How Do Musicians and the Sound Team Work Together?

Church musicians and sound teams aren’t always on the same page. Sometimes they rarely talk to each other! In this Sound Plus Doctrine episode, Bob, David, and Devon dive into practical ways bands and tech teams can work together to serve their churches more effectively for the glory of Christ.

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David Zimmer: Hello, and welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast. My name is David Zimmer.

Bob Kauflin: Mine name is Bob Kauflin.

DZ: And we have Devon Kauflin here with us again.

Devon Kauflin: Again.

BK: Again.

DZ: Again. No, it’s so great to have you.

DK: So I’m excited.

DZ: We are very excited. We often get questions sent in to our podcast, which we love, and we got one that is this question.

BK: Great.

DZ: Ready?

BK: I’m ready.

DZ: Are you on the edge of your seats?

BK: Yes.

DZ: No, I think it’s a great question. “How do we balance as a musician staying in our lane and not allowing our thoughts/opinions to interfere with the millions of adjustments a sound tech is balancing on a Sunday?”

DK: Millions.

BK: Millions. That may be hyperbole, but we’ll take it.

DZ: Sure. “From the soundboard perspective, switching perspectives, how much authority/autonomy do you give the person to turn down or eliminate something that may be well performed but just distracting for the congregation?” So two view points here, should we give our sound people authority to turn down distracting elements of musicianship or out of time or out-of-tune instruments, or a musician who just may not have it that morning? I love that. I love the end of that. It’s really, really good. So two different perspectives here. How do we allow thoughts from the stage or from the people who are leading, how do we interact with our sound tech and how much power does he have as well towards us, that relationship?

BK: Can we talk about the question of just not having it on certain mornings. I feel like some mornings I just don’t have it.

DZ: Yeah, yeah. Can he just turn you off completely?

BK: Yeah, maybe that’s for another podcast. We’ll get more into the reasons behind that.

DK: No, it’s a great question, and I think it’s… One of the things it’s great is it… Every Sunday we come into a field that’s filled with land mines in a sense. And most of those land mines are there because of our sinful hearts. But as we gather together as the people of God, we come together as sinners, we bring our sin with us.

BK: Yeah. It’s all we got.

DK: I think before we get into the practicals of what does it look like to work together, I think it has to start with, do we have a shared understanding of what we’re actually gathered together to do? Do we both know as musicians, as leaders, as sound techs, what we are aiming at? Do we know? And it’s interesting, especially when it comes to the production side of what we do, because there are production elements to gathered worship in the 21st century, and…

BK: Varying levels of production.

DK: Varying levels, yeah. Sure. And someone might be… Well, it’s professionals that shape that, I want to say. What churches do sound-wise, it’s shaped by an industry and a world of concerts and performance and…

BK: Yeah, let me, can I add a nuance to that?

DK: Yeah, add a nuance to that.

BK: It often is. There are the basics, though, of sound amplification, which is part of our age, part of our time in history, where that’s… If you’re going to speak to a crowd of 500, you can have sound amplification. That’s to be distinguished from pressures and examples…

[background conversation]

DK: Yeah. Moreso…

DZ: Yeah, it could.

DK: I’m not saying that as a negative, necessarily. I’m just stating the fact that innovation happens because of these professional contexts, in a sense. And so that’s what’s determining what goes into it. So you have a sound tech using gear and equipment that is made for a purpose, and although we’re using it, and it could be made for the church, but generally we’re re-purposing it. It was made for performance, it was made for concerts. And so you’ve got that… There’s that dynamic going on. And we’re using it in a different context. And then on the musician side, if it’s a craft that you’ve developed and a skill and gift that you have, and so I’m speaking of maybe the higher-end musician, the context that you’ve been trained in and been learning are for performance.

DZ: Yeah. Professional context. Yeah.

