As the nation seeks to rebound from the economic wreckage caused by the novel coronavirus, millions of Americans are looking for jobs.
But some will be trying to maintain the momentum of the extra work they’ve picked up over the past few months. K Yamada, an Atlanta-area audio engineer, is one of those people.
The 31-year-old worked primarily in the music industry as a producer and audio engineer before the pandemic hit. Lately, though, he has found a number of opportunities helping area churches that suddenly needed to transition their services from in-person gatherings to ones that could be streamed online.
“The pastors were saying, ‘We need to do something,’” Yamada said. “‘To protect people in our congregation, we can’t meet in person. But we still need to have a way to connect with them.’”
As decision-makers at churches worked on that transition, they quickly realized the importance of high-quality audio and video during those virtual services. That’s where Yamada comes in. He makes sure the equipment and sound levels are set properly so that music and sermons won’t be distorted as members follow along on apps like Zoom or Skype.
In some cases, a masked Yamada will sit and handle soundboard responsibilities as musicians or ministers are playing for a congregation in real time. In others, he will record pastors, vocalists or bands in advance and perfect the recording days before the service airs online.
“When you’re just doing it live, you only get that one shot [to get it right],” he said. “When you’re recording something for later, there’s a lot less room for stuff to hide.” Because of that, Yamada said some of the pastors and musicians have been rehearsing more to make sure their sessions — whether recorded or live — are as free of glitches as possible.
Much like the small businesses and companies that have proved vulnerable during the economic crisis, churches have been struggling too. Not only do they rely heavily on offerings and tithes — particularly during Easter services, which weren’t possible to go to this year — but they’ve also been challenged by diminishing attendance. Per a Gallup poll, just half of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque in 2018, down from 70 percent two decades earlier.
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So, in a way, it’s an odd juxtaposition for Yamada to be experiencing an income boost from churches, given that many American congregations are having a hard time staying afloat.
Yamada estimated that his earnings are about 30 percent ahead of where they would normally be at this point in the year. But by no means is he getting rich with his newfound work: He said his gross income is usually right around $60,000 a year, and that once he factors in expenses — mainly for equipment — he takes home closer to $40,000 or $45,000 annually.
He charges $250 for a half-day of work (five hours) and $500 for a full day (10 hours). But in light of the economy, Yamada said he recently told a pastor that he’d be willing to cut his rates to help alleviate the church’s costs. (Yamada said his offer was rebuffed, largely because of how much he improved the sound quality of the services.)
Yamada’s increased workload with area churches has compensated for his loss of business in the music industry, which is where he would normally earn most of his money.
“If I’m working on an album, it’s usually a five-figure endeavor,” he said. Some of that money comes from allowing artists to record in the basement of his home, where he and his housemate — who also works in the music industry — have set up a full recording studio.
But because Yamada is concerned about COVID-19, he hasn’t worked with anyone in his studio in the past few months. (His roommate has, though, which has prompted Yamada to camp out in his room for five or six hours until the coast clears.) Instead, he’s working with one artist on an album remotely, trying his best to smooth out rough versions of songs from a Colorado client that are streamed or recorded with nothing more than a cellphone.
“It’s pretty much a question of, ‘How do I quality-control this [recording]?’” Yamada said. He considers his strengths to be producing and mixing — giving suggestions for how to rework the chorus of a song, or identifying where another take might be necessary — as opposed to mastering, which involves perfecting the last few tweaks for blend and sound before a project is finalized.
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Even as he has more money coming in than he’s used to — including a federal stimulus payment — Yamada is playing it safe. He’s held off on buying expensive equipment because he expects his work with churches to fade once the pandemic subsides and virtual services are no longer necessary.
The only thing he’s consistently spent more money on is food. Since the pandemic began, he’s preferred to order in so he can avoid grocery stores.
“I just haven’t wanted to go out in public unless I absolutely have to,” Yamada said.