isn’t that the opposite of our problem?”
e.“I can’t hear my bass if I have to listen through IPod-sized earbuds”
f.“People listen to loud pop/rock radio/cds/ipod all the time and love it, so why are we trying to make everything sound like NPR?”
And they are all wrong. You know better, don’t you? Of course you do. How can you be expected to wield total control over the mix unless everything on stage is quiet? If you introduce the idea of compromise into the equation you risk making the musician feel as they have say over how their instrument should sound, and that’s dangerous territory. It is well-known that electric guitar players have made up 40 years of pseudo-science claiming that amps make better tones when pushing volume as an excuse to run huge marshall stacks turned up to 11. That was only true for old amps, nowadays with ‘master volume’ knobs, every amp should be quiet. That’s why we have POD’s and amp sims. Distortion is distortion, right? Furthermore, drummers clearly play loud because they just want to hit stuff. A drum is a drum, and the mark of quality for a drummer is inversely related to their volume. Make sure you use positive reinforcement any time the drummer is playing quietly. Drums sound the same at all volume levels, and any drummer who says that the groove and tone are better at X volume is just blowing smoke as an excuse to play loud. Push for a drum shield. It will solve problems by making everyone think the drums are quieter. Will they be quieter? Probably not by much, but they certainly LOOK like they are, and that goes a long way.
7.In-Ear-Monitors were created by the Apostle Paul himself. These handy little devices can be used to solve all sorts of problems, even if you don’t have them. Can’t get a good mix and people are complaining about it? Obviously it’s because the stage volume is too muddy because of all the live monitors – If we had IEM’s we wouldn’t have this problem. Got IEM’s but he musicians say it sounds sterile and don’t trust that it sounds good in the room? Obviously it’s because they haven’t tweaked their mix right and they should just trust you. Or you can say it’s because everything is silent except the drums, and they are now overpowering everything else, which is why we need electronic drums. Keep prodding that every problem has a solution that is achieved by buying new stuff. Eventually the money will run out and you can just say “Hey I’m doing the best with what we have. Nature of the beast.”
8.Play the worship card before anyone else does. “You don’t want to obscure the vocals do you? You want people to be able to worship right? Our goal is about leading people to worship, not about how good we are or how awesome we sound.” That’s right; you may have to go there if you get cornered. It’s critical that you be able to predict when the worship card needs to be invoked and get to it first, because if someone else drops that bomb on you, then you’ve lost. “Listen, our goal is to lead people to experience worshipping God, and when everything sounds crappy and small, it’s much more difficult. We need to take our sonic quality to the next level with some real know-how” is not good to hear, because then if you play the worship card, it sounds like a cop-out for your lack of skills. Make sure that you are always ready with the worship defense at a moment’s notice, because making the WL/musician feel vain for wanting to sound good is a great way to stave off criticism.
Old 19th November 2009
  #2
Gear Head
 

Quote:
“People listen to loud pop/rock radio/cds/ipod all the time and love it, so why are we trying to make everything sound like NPR?”
HILARIOUS!
Old 19th November 2009
  #3
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latestflavor's Avatar
 

i'm not a chuuuch man but damn this is funny. worst sound i ever heard is at the richest and well known church in harlem. now i get it!
Old 19th November 2009
  #4
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organsymphony's Avatar
 

The best ones are the ones that don't even have a sound guy.

They just buy the gear in a worship package from some catalogue and then never use it.

Playing with my swing band and the pianist had a stage piano. They had a decent keyboard amp whacked in the corner so we thought we'd ask if we could use it.

"no... we can't use any of that stuff cos of health and safety"

O_o
Old 20th November 2009
  #5
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lowfreq33's Avatar
 

Been there, done that. Spot on.
Old 20th November 2009
  #6
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AllAboutTone's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by lowfreq33 View Post
Been there, done that. Spot on.

Me to, never to run a board in church again, HEY i like NPR.
Old 20th November 2009
  #7
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b808's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by AllAboutTone View Post
Me to, never to run a board in church again, HEY i like NPR.
+1
I made a promise to myself to not run a audio in a church if they are not paying me. Which happens more then you'd think but nevertheless.
Old 20th November 2009
  #8
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Fletcher's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by RockManDan View Post
Things like physics, acoustic principles, and general sound mixing theory take years to master and require much patience to learn, but they have no place in Church.
Amen brother... amen
Old 20th November 2009
  #9
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Been there done that.

In 20 years I have never received payment to mix a church service, would never accept it either. I give those hours up to the big man and he can reward as he sees fit. In the 17 years I have been professionally employed I have never not had a job. I like to think that he's looking out for me. Sowing and reaping and all of that.