DK: And it’s professional. And so that’s just, again, a statement describing the scenarios…

BK: What’s going on…

DK: The dynamics. But when the church comes together, it’s not a concert, it’s not a performance, and it’s not driven by those values. It’s not a situation where… It’s not driven by a, “Hey, you stay in your lane. I’ll stay in mine. This is what I’m here to do. This is what you’re here to do.” As the church as we come together, we’re actually doing these things together. And so I think it’s so important that we grasp that, so both the musician and the sound tech are aiming at the same things- the sound engineer, I should be saying, probably- aiming at the same things, and that is to help the Word of Christ dwell in us richly, that is to see God glorified and the people of God built up in Christ. And so that’s what we’re doing. That’s what we’re about. And so as we begin to think about our relationship, it’s like, “Oh, no, we’re all in this together.” And it’s something I said before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again, this is why I talk about, we’re here to support singing. And so…

BK: Yes. What do you call the musicians in your church?

DK: Not the worship team. I call ’em the support the singing team.

BK: Support the singing team.

DK: Which is really catching on.

DZ: Yeah, it doesn’t have a ring to it.

BK: I’m just trying to give you airtime, so more people will use that.

DZ: No one is gonna use it.

DK: But when it’s to support the singing team, that includes the engineer that’s running sound.

DZ: Yeah, for sure.

DK: That includes the person that’s running projection, because we are all aimed at the same thing. And that’s supporting the singing of the church.

DZ: Yeah. In a non-distracting way, all parties involved.

DK: Right.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: So contrasting to a sound engineer who’s just saying, “I want this to sound amazing. I want ’em to be able to hear the boom and the kick. I want ’em to be able to hear the sparkle in that guitar riff.” Just all that stuff, which in a performance…

DK: Well, and there’s a place for those things.

BK: There’s a place for those things, but not as the ultimate goal.

DK: But in a performance, that’s what you’re aiming at.

BK: That’s right. That’s the ultimate standard. And for a musician, I’m going to show ’em my chops. And so it’s just similar things, but very different because of the purpose for which we’re gathered.

DK: Yeah. Yeah. So, it’s so important that we have that shared understanding, what are we aiming at? And that’s something that we talk about regularly on this podcast.

BK: Incessantly.

DK: That’s what this podcast is all about. What are we aiming at in corporate worship?

BK: We just keep saying the same things over and over, just different packaging.

DK: We’re a same things people. That’s fine.

BK: Amen. Amen.

DK: So once we get to that point of shared purpose, then we can begin to talk about, all right, what does it look like to work together, practically? And I think as we move to that part of the conversation, it starts with the right attitude, having the right attitude. So we know what we’re aiming at. But now it’s the disposition of our hearts, and what is that disposition? And that begins with, I think, an understanding of who we are in Christ, as those joined to Christ, united to Christ. That’s our identity. So was Paul in Galatians 2:20, a paradigmatic verse for the Christian life. “I have been crucified with Christ. It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

DK: And so in Christ, there is this place of my particularities and my preferences, they matter, I live by faith in the Son of God, but they’re not primary. And they’re not what determine how I participate and who I am. What determines that is Christ and who I am in Christ. I’ve been crucified with Christ. The old me has died. I have new life in Him. So it’s identity. And then that identity fosters in us a humility, a humility recognizing that my life is not my own. And so I’m here to serve and to be a part of and participate in what God is already doing. And so I want to be here to serve. And…

BK: Which is easy to talk about on a podcast, much harder when you’re in the middle of a rehearsal on a Sunday morning.

DK: Absolutely.

DZ: Totally.

DK: But that’s where we need to remind one another. Because the thing that’s going on, the practicals of what’s taking place on a Sunday morning as we set up and we rehearse and as we play, those things are all an expression of us being the church. And so what we’re called to in scripture as the church, we are called to be putting on in those moments. And so I think of Colossians 3:12-15. And Paul says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.” What do we put on? “Compassionate hearts.” So am I being compassionate with those I’m serving with? Kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. And then he says, “Bearing with one another. And if one has a complaint against one another, forgiving each other as the Lord in Christ has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony and let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts to which indeed you were called in body and be thankful.” And if we are allowing that to shape our attitudes as we come together, I think that brings a lot of clarity.

DZ: Yeah. “Yeah, just do that. Thanks for joining us this week. We’ll see you next week.”

