Riding the edge

Sacred Gathering May 2007

So in honor of my vacation and a favorite vacation activity, here’s a question I have for you guys that nobody ever seems to address. How do you stay awake when you’re mixing in a church? Seriously.

Music isn’t generally a problem because it’s an active sport for the FOH engineer. Videos aren’t generally active to mix, but they seem to have a little bit more going on to hold attention plus they tend to be relatively short. However, the preachers can get tough. I’ve had the privilege of mixing some great speakers, and the reality is that listening to the same guy give the same speech multiple times can be hard. Every once in a while I’ll get to mix a guy who tends to have a lot of dynamics requiring active mixing of the sermon, but by-and-large the fader goes up during the sermon and sits there until the end with maybe 2 or 3 adjustments throughout. While some of you may be extraordinarily gifted in attentiveness in spite of repetitiveness, I am not, and when take 2 of a long sermon collides with a shorter than normal night of sleep the challenge of mixing can easily be overwhelmed by the challenge of just staying awake.

Now, I don’t think I’ve ever actually fallen asleep, but I have on occasion skated on the line of bliss that sits between consciousness and unconsciousness; it’s thin ice, but it feels so good. While I have been fortunate riding the edge in the past, I would like to avoid completely falling asleep as I’ve heard enough stories to know that I don’t want to be that guy. In my previous church, I would sometimes slip into the atrium where I could still hear with my laptop wirelessly controlling FOH, but I wouldn’t dream of doing that now. In that scenario FOH was also located near an exit, but these days I sit among the people making an exit quite obtrusive and a reentering anything but subtle.

Several months ago I finally decided that it was more dangerous for me to potentially fall asleep at the wheel than to engage in some sort of alternate activity at FOH so I started bringing a book. This was a big help, but reading can get difficult for me at times because the guy talking on stage can be distracting. I know some guys might resort to fiddling with other things on the console, but I will never forget the time the lighting guy at my last church blacked out our pastor TWICE in the same service so I try to limit all console work to that which is necessary.

Lately my answer has come in the form of my relatively new acquisition of the iPhone. I can easily check RSS feeds, email, and I am also quite good at Solitaire. Last weekend I tried playing a little bit of air hockey on it before the service with our audio intern via wifi, but I quickly realized that would be a bad idea during a service based on our very audible reactions while playing. In all seriousness, though, the iPhone has come in rather handy at providing a low-distraction activity to allow me to keep just enough attention on the sound in the room along with enough variety to keep me awake. But I realize that not everyone has access to one of these so I’m curious. What are some of your favorite strategies for staying awake through multiple services? Please try and give us an idea of where you’re FOH is located as a more concealed FOH can offer a wider range of options.

David Stagl

20 Responses to “Riding the edge

  • When I first started, I would try to listen to some of my favorite music through PFL. Oh, that was a bad idea. Since you have an iPhone, I recommend Bejeweled 2. Lately I’ve been bringing my laptop with me to church (usually to recharge my iPod batteries that have drained from too much Bejeweled) and I tinker around with that. Caffeine seems like it would be a natural choice to help stay awake, until you reach that point when you need to, well, you know…

  • I was just wondering about this the other day. I wear the hat of media director so I create the graphics with the outline during the week. And then I hear the same message 3 times during the weekend.

    Our sound booth is in the balcony and since we replaced our pews with chairs (which added 20% more seating) we rarely have people up in the balcony. So we’re not seen by the audience but an exit from the booth would be noticed by the pastor, my boss. So I don’t feel comfortable with that.

    I find my time is usually spent:
    – Try to take notes during the first time I hear the message.
    – Skimming through manuals looking for solutions to problems I’ve had that weekend
    – iPhone. Scrabble has been my favorite game lately
    – Planning my week
    – Brain storming for current projects

  • I think I need to get an iPhone…

  • After accidentally muting the pastor during the message some time ago I decided to limit the amount of playing that I do with the board, although preview mode on the Venue can be nice for that. FOH is at the back near the exits (I am at Stagl’s “previous church”) so I do sometimes briefly step out of the booth or into the atrium… but never very far or for very long. Listening to the banter on intercom can sometimes be entertaining… though I sometimes run the risk of laughing out loud when a certain technical director is on. Sometimes I use the time to think about (and sometimes take notes on) my process of doing things at FOH and how I might do things better.

    When I am working in Monitor World I will sometimes go and relieve the FOH guy for a little while during the message so he can go refresh himself for the next service. We have pool tables and Wii’s and all kinds of cool stuff in our student ministries center (“The Hub”) that could be just what the doctor ordered.

