Charging money for mixer level setup?

Discussion in 'Live Sound' started by GuitarTim, Mar 30, 2005.

  1. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Just wondering... has anyone heard of charging money for periodically setting the levels on a mixer for live performance? I've become aware that since our church bought a Mackie 1402Vlz Pro mixer for the choir, they periodically pay someone to come in and set the levels. Not sure how much they get charged, but I think it's probably a fair bit. The reason I'm asking is twofold:

    1. The choir I belong to is the main user, but not the only user of the mixer. Other groups use it, and occasionally mess with the settings.

    2. As a side-effect of the recording project I've recently done, I've read the owner's manual and learned how to do the level-setting procedure, and I've had great success in getting a very good live sound. Therefore, I'm of the opinion that the church will be wasting their money if they pay this dude to do this in future.

    I'm also wondering if this is "standard" practice in HOW settings, where the "owners" of the equipment have no idea how to use it and there are no local experts (I am now a "local expert")...
  2. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Mar 8, 2004
    Fredericksburg, VA
    Personally, I've never heard of this. If I had, it would be on my short list for scams that I'm hoping to pull in the near future. (Churches aren't even safe from me!!! :twisted: )

    I'm used to simply hearing really shitty sounds from church mixes - maybe it's just that around here, people don't care or know any better. That being said, some of the larger churches have their own sound guys. I would assume that this is not a "larger" church or it too would probably have their own sound person. (Who knows, maybe you could wrangle this as a nice part-time or low-paying full time gig!!)

  3. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Thanks, that's pretty much what I thought too. This guy comes in and sets the levels, but not in reference to any known performance... in other words, the choir is not present and part of the level-setting procedure. It's done as a static setting. Not sure what procedure is followed, the director is apparently present, so I'll ask her, but I've already given her my opinion... that it's not required, and not even effective. When I set the levels, I had the choir sing a song, and I followed the procedure in the manual. The result was a nice balance, and I've had lots of compliments on it. Although the initial level I set on the cantor mic was way too low, and the director caught heck from the pastor... I've since corrected it.

    I've also been told the pastor is buying a new board. Not sure why... the Mackie is working perfectly and is more than adequate for our needs... I plan to follow up on this...
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    Feb 12, 2001
    Los Angeles, CA
    Home Page:
    Then your guy isn't mixing. If you are supposed to run the board, you set the levels for the particular group. Changing levels to react to what is happening is part of the job and if you are paying for that to happen when the group isn't there, you're getting scammed.

  5. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Whoaaaaaaaa! Everyone take a deep breath and chill out for a minute on this one hahaha....... :lol:

    Tim, with all due respect, you're still coming in to this brand new, and (perhaps) may appear a little headstrong to the pastor. Tread carefully here, at least at first. Remember, that if your music service is one of several Masses (I'm assuming it's Catholic or High Episcopal?), you may not be the only one in there using the PA system during a regular week.

    Remember that if this is indeed the case, the Pastor may have many services during the week that have nothing to do with what you do on Sundays. (Funerals, Childrens' mass during the week, Weddings, Novena's, etc.) There's a very real possibility that there's several "Default" settings for the PA - one for funerals (1 mic for the pastor, one for the soloist, NO choir, etc.) and other setting for general mass (no music, but 2 for the altar, lav, etc.)

    I can't speak for the sound contractor, but it's very likely he's got a "Service Agreement" with the Church. This is not a bad thing, if all parties are on board with it, and realize what it involves. Very often, with no other intelligent folks like yourself to help out, it's a must-have, so that the people who DO show up on Sundays can hear what's going on, and don't leave in digust. (Pastors have to put butts in the seats as much as any other business!) People DO blow $*^t up all the time, and the 11 a.m. Sunday service is NOT a good time to discover this.

    Over the years, I did a lot of side work with a contractor/coworker from one of my studios that did this (still does) all around the area here. While semi-retired, this guy still has aout 20 active and another 10 or so semi-active clients, and he is the most conscientious, thorugh (ok, he's downright ANAL) about connections, speakers, and proper sound as well. (His installations are literally works of art, many are downright invisible to the naked eye in historical churches. And, when they are working properly, it sounds like the priest in the pulpit is speaking gently, right in FRONT of you.... the man knows his stuff.) He is essentially "on call" for a number of these places, doing everything from fixing wireless mics (usually getting stepped on by ever-increasing police, fire & taxi cab UHF & VHF transmitters), to blown speaker fuses, etc. (Yes, he has comp/limiters as well as optical and metal fuses on just about everything he custom installs.) He's been doing it for over 30 years, and there's no one I'd trust better for that kind of work.

