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Posts in Sound
Drums // Muso × Sound Engineer
 

By Caleb Kay x Caleb Chan

It’s no secret that you only sound as good as your engineer makes you sound, but good sound is really a team effort; the end-goal is to set the team up for a win. Both musos and engineers really want the same thing – to create an atmosphere for people to encounter God – and learning to see from each other’s perspectives will allow us to work towards crafting that atmosphere better, together!

We embark on a dialogue between our Resident Drums Mentor, Caleb Kay, and our Resident Sound Mentor, Caleb Chan, to gain insight on the different approaches drummers and sound engineers take with regards to this instrument.

How is your working relationship?

Kay: There’s been such a natural grace on our working relationship, maybe something to do with having the same name?

Chan: It definitely helps to have the same name. (Imagine if everyone on the band had the same name, the level of unity will be incredible!) We share quite a similar sense of humour, play the same mobile games, support the same football club, love the same God, so I guess we get along pretty well.

What’s one thing that has had a huge impact on getting a better sound?

Chan: Unsurprisingly, communication and being willing to communicate goes a long way.

Kay: It’s something we do before either of us get behind the drums or sound console: explaining what drum sound I’m trying to achieve, and also hearing from Chan on how that fits within the bigger picture of his mix. That gives us both the same target to hit.

Chan: It’s common for musicians to come into a session/rehearsal prepared and ready to play their roles and parts, but not have an awareness of how their sounds play a role in the bigger picture.

What’s worse is when you try to bring up certain things that could help, and they get offended as they feel you have overstepped your jurisdiction and entered their ‘space’.

When Kay and I started working together more, we would talk about what drum sound we were going for, how to achieve it, what could be improved - all in context with how everything fits back into the vision of the leaders and AG. But that calls for a certain openness, and not getting easily offended when something doesn’t work.

Kay: There are some specific traits to the drum sound we attempt to go for at AG: a deep, low-pitched snare; warm toms with a subdued attack, and warm, mellow cymbals. My equipment choice and drum tuning facilitates this, but the rest is in the hands of Chan, so we have to communicate to ensure that this envisioned sound is seen through from source to speakers.

That’s great to hear (ha ha) and it’s so true that communication and trust go a long way towards sounding better. But what about some techniques you’ve both employed?

Kay: Firstly, good sound starts with a good source.

Chan: Good source is good sauce.

Kay: You can’t expect the sound engineer to manufacture sound/tone that doesn’t exist at the source. Have a good understanding of tuning and muting your drums to achieve a wide range of tones, and use cymbals that produce the tone you desire.

Chan: With most (actually all) instruments and singers, getting it right at the source is so critical to better sound.

I’ll add that mics and mic-ing play a huge part as well. What kind of sound are you going for? There are tons of drum microphones available and different mics respond differently and have different characteristics. Similarly, with mic positioning, every inch closer or further, and every angle change, alters the sound dramatically.

Kay’s understanding of drum mic-ing really helps as well! I don’t have to be running to and fro if I want something adjusted, I just need to let him know and he’ll sort it out.

Kay: Yeah, it’s so underrated but goes a long way for drummers to try and understand how to mic your drums – a basic understanding of how mic positioning and placement affects how your drums sound. You’ll help yourself and the sound engineer out a huge deal getting to grips with these techniques.

Chan: Oh, and… REVERB! I always find that drums require a lot more processing than other instruments to sound great. But nice reverbs – used tastefully – make your drums sound massive!

As a drummer / sound engineer, what's the one thing you wished the other camp knew?  

Chan: I’ll share this in relation with drummers as a whole, and not particularly Kay. One big tip for drummers: Learn to mix yourself.

I don’t mean going to the sound board or having an iPad mixer by your side. I mean balancing the velocity with which you strike the various components on your kit.

I’ve encountered drummers who smash their hats way harder than the rest of the kit, or don’t hit their snares loud enough to cut through, or hit their crashes really loudly; all these mean an imbalance in how the kit is coming through the various mics.

Learn to get good balance on your own, even before your sound is picked up – remember drum mics are very close to each other – and amplified by the system. Again, good source is good sauce.

Kay: For me, it can be frustrating when you work hard towards a certain kind of tone, but the engineer just treats your instrument generically, or, because of limited technique or ability, defaults to only one kind of tone.

Chan is one of my favourite sound engineers because he listens widely and is very up-to-date on the current sound of worship music, from Bethel Music to Hillsong to Elevation Worship.

He tries to borrow ideas – attempting to reverse-engineer the Bethel Music snare drum sound, for instance – and in doing this, pushes himself to become better as an engineer. At the same time, he learns how to better reproduce a certain kind of tone that the drummer might be working towards, becoming more versatile!

