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Volunteers and audio
Young engineers do not have the developed ears or skills needed to properly EQ and set up a mix for a rehearsal or service. What I will work on is the setup and first part of rehearsal, to get it in a good place, and pass it off to the new volunteers. Even though I pass it off to them, I’m still standing right next to them the whole time, and talking about what they need to do and what to listen for, as they are mixing.

Volunteers and Audio: Set Them Up to Succeed, Don't Rush

One of the important things you want to do is to be an encourager of your volunteers, while you can still talk about areas for them to work on but avoid that, if that’s all your doing.

Audio volunteers are the lifeblood of your church’s tech ministry.

Patience and time are your biggest needs, both in yourself and the volunteers.

For many churches, they often will only have one full-time/part-time person on staff. As you know, churches continue to grow more and more hungry in their audio and video needs.

What that means is that your church team needs to be able to provide support for all the church’s different A/V needs, which is where volunteers come in.

That being said, volunteers come from all different kinds of backgrounds and experience.

Over the years, I have noticed a pattern among both musicians and A/V techs, in that they often will join churches that already have strong music and A/V ministries. When I see someone who has a good developed skill or talent, they typically will opt to go to the larger church, one already blessed with other skilled and developed audio volunteers. What that means is that for the small- to mid-sized churches, your volunteer pool will tend to be on the less experienced or newer side of the equation.

If your church needs help, there are a few places you can seek to find needed volunteers.

First, make it a matter of prayer for you. Seek God and ask him to not only send you help, but that He also give you the discernment to see who He already has at your church that can step up and fill some of those unmet needs. One of the obvious places to begin to look is within your own worship band. Not always, but a lot of times, you’ll have people in the band that either do some home recording on their own, or at least have an interest in mixing.

Of course, the matter of availability is always something one must consider. For instance, most volunteers in their late 20s to 50s typically  have a full-time job, a spouse, and kids. So, they won’t always have the time needed, to learn a new skill-set. Another possibility would be to reach out to high-school- and college-age volunteers, along with those who are retired, who will more often be able to put in more time, even if there is an inclination that such volunteers can’t work out.

Once you have those volunteers on board, then one must look to some ideas on how to help develop audio volunteers, to help move them on a path of growth in their skills. Now, some of this will also depend on the kinds of needs your church has. For instance, if your church does a traditional church service with very few audio inputs, it will be a lot easier to get a volunteer up to speed. On the other hand, if your church is working with a large band during services, where everything is mic’d up, it will take more time to teach your volunteers the necessary skills.

Patience and time are your biggest needs, both in yourself and the volunteers. To do it well, you will need to spend time training outside of rehearsals. Planning such rehearsals are good for some things, but they are mostly centered around serving the band’s needs.

Therefore, it’s not a good place to go over the basics with your volunteers on such things as signal flow, gain structure or EQ and compression. Once people have a grasp of the basics, it can be done, but ideally you will need to do a training class to get out some basic information.

Personally, I like to start with the microphone, and work back to the mixing console, and then from the mixing console to the speakers. This will be a simplified overview of the system this way.

Even though the new volunteers might not understand everything right off, it will give them the big picture of what’s going on. It will also give them a basic idea for where to start for troubleshooting.

After doing a session like this with volunteers and walking them through the setup a few times for rehearsals and services, also have them shadow the engineer.

You can eventually move them to the console, but you need to make sure to set them up to succeed.

Young engineers do not have the developed ears or skills needed to properly EQ and set up a mix for a rehearsal or service. What I will work on is the setup and first part of rehearsal, to get it in a good place, and pass it off to the new volunteers. Even though I pass it off to them, I’m still standing right next to them the whole time, and talking about what they need to do and what to listen for, as they are mixing.

At this stage, mixing is really just turning faders up or down and turning things on or off. It can also be adjusting monitor mixes for the band. This is a great starting point for novices, as you have given them a mix that sounds right and are asking them to keep it on track.

After doing this for several weeks with your novice volunteers, ideally for about six to eight weeks, then you can start giving them more freedom and start letting them work on how to set up the mix.

Remember to set them up to succeed, and maybe just start with having them work on the drums for a few weeks, then look to add the other instruments, and then lastly the vocals, in successive fashion.

During this time, you will want to talk a lot about mix concepts and then what the church wants as far as a mix and volume levels for the music verses the sermon.

As they do more, you can start to add more information for them. For instance, a beginner needs to know about frequency ranges, and how to EQ, for certain instruments and vocals. Instead of spending time talking about the difference between plate and hall reverbs.

One of the important things you want to do is to be an encourager of these volunteers, while helping them to succeed.

It’s easy to criticize, and most people do that well.

Point out to each of your volunteers what they are doing well and what is working, while you can still talk about areas for them to work on but avoid that, if that’s all your doing.

Maybe your ability to teach is the problem, not just their ability. For instance, I had a volunteer who had been serving in the church for more than a decade. His ears and understanding of mixing were limited, but he did some things better than any other volunteer who was also serving at the time.

This volunteer was faithful and dependable. if he committed to something, he would always be there and always early. He also worked on the building and installed many of the A/V systems at the church with the staff.

My absolute favorite, though, was that he never missed a cue. There were guys who could mix the band better than he could, but they would miss turning on and off mics, or the video would be muted, when it started … things like that.

He did cues so well, that I realized I needed to grow in that area and be more like him in that aspect.

This is when we need to keep the big picture of not only has God given us all different amounts of talent, ability and experience. These people are who God has brought into our local church and would should be thankful to both God and them for that blessing.

We need to make sure that we are keeping a proper outlook on the volunteers and ministry.

Don’t let it end up being about just needing people to get the job done. This does not honor their service, or honor God.

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