    This same person is smart enough and courteous enough to contact me WHENEVER he does work in the churches that I record in, and I turn down more work than I am able to take with helping him. In turn, I recommend him without hesitation for any and all "hardware" installation jobs I get, as well as simple quotes. He's truly "My man" for this stuff.

    All that is to say: Don't discount the value of a seasoned, skilled installer/contractor. That's HIS job, you have yours. It might be best to even BEFRIEND the guy, explain who you are, and what it is you do. (Give him your card, silly!!!!) Mackie's owners manuals have plenty of blank setup templates; why not print out a dozen or so and laminate a few once you've found YOUR perfect sweet spots? (You could also take a digital picture of HIS settings, so you can always return to them when you're done YOUR service. )

    The best way to go (Fortunately for you they don't do this!) is to have a LOCKING cabinet for the sound gear so that people with less skills (and more nefarious plans) don't get into the system and muck it up. (That's what this guy is on call for, I'm sure: fix the mess that others have done to the system! ;-) )

    Unless you're bringing in a completely self-contained system (and can turn the church's system OFF), you're better off playing along with the powers that be, and making it work for you that way. If the contractor knows his stuff and incorporates EVERYONE's needs, it'll only help you, not hurt you.

    As for a new mixer, there's a lot of new things coming out with presets and even laptop-controllable systems that can have instantaneous switching, all from one panel. Don't rule that out, but make sure YOUR groups needs are met for your Sunday services. You may even be able to keep the Mackie as a sub-mixer for all your own stuff, and then simply feed a 2-mix into this "new" system they're talking about. In the best of all worlds, this would only be an improvement for you.

    The business of "Worship" Audio (dangerously close to the "Religious Right,", I know! ;-) is booming. There's even a magazine out now that caters exclusively to this biz: Church Production Magazine. I just saw a very spooky ad for a Peavey Mixer that looks LOADED with all kinds of potentional audio garbage, but yet it DOES look like it'll do a ton of user-friendly things that church-owners/operators really want. (read all about the "Peavey Sanctuar Series" at:

    I just think you'll do better getting tight with this guy (and your pastor) and THEN make your move to take over the (audio) world there. heheheh. :twisted:

    Time is on YOUR side, remember.
  6. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Part of the problem with the current setup is that the board is located next to the pianist. This was fine (sort of) with our last two pianists, who were somewhat savvy as far as gear, but our current pianist doesn't know squat about this stuff, so the board just sits there. I'm on the other side of the pianist, out of reach of the board. We can't hear what's really happening anyway from where we sit, so it's always a bit of a guess. However, at least setting the levels with the choir singing gets us in the ballpark. I have NO idea how one would "set levels" with no choir present. I've always thought it sounded like a scam. Now that I know more, I think so even more. Trouble is, the music director is totally clueless also, but thinks otherwise (she trusts what she's told by "professionals"). The pastor is similarly a lamb-led-to-slaughter in this respect.

    There is apparently a LOT of money going through the parish - it's a fairly well-off area, and it's not that I don't think we could afford it, and it doesn't mean people go starving while we waste money, but it does seem like the money could at LEAST be better utilized, and I also HATE the idea that we're pouring these bucks down the drain for nothing, which certainly seems to be the case.

    I'm also not looking for compensation myself for doing this... I'm already being paid a small stipend as guitarist... it's no more than a token, and the music director is telling me she's working to get me more. I haven't asked for it, but I have come to utilize it to help support my hobbies, and it's so little I don't really worry about it ($15/mass currently). However, if we're paying someone big money, who's not really doing anything for us, then I think the pastor should know that (diplomatically, of course)...
  7. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Joe... you were posting your reply while I was posting mine above... I didn't read yours until after I had posted. You've written things that make sense. Thanks.