  • I usually can get something out of the sermon the first couple of times around but the third is really difficult. In one venue, where the third sermon takes place, part of the congregation is elevated behind me so I can’t really do anything that would be distracting. I found myself last week looking at all the different hair colors and styles represented in the room. Weird…huh?

  • The iPhone is my friend. Glad others struggle the same way I do 🙂 I like to listen to the message the first time around but by three and four…

  • Kris Rives
    16 years ago

    I have never commented, but I read your blog often and learn lots. I know multiple services can be draining, especially with a person that is repetative & without a lot of sleep the night before. I only mix occassionally for sunday services these days ( i would much rather worship with my family) but I typically read the old testiment(1&2 Samuel, Genesis, 1&2 Kings). It is full of the stories of man at his worst (Brutal even) and God working in, through, and around them. I try to redeem the time.
    If I am to distracted by the speaker, I sometimes write down questions I would like to find answers to (theological, Audio, what is my purpose in the Church). More than anything, as of late, I am trying my best to redeem the time that God has given me in this vapor of a life span. I waiste to much time that I could be productive with that I will never get back. Make the most of every moment.

    All that said thank you for all the information and knowledge you post, I continue to learn more every time you post you are a good teacher. Thank you.

  • Kelsen
    16 years ago

    I recently got the iPod touch which has been keeping me awake as well. That and a continuous flow of coffee. I’ll also usually take that time to do some form over other work such as research, scheduling volunteers, and a quick trip back stage to check on the musicians.

  • Hello, my name is Dave, and I’m an edge-rider………..”hi dave”

    yeah, I mix foh audio 2 weeks out of three, and that third sermon is a killer! Even an excellent sermon three times makes me want to induce a coma. I don’t feel comfortable leaving the console for any length of time; although I do occasionally leave the room (FOH is in the back near the doors so it’s not distracting) and walk around for a minute, get a drink (I can see and hear the worship center feed while I’m doing this). While at the board, I’ll use my blackberry to check twitter, text with folks on the praise team that are sitting backstage. I have been playing “brick breaker” more often lately. I guess I need to get some better games. Often I’ll fiddle with settings on the console, but as you mentioned, you need to be ultra-careful. When I run out of things to keep me occupied, I dream of getting an iPhone 🙂

  • I know that I’d shoot anyone on my team if they ever fell asleep at the wheel. Therefore, I hold myself to that same standard. No matter how tired I am, I figure that I can always learn something from the speaker no matter how many times I’ve heard it. Of course, there is always texting a friend in the congregation to see if the buzz from his phone jolts him awake!

  • Chris
    16 years ago

    Our pastor sometimes makes slight changes in the message as the morning goes along, and the third is sometimes almost a different message, with the same outline. 🙂 A few times a month, we have video roll-ins during the message, so it keeps the FOH guys a little more on their toes.

    I heard Marty O’ Connor talk once about what he did when he ran FOH at Willow years ago. He would record his board mix from each service and listen to it and take notes on improvements during the first two messages. He would listen to the third service’s sermon, figuring Hybels had perfected it by then!

  • I get to mix sound for a church with only two morning services and a different evening service on Sundays. The sermons are between 45-50 minutes long. Our FOH is in the back near the doors. While I do all the music mixing during the services, I have the guys on my team that help with setup, strike, recording (just the 2-track board mix for internal purposes), etc. and for the sermon portion of the services, we switch off staying in the room and leaving. So we are each actually in the room at FOH for only one of the services and can listen and take notes and engage in the material in the sermon.

    I’ve taken special care that my assistants know the troubleshooting steps to look for in our pastors microhone specically, so I can feel confident that they can quickly troubleshoot most anything other than a serious system failure (which might not be fixable during a service anyway). Then I get back in time for anything at the end of the service.

    During the service that I’m not at FOH I normally go back in our music room and listen via the phone or distributed audio feed we have in there while planning for future services or doing things online. That way if something does go wrong I’m aware of it and can quickly get back to FOH. Sometimes I will do some planning or brainstorming while listening to the service I stay at FOH for (writing with pen on paper), but that is normally only in busy seasons with lots of planning to do (Christmas, Easter, Conference times).

  • Bob Staghorn
    16 years ago

    This can be brutal – we do 4 services a weekend (same message) and I am fond of napping at the best of times. This week the pastor claimed he could hear the mouse clicking as I surfed the web during a funeral. I think it’s time to invest in a “silent” mouse.

  • Our FOH is in the balcony almost in the back. Right behind FOH is the record booth with a big glass window. We have 3 services on a Sunday. I must admit that I have gone on the verge of unconsciousness on a few occasions. But when that happens, there is a volunteer at the desk, so I don’t feel too bad. The iPhone has definitely helped out, although don’t download new games and play them for the first time… Some have sound you can’t turn off right away!

