The Electric: Cutting Through The Mix

I try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about Reverb, Reverb Pedals, and how that works in a church band.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes the sound guys don’t understand us. Sometimes the sound guys are not our friends. Sadly, sometimes the worship leader isn’t our friend either. This week I’ll want to talk about where we sit in the mix on a Sunday morning and what we can do about it. What do you do when you’re turned down so much you might as well not be on stage?

THE SOUND GUY (or GAL)

They have a hard job. If they do everything right no body ever notices them. But something goes wrong and it’s automatically their fault (even if its not). So no matter what, cut them some slack. The truth as well is that most church sound guys, near as I can tell, aren’t pros. They’ve messed around with the EQ on their home stereo, and some other guy at church showed them a few things, but that’s about it. They show up early, do the hard work, and get no very little credit.

Also, the evangelical church at large has “accepted” instruments (you know, the one that God must like better). Namely, the piano, and recently the acoustic guitar (Lutherans still aren’t sure how God feels on the acoustic 😉 ). The electric guitar is not on King David’s approved list. Ever wonder why the piano is turned up so loud vs the rest of the band?

Some sound folk don’t get dynamics. They set the board and if you start playing quieter on purpose they turn you up, and you don’t realize it so when it’s time to get loud you are way too loud and you get grief from someone afterwards.

Some sound guys think they are there to keep the band “in check” as opposed to serving by just making them sound as good as they can.

Being on the same page with your sound person is critical. Be open and honest, and try to understand where they are coming from. They may not be trying to silence you on purpose. They may be getting complaints that should be given to the worship leader or pastor instead and they feel gun shy.

Communication is huge, just try to do it at another time than sound check right before church. Also, bringing donuts to sound check never hurt anybody.

THE WORSHIP LEADER

As much as its important to be in communication with your sound guys, it’s even more vital to have a good line of communication going with your leadership. Worship Leader, Music Director, music pastor, or whoever that point person it.

Maybe you are feeling unwanted because your spouse tells you they can’t hear you or a friend says how weird it is that the piano is blasting but the bass and lead guitar aren’t audible. Your leader may have no idea that any of that it going on. It could be that they are fighting the same battle, and would love to hear from you about your thoughts and feelings on the subject. Maybe they want you turned up. Maybe they have some insight that hasn’t occurred to you yet. Maybe.

Or maybe they are fine with how things are. Maybe you were inherited from a previous worship leader or they like the idea of an electric guitar but not the reality. I wrote about this in a previous post  and I don’t want to rehash that but at least you would know where your leadership stands on the issue and then you would be able to act from there.

YOU: WHAT’CH YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?

Here’s some thoughts I have about where I sit in the mix when I’m playing electric. It could be that you are you’re own worse enemy.

Sometimes I don’t need to be turned up: Listen to a record. If you listen to the White Stripes the guitar is always turned up because a guitar and drums is all their is. Then listen to a record by a band like say, Jars of Clay. The guitars are there, but so are keys, and bass, and strings and other instruments. Sometimes the guitar is very present and sometimes its not. Understanding that the guitar is not always the main instrument in a part of a song or the whole of a song is a huge step in musical wisdom

What’s my ‘sonic setup’?: A sound guy friend explained this to me once saying, “Piezo pickups aren’t the best sounding but they cut through the mix really well.” The reality is that some guitar and amps cut through the mix really well and stand out, some don’t. That can be both good and bad. But the main thing is being aware of that fact. My telecaster set to the neck pick up will blend in a more as opposed to the bridge pick up with which will stand out a whole lot, and not always in a good way.

Give yourself somewhere to go!: When I sound check I want to have my guitar on it’s cleanest setting. If I check with an overdrive or all the effects on, I’ll get turned down a little more than I want. Now assuming the sound guys get wise to my little plan, I have a clean boost. A clean boost is a pedal that gives you a boost in your volume without adding grit or distortion. I have Xotic’s AC (almost clean) Boost on my pedalboard (it’s clean boost with optional gain). They also have an RC (really clean) pedal which is awesome and I wouldn’t mind owning. I used to play with a Fulltone GT-500 which as well as Fulltone’s Fulldrive OD come with a built in clean boost. Basically it gives me that little extra I need for solos or dynamics. Basically if you are playing at full tilt the whole time, don’t be surprised when you are “mixed down” with the rest of the band and no one can hear your intro riff or dynamic bit.

ENDING THOUGHTS

Usually I end these posts with some sort of reminder for those of us who play electric guitar in worship to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s all about Jesus and His glory and not about me and mine. That is a good reminder and we should all remember that.

But today I want to address the folks who before they get to these ending thoughts would being saying “stop whining, who care if your little solo is heard, it’s not about you and the band should just disappear anyways.” To that person I say: Really? The band should just disappear? Then why have the band? Why not just sing acapella? Or go back to the bad old days when Mrs. Wilson would bang away at the piano while whoever had the loudest voice lead where the singing was going? The folks in the church band show up early to set up and have to stay late to tear down. They have to practice at home and rehearse at church. If they are doing it right they put time in. Then to show up week after week just to not be heard is rough and unfair. Hopefully these thoughts are helpful and that good and honest communication between church leadership, worship leaders, sound guys and the worship band would the hallmarks of all our churches as we worship Jesus and serve His church in song and music.

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3 thoughts on “The Electric: Cutting Through The Mix

  1. Joe

    My man – thanks for putting into words what I have been feeling when asked to play electric in worship services. I work hard all week to put quality parts together and my family looks at me sheepishly at the end of service – “could not hear you again Dad” – bummer! I am an ex-rocker who likes guitar driven music – but, I also have been playing for 30 years and understand dynamics and the position of the electric in the band paradigm. Might be time for an honest talk with leadership and the sound guy. Thanks for being another voice! Peace.

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