DK: And I think there’s this reality that we are called… And that’s not the only place that we’re called to do it, but we are called to bear with one another. And we bear with one another in our weakness and in the midst of our limitations, which are God’s gift to us, part of God’s design force, we’re finite people, bear with one another in our sin. And so there should be… We should have a lot of room for things not going how we might want them to go professionally as we gather together as the church.

BK: Not sacrificing the desire to serve the church well. You’re not just throwing that to the curb and saying, “It doesn’t matter.” No. You care but you approach it with an attitude of humility. Two things I want to say about what you just, said the verse from Colossian, right after that passage is, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing songs and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” that’s what precedes it. So, wow. Paul connects ’em, God connects ’em. So maybe we should connect them.

DK: Yep. See, Paul does the same thing in Ephesians. In the passage where it’s talking about our unity, we are one in Christ. He starts that off with, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called with all humility and gentleness, with patience bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace.” And those are the things that we’re living out. And they apply directly to, how do I interact with the musician or how do I interact with the sound engineer? Now, I’ve made this assumption, I just want to make it clear, the assumption that we’re making is that the people that are participating are members in your church.

BK: That is a key element. We did a podcast on that, should you have unbelievers on your worship team?

DK: But I just want to make sure. Yeah, that’s the assumption we’re making. That’s the conviction that we would have. And that’s why these things all apply. Because it’s not performance, it’s not production, it’s God by the Spirit building us into Christ. That’s what’s happening on Sunday mornings.

BK: Yes. And I said that should you have unbelievers, not to assume that ’cause you’re not a member you’re an unbeliever. I just realized I conflated this too. Very prohibited.

DK: Yeah, you’re not a member of the church.

BK: You’re an unbeliever. But on another point… That’s a good podcast. But on another point…

DZ: That’s awesome.

BK: Yeah. You do want the people who are serving, I think, to be members of the church. They’re there for the vision of the church, the teaching of the church. God has joined them there. Not just ’cause they get to showcase their gifts, which we could do a whole podcast.

DZ: Yeah. And to take it a step further, the people that are serving should be modeling those characteristics.

DK: Yeah. Absolutely.

DZ: There shouldn’t be a person on your team that’s consistently angry and consistently critical, or consistently…

DK: Insistent on their own way.

BK: So I don’t know how you’re thinking about leading this, Dev, but can we talk about some of the practical…

DK: Yeah. That’s where I wanted to get now.

BK: Okay, great.

DK: Is just so we’ve talked about right understanding of what we’re aiming at. Right attitude as we interact with one another. Now it’s a question of, okay, what’s the right practice? Just really, practically, what does it look like for musicians and sound engineers to work together Sunday to Sunday as we’re seeking to aim at the right things and glorify God and edify God’s people?

BK: And the question from a friend of ours actually named Nathan has to deal with what’s heard out front. So that’s one area. I think the other area that musicians can struggle in is the monitor area, what I hear versus what everybody hears. Maybe if we could address both of those arenas.

DK: Well, so when it comes to right practice, I think, it’s helpful for churches to have a clear understanding for everybody involved in serving, a clear understanding of who is ultimately responsible for what’s happening in the Sunday gathering. And I know I would have the conviction that we would share that really that’s a pastoral responsibility. And so there should be some clarity that… A pastor’s responsible for what’s going on just as a whole. And so, monitoring and making sure that we’re staying within the bounds of…

BK: What’d you say?

DK: This is what we’re aiming at.

BK: Monitoring?

DK: Monitoring.

BK: Oh, monitoring.

DK: Paying attention to.

BK: I’m trying to…

DK: Sorry.

BK: Just, I’m tracking with you.

DK: And so then from there… That’s a big picture. From there it’s like I think you’re going to have people that are directly responsible for various aspects of what’s taking place.

BK: Yes. And you should say whether that pastor’s musical or not, they’re responsible for the meeting, so the singing portion of the meeting. Whether they went to school for audio engineering, they’re responsible for the sound of what’s coming from the front of the room. And pastors can check out and go, “Well, I don’t know. I don’t have any control over that.” No, you’re responsible. These are the people God has given you to shepherd, and you’re going to give to account to God for them. So you are the one who’s responsible, ultimately, in a human level, human manner of speaking, to bring order and to bring clarity to whatever is taking place.