Any closing words for our readers?

Kay: Just want to encourage all the sound engineers out there: you are more than a face hiding at the back behind the sound console; you are such a vital part of the worship team.

Listen widely, be in-the-know of how drums (or any instrument for that matter) sound in current worship music, and learn how to reproduce that tone, always seeking to grow in your ear and your ability!

Chan: And drummers, you are in a position to influence the atmosphere of worship in a very audible and obvious way.

Be sensitive to what the Spirit is doing and learn to flow with Him on your instrument, more than just playing through a song!

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3 Keys To Better Church Sound

by Caleb Chan

This wasn’t an easy article to come up with. When I was asked by the team to write this, I felt it was tough to narrow everything down into pointers that were concise, yet informative and applicable.

Here are some things (technical and practical) to think about as you plan for growth for yourself or your ministry team!

Clarity

This should be a no-brainer! One of the most important factors in a good mix is clarity. Our congregation needs to be able to clearly hear what is spoken, sung, and played on stage. We have to ensure that anything communicated is done so with as few hindrances as possible!

Surprisingly, I still find that many churches face the issue of muffled or boomy vocals, especially during sermons (and quite a number of them seem to have accepted this as the norm).

Sound Tip! Remove what you don’t want! If your sound is muffled, there are frequencies responsible for that. So before you go ahead and boost the high frequencies hoping to bring out the clarity, remove the lower frequencies that are muffling your sound!

Balance

When you cook or bake, the ingredients used are usually measured out in order to achieve a certain combination - or balance - of flavours. Too much of one flavour can throw off an entire dish.

Similarly, when we talk about mixing in sound, balance is vital. Too much of an instrument or too little of the song leader throws the mix out of balance.

I talk about 2 types of balances whenever I teach/train: Volume Balance and Frequency Balance.

Volume balance does not mean every instrument and singer is set to the same volume. Good volume balance is ensuring that what needs to be heard can be heard.

For example: The songleader needs to be most prominently heard in a mix (even if the electric guitarist is playing an amazing, face-melting riff).

Frequency balance is about creating balance along the entire frequency spectrum; Low-Mid-High. Again, this may differ from church to church, and even between services within a church.

For example: A youth service may require (or perhaps, ‘desire’) more heart-pumping low frequencies, but this wouldn’t work in a more conservative or traditional service.

Sound Tip! Music has dynamics and is always ‘moving’; it takes listeners on a journey. Therefore, your balance should always be ‘moving’ with the band. If you like to just set initial levels and leave them, I highly encourage and challenge you to take it a step further - start moving the faders together with your band!

Awareness

Awareness is not something commonly talked about, especially in the context of sound. However, it is something that really sets good sound operators apart!

Even if you’re able to EQ a mic to sound amazing, but unable to un-mute it in time for when the Pastor picks it up and speaks into it, you already risk causing a distraction, even if just a tiny one.

Another common scenario is when the band or a musician on stage has an issue and is frantically trying to get our attention. But our eyes are buried deep in the mixer, or worse - we’re not even there!

As sound crew, it’s key that we do our utmost to ensure the service runs smoothly and seamlessly in the area of sound. Yes, sounding good is important, but so is ensuring mics and instruments are muted and un-muted at the right time.

Some areas to prepare:

  • When will the service anchor / Pastor come up on stage (either to open the service or takeover from the band)?
  • Which mic will the pastor be using (especially if your church has multiple wireless mics)?
  • Will any of your musicians be connecting/disconnecting their instruments?
  • Is there going to be a video played that requires audio?

Sound Tip! Yes, there may be lots to keep a lookout for, on top of having to focus on mixing, and yes, there may be unforeseen and sudden appearances on stage that may catch you unawares. If these are some of your concerns, work in pairs! Have more than one pair of eyes (and sometimes ears). There are many roles besides mixing, such as passing the right mics to the right people, or having someone position themselves near the stage, ready to assist the band. Some things to think about!


Click here for more information and to apply to our Sound Stream, where students will immerse themselves in a practical course focused on developing their technical ability and training their ears to achieve an effective sound unique to their church. Students can expect to grow in their understanding of how the effective use of a technical area like sound can greatly affect, build, and enhance the atmosphere of worship.

Click here for more information on our Sound Training Packages, specifically catered for churches who want to invest in the training of their Sound & Audio Teams for their worship services. Our Sound Consultant will train and mentor your sound teams to grow in their technical and practical knowledge of creating ideal environments for the worship context.

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