Who’s in Control?…

and why?

by Greg Silsby

Seated in church recently, I once again resisted the temptation to react to a sound system problem by turning around to see who was in control. It would only have served to show those around me how easily I could be distracted from worship. It was a common problem. The pastor stood up to speak and no sound came from the system. My first thought - the operator had not brought up the pastor’s fader, or had not un-muted the appropriate channel. The real problem - the pastor had not switched his wireless microphone On.

This familiar scene raises one of the most critical questions you must ask concerning your church sound system. Who is in control? Growing up as a PK in the last century, (I’ve been dying to say that) I had the opportunity to observe many church sound systems. In those early years, systems seldom had more than one or two microphones. Microphones were hardly ever hand-held and none were wireless. The "PA volume" was set at the mixer/amplifier, which might be located in a box built into the back wall, in a room to the side of the platform, or even inside the pulpit. No one really operated the controls; it was more a matter of turning up the volume if you couldn’t hear anything and turning it down if the feedback persisted.

But I learned one thing back then: giving system control to the person at the pulpit was not a wise idea. Today, we lay out significant coin of the realm to equip a sound operator with the tools needed to control almost all aspects of the audio experience. But when we give the person with the microphone an On/Off switch, we force the system to serve two masters. As a rule, avoid switches on microphones. They put control in the wrong hands and create the very distractions the operator is there to eliminate. An attentive sound operator mutes unused mics and quickly un-mutes them as needed, reducing the chance of feedback and preventing the amplification of sounds that should not be heard. (Plug in your favorite wireless story here.) The consistently quick and skillful operator instills confidence and easily convinces a user to leave the wireless mic switched On. The technician who frequently misses the first words or sentences of a song or sermon, however, is likely to lose the privilege of providing control.

Greg Silsby

Commercial Sound & Broadcast Guy, Mackie Designs, Inc.