"I’ve found that a hit record is like a stew. All the ingredients have to come together just right. Otherwise, it’s just soup."
Yes, inspired words from the Tom Hanks classic 1960s era fake biopic, That Thing You Do!
Never heard of it? That's OK. You can trust me it's brilliant filmmaking.
So how does all this generational stuff help the big picture when choosing consoles?
If you don't agree I'm just fine standing "alone in my principles."
What you and I can agree on is that it's getting increasingly difficult to attract and maintain talented and committed tech volunteers, while staying current and relevant with our AVL console choices. Mix in a good dose of budgetary woes and a pinch of leadership miscommunication and you might be struggling to even call it soup.
Good writing metaphors of any kind can be as elusive as a perfect sound check I digress.
Choosing the perfect AVL console can be daunting. On the other hand, navigating the ins and outs of a new generation of volunteers is an altogether different song to write. This is especially tough for many tech directors that would rather focus on channel count than catering to newfangled relationships.
So what does one have to do with the other? How does the stereotypical 20-something mindset factor into what type of light board to buy? I mean, it's the baby-boomers that crafted the contemporary AVL industry from the start and the Gen Xers that perfected it right? Shouldn't the next generation of millennials or Gen Zers just stay quiet and learn from the greats? Well, yes and maybe no.
Let's mix it up a bit.
We all love tech. But I think God is more interested in how people and tech interface to promote his kingdom. If you're simply looking for an easy top 3 list of perfect console choices for volunteers, then you're about to get a little more than you bargained for.
First, it's important to make some foundational decisions.
Analog vs. digital the verdict is in.
There will always be many valid perspectives here. But some new ideas are quickly emerging. As a media trainer, I've spent years on the side of using specifically analog sound mixers for training volunteers on the "basics," before graduating to digital formats. As for growing a church ministry, though, those days are officially over.
And here's why
There has always been a huge benefit to understanding the why and how behind A/V signal flow, before media could be produced well. As tech directors, we tend to place high value on the knowledge and ability to understand and control every nuance of sound, video and lights as we should! Logically, the analog domain heavily supports this thinking. Yet there's a limited amount of "thinking" that analog consoles and gear can actually do for this century's user.
Now, we have spent more than two decades with digital technology that has gained a mystifying reputation to some (especially to traditionalists and baby boomers). It's an unfortunate fact that many so called seasoned church sound volunteers are still apprehensive to approach a digital system. While those that truly understand digital have been hailed as, "the only guys allowed to touch that console," there is a chasm here. It can have an adverse effect on the growth of media ministries with demands that are ever increasing.
The chasm byproduct here is that the older generation feels no longer relevant and is exiting volunteer positions. Gen X engineers (paid or not) are becoming over worked, burning out quicker or moving on to different assignments, and while they are the sharpest and most tech savvy of us all, the youngest generations (Millennials/Gen Zers) can be unfairly labeled as lazy and unmotivated, resulting in less volunteerism.
Understaffing is the result.
This is a virtual recipe for disaster. Interestingly though, the industry itself has provided some amazing answers - because industry responds to culture.
How is it responding? It's crying out with the voice of Siri
Don't discount our millennials!
It is part of teenage and young adult culture to intuitively produce a video on their smartphone that rivals what we were doing in ministry not so long ago. Creative apps, plug-ins, presets and pennies on the dollar online programs can crank out music, lighting schemes and other creative works in minutes, rather than hours. Monitor mixing for musicians is easier than ever with an iPad and phone apps that the younger generations are not only craving, but also simply expecting, because that is all they have ever known.
Digital technology is all millennials have ever known.
As the working generation of decision-makers, we have created this new paradigm!
And here is the rub.
Many younger people don't necessarily understand how or why those new tools work they just work. And they're fun to use. So they're already doing media production as a part of their normal lives!
Less time is being spent on the technical "know how" and more time is being given to the social aspect of media. This could be a bit frustrating for some purists out there, but it's a sign of the times. And this might not be a bad thing!
To many young people, the analog world of knobs and rack gear is simply not socially attractive. To a younger person considering volunteer ministry, it may even seem irrelevant. And in a more practical sense, analog gear cannot seamlessly interface with the constantly moving, changing and upgradable world that is today's media. So, the social verdict is in digital wins.
Let's embrace the differences in generational culture.
You may be thinkingSo how does all this generational stuff help the big picture when choosing consoles? How does this aid the tech director who has run out of hours in the day and just wants desperately to grow and shepherd a team?
First off, acknowledge that gear-lust is a sin.
Seriously though, we need to clearly understand the vision of the house as well as the identity of the team you plan to be shepherding in 18 months not necessarily where you are at today.
Don't let your personal preferences and "wants" supersede the needs and abilities of the people you are commissioned to serve!