    Sometimes I will go in the record booth and talk shop with the guys up there while we listen to the sermon faintly in the background to make sure all is well. Across the hall from the record room is the video booth, and sometimes I go in there and talk shop with the video crew as well. And lastly there is always the clear com at FOH that is connected with the video guys. The trick there is not talking too loud, or laughing too loud.

    When I used to do shows on the road we would pipe in the iPod into the clear-com via the Aux In jack. That was a good time.

  • I agree with Brad that PFL monitoring is a BAD idea. Back when I worked at a very traditional church, I would pull up 7|22 online and listen through headphones by means of a solo button on the board. I did this on one Thanksgiving night service (a particularly “slow” service), and one of the elders came up to tell me that they could hear whatever I was listening to. I guess I should’ve used earphones with a tighter seal or my in-ears!

    Now that I’m at a more modern church, it’s usually a breeze to keep awake during services, but there are times I have to run audio for special events (seminars, etc.). During these times, I’ll run VPN software that allows me to use the auditorium computer to control my office computer. I get my work done as if I’m right in front of my computer. (HINT: Knowing keyboard shortcuts cuts down on mouse click noise.) And when I run out of office work, I go catch up on all my favorite blogs, including goingto11, of course!

  • Scott Fahy
    16 years ago

    Back in 97 I discovered I had severe sleep apnea, they said I was waking up 30 times per hour so was constantly tired. There are videos of me sound asleep sitting at the monitor board. SInce that has been taken care of, I never feel tired or sleepy when mixing.


  • We once rented our building to the city’s after-prom party, which was held on a Saturday. So after a Saturday service with me arriving at around 1pm that afternoon, I was required to stay overnight to supervise their A/V needs, then had to prepare to run FOH for two Sunday morning services. First service I was okay. Second I missed a few video cues because I was falling asleep at the console every few seconds.

    Nowdays I keep my laptop at front of house (the console is in the back of the room) so during the second service I can check Facebook, e-mail, loose myself in Wikipedia or whatever. Even play Pac-Man if the mood strikes.

  • I mix 3 AM services, 50 weeks a year, and after 15 years and 2,500+ services at FOH I can say that I can count on one hand the number of times I have come close to nodding off. Here’s my strategy:

    Get some sleep – We come in at 6am, and many times I have gone to bed at 1am for a variety of reasons but in the past year or so I decided to try really hard to be in bed by 10:30 or 11 latest (which is hard as I am a night person by nature) I’ve noticed I’m fresher and have less listening fatique and working at keeping this up. My role model in this is our Sr Pastor of Preaching who does the same, so why should I give less than my best.

    Short adjustable piano bench – Our FOH position is in the balcony but very noticeable, especially when standing or sitting on the official mix stool. A couple years ago I bought an adjustable piano bench set very low so I can now at least sip a Diet Coke or sneak a biscuit from our breakroom between services and be out of line of sight of congregation and below the wall around FOH.

    My service is 8am – I consider “my service” the 8:00 am service and this is where I listen, take notes, etc. After that, assuming no in-sermon cues, I try to bring my latest reading materials and catch up on the reading, while keeping a watch on levels and such. After 15 years in this same booth, I found I can be reading an article and subconsciously I’ll tickle the fader or tweak the compressor during the sermon without looking up from my article – don’t know if that’s sick or a good thing.

    Listen, you might like it – One of my pet peeves is that our technical crew often goes weeks without paying attention to the sermon or speaker at all. Some, such as the video team, have an excuse as they are getting/calling shots but the recording engineer/lighting and others more often than not just hang out behind the scenes during the sermon/speaker. We recently hosted the National Apologetics Conference with speakers such as James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Josh McDowell, Dinesh D’Souza, Lee Strobel and many others over 2 days. I ran FOH from 8AM to 9pm two days in a row and was spellbound the entire time but yet during a break when I engaged other staff about something that was said they confided that they were not paying attention. I’m guilty on many occasions myself – especially events I don’t care much about, but actually focusing on the message passes the time very quickly. What a concept!


  • since we only do 2 services I don’t experience the pain you guys do. But usually I answer the life group questions on the back of the sermon outline during second service so I don’t have to do it during the week.

  • Brian Davis
    16 years ago

    Two things . .

    1. A good night’s sleep on Saturday. OK – that hardly ever happens.
    2. Iphone. Catching tweets, email, facebook updates, etc. Our booth is in th middle of the room, so I end up sitting on the floor with my iphone during the sermon – second service only.