    Also, we DO have a locking cabinet for the Mackie, and the MD has told me that this is for OUR choir, and she's been even "arguing" with the pastor (you're right... RC) about this, but it's not practical to keep all other hands off it. Don't read too much into the politics of this... our group is the "main" group, and, yes, there are others, but our director is also the music coordinator for the parish, and she's being paid for what she does. So she does (or should) have some say.

    Interesting what you've posted about the proposed new board... interesting guesses... I'll be interested in finding out what the plans are. So far I'm just a lowly church guitarist, but perhaps if I talk with the pastor and let him know what I know, he might let me help out more...

  8. John Stafford

    John Stafford Well-Known Member

    Oct 1, 2004
    I was called upon to do this once -they got the gear in but never thought about setting it up and they had to record that evening.

    In the end, all they needed was a card with some 'failsafe' settings for each of the knobs and buttons. If I remember correctly they had some very expensive mics, but they didn't know what phantom power was. Once they were reassured that they wouldn't blow anything up they were able to manage.


    PS It was very emarrassing when I didn't know how to turn the house mics and PA off!
  9. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Yeah, that's pretty much the case here. When the system was installed, the music director was given some basic instructions, to the effect of "Turn the system on using the two switches in back" (i.e. the Power switch and the Phantom Power switch), "...and set all the knobs to the 2:00 position". AFAIK they don't even have the owner's manual. I was told they spent over $10,000 on the system, which included the Mackie, 2 mics (originally, we've since added a 3rd), Bose speakers (including a sub-woofer that sits in the front near the piano), and wiring (the old wiring was crap - this is at least true audio wiring) - plus installation. Not sure what all was included in that... there may be ceiling-mounted speakers I don't know about. It's a really nice system, and sounds really good, when it's adjusted properly. I'm glad I'm getting to know it... we may be in for a new era of good sound.
  10. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Ya know, we could actually start an entirely NEW forum on installed and contractor-based sound systems. They're not ALL bad guys; quite the opposite most of the time.

    There's no shortage of churches with horrible sound systems that would probably sound better by simply turning them off, but there's a lot of good systems happening out there nowadays as well. The best ones are those that don't draw attention to themselves.

    I prefer not to deal with them at all when recording, of course. I just see a real opportunity for Tim with what he's describing. Those changes could mean a lot of good stuff for his plans, if he plays his cards right. :cool:
  11. GuitarTim

    GuitarTim Guest

    Joe, I was describing the current setup - it's been installed for a few years now, and is working perfectly. That's why I'm kind of flabbergasted to hear the P's thinking of upgrading...
  12. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    Dec 12, 2001
    Oberlin, OH
    Home Page:
    The "average" church upgrades their sound system every 10 years or so.

    What most churches never seem to learn is that it is best to hire a professional to do an acoustic survey of the facility, to recommend the components, and to oversee or actually do the installation and then do the final checkout. Many times a church will go to someone in the church to ask them to install the system or look in the yellow pages to find someone who "claims" to be in the business of installing equipment.

    There are no degrees or certificates awarded for "sound contracting" and so anyone can be in the "sound contracting business" just by having some business cards printed up and a good "gift of gab". They purchase their equipment at the local GC or Sam Ash and "install" it with no knowledge of proper installation techniques. They also hang speakers over the worshipers without the proper rigging techniques or safety concerns and charge professional prices for their amateur work.

    I have a good friend who is an acoustical designer and consultant and he has to pick up the pieces after these amateurs are though messing up the church.

    These "fly by night contractors" really do not know what they are doing and sometimes put into their contracts all kinds of warnings and disclaimers meant to increase their call backs. In one church all the faders were taped down with medical adhesive tape and the pastor was told that if anything was moved from there present positions that the whole sound system would be destroyed. It was also written into the contract that the installer would "service" the equipment on a monthly basis for a fairly large fee in addition to what he had already been paid. It sounds like this is what is happening in your case.

    My friend bid on the acoustical and sound systems for a particular church but his bid was rejected after the other sound contractor wined and dined the members of the building committee. After the sound system was installed the sound was bad and after repeated calls to the installer who said he was "busy" the church called my friend to come out and look at what he had done. It was not pretty and was simply a bunch of equipment that was kind of installed with lots of wiring problems and in this case the installer had run #22 wire to all the speakers and used large high wattage amplifiers to overcome the line loss. There was so much hum and RF interference that you could not hear the pastor over the noise. My friend is an engineer and was able to get the ground loops out of the system and convince the pastor to have new wiring done. The church paid BIG BUCKS for the system they had installed (more than what my friend had proposed) and were basically fleeced in the process. They did not have the money to do what my friend was suggesting originally but they had the money to do it all wrong.