If you are truly a volunteer-based church, (and not one that runs on a hybrid of paid/volunteer production staffers) make simpler console choices that have an easy to follow layout and support app-based integration. Behringer X32, or PreSonus Live series sound consoles come to mind. Or, the ETC Element would qualify on the "lighter" side of things.
Also, research the online video training tools that each company offers. The lower-end and user friendly products tend to be more generous with their free training modules than the more advanced products provide. In the video world, this approach to console purchases may guide you toward a switcher like the Roland V-800HD and away from some other comparable, but niche broadcast control switchers.
This "simple but savvy" approach is the greatest way to ensure that your future users can get the full benefit of their intuitive knowledge of using digital technology, while not getting lost in all the high-end features and routing options of larger, more costly consoles.
While upgradability and features are important, don't make a purchase just because "all the pros" are using it. If you are people minded, that may actually be a good reason not to choose a specific console.
All of the above, of course, is contingent upon understanding the needs and characteristics of your worship team. Don't forget to include your worship pastor when making important changes and forward steps!
Upgrade. Upgrade. Upgrade.
Next, you need to be ready and willing to make seasonal equipment decisions not permanent decisions. A console may be perfect for your goals for the team that you are developing now. But as you begin reaching your goals, make new goals that respond to both your team culture and the industry. You need to be ready to cycle out your gear before it depreciates too significantly. Then, you should make outline planned upgrades on a schedule that matches the training, growth and identity of your worship community.
Even within the financial realm of ministry, a good understanding of generational characteristics can be most helpful. (You may want to understand what makes baby boomers tick.) These moments can challenge your interpersonal skills and ability to communicate effectively with leadership.
Clearly lay out the people benefits, but focus mostly on a meaningful depreciation and cost analysis. Show your pastor or finance committee why and how this will save them money in the future.
Back to the millennials.
Finally, this is where that "hit song" really starts to take shape the ingredients are really starting to come together. The simple fact is that if you are not attracting and being dually influenced by young people on your tech teams one day you could find yourself the dinosaur! And I'll throw some more seasoning in the pot for good measure
The thing that millennials crave more than anything is the feeling of being needed. They want desperately to know that they are contributing something meaningful. And that their ideas are validated. Interestingly, this is actually why they can seem unmotivated and unreliable. If they are not given enough positive reinforcement and laid-out goals from the very beginning, you may find them fading away or disconnected to the point of leaving your team.
This is not necessarily a defining positive or negative trait of millennials it's just different from our own paradigm.
Challenging a millennial to actually help you with a new tech project from the start could make all the difference in both cultivating a talented technical artist and staying on the cutting edge of technology. Give them assignments to research new consoles and the latest time saving plug-ins. You may be surprised what doors this will open for you and at the same time your new recruit is getting a healthy dose of technical training on their own! Likewise, challenging yourself to allow the free flow of ideas to permeate your team will ensure that new dynamics will always push you to greater things, while earning the relational right to maintain overall direction and leadership.
Now imagine seasoning your team like this
1. You actively pursue younger people in your church who are, ironically, already attracted to your media ministry, because we are in the middle of the "Age of the geek" after all.
2. They start sniffing around even more when they see the same old gear that's been an institution in your booth for the last 20 years being replaced by fresh new tech treasures.
3. You take the opportunity to pour into them personally, really listening to their ideas and dreams. Then, you actually ask for their help molding fresh ideas and vision.
4. They become committed members of your team that is primed for more and more growth, because all it takes is a few group texts to draw a mountain of interest from their friends.
5. Because of your recent study of millennials, you are now surprised to learn that in addition to all of the above, they actually have a deep desire to connect with baby boomers and even traditionalists!
6. You encourage your baby boomer volunteers to mentor and connect with these amazing young gems and watch how the older guys open to the new "easier to understand" technology that has emerged.
7. Now that everything is running smoothly and glitch-free, you and all your Gen X friends can relax and go out and spend way too much on coffee.
OK, so those above steps are a little idealistic. But you get the point.
And the new team members are out there just waiting for us to log in to their world.
In the end, there is no substitute for research, hard work and implementation when it comes to choosing the right consoles. Be informed and discerning. Get professional quotes and opinions from local AVL contractors.
Yes, do all of this.
But there might just be some creative and relational building methods that will make your ministry truly attractive to people, while energizing and challenging the members you have along the way.
1 Corinthians 13:1 says, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal." In all things, let's strive to keep our ministry motivations pure and our perspectives straight.
Love people well and God will be glorified.
So, what are you waiting for? Get those creative juices flowing!
But know that the proverbial songwriting of church ministry can be grueling. And the ingredients that are poured into both people and the gear can make the difference between being an amazing spirit-filled song factory and a one-hit wonder.