Mixing for church services is a pretty strange animal. People actually leave churches over sound issues, really, it does happen. It's usually a lose/lose proposition as a sound engineer unless you realize (and accept) that you're there to help realize the senior pastor's vision, not your own.

Also, you will never get professional results from volunteers and most church music departments are almost totally volunteers.

At the end of the day, a church is there to help people connect with God. If you're a believer then it should be obvious that souls saved are more important than musical and sound mix perfection.
Old 20th November 2009
  #10
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b808's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by musikwerks View Post
Been there done that.

In 20 years I have never received payment to mix a church service, would never accept it either. I give those hours up to the big man and he can reward as he sees fit. In the 17 years I have been professionally employed I have never not had a job. I like to think that he's looking out for me. Sowing and reaping and all of that.

Mixing for church services is a pretty strange animal. People actually leave churches over sound issues, really, it does happen. It's usually a lose/lose proposition as a sound engineer unless you realize (and accept) that you're there to help realize the senior pastor's vision, not your own.

Also, you will never get professional results from volunteers and most church music departments are almost totally volunteers.

At the end of the day, a church is there to help people connect with God. If you're a believer then it should be obvious that souls saved are more important than musical and sound mix perfection.
Yeah okay.
I guess you don't have the "mmm brotha we wants ya to volunteer in this here church. We could greatly use yah brotha! mmmm lawwd knows! cmon brotha whut yu sayeth mmmmhhmmm?"

Sorry Pal, I'm not about to bust my ass for 80 hours just because you say "God will bless me". Screw that man, I gotta eat.

....sho nuff wuz.
Old 20th November 2009
  #11
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b808's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by musikwerks View Post

Also, you will never get professional results from volunteers
Absolute Bull****.


Last edited by b808; 20th November 2009 at 11:22 PM.. Reason: More clarity
Old 20th November 2009
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b808 View Post
Absolute Bull****.
Not in my experience, but if yours differs then good for you.

When you place an ad in the church newsletter for "sound board operators" and anyone in the congregation is welcome to apply.... I stand by my original statement.
Old 20th November 2009
  #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by b808 View Post

Sorry Pal, I'm not about to bust my ass for 80 hours just because you say "God will bless me". Screw that man, I gotta eat.
80 hours? Who said anything about 80 hours? I'm talking about a few hours on a Sunday.

I also never said that God will bless you if you decide to offer your services gratis. I am simply using my own experiences as an example. If you don't want to do it then..... don't. No one will hold it against you.

It's your decision.
Old 21st November 2009
  #14
as the author of this tome, i would say that you absolutely can get great results out of volunteers, but its just a lot (a WHOLE lot) more difficult. generally the ones who volunteer to help with sound that actually know what they're doing already do this in some other profesional capacity or have in the past, thus not completely amateur volunteers in the traditional common sense of 'hey joe youre good with wires and stuff...you wanna run sound?'

personally i gladly serve without getting paid. i feel like it puts my heart in the right place. I used to play guitar at a church that paid me 180 bucks a week while i was in college. it was awesome because it allowed me to work much less at my nights restaurant job while in school. in the end though i was replaced not for my playing or personal reasons but because my replacement owned a music store and had access to lots of cool gear. but that type of environ happens commonly with places where lots of money is changing hands. yea paying your band/sound staff is a quick way to attract the best talent in town, but sometimes its the cost of the spiritual/personal element. I would rather play with less that virtuosos for free who have a better heart for worship than experts who are just phoning it in. That said, too many volunteers phone it in just cause they dont take it seriously. each approach has its problems and potential downfalls.

the church i play at now doesnt pay their musos (i think the sound man gets a little and the WL gets a salary as well) but thats because this church takes their finances very seriously and gives a whole crapload to local stuff like homeless ministries, fighting poverty, etc plus all kinds of mission work in asia, europe, etc.... i would feel bad if me getting money each week meant that one of our missionaries (several friends of mine) had to go hungry or come home early.

but thats just me. my original post stands. i see no reason why someone who doesnt get paid cant do a great job. it just takes a little more weeding out process. our church is pretty big and we're in a tri-county area so we have a fairly good talent pool in our congregation. its just a question of making sure the right people are given the right tasks and the people in charge making the decisions know what they are doing. big IF's whenever there is a human element involved....

-dan
Old 10th December 2009
  #15
love it! :P
Old 10th December 2009
  #16
wreckingstuff
Guest
Quote:
Originally Posted by musikwerks View Post

I give those hours up to the big man
If there is a god, and that's still wide open (Dean Roddey where U at?) I'm sure it can't be a man, otherwise surely it would not have afflicted us with the perpetual hazard known to us mortals as testicles.
Old 10th December 2009
  #17
Gear Head
 

I've done sound, both paid and volunteer in a number of churches, and these issues are spot-on....at the places that were not paying gigs.

