by Mike Sessler, ChurchTechArts.org
Audio guys are taught to fear and loath feedback. We have parametric EQs, notch filters, magic boxes and feedback eliminators, all to keep feedback from rearing it's ugly head. The mix could be great, the lighting perfect and the song words spot on, but if the pastor's mic runs into feedback, you feel like you've failed. For most of us feedback=bad.
But Is It?
The feedback of which I speak in the opening paragraph is of course, the electro-acoustical kind. The mic picks up it's own signal, it goes through the amplification loop and repeats, ending in a high-pitched scream. And I agree, that kind of feedback is bad. But not all feedback is. In fact, sometimes, feedback can be very helpful.
Getting Better All The Time
Any sound engineer worth his salt should be striving to get better all the time. But how do we get better? How do we know if we're making progress or just making things louder? One really good way to get better is to get some feedback. By asking others to critique our mix, we will learn valuable insights and hopefully, get better. The challenge is, we're so trained to avoid feedback (the bad kind), that we tend to avoid all feedback (the good kind).
Now, it can be humbling to ask for feedback. I've done this in the past, and sometimes go home feeling less good about my skill level. However, after the sting wears off, and I've processed the feedback, my mixing usually gets better. It's easy to get caught in the trap of thinking we have this thing figured out and continue to do the wrong thing over and over again.
I recently took a shooter improvement class. I've reached a reasonable level of proficiency, but want to be more competitive in local matches. I knew I had a few troubles with my fundamentals, but couldn't diagnose it. The instructor came into my bay as I was shooting the drill and told me exactly what I was doing wrong. It was like learning something for the first time. Almost immediately, my groups tightened up, and my times shrank. Asking for feedback made a huge difference and I won a stage few days later.
The same has proven true with my mixing. You see, we tend to plateau in our skill level. We get to a level of proficiency, but can't move beyond it. By asking others for some input, you might be surprised at what you're missing, and suddenly, your skill levels up.
Be Careful Who You Ask
Now, you can't ask just anyone for feedback. I prefer asking musicians who aren't playing that weekend. Preferably, I like to ask musicians with whom I have a good relationship. If we have a good relationship, I know they have my best interests at heart and aren't simply looking for a chance to be critical. Ask not only for the trouble spots, but the good points as well. If you know you're struggling with a particular aspect of the mix, ask about that specifically. You may even want to prep them with that.
Ultimately, if you want to get better at what you do, you're going to need some training. You can get quite a ways on your own with enough practice and hard work (not to mention natural talent), but if you really want to excel, you'll need some help. Don't be afraid of feedback. It might be what takes you to the next level in your mix.