Sound Janitor

Do you have a Sound Janitor at your church?

You know, he shows up, flips switches, replaces batteries, starts the recording, and goes to get a donut.

Well, it’s probably not that bad. But the Sound Janitor is an identity to avoid. In their eyes, there's no difference between cleaning a toilet, replacing a light bulb, and turning up the faders on a soundboard. 

At best, they make sure that everything up front gets heard. At best.

You ask them to turn something up or down because, you know, it plays an important role in the song. And you feel like you’re imposing because you’re kinda doing (what you feel is) their job.

A Sound Janitor is a far cry from the identity that we teach sound guys: Best Listener - where nobody in the room is paying more attention to what it sounds like, how everything fits together, and what effect it’s having on the congregation. Music just moves them!

This is bold, but as a sound guy, if music doesn’t move you, you have two choices:

  1. Find someone to help you “get music” or
  2. Quit ASAP (and by “possible” I mean “when you’ve found someone who is moved by music and you’ve given them your working knowledge of the board”)

That’s not overstated. Otherwise, it’s like you’re a children’s ministry worker that doesn’t like children - they are only in the role because they got guilted into it 24 years ago. Ugh.

So for example, here was a song where the sound guy was being a Sound Janitor.

The team started off with Phil Wickham’s song “This Is Amazing Grace.”

The band was acoustic guitar, keys, bass guitar, and drums. Notably missing: electric guitar and synth.

Now, you might be saying “I wish I “only” had that many instruments,” but this church often has a fuller band and this idea still applies. Imagine if you have a clarinet and trumpet instead to play the melodic riff?

But back to that Sunday, something didn’t seem to work, to carry the energy, to bring the song to life like this particular song can. Everyone playing was doing a good job and they keys player even played the instrumental riff using a piano sound.

But the song got lost in its translation. It just didn’t make sense.

Now, some of this is on the band, yet I’d say that one of your jobs as a Best Listener sound guy is to interpret the song, to make it make sense. How? Listen, make some choices, listen, adjust. Do something until the music moves you.*. Maybe turn the acoustic guitar down and highlight the lead riff on the keys, then back it off. Back down the drums and bass on the first take of the bridge, then bring them back.

There’s no formula. It’s an identity, the way you see things. A Sound Janitor isn’t moved by the music. Be the Best Listener. And you might not even know what to be listening for or even know you are supposed to be listening. That’s ok - this is where Ad Lib can help you with training on how and what to listen for.


Ps. Ad Lib’s Audio Coach Tony Guyer is the one who coined both the “Sound Janitor” and “Best Listener” terms. He talks about the Sound Janitor in this week’s podcast conversation.

Pps. Sound guys can be guys or gals, for clarity :)

*Yes, the worship service is not about “the music,” but rather about the worship. And a quick read through the details of the temple will give you insight into God’s artistic heart.