So Easy Anyone Can Do It!

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

There I was, enjoying my morning bacon and eggs, flipping through posts on Facebook. I came across one in one of the production groups I follow that really caught my eye and made me laugh. It read:

TRUE or FALSE: Anyone can be trained to be a great sound technician.

I should have noted the author and group so I could give credit (or maybe it’s good I didn’t…). To me the answer is so obvious, I initially laughed, but then it occurred to me where the answer was coming from. Most likely, the question came from a tech leader at a church—likely smaller—who is getting pressure from their leadership to develop a large, professional grade sound team. And the pastor simply can’t understand why they don’t have a team of amazing engineers. I mean, it’s so easy, anyone can do it, right?

Wrong.

I would (and have) argued that next to the preacher, the FOH engineer is the hardest job on a Sunday morning. To be a truly great sound engineer will take years (yes, Virginia, years) of dedication to training, learning and getting better at your craft. The amount of knowledge one must possess to be a great engineer is staggering. The number of hours one must mix to become great is dumbfounding. Check out my friend Dave’s post on learning to be a great FOH engineer. It Takes Time

Here’s what I have discovered after nearly 25 years of technical leadership in the church. For every 500 or so people in the church, there might be one, maybe two that could be good FOH engineers. Now, that doesn’t mean they have the time, willingness or desire to become FOH engineers, I mean, they could. Most can’t. I know, I’ve tried to train a lot of people with good hearts who want to serve but have no idea how to mix. 

It’s More Than Mechanics

I’ve already said it’s not possible that anyone can be trained to be a great sound engineer. But how about an operator? Can we train almost anyone to at least operate the board? No. My wife is a great example. She’s a fine woman but were I to bring her back to FOH and start showing her around the SD8, her eyes would glaze over and she would likely walk out. She’s a former musician and has a little bit of musical/mix knowledge, but learning to operate that console is not in her scope. There are a lot more people like her in our churches than not. 

I remember working with a fellow volunteer way back in the day. He was a solid volunteer; always there when scheduled, generally had the pastor’s mic on when it was supposed to be and had a good attitude. But he was a terrible mixer. Sure, he worked as an electronics technician doing board-level repair, but he didn’t for the life of him have any idea how music fit together. I used to have vocalists offering to pay me $20 to take over and mix their special on weeks he was mixing. He knew how the board worked—heck, he probably could have built it—but he had no idea how to mix music

Art and Science

It’s been said many times that being a great FOH engineer is a weird mix of art and science. We need to understand and almost unconsciously know the technology, but we also need to know music. We need to know how music fits together, and how sound propagates in a space. We also need to be therapists and counselors to the band if we want to get the best performance from them. It’s a weird mix, and most don’t possess it. 

Your Final Answer

False. Not anyone can be trained to be a great FOH engineer. In fact, I would go so far to say that most people wouldn’t even make good FOH engineers. I’m not being elitist, this is just what I’ve observed after 25+ years doing this.

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Where's Waldo?

Image courtesy of Waldo

Image courtesy of Waldo

Regular readers of this website have likely noticed the falloff in post frequency of late. Listeners of the podcast have likewise noticed that ChurchTechWeekly is more like ChurchTechMonthly as well. It’s been a while since I shared much of what’s going on in my personal life, so I thought I would take a few hundred words to do so. 

On The Road Again

That’s been the theme of this year for me. During the first quarter of 2016, I was on the road almost every week for at least a few days each week. Between trips to the office, conferences, visits to churches and commissioning systems, it was a busy time. And I’m not going to lie, it was exhausting. The last month has been a little better, and I’ve only had a few trips in the second quarter so far, but there’s more going on (more on that later). 

The thing that’s hardest about being on the road is how disruptive it is for everything else in life. When I get back after a week out, there’s a mountain of mail and other chores to be handled, all before I go back out again. And for those few days that I’m home, I really don’t want to sit around writing blog posts, or reviewing equipment. The work has been good, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Church, while earning a good living. But the free time is less than it was. 

Family Changes

When my wife and I moved to Nashville, our two daughters stayed in California. We were sad to not have them with us, but they’re young adults and they wanted to live their lives, and we applaud them for that. About 8 weeks ago, we got a call from our younger daughter, and she indicated that she really wanted to leave SoCal. It wasn’t going nearly as well as she hoped it would be, and she wanted a fresh start. She asked if she could come live with us for a while she got settled, found a job and saved up some money to move back out on her own, this time around Nashville. Of course we said yes! 

So while I had almost a month home a few weeks back, much of that time was spent getting ready for Robyn to move home. Again, this is all good stuff, and we’re excited to have her back with us, even for a little while. But it’s taken time away from my writing pursuits. 

Mental Bandwidth

One of the biggest reasons I’m not writing as much as I once was is simply the lack of mental bandwidth. When I was a church TD, I worked hard and sometimes long hours. But it was all stuff I was extremely good at and didn’t require high amounts of mental exertion. As a TD, I felt like I was using about 30-40% of my capacity, which is why I wanted a change. Now I have a great job that uses 70-80% of my capacity, which I enjoy, but there’s a lot less left over for ChurchTechArts. 