DK: Yeah. One thing you told me that’s always stuck with me maybe 20 years ago, just as you’re serving in a church, you’re certainly serving the Lord, but you’re serving someone else’s vision for how that church is being led. And that was a strike to my proud heart. But I think that’s the right disposition that we should have as those who are participating, because we can tend to hold tightly to, “Well, no, this is my domain. This is my spot. Don’t touch that.” So if the pastor who has no experience as a musician or no really auditory sense of what’s going on, we can be like, “Just keep your mouth shut. What are you talking about? This is… ”

DZ: Stay in your lane.

DK: Yeah. “Stay in your lane.” But recognizing this is the man or the man that God has put in place to shepherd these people, and I’m a part of that, and I’m serving that.

BK: You didn’t mention this earlier, but it’s like everything that is written to us in the church, in the New Testament, God’s saying, “Be like my Son.” And Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility. Count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So, practically speaking if I am a musician playing as part of the band, I tend to be… Just in my sinful flesh, I tend to be concerned about how am I sounding? Both in my ears and out front. That’s what concerns me. And I put everybody else down in the mix and I’m up there and I want, “Make sure people hear me out there.”

BK: And God’s saying, “Well, don’t look only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Which means I want to hear others, I want to make sure that others are heard. So that’s going to temper whatever input I give. If someone else is mixing my monitor for me, I want to be aware they’re mixing for everybody else in the band, if you have multiple people in your band. If I’m talking to the sound engineer out front, I want to be aware they’re trying to get the whole thing together and make it sound good for the people. And they have a lot of instruments to work on. And just being aware of that really helps temper how you command it.

DK: How do you handle that when it comes to just arranging? So as musicians you’re wanting to, let’s say, arrange the song to support the singing of the church. What do you communicate or how do you interact with the front of house engineer who is maybe also thinking that way? But sometimes those things can come into conflict with one another, where maybe the front of house engineer decides, “I don’t like that part,” or, “He really doesn’t have it today.” And…

BK: I’m gonna start using that. “You don’t don’t have it today.”

DK: “You just don’t have it today.”

BK: Could you play less?

DK: What do you do? What do you do in that circumstance?

BK: I think this is an ongoing issue. And I don’t think…

DK: And your wife is often the front of house engineer.

BK: My wife has been the front… Julie has been the front of house engineer. I’ve tried to create a culture where there’s good communication between the front of house and the musicians, and have said to numerous front of house engineers at times, “Tell us if our arrangements are bad.” So we finish a rehearsal and say, “Anything you want to tell us?” We’ve had sound engineers come up and say, “Yeah, don’t play that,” or, “We’ll work on a electric guitar sound,” and just say, “It’s just really muddy.”

DK: Yeah. You all seem to be right here.

BK: Yes, to the two guitars you’re playing. We want that. And so to answer the question, it’s stay in your lane, yes, but part of staying in your lane is aggressively…

DK: Receiving.

BK: Receiving and asking for that input. I don’t want someone out front who’s just saying, “Okay, well, whatever the musicians do, it’s fine. I gotta work with it.” I’d rather not have an engineer just turn me down. If I’m overplaying, say, “You know what? Your bass is like all in the way of the bass,” and it’d be helpful. My son-in-law, one of them, because I have four, said to me one Sunday, this was a number of years ago, and he had said this to me frequently, Zach, “Yeah, if you stop playing your left hand maybe you could hear the bass or something like that,” and just joking, but…

DK: Probably not the first person that said that to you…

BK: No, definitely, not the first person. But it just landed on me and I realized, “I’ve been teaching this stuff for 30 to 40 years and I’m still playing with my left hand. So I’ll just use that area of the piano much more sparsely now than I used to.” And it’s because he had the freedom and the intentionality to say, “Yeah, I think you’re doing this.” I want us all to feel that way, and it’s just an ongoing conversation.

