Bobby Spangler operates Spangler Media, a sound consulting and sales company based in Kentucky. He’s supervised six-figure sound installations all over the United States and is an instructor for events hosted by the Vineyard Worship Group. We sat down with Bobby to get his perspective on running sound in everyday church environments.
MT: If I’m the sound guy at a church with an existing setup, what would be the one thing I could do without spending money to improve my existing situation? What would be the thing you’d recommend to anybody just if they already have a legacy system?
Bobby Spangler: Training is a huge thing in the church world. That’s for sound techs. It’s largely neglected. You wouldn’t take somebody who’s never led worship or played an instrument before, hand them an acoustic guitar, give them two one-hour lessons, and be like, “Hey, you’re leading worship this Sunday,” but we kind of do the equivalent of that to sound people all the time: “Here is Shiny Toy, and here are two one-hour lessons: Now don’t mess up the service.” They get thrown into the hot seat without training on this massively complicated tool-set in front of them. So ongoing training for everybody is a big deal: You know, even those that have experience can always gain and deepen their skill-set. It’s not that you get to a point and you’ve arrived. You can always get better at your craft.
MT: So where would somebody shop for training?
Spangler: Now, you’ve got to budget how you would go get training. In the world of Vineyard churches, I’m a part of our new program called The Sound Summit (which may be getting a different name soon). But it’s roughly a yearly event right now that brings people together to address different skill levels. Basics, up through mid-level stuff: and there’s an advanced version being developed, which isn’t currently going, but we are developing specifically in the Vineyard wheelhouse.
MT: Can non-Vineyard people attend?
Spangler: Yeah, it’s wide open to the whole church. There’s plenty of training out there. Meyer Sound also has quality training. There are a few others that exist, and also the better installers in large sales firms will do one-on-one training or in-your-house training, but it’s good to be aware that there’s help: Every installation is a little bit different, and even with the same equipment your space will be different than the next church down the street. There will be things that apply [only in] your house. So if you can bring an expert in to do training with you and your crew right in the house, that can be a super-valuable resource.
MT: In the world of sound, one size doesn’t fit all.
Spangler: Right. It’s good to stage these things from a kind of basic entry level 101 up through the more complicated advanced adjustments and tweaks that you can do on your system. So if you have somebody that’s never run sound, before you start dropping terms like equalizer, gain, and compressor — it just starts flying right over their head and they get that glazed-over look like I’m just lost right now. So structuring from the very basics up through to the more advanced and kind of having time for your text to develop in each of those areas before they advance can be very helpful.
MT: What’s the next vital element for church sound?
Spangler: Another thing that is lost a lot of times is an understanding of signal flow. Signal flow is if we have a microphone that’s receiving the sound, how that sound travels from that microphone to your soundboard and then forward to the speaker system. So there is a grouping of cabling and there may be amplifiers and processors and boxes in your floor and all of them have different connection points. You want to know every point: from where it leaves that microphone all the way through that chain. If something does go wrong, you can methodically trace down the problem from the front of the house to the back and find where that failure is. It’s a skill set that you would need right now to understand the places.
MT: How do you teach people to understand signal flow?
Spangler: We’ll often start people on what’s called stage deck duty, where their job is more set-up, before they even touch the soundboard. They’re learning setting up in carrying microphones, unplugging cables, and how those route into the system on the front end of that system. Then they later learn about the booth. I want guys to understand what’s happening up front before they’re thrown into the booth itself.
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