Even when I’m not on the road, I’m pretty worn out by the end of most days as I continue to acclimate to my new role and build processes to make it better. That will come, and at some point it won’t be as tiring, but for now, it’s a lot. 

I write all this not to complain or give anyone cause to feel sorry for me. I’m happy with where my life is, and I’m grateful for the opportunities. But it is definitely a new life stage that is causing me to adjust. My intention is to keep plugging away at posts as I’m able for the foreseeable future and, who knows, a year from now, things could be humming along and I’ll be back to three posts a week. Or I’ll be completely worn out and in need of a sabbatical.

So that’s where we are. ChurchTechArts is not dead, and I have some ideas on new CTA projects I want to take on this summer if time permits. Thanks to each of you for being faithful readers and for all the support and encouragement you’ve shown me over the years. I love hearing your stories and hearing how God is using you to build His Kingdom. We’ll continue this journey together!

DPA Microphones

Bid Specs--A Better Way

Over the last three posts, I’ve detailed what I think is wrong with the Bid Spec process. It’s too broad, too specific, it’s bad for integrators, and it’s bad for churches. Ultimately, no one really wins in a job like that. I believe that most integrators want to develop a partnership with their clients. In a partnership, everyone does their part and everyone wins. Those are the systems we come away from saying, “Wow…that’s a great AVL installation!” 

Win-Win Partnership

One of my pet peeves of the Church is that some inside the Church seem to feel that because it’s, “All for Jesus…” that they should get stuff for free, or at least heavily discounted. I know builders, electricians, plumbers, etc. who won’t work for churches any more because they were constantly beat up over their fees. My brothers, this should not be. Even when I was a TD on church staff I saw this, and I campaigned against it. I told our pastors, “When you stop taking a salary, then you can tell the contractors they have to cut their rate.” 

All companies, even those that serve the Church, are in business to make money. They have to in order to stay in business. And believe me…you want your integrator to stay in business! We can probably all recount stories of integrators who worked for cheap or free because it was for the Church, then went out of business leaving all those churches with no support. 

A good win-win partnership means the church gets a system that is designed properly for them and will accomplish their goals and the integrator gets paid fairly for, without having to work 20 hour days to get it done. 

And don’t play the game of, “If you give me a killer deal on this project, there will be plenty more after this to make it up on,” all the while planning on moving on to the next integrator when this project is done. 

Choose Based on Compatibility

There are a lot of good integrators our there, and each has a slightly different personality. Not every integrator is the best choice for every church. I often tell TDs that when choosing an integrator, pick someone you won’t mind hanging out with for a few months, because you’re going to spend a lot of time together. You should meet the person who will actually be running your project and make sure he gets what you’re trying to do. 

If you are a more traditional church, it may not be the best idea to pick an integrator known for creating big, loud, modern concert-like systems. Sure, that company can do a simple, traditional system, but it’s not in their wheelhouse. The reverse is also true. Some companies do biggest and best. And if that’s what you need, go for it. But others excel in delivering a great system at an excellent value and that might be more in line with your church. Make sure the two philosophies align.

Create Transparency

The best partnerships are based on transparency and trust. Neither party is holding back and secretly trying to win at the expense of the other. As a church, don’t bring in an integrator with the idea of a project being one way, then withhold information or switch it up after they’ve signed the agreement. 

Make sure everyone that is going to have a say in the system is in the room when decisions are made. I’ve seen churches completely exclude the TD from an AVL renovation, and when the system is done, the TD has nothing good to say about the process or the integrator. This is inexplicable to me, though I’ve heard some pastors claim their TD “only wants to spend money.” This is a shortsighted approach. 

The integrator should show you what you’re paying for things, as well. However, be careful about trying to whittle down every line item price to the lowest cost you can find on the internet. There will always be someone willing to sell any particular item for less than your integrator. But are they going to be sure it’s the right product for you, install it and support it? Probably not. Support after the sale costs money, don’t put your support system out of business. 

The Better Way

Ultimately, if I were choosing an integrator for a project (something I’ve done as a TD many times), I would do it based on relationships. If you’re new to the market, get some recommendations from similar churches who had successful projects. Talk to friends and find out who they like. Then interview 2-3 of the top recommended companies for you. You may need to pay their travel expenses to come out and see you for a day or two. Choose the company that gets you and that you like talking with, then go all-in with them. After the design agreement has been signed, they can begin working up the details for your project. 

A good integrator will be able to give you ballpark pricing and design ideas beforehand so you know where you’re starting, but don’t expect a fully fleshed out design document until you’ve agreed to pay for it. 

Well, there you go. My thoughts on how to best choose an integrator for you project. Having been on both sides of the fence, I’m confident this is in fact, the best way. Choose wisely!