My gig right now is a paying one (we have a senior sound engineer, and I'm the backup and setup person), and we're pretty well left alone. Our church is medium-small (about 300 each in two services). We have professional musicians (union) where necessary, and highly skilled members where we can. I believe that having a high level of professionalism on stage/in performance greatly contributes to the quality of worship during the service.

How distracting would it be to have a mediocre volunteer musician hitting wrong notes during a slower, more serious song, or a vocalist trying to sing and battle feedback because the volunteer sound guy doesn't understand monitor placement?

I absolutely agree that there are skilled volunteers doing this every Sunday, all across the world, but, let's face it, the majority of them simply don't have any sort of training in sound engineering. We have volunteers who help out, but they are tasked with things they are capable of handling (pulling cables, running the CD deck, etc.).

To give a second example, a close friend's church has 5 rotating "sound engineers"; none of which have any training (I take that back. One lady is a secretary at a production rental house). I've been called there 5 times this year to reconfigure, troubleshoot, or repair parts of their system that directly resulted from someone doing something that would be kindergarten-level knowledge to most of us. I even offered to spend a month of Sundays training one or two people to be "experts" on their system, but, they "didn't want to insult the ones who weren't as skilled". Very well. I'll continue to bill you every time I have to come fix something!

So, long story short, volunteers, in the right capacity are great help with the heavy lifting, but it makes everyone's life so much easier if you have a skilled person running the show.
Old 11th December 2009
  #18
Gear Nut
 

This was so spot on. The only part you missed is the whole "I'm doing the best that I can, you know" when you prove them wrong after a lengthy argument on something.

In my church, training is moot because the volunteers don't want to listen. They think they've already got it together. Every single week I have to argue with whoever is running sound (it's on a rotating basis) that my monitor isn't loud enough. I play the keyboard/organ, and I need to be able to at least hear myself (I don't really care what it sounds like in the house honestly). The argument I always get is "Well, if we turn up your monitor, then we're gonna have to turn down the house, and that's going to affect the recording." What?! *facepalm* I have no idea if I've ever played a single note correctly because I am hardly ever able to hear myself. I should clarify that I'm not the overbearing musician who not only wants to hear himself, but hear himself loud. I just want some feedback that I'm hitting the right notes.

I should also make a note that people have told me repeatedly that they can't hear the keyboard or the organ, except on the occasion where I have left a lot of headroom in the gain output of the digital organ during rehearsal and then cranking it up once we're on stage (the audio guys never adjust levels on the fly). Suddenly I can hear myself in the monitor, with the added bonus that the audience can now hear me too. It's sad that I have to do my own mixing on stage, where I really can't hear what it sounds like in the house, simply because the sound guys don't know what they're doing. It makes me that guy. I don't want to be that guy.

Although, there is some advantage to having amateur sound guys. They never remember to put the singers (amateur/untrained) in my monitor mix, and that makes me happy. :p
Old 12th December 2009
  #19
I would look at this from the opposite angle to the OP.
I'm just amazed at the amount of high tech gear involved in church music.
In my experience, the more gear, the more likely an unsatisfactory outcome.
Bear in mind I played a lot in the late 70's and 80's (not in church, but in all sized venues often with acoustic issues).
I played drums without reinforcement, and the goal of the band (often semi-pro) was to balance ourselves and achieve a good, clear vocal sound and punchy enough music to propel the event along.
Typically the set-up would be small vocal PA, with a couple of vocal monitors. Everyone else hearing their personal amps, and perhaps (perhaps) a bass drum mic for the odd gig.
It amazes me to see and hear about church groups in medium sized venues using a mic on every drum, full monitoring and often in-ears.
In-ears are one of the hardest things to get right as it involves divorcing yourself from the natural stage balance, and relying on a monitor engineer (often non-musician) to get the sound right.
The craziest thing is to sit a full drum kit behind a wall of plexi-glass, mic it all up and pump it through a PA. You are isolating the drummer from the natural stage sound and other musicians (again!), and substituting a lot of other variables like a PA system, monitor system and two non band members PA mixer and monitor person), another two chances to cause confusion.
My overall impression is that most churches should save their money and go back to the core values of ensemble performance. learn to balance the music with the vocals, and only introduce amplification and reinforcement if you really can't get the desired balance any other way.
Old 12th December 2009
  #20
My Church's setup would probably make you cry, Chrisso :P

•Drumkit behind plexiglass, fully mic'd (K, K, TS, BS, H, T, T, T, OH, OH)
•Stage amps mic'd with SM57s
•Acoustic guitars DI'd
•Vocals via SM58s and Beta58s
•Sometimes there's percussion people with '57s
•Wireless IEMs for drummer
•Up to 6 monitor mixes but we sometimes chain monitors if we need to
•Pastors have wireless headset mics or wireless Sennheiser handhelds
•Runs through Allen&Heath GL3300 32 channel, 8 bus mixer (I think we're installing out Yamaha LS9-32 upgrade this weekend
•Not sure of the specs on our speakers but they're pretty hefty and there's 4 of them

It is, however a big church and it sounds good when we use a good engineer.

