The Scariest Moment in My Audio Career

by | Audio, Audio Connections, Production

Many years ago, I was working with a church that hosted a large conference with some very high-profile guest speakers. Along with the team, we presented multiple worship sets in the main auditorium. We were organized and well-rehearsed, everything looked and sounded great. I was happy with my audio mix and enjoyed spending time with many people who came from all over the country to be part of the conference. 

The excitement grew as the final session featuring one of the most popular Christian authors of our time was scheduled to speak. Admittedly, our team was a bit starstruck and didn’t do a great job of advance communication regarding the technical needs of our guest speakers. 

The standard in those days was the Countryman headset microphone system. We had several in rotation, all tested and ready to go for each of the guest speakers. In between main sessions, while all the conference attendees were in breakout sessions, we would soundcheck each communicator that was scheduled for the following session, along with a run-through of the worship set. In the days leading up to the main event, everything went flawlessly. The worship was amazing, all the communicators were encouraging and well received, without a single technical glitch.

As we approached the final session, word came down that our headline speaker preferred not to do a soundcheck. No problem, nothing I can’t handle, we’ll have one of our guys just do a quick check and I’ll adjust as needed once the real deal starts. Shortly thereafter, “Oh, and by the way, he doesn’t like headset mics and would prefer a lapel mic”.  Well, that would have been good to know before now, and none of our starstruck team were willing to try to change anyone’s mind. The church hosting the conference had been purchasing the standard mid-grade wireless microphone systems of the day. Each system they owned came with a cheap lapel mic, which was tossed in a drawer and immediately replaced with a Countryman headset. So all I had were 5 or 6 lapel mics that nobody cared about enough to test. No one had ever used a lapel microphone on this church’s PA system. 

As the worship band played the final set before our headliner was to speak, I cued up and tested the lapel mic & belt pack in headphones. It worked, and the connection was stable. Aside from that, I had no idea how it would sound through the PA or what gain setting would be adequate. All I knew was that lapel mics were notoriously prone to feedback, which is exactly why all the churches were now using headset mics. And the one that I was about to use, clipped to the collar of the most popular Christian speaker in the world, was the generic version that everyone throws in a drawer, never to be seen again. 

My volunteer helper put the lapel mic on our headliner backstage, again, I cued it up in the headphones to verify it was functioning. I was really starting to sweat this whole thing. In my limited experience with lapel mics, they were noisy, hard to control, and picked up the sound of people’s clothes as much as their voices. What if he walks around a lot? What if I turn it on and we’re blasted with rolling feedback? 

As the worship set ended and the host began his introduction, I set an EQ curve that I guessed would sound ok, added a touch of the normal compression I would typically use and I prayed ! “Jesus, if you love me, you’ll make this sound right when I unmute this channel.” And then…

“Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Rick Warren”. I unmuted the mic, and it sounded, PERFECT!  Rick was fantastic, he sat in a chair the entire time and didn’t move. His talk was compelling and inspiring. I was humbled and grateful to be a part of it. I’ve met Rick a few more times over the years, he is always friendly and graciously says he remembers me. I’ll never forget that incredibly stressful day, and the relief that followed when I realized my prayer had been so perfectly answered.

What’ is yourJesus take the wheel” story? Send me an email at rcochran@worshipfacility.com. Until then, don’t forget to listen.

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