Technical skills are important and hard to hone with the limited time a volunteer sound tech has available. Being a sound operator in church requires much more than technical acumen, it also requires an understanding of why we do what we do and for whom. Although there are dozens of things to practice, I’ve limited this article to the ones that follow.
Faith comes how? It comes by hearing. The thing that separates good audio engineers from bad ones is a developed ear. Listen to music- lots of it and to different genres. (Listen especially to the types of music your worship leader listens to.) I recommend a book called Critical Listening for Audio Professionals, which will help to train your ear.
Check your ego at the door. I think this one is pretty clear. We are here to serve the church; be a servant first and consider the needs of the pastor, the worship team, and the congregation before your own. Always ask what you can do for others whether it’s creating a better monitor mix, adjusting a microphone stand or getting the praise band water. It will also help if you do it with a smile on your face.
Develop a Sixth Sense.
To be an excellent sound operator requires a balance between art and science. You need technical chops (hard skills) and soft skills (the art). As you gain experience you will begin to “sense” what may go awry during a worship service. You can practice creating “what if this happens” scenarios. What is your plan when the wireless microphone fails? What do you do when, without warning, a lady hands you a homemade CD five minutes before the service and informs you she’ll be singing a special, now, before the service begins? What will you do the when a person approaches the pastor and whispers in his ear during an altar call? Will you mute the head-worn microphone so that the personal plea isn’t recorded or broadcasted throughout the church? The services may seem routine, but you should anticipate what you would do if it breaks from the norm. Keep your eyes up and be ready for anything. Knowing your console blindfolded will help you to make adjustments on the fly without having to look at it.
Be a lifelong learner. Find someone to mentor you. Spend time with people who know a lot more than you do. Carve out time to read books, watch videos on DVD or YouTube, enroll in online courses, and attend training seminars and then practice the methods and techniques that you have learned. If you can’t practice in your church, get a DAW, recording software for your computer and mix multi-tracks recorded from your own services or pre-recorded tracks that you can find online, sometimes for FREE. It’s not expensive and well worth whatever investment you can afford.
If you lead your team, lead by example. Model Christ. Encourage, serve and inspire. Take time to train up, equip, and review to measure team’s progress. Cast a vision and set goals. Learn how those you work with are wired and how they receive information. That doesn’t happen 10 minutes before the service. Relationships are built outside of the work place. Pray for your people.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT, pick up offense. If you have a very thin skin, you may not want the audio tech job. When feedback occurs, you know that everybody in the room will crane their necks back to your position with “that look”. Just look back and smile. If a member complains about the sound level, respond with a gentle answer and not with wrath.
In my opinion, the audio operator serves in one of the most important ministries in the church. You are in the position of making sure that everyone that comes through the door can hear the Gospel, the sermon, the lyrics of the hymns and choruses with clarity. I care about production values but I care most about people being able to hear the Word, which transforms lives. Take this role seriously. Arrive before the band does. Do a line check to make sure that everything used in the service is working properly. Walk around the room and to hear if the speakers are covering the room adequately.
Keep it Simple.
The more that you can keep things the same the better off you’ll be. This will reduce frustration and confusion. Don’t change the routine as much as you are able, especially just before the service starts. Don’t incorporate that new piece of hardware or software until you’ve rehearsed with it for a while. This is especially true for in-ear monitors and wireless devices.
You are as much a part of the band as the musicians are. The more time that you can spend with the band in the room, the better your communication, relationship, and techniques will be. You’ll also have time to experiment with different stage plots, mixing and processing applications, microphone and monitor placements. All of this combined is going to help everything.
Practice, Practice and more Practice
The adage says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to be really good at something. That’s equivalent to doing something forty hours a week for seven years. Many volunteer sound techs in churches may mix an hour or two a week on average, which is 52-104 hours a year. It will take 100 years to get to 10,000 at that rate. So, to get more time in, you’ll have to find time during the week to practice the skills outlined here. There are really no shortcuts to becoming an expert. Don’t give up. We need you back there! Let me know if I can help.