And... In a strange way... I found Jesus through that set-up :P
Old 12th December 2009
  #21
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Darwin James's Avatar
 

I enjoyed this.
Old 12th December 2009
  #22
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kingchong's Avatar
 

What would you do in this situation?

Old 12th December 2009
  #23
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kingchong View Post
What would you do in this situation?

The same thing you do with the talented singers. It's not the sound engineer's place to remove untalented people from the stage.
Old 13th December 2009
  #24
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jon_waite's Avatar
 

I started out by running sound in a church, luckily i went to school and made it sound better, Unfortunatly i was one of 3 running sound. Boy did if feel good when everyone would tell me how good it sounded when I ran sound
Old 14th December 2009
  #25
Gear Nut
 

I've got one to add to the list.

9. When in doubt, start pulling cables and trying to re-patch a panel that doesn't need to be re-patched only a few minutes before the service (especially after a significant amount of time was spent re-patching everything after your last patch job). It's important that you make sure that you do not have any knowledge of what you are doing, and also make sure not to tell anyone that you are going to do that. This way when the musicians get on stage, some of the instruments won't send any sound whatsoever to the PA system. The closer to the service you can make a mess like this, the better. Musicians don't mind spending time in rehearsal only to not be able to play, and be completely embarrassed, because of your genius idea to touch things that don't need to be touched a few minutes before service. You should also blame the musician and/or the instrument for the problem when confronted.


ugh.
Old 14th December 2009
  #26
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I played bass at a local church. I may have still been in school at the time, but I was the only person there who was involved in any sort of music degree program and my knowledge was ignored more than anyone elses "know how." My knowledge on live sound was also ignored. Noooo. Its not like I'm a music major. Nooo. Its not like I don't get paid to do this outside of this place away from you ignorant jerks. fuuck

Long story short, I quit, nobody has been able to come close to my skill levels. Now I make money on Sundays
Old 14th December 2009
  #27
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by WVUtubadude View Post
I played bass at a local church. I may have still been in school at the time, but I was the only person there who was involved in any sort of music degree program and my knowledge was ignored more than anyone elses "know how." My knowledge on live sound was also ignored. Noooo. Its not like I'm a music major. Nooo. Its not like I don't get paid to do this outside of this place away from you ignorant jerks. fuuck

Long story short, I quit, nobody has been able to come close to my skill levels. Now I make money on Sundays
Something about this post came across a bit arrogant. I mean, so what if you're a music major? That means jack. I can't tell you how many "music majors" I've worked with who didn't know anything (I'm not suggesting you're one of them). And I'm not exactly sure how playing bass outside of church, or being a music major has anything to do with live sound knowledge.

You give them the middle finger? That's supposed to be a good Church/Christian attitude? Most of us here are complaining about bad sound, but we still continue to do it. You don't like that they don't listen to you, so you quit? If someone came around touting that attitude at my church, I'd politely tell them not to let the door hit them on the way out.

Sorry man, but that's the way your post came across.

Edit: I don't want you to think I'm attacking you. I just wanted you to know how that post comes across, and hope that's now how you intended it.

Last edited by mralmostpopular; 14th December 2009 at 10:41 AM.. Reason: Clarification
Old 14th December 2009
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mralmostpopular View Post
Something about this post came across a bit arrogant.
I see your point. It was more of just an angry rant

Long story short, I had been there for 6 years, then a leadership change occured. The old guy was very professional guy who was all around awesome. The new guy was an arrogant ass who actually went out of his way to ignore me and even insult me. Thats why I quit.


Funny story. I repeatedly point out that their reasons for having to have the Main Mix volume almost all the way up is because the power amps were set too low. They tell me that couldn't possibly be the problem and then call the company that installed the system to take a look at things, and all they do is turn up the amps.
Old 14th December 2009
  #29
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S.Filpansick's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kingchong View Post
What would you do in this situation?


Let's go ahead and say that this was purely a phase issue with that other mic on the stand...
Old 14th December 2009
  #30
Quote:
Originally Posted by mralmostpopular View Post
I just wanted you to know how that post comes across,
To me it came across exactly as intended.
A guy with some knowledge and talent being under used due to local politics.
I'm not surprised the telling of the story bordered on colourful, it's got to be very frustrating trying to help a group of people who seemingly ignore your help.
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