Three, two, one, go cue one … This statement in the context of mixing a worship service, gets me excited.
The adrenaline you feel right before the countdown hits zero, and you fire your first cue, is electric. The band is tuned and ready to go, with the music pumping as one walks in, while people are finding their seats. It’s the moment when you figure out if all the hard work you put in during the week is going to pay off.
The good news is that confidence can be learned and developed through a little effort.
Simply put, it’s exhilarating.
While this moment gets me excited, it can be one of dread for many of the volunteers we ask to take on this role.
“Is everything going to work?”
“Is the pastor going to remember to unmute their microphone?”
“Am I going to get a noise complaint today?
Each of these questions can paralyze even the most veteran of an audio engineer at times.
So how do we fight this as staff who oversee these volunteers? How can we overcome this, if we are the volunteer ourselves? One word … confidence.
Those who know me or have sat in one of the many audio mixing classes I teach with LMG, will hear me say, “If you don’t think you are the best engineer in the room, you should not be behind the console.” It takes some bravado to be a good engineer.
Let me explain…
This statement comes not from a place of cockiness, but from a place of control.
Being an audio engineer during a live service means that you have hundreds of small decisions to make, which directly affect the quality of the overall mix. These decisions happen so quickly, that there is no time to think or weigh the options, before one must react. You need to simply be in the moment and react.
Without confidence, these moments can paralyze you, whereby the mix suffers.
The good news is that this confidence can be learned and developed through a little effort. I am not a confident person by nature, so if I can get there, you can too.
On the wall in LMG’s lobby is the company’s mission, vision, and values. I walk past these statements daily and am reminded to strive for the principle of “Continuous Improvement.” We live in a constant state of “How can I get better today?,” and this is the type of environment we should have for our church technical teams.
When I was the technical director at Bay Hope Church in Tampa, Florida, my only requirements for serving as a technical volunteer was to have a servant’s heart, and the desire to learn. As the lead of the department, the responsibility for teaching those volunteers the required technical knowledge and skills was mine.
Here is how I approached it:
1. Remove the Mystery
So much of what we do appears to be extremely complicated. At times it can be, but those tasks shouldn’t be put on a new volunteer. Fear of a complicated or critical position can prevent members from volunteering for the technical team.
The first step in training should be by reducing a position to its basic components, allowing our volunteers to fully grasp it. A good example of this would be in the analog days, the audio console looks complicated with all the buttons and knobs, until you realize that once you understand just one channel strip, you understand the entire console. This simplification puts our volunteers at greater ease, making them more likely to serve.
2. Start from the Beginning
Audio is a lot like math. Calculus is impossible, without simple arithmetic. Advanced mixing is impossible without the fundamentals.
If in your first lesson with someone, you have talked about compression or gates, you have gone too far.
I teach a half-day class on the basics of mixing, and I don’t once talk about things like compression or gates. What is important to me is that a new volunteer feel confident in the basics, and the rest is just sweetening.
3. Let’s Play
Too often we do not give ourselves the opportunity to simply play around. Especially now with the easily implemented virtual soundcheck, our volunteers can practice with real inputs on the real PA. Making adjustments and actually hearing the changes, cements the concepts we have covered and really helps to build their confidence. Try new things and see what happens.
4. Failure IS an Option
Each time we fail, we have an opportunity to learn. The key here is creating an environment where failure is and isn’t acceptable. Tricky? Indeed …
The purpose of technology in the church is to provide an environment where people feel comfortable to worship. Whether that is in a contemporary or traditional setting, the purpose is the same. Set the table and get out of the way.
Since this is so important, I would always tell my volunteers that we operated in a distraction-free environment, meaning that failure simply isn’t an option.
At the same time, when those mistakes happened, some caused by me, we would talk about it and learn together as a team. This environment allowed my volunteers to feel valued and invested in the outcome of each service we were producing. The key point here is how you deliver feedback.
Create an environment where feedback is welcomed and expected.
At the end of each service, my team and I would do a quick post-mortem, to discuss any issues which may have taken place during the service. This was the time that I provided feedback to the team, both good and bad. If we had a solid service, we would still meet, and I would discuss all that went well.
Having this routine in place is what is important, so people aren’t blindsided by getting feedback, when they weren’t expecting it.
Most people are happy to give positive feedback but struggle with giving a critique. I hated giving feedback, until I realized that my volunteers actually wanted it. They felt ownership of what we produced and wanted to get better. People want to feel valued, and appreciated any feedback, is a great way to do it.
I know full well that advice like this is easier said than done.
Being in ministry requires working far more than the given hours for a lot of people, who have no clue what it is you actually do. Pouring into your volunteers, though, is the most important thing we can do as technical staff.
Working in ministry takes a lot, both in time and in spirit. It can be tempting to take shortcuts when we find them but putting time and effort into cultivating our volunteers is the most important thing we can do as a technical staff.
Take some time and invest, it really does pay dividends.