    Churches are a prime target for sound contracting scam artist. They are prime candidates to get fleeced and in most cases have no way of knowing what they are getting or even if the equipment will even work together. The other problem is the "home grown": audio engineer from the congregation.

    I went with him to one church and there was SOOOOOO much equipment in the control room that they had to have a separate A/C unit installed to keep it all cool. There were outboard limiters and compressors and equalizers on every channel and they extra compressors and equalizers on the final output that fed the power amps. I have never seen so much equipment crammed into a 4 foot by 6 foot room. As it turned out one of the church members fancied himself an audio engineer and this was his "creation" the church had spent over $50,000 on playtoys and the whole system was way overdone (and overheated).

    They were having problems with a reverberant condition and they just kept throwing money at the problem by buying this person everything he wanted and said he needed. The funny thing was that the home grown audio engineer did not want the church to hire my friend and said it would be money down the drain. No matter how much money the church spent they could never seem to have good sound and my friend was the bearer of the news that what they were trying to do with all the equipment was never going to work. He proposed some acoustical treatment and a very simple sound system which was not what the home grown audio person wanted to hear. My friend has not been contacted nor called back and assumes that the person in the church convinced the pastor to do things his way instead of the correct way. On top of all the equipment this guy had he was using reverbs on the choir because he said it help round out the sound. I hope they are happy.

    Best of luck on dealing with your problems

  13. JoeH

    JoeH Distinguished Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    Tom, you've outlined perfectly some of the dangers and pitfalls of the scams with church sound. (including the off-the-shelf GC and Sam A purchases)

    My associate who does this stuff has a number of recourses to that sort of thing happening. He's got a longgggg list of references and happy clients. And, his best way of proving his work is to give prospective clients a list of other clients whose installations he's done. He simply says: "Go here or there, and give it a listen."

    He's also got tons of pictures of his work (again, gorgeous, well-designed stuff) and most important of all: INSURANCE for his onsite personnel. (That's usually the tipoff for contractors.)

    With many churches, word of mouth helps, although (just as you say) very often churches want to use someone from within. It's human nature. And well-intentioned or not, it's usually a disaster, because while the person may really be sincere, they're NOT doing it every day, they're not looking at it with a fresh perspective, and they're not up on all the latest technology - from flyware to quieter, more efficient amps, and so on.

    Probably the biggest pitfall with most is (surprise?) WIRING, and of course implementation of the gear they DO end up using. It's often a mess, and poorly done.

    The best advice to anyone thinking of upgrading is to go out to other places and see/hear what THEY have, talk to some professionals, ask for (no, DEMAND) lots of references (and TALK TO those references) and finally, ask to see their insurance and contractor licenses.

    Very often, it pays to use a consultant who will NOT be doing the actual installation (that way, they're not pushing THEIR gear on you, or THEIR people). Get a design, and THEN start looking for a contractor who can do it.

    Last but not least: My associate (and I) has NEVER played the low-bidder game. It's a losing situation. (Run away! Run awaaaay!!!) It's trick, and something to be avoided at all costs, no matter how painful. It takes serious balls to do it, but wow, the feeling you get when you look 'em in the eye and say: "Go ask around, get your best price, and find out what you can afford. Then I'll let you know what WE need to do it for you. NO BIDS." It's hilarious to see the look of shock and indignation when you turn down their DEMANDS that you humble yourself this way.

    Estimates are simply forcing you to do the OTHER guy's homework. Consider that if your prospective client is only kicking your tires (and already wants his OTHER guy to do the job), he's often setting you up as a patsy. He gets YOUR price (with your written estimate) and then runs to his friend who will then beat your price, if only by a few dollars.

    Playing the no-bid game isn't for the squeamish; and you often have to let jobs go to someone else. But again, if you stick to your guns, eventually you find the client base you want, and they'll respect you for the quality of work you do. (You can also offer to charge them for the bid/design, and subtract it from their invoice, should they hire you..)

    Sorry, this has gotten WAY off topic's turning into a sound-contractor forum!


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