Gee, Wilbur (A Day in the Life of the Resident Expert)

by Curt Taipale

Sidney:   Gee, Wilbur ... we gotta fix this thing!

Wilbur:   Alright, I’ll meet you Saturday morning at nine. I’m really tired of that feedback stuff in the monitors all the time. That sound guy at Myrtle’s Music must not know anything about sound, or else it wouldn’t be howling all the time.

Sidney:   I know what ’ya mean. And Pastor Bob’s really gettin’ upset about it. He even kicked the monitor off the stage last night at the prayer meeting.

Wilbur:   Well, I know we can fix it. My brother owns a really good stereo, with forty-seven woofers and everything. I mean he’s got every record that the Galena Lightheads ever recorded. He’s even got one of them equalizers, and he showed me how to tweak it -- that’s one of them audio words.

Sidney:   Alright. See ’ya in the mornin’.

Saturday morning at 10:30 AM

Wilbur:   Sorry I’m late, man.

Sidney:   That’s alright. I brought my tools in, and I just pried that cover off the equalizer. I had to use my crowbar to do it though. I don’t know why that sound guy put it on so tight!

Wilbur:   Well, he means well. But I just can’t figure why the new minister of music hired those guys in the first place. My brother says that they did everything all wrong.

Sidney:   They sure did charge enough. By the time the church paid them their $900, we had barely enough to pay the $30,000 bill for the pews. That’s gotta be enough for a top notch sound system, isn’t it?

Wilbur:   Well, it oughta be. After all, we’re just a church. We don’t need anything fancy. We’ve only got ten musicians and eight singers. Hey, did you see the TV broadcast of our service last night? Can you believe the haircut that Pete’s brother got?

Sidney:   Naw, I missed it. I was reading the owner’s manual about this EQ thing. It doesn’t say anything about how to set it. Are you sure you know how to work it?

Wilbur:   No problem. Let me at that thing. Let’s see here ... first, ’ya push all the controls clear to the bottom, and then you play a tape and listen to it. I brought my favorite Lightheads tape. It’s a few years old, but I love these old songs.

Sidney:   Give it here. I’ll put it in the cassette recorder. Hey, it says something about CrO2. What’s that all about?

Wilbur:   I don’t know. I think my brother said that means to push in that noise reduction button.

Sidney:   Oh, yeah ... I think you’re right.

Wilbur:   No, ’ya gotta twiddle those three knobs up there on the console. Yeah, that one. There, I hear it now.

Sidney:   Sure sounds funny.

Wilbur:   Turn it up.

Sidney:   Hey, I remember these guys.

Wilbur:   Okay, here goes. Now I’ll push up these sliders on the left. My brother said to push them up a bunch ’cause ’ya get more lows.

Sidney:   How come?

Wilbur:   Beats me.

Sidney:   Sounds too muddy to me.

Wilbur:   Well, we’re not finished yet. Now I’ve gotta push up some of these things on the right.

Sidney:   Hey, I can hear some of the words now. That used to be one of my favorites too.

Wilbur:   Sounds pretty good to me.

Sidney:   What about all those sliders in the middle? Shouldn’t they be up there with the others?

Wilbur:   Naw. My brother said to leave them down all the way. He said that was one of the things that sound guy from Myrtle’s Music did wrong. They were too close to zero, and that’s why we’ve had so much problem with the feedback. He said it’s supposed to look kinda like a smiley face when you’re done.

Sidney:   They oughta fire that guy and hire your brother.

Wilbur:   Hey, we fixed it. I can turn the slider on the console all the way up, and no feedback from the cassette.

Sidney:   Yeah. Hey, that was fast. Shouldn’t we set these other equalizers too?

Wilbur:   What do they say on the front?

Sidney:   Uh ... house.

Wilbur:   No big deal. The owner’s manual calls them “room equalizers” and they’re all in the same room, right? Let’s just set ’em all the same.

Sidney:   Oh, yeah. That’ll work. I remember my friend saying that he’s got an uncle who has a friend who went to one of those TMS sound workshops once, and I think that’s exactly what they did.

Wilbur:   Well, that oughta do it.

Sidney:   Hey, do you think we oughta hook up some mics or something and try it out?

Wilbur:   What for? I set it just like my brother told me to.

Sidney:   I guess you’re right. Man, the pastor’s gonna really appreciate us coming in and fixin’ this.

Wilbur:   Yeah, and just wait till the new minister of music comes in tomorrow and hears what we did.

Sidney:   Yeah, he’ll probably call us up and take us out to lunch next week.

Wilbur:   Is there any special music tomorrow?

Sidney:   I don’t know. Nobody said anything to me. See ’ya later.

Please don’t be the resident expert! I have heard so many horror stories about how the work of a well-qualified, experienced consultant, system designer or sound contractor has been thwarted by well meaning volunteers in the audio ministry at a local church. Typically their motives are properly placed, and applied with a genuine desire to help. But all too often their lack of thorough knowledge in some technical area causes them to stumble through a procedure with precarious results.

Optimizing the frequency response of a loudspeaker system with an equalizer and other tools is fairly academic to a trained technician who is equipped with the proper test equipment. Having such a person periodically adjust the house EQ of a sound system is an appropriate maintenance routine, and is worth the few hundred dollars it may cost the church. Consider it an investment, not a cost. Once properly equalized, the audio ministry should be able to operate the system with a great deal of flexibility and little fear of feedback.

However, the system can be operated improperly, with an attempt to take it beyond what it is capable of. This is generally where the trouble begins. The next step is to assume that the equalizer or some other peripheral piece of equipment that was called out in the design, properly installed and set, needs further adjustment. The next failure is to reason that the tech shouldn’t be called back in – after all, he’s always too busy to return your calls, and he costs too much money anyway. Step three in this breakdown is not recognizing that one may know only enough about the procedure to be dangerous, and setting out to fix it oneself anyway. Maybe even with reinforcements, like Sidney.

Several weeks (in some cases months) later, you go ahead and call in that tech or some other consultant to resolve the problem. I have been called in countless times as a consultant to resolve the problems created by Wilbur. On some projects, I’ve been called in two or three times to fix the same problem that mysteriously keeps reappearing. Wilbur either didn’t understand something about the overall problem, incorrectly analyzed the problem, or he just had an overwhelming need to twiddle the knobs himself.

What that does in the long run is cost the church more money than it needed to spend to keep bringing a consultant back in. It could even be a factor in letting that lost soul who is finally planning to attend your church this weekend slip through your hands.

Please hear my heart. My intent here is to lift and edify my brothers and sisters in the technical support ministries. If you’re a Wilbur, learn from my gentle reproof. Realize that I’m not talking to the guys/gals who have seriously gone after their study of all things audio. There are many church techs these days who have studied audio very in depth, even at the college level, and they very likely know what they’re doing. Deep down you know if you’re a Wilbur or not. If you’re a Sidney, talk some sense into your Wilbur. And if you’re neither one, you’ll even more clearly understand my heart. God bless you in your service to Him!

There are a myriad of options for training in the basics of audio, and specifically for church techs. When I first started training church sound techs in 1982, I was one of only two or three individuals in the US who were offering such classes nationwide. Now there are so many options it’s hard to know which ones are worthwhile attending and which ones to stay away from. But do your research and get some quality training. It will only help the techs, and in turn the worship team, pastoral staff and the congregation.

In fact, you can start learning the right way right now by ordering my training materials. Or join us at one of our training classes.

Copyright 2011. Original article appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of Clarity Magazine, published by Taipale Media Systems, Inc. Used with permission. All rights reserved.