His mission is missions
Engineer helps believers abroad make their own worship recordings

By Beau Black
Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
LIVING FAITH - Saturday, July 15, 2000

Sound engineer Randy Adams could easily keep busy on projects for major Christian music labels. Instead, he divides his time between working with big names - T.D. Jakes, Dennis Jernigan, Alvin Slaughter - and traveling the globe to help churches record their worship music.

With hundreds of thousands of dollars in gear in tow, he has ventured to Africa, Brazil, Belarius, the Caribbean - every continent but Antarctica - to provide "technical support for missions."

After years as a musician and touring with Dallas Holm and Praise, Mr. Adams turned to behind-the-scenes work as an engineer. In 1990, the Assemblies of God Missions Department asked him to work on music for a series of films about mission fields. The agency wanted to include local music, and Mr. Adams recorded choirs in Fiji, South Africa, El Salvador and Slovakia. A second project took him to Calcutta and Malawi.

That experience introduced Mr. Adams to challenges that he continues to face: interacting with other cultures - "I speak several languages very badly!" he says - recording in less than ideal settings, wrangling with customs and air flight problems.

"All things considered, it showed me the potential for a technical-assistance ministry in other countries," he says.

It also led to a long-standing relationship with Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, has produced and engineered Praise albums in Brazil, Belarus, Jamaica and Mexico City. An upcoming project will take him to Uzbekistan.

"In Russian tradition, the highest form of spiritual expression is quiet reverence and just "bowing the head and crying," he says. The Belarus symposium introduces attendees to other ways of worship and experiencing "the joy of the Lord."

In the course of several conferences there, Mr. Adams has trained sound engineers and helped them get their own equipment, either by gathering donations in the United States or by bringing his own outdated but functional gear.

"I know I can't afford to keep going back to these places forever. The underlying goal everywhere I go is to equip and train them to do what I do," he says.

"Generally, a big truck system is the way ... [live recording is] done - YOU pay them $2,000 to $3,000 a day," says veteran producer Paul Mills. But Mr. Adams ships his equipment 2,400 pounds of it, worth a quarter-million dollars - and builds a studio on site. He calls it "guerilla recording."

Back home in Cedar Hill, he does the mixing in his studio (once a daughter's bedroom) with a top-shelf 64-track Pro Tools system.

"I'm basically trying to remove distractions ... [that take] the listener's attention away from the song and the worship leader," he says.

What makes a good worship recording? Mr. Adams believes it's great songs, a strong drum track and good rapport between leader and audience.

"Randy's my engineer of choice for anything I do live," Mr. Mills says. "He's got the 'move it and shake it' thing down."

The two worked together on Integrity's re-cent Revival in Belfast project.

"We were at an old church building on one of the main corners where Catholic and Protestant marches have been held," Mr. Adams says. "This church stands firmly for Christian unity. It's a Protestant church, but they regularly have events with Catholics, so they're a very controversial church."

The bigger-label projects support the mission work, which typically pays nothing. Sometimes he works both into one trip.

Last year he went to Jamaica to record a Jackie McCullough album for Gospocentric Records.

"We finished at three o'clock in the morning, and I couldn't ship my equipment out until Monday moming because customs was closed. So these guys from Christ for the Nations came and got me, and we drove all night across the island to Montego Bay," he says. After a night in the back of a rattling van, he set up his gear and recorded worship at the institute's Caribbean school.

Technical problems made the recording un-usable. But Mr. Adams didn't give up. He assembled local players to re-create the musical tracks and on a later trip recorded new live vocals. The second try was better, at least in some respects.

"You can hear crickets and motorcycles in the background," he says. Still, he's pleased with the results, which raised money for the school.

Mr. Adams began performing at 17. He toured with Dallas Holm and Praise from 1975 to 1982 and recorded a solo project for Star Song Records in 1979. He says the experience with Mr. Holm taught him both sides - ministry and business - of the Christian music industry.

He wasn't driven to perform, though, and in 1982 he moved behind the scenes. He became a sound engineer for a studio run by the owners of radio stations KLTY. Contacts led to projects for Word and Integrity, among others.

Darrell Harris, Gospel Music Association chaplain and former label chief at Star Song, knew Mr. Adams early on.

"Randy's a guy who's so richly talented and highly intelligent, and he's found a way to use his professional skills to serve needs that are both spiritual and practical," Mr. Harris says.

"He could have focused his gifts - musical, technical, linguistic - on making more money or making a name for himself. I'm deeply impacted by how he's given of himself to 'little people' in ways that won't necessarily be recognized."