DK: And he’s able to say that with the right attitude. He’s coming humbly, and he’s coming with an understanding of, “I know what we’re aiming at, and I think it would probably serve if…

BK: Yeah, and it was a humorous way.

DK: Maybe you do this, and, yeah, you do it in a joking way and it’s great.

DZ: Yeah. I think vice versa too. I’ve worked with sound engineers that it becomes a power trip of, “Well, I have all the control and power.” And so I think that maybe a little bit of what Nathan’s talking about here of like, “I’m gonna stay in my lane. You stay in your lane. You exercise your power over there and I’ll exercise my power right here.” I think vice versa, there could also be, where this can come into play is an understanding that there needs to be humility on a sound engineer’s part of you’re gonna receive a lot of input from a lot of people that is unwelcomed, typically. And to be okay with that and to be able to know, “Okay, God has gifted me in these ways. He’s helped me get better at this and I know what I’m doing here, but I can also be open to receive.” That’s where I think that’s helpful. And another thing is, you use Zach as an example, I think if you had an opportunity to move your team around again, granted it would require more than three people, but if one of your drummers could go and stand in the sound booth, or if one of your vocalists can go, you can then get a better understanding of the room. You can get a better understanding of what he’s hearing. Because we get so locked into our own head, our own mix…

BK: If you use in ear monitors, yeah.

DZ: If you use in ear monitors. But even if you’re dealing with wedges.

DK: Yeah. Even if you don’t. I know. Just this past Sunday I had an experience where I wasn’t leading, wasn’t playing, but I’m out there and I’m hearing things in a different way and it was very helpful, and I was like, “Oh, I should probably have a conversation with the person doing front of house and just remind them of what we’re aiming at, what we’re seeking to do, and how we’re seeking to support the singing, and how practically you can support singing better.” And this was a guy newer to mixing, but it was helpful to be able to be out there. And this is where… It was a cajón and acoustic guitar and a bass. That was the extent of the band. But recognizing, oh, even with that simplicity, it’s like, okay, we can still be asking questions about, all right, why does it look like this? Better serve those that are gathered.

DZ: Yeah. And you used the word awareness, which I just think is really great. Typically, when we show up on a Sunday morning, we’re getting all of our things situated in our ears and we’re setting up our instruments or whatever. Some Sunday when you’re not playing, show up early with your sound tech and just watch what he does or what she does to get ready. With all the channels and everything that is required in doing that, it’ll create an awareness.

BK: That’s good.

DZ: That maybe you don’t have.

BK: And as I was thinking about this topic, I thought there’s two kinds of communication that are needed. One is the Sunday morning communication, which is just we want this free flow of information that people are confident they can share their thoughts about each other. So sometimes I’ll go out in the front as the band is playing and just listen. So when we have a choir once a month, I’ll just listen and see how it sounds and give thoughts. And other times, we’ll get feedback from front of house engineer, or we will just be exchanging information. But then it can also be helpful to have planned times of communication. So we had a sound afternoon a few months back where we just talked about what are we trying to do? And we actually changed the schedule of our Sunday morning to allow for a time for the person running sound to hear the different instruments alone. So give them a few minutes for that rather than just everybody coming in. A lot of times people come in for… On a Sunday morning it’s just chaotic.

DK: Right. Just start playing.

BK: Yeah. Just start playing some riff song they just heard on Spotify or whatever. It’s just confusing. It’s really helpful in those moments to focus on, “Well, what are we here to do?” And help things go smoothly. But that can require sometimes outside the meeting saying, “This is what we’re seeking to accomplish.”

DZ: Right. Can I also say really quickly?

BK: You can say it slowly.

DZ: In regards to what you just said? In terms of that free flow of communication, what is gonna promote humility and awareness of what other people are doing are asking questions? We’ve mentioned that on the podcast before. Ask questions in whatever position you’re in to your sound engineer. “Hey, how is this coming across?” “Hey, how is this sounding?” You’re welcoming feedback that you might not want to hear, but will be so beneficial for you to understand, “Okay, this isn’t serving. I think it’s serving, but it’s not serving the greater picture of what we’re trying to do.” So if my tone is too shrill, yeah, I’ll roll that off. If I’m too loud, I can back that off. Or if I’m too close to the mic because I’m harmonizing and it’s overpowering, oh, yeah, that’s helpful. I can back off. So asking those questions helps.

