Working in Church SoundFeb 01, 2020
Want to get some serious time on the console and hone your mixing skills? Doing sound for a church or house of worship is a great place to start. With some mega churches having sound systems as large and complicated as what you would find at an arena level rock concert, mixing church sound can be very fulfilling.
Below, Samantha talks about her experience working in audio and tech for houses of worship.
Tell me about your experience doing church sound. What was your official title? What were your duties?
My experience with church sound has been inadvertent and incredible. I’ve been heavily in the house of worship sector for six years now. I’ve had many titles: A1, producer, trainer, and even something called “IT media supervisor”. I often work in many different churches throughout the year as a consultant. One of my two consistent positions is that of a technical producer, or sorts. I’m in charge of a seminary’s weekly chapel services, their special events, graduation, opening convocation, and I oversee the technology that connects their campuses together. My duties include everything from technical planning, to miking musicians and speakers, to mixing large events, to babysitting powerpoints.
How many people typically make up the audio crew for a mega church?
Depends just how “mega” we’re talking. The audio crew at the “mega” church I often work at is a 20,000 member church with 5 campuses. Each campus has 1 audio person and the main campus has 4 full timers alone. They’re running very low, actually. One “head” audio engineer, two “assistant” audio engineers, and a floater.
Did you have to commit to a contract and for how long?
A job with a church or other house of worship is like any “normal” job. You are brought on staff (either part time or full time) and usually with great benefits. You stay as long as you feel like you’re making a difference and growing. Maybe you’re there for 6 months, maybe you’re there for 6 years. The core of these positions is servitude. We’re all helping to move towards the same goal and whether you religiously align with these folks or not, you gotta row the boat in the same direction. Other positions are volunteer or contractor-based. It all depends on the size of the church.
What terms (if any) of the contract are negotiable?
Pay is somewhat negotiable, but don’t expect to make it rich. You give up some dollars per hour for a more relaxed environment and better benefits. Your days of the week will usually have 2-3 mandatory (I see a lot of Saturday & Sunday, plus Wednesday for rehearsal) while the other days are pretty flexible. Some benefits are also negotiable, but for those just getting started you’re going to learn there’s a lot more value in a benefits package than in a paycheck alone. Paid time off and emphasis on work/life balance is worth quite a shiny penny.
Can you describe a typical work day?
For a church audio engineer, on a Sunday, it begins early in the morning. Perhaps six in the morning, perhaps eight. You turn the system on, check that nothing has been damaged, get the equipment ready to go.
Sunday mornings usually include a rehearsal so you set out the mics, do line checks, and get all the monitors dialed in. This is also the chance to get your mix dialed in, as well as any streaming mix that you may or may not be in charge of. There will be some “dry runs” of the service(s) and eventually — it’s game time.
A service length changes depending on the denomination. A Methodist service, for instance, is scarcely longer than an hour and fifteen minutes. Baptist service may have you on your feet for two to three hours. Services usually include three to six songs, several speakers, maybe some video content, and of course the sermon. I personally get to take a breath during the sermon. Once the preacher is dialed in, it’s babysitting. Never let your guard down, of course, but compared to the rest of the service one person speaking for 25 minutes is a breeze. Depending on the number of services, it may be a four-hour day or a 16-hour day. Every church and every day is different.
What are the perks of the job?
People are extremely grateful. I am thanked multiple times every single day I work at a church. Hard to beat that. You can also have a “life”. You can do the mixing and experimenting and the awesome fun stuff while still getting to come home. Church work is like corporate work without the ungratefulness and competitiveness.
What’s the worst part of the job?
If you are looking for a lot of money, this may not be the best option.
Are you responsible for video and lighting as well?
Usually, no. I do know how to do those things (to a certain extent) to cultivate value but my work is heavily audio based. If it’s a very small church, there may be some double (or triple) duty.
What skills and experience should you have before applying for this job?
Depends on what size church you want to apply to and what the position is. I always recommend that students give churches a chance. One of the audio guys at a church I do work at used to be a studio engineer in Nashville, but wanted to get out of the competitiveness. There’s a job for every level of engineer.
Does the job offer much of an opportunity to gain mixing experience?
Probably more than any! Every week, with often very skilled musicians. The gear is either hanging on by a thread or state of the art. The nicest equipment I’ve worked on have been at churches. It’s also a chance to play in a safe place. If you want board time, go volunteer or seek employment at a church.
Aside from the services, how much time each week is spent doing maintenance of the equipment and other duties?
I only maintain my own equipment. For those who have a fulltime job, maintenance is absolutely necessary and a part of the job. You usually set aside a few hours a week for regular maintenance, a few hours more for planning and office hours. There are event meetings, rehearsals, planning times, maintenance times, time to learn new technology, time to research, filling out paperwork, etc. And when it's Easter and Christmas season? Your workload doubles. They are the super bowls of church work.
What are some of the things you gained from this experience?
I’ve gained an entire career. I didn’t pick this field, it picked me. It’s hard to put down every single thing I gained from working with houses of worship. I’m more tolerant of people whose views differ from mine, I’m grateful, I’m thankful, and I’m experienced. I get to travel around the country seeing all kinds of cities and churches working on all kinds of gear helping audio techs and engineers become better at what their work. I’m living the dream.