BK: Another thing we’ve done is the… We have four or five people who run sound. There’ll be an email, and sometimes text, where after the meeting people just send their thoughts. And sometimes people just ask, “Hey, how was the sound Sunday?” That is so beneficial. Sometimes they get into technicalities, “Well, the 2.5K on the snare was a little hot.” And I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh.” We have a snare.

DK: We have a Podcast about this. How to evaluate the frequencies of the snare drum.

BK: Yeah. Can get very specific, but more broadly it can be very helpful. “I couldn’t hear the sound. I couldn’t hear this over here.” Or, “I thought it was really good balance.” And just we’re growing together. There’s no perfect mix. Every Sunday’s unique, different band, different people, and it’s just helpful to have that ongoing communication about what’s been happening.

DK: And always guarding against the temptation to insist on our own way in this. I think at the end of the day that’s what we’re up against. It’s our selfish, proud hearts. And so whether assist a musician or someone running sound, that’s the… When you’re in a place where you feel that rising up, where “No, this is how it must be done.”

BK: “I have to put the drum this way.”

DK: “This is the right way,” or, “I have to mute this or pull this back,” whatever it is, it’s like that’s when the red flag should go up. You should go back to, “How has God called me to live at peace with others, and what does it look like in this moment?” Yeah, that’s our danger. I think.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: Yeah, I think it’s Romans 12:10. “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” And it’s so easy to do.

DZ: Yeah, for sure.

BK: Especially… Well, and not especially. I think of times when someone else is doing your monitor mix and it’s just like, “I can barely play.” It’s okay. Have a time where maybe you can talk to someone. I think this might be helpful. But there will be those times when you just don’t hear what you want to hear. And to become angry in those times or become irritated, that’s just, it’s sin.

DK: And I would say if you are a… If you’re that person that it’s like, “Wow, every Sunday I feel that insisting on my own way,” then perhaps this is a time for you to take a step back and ask the Lord to work on your heart and bring other people into that. If you’re a leader and there is that person or those people, maybe your best musician or your best engineer is that way, perhaps it’s time to have them take a step back and care for that person. Because this is what we’re doing is about. It’s about people’s souls. And that’s far more important than the production value on a Sunday morning.

BK: Ultimately. Yeah, so when I think about the question staying in your lane, the picture came to mind, we don’t even have lanes. We’re in the canoe together. We’re doing crew. It’s like everybody is…

DK: We’re Boys in the Boat.

BK: What is it?

DK: Boys in the Boat.

BK: Boys in the Boat. It’s a great movie. We’re a great book. We’re rowing in the same direction, and that’s what we’ve gotta see. We’re not opposing teams…

DK: The Bible uses the body. Every member has a part to play, but we’re functioning together.

BK: Yes. So it really can be… I’ve talked to so many leaders, so many different churches, where there’s this tension, this just natural tension. How do we get or… Well, it begins with the Gospel. Have you been forgiven of your sins, justified in the sight of God through what Jesus did for you on the cross, taking your punishment? Have you been forgiven? Have you been brought into God’s family? Are you one of God’s children together with all those who have repented of their sins and trusted in Christ? Well, then that changes everything. And he’s brought us together to serve these people who are gonna be gathering for the church, and what a privilege it is, and what a joy to serve together in that way.

DZ: Amen. Amen. Great question, Nathan. Thanks for submitting that to us and it was awesome to talk about this with you guys.

DK: And if you have other questions, where can you send them?

BK: Spell out the plus.

DZ: You did that on purpose, Dev.


DK: I did do that on purpose. It was a test. Well done.

BK: That’s good. Well, got it.

DZ: It’s only taken us seven seasons but still don’t know it. But we do appreciate when you send questions.

BK: We do, we do.

DZ: Thanks for listening.