The List Will Never Be Done

Photo courtesy of Michael Mandiberg

Photo courtesy of Michael Mandiberg

Get a group of TD’s together and it won’t take long for the discussion to shift to how busy we all are. We all have a seemingly endless list of projects and tasks that we need to work on, and the pressure we feel (either from internal or external sources) to get them done—preferably right now. I too was one of those TDs. Years ago, I walked into a building that needed every single system updated, upgraded or replaced. In every room in the building. It was a long list. I know many of you are in similar situations. I started thinking that if I worked really hard just for the first few months, I could get it all done. But I came to realize that’s simply not possible.

The truth is, the list will never be complete. 

That realization can either be frustrating or liberating, depending on how you choose to deal with it.

I decided to go with liberating. Here’s what I mean. Once I accepted the fact that the list will never be done, much of the pressure to get it all done right now is removed. I learned to be content knowing there will always be an endless list of tasks to accomplish, and getting them done will be a matter of prioritizing time and allocating budget. It really is that simple.

When someone told me something needs to be done, I either responded with, “It’s on the list,” or “I’ll add it to the list.” Depending on who made the suggestion, it may get put near the top or near the bottom. 

I used to feel like I needed to be some kind of super-TD—you know, one of the guys who have all their systems completely dialed in, nothing on the repair bench, all processes totally sorted out. These guys spend all their time working with volunteers and perfecting their mixes with virtual soundcheck. What I learned is that those guys don’t really exist; at least I’ve never met any. And I know a lot of TDs.

I know TD’s of big churches who have tech arts staffs bigger than my church staff, and I know TD’s of small churches who are also the IT/Communications/Office Manager. They all face the same issues. When I visit them at their churches, they all say, “Yeah, we’ve got to work on this or that...” 

Some time ago, I spent half a day with a great TD who moved into a brand new building recently. As we walked the facility, I learned his list of things to be done is longer than mine. And that’s in a brand new building! Even there, things didn’t go quite as planned, they ran short of time and had to jury-rig a few things just to get it working for opening weekend. And now they have a list; just like the rest of us.

The thing that God taught me in all this is that my worth and significance as a person is not dependent on how successful I am at clearing my to-do list. God doesn’t think less of me because I still haven't gotten around to cleaning up that tangle of wires behind the audio rack. Or sorted out that issue with the Receptor. Or figured out the IEM interference issues. God is calling me to rest and rejoice in my appointed tasks; tasks I’ll get done eventually.

So if you’ve been feeling inadequate because your to-do list is seemingly endless, relax. You are part of a large group of TDs who also have a long list of projects to work on. Chances are, regardless of how hard you work at it, that list will still be there. Do your best, then go home at night knowing you’ve still got something to work on tomorrow. And the next day. Consider it job security.


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A Quick Fix When the Mix Isn't Working

Photo courtesy of kjeik

Photo courtesy of kjeik

Recently I had an experience I’ve had before. I was working on mixing down a song we did a few years ago, and I just couldn’t get it working. I do this stuff for fun now that I have more free time, and I enjoy playing with different techniques in the studio that I wouldn’t be able to do live. I had been working on the mix for quite a while, and it wasn’t happening. I rendered it out, sent it through my mastering process then went and listened in a few spaces. Nope. Not working. 

Back in the studio, I kept picking at it, but it wasn’t getting better. Finally, I took the nuclear option. I saved the file, renamed it and started over. I pulled out all the plugins, muted all parallel processing and pulled all the faders to off. I began to re-build the mix from scratch, doing only as much processing as I absolutely needed. Within an hour, it was sounding pretty dang good. Another hour later and I was really digging it. A test mix down revealed a few things to tweak, but overall, it was finally where I wanted it. 

Deep Weeds

The first time I saw this done live was about 10 years ago. I was at church, working with a guy on the sound team. He had been a touring engineer in a past life, and generally knew what he was going. But that day, the mix wasn’t working. We both tied to fix it, but we just couldn’t get it there. Finally, in what I saw as an act of desperation, he just pulled all the faders to off. “That’s it,” he said, “I’m starting over.” 

For the next few minutes, he rebuilt the mix channel by channel. And when he was done, we looked at each other and nodded. It was working. I’m not entirely sure what changed; the board didn’t look that different from where it was before he killed the mix. But it was different enough. 

Sometimes, we can get ourselves off in deep weeds and lose sight of what we’re trying to do. And, like being lost in a field of deep weeds, we can keep going, but never get to our destination because we can’t see it. There is so much noise happening in our minds at that point that nothing works right. Pulling all the faders down is like having a giant brush hog come in and mow the field. Finally, we can see where we’re going. 

Clear the Decks

When you clear the faders, you can re-start the mixing process. This is like re-booting your computer. You get a fresh start at the mix. Now, you can start from the rhythm section as I often do, or start with the vocals. I’m not sure one way is right or better than the other. Maybe try both and see what works better for you. I tend to think in terms of a foundation of drums and bass, layer in guitars and keys, then put vocals on top. But others prefer to work the other way. 

The funny thing about this process is that most of the time, you won’t be able to tell what was wrong with the mix before. But it will be obvious to all that it is better. 

As a word of caution, if your band is on wedges and not in-ears, you may want to warn them before you do this. If you pull down the house during a song, the sudden loss of volume from the house may freak them out. And while it probably goes without saying, do this during rehearsal, not the service. 

Happy mixing!

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Because Other Churches Do...

Photo courtesy of Medill News21

Photo courtesy of Medill News21

Recently I received an email that is not at all atypical. A reader was wanting to add a position to their weekend team and wondered if I could provide them any help with a position description. The key phrase in this query was, “as I’ve seen other churches do…” That sent my mind in all sorts of directions. And as often happens, it’s going to come out as a post. 

Know the Why Before You Add People

Spoiler alert, “Because other churches do it” is not an acceptable answer. The position in question was a weekend service producer. Honestly, I’m not much help there because while we did have that position at Coast Hills, we got rid of it. Twice. Ostensibly, the position was supposed to help keep rehearsal on track, watch for transition trouble, keep the stage clean and lead the pre-service walk through. Afterwards, they would run the debrief and see to any changes.

In reality, most of us on the team were already really good at keeping the rehearsal moving, and as we did the same basic service every week, there were no transitions to watch. Any of the staff could (and did) lead the pre- and post-service meetings, and there were rarely any changes. So the position was largely a figurehead, and the people doing it just ended up being frustrated. 

Now, I’m not against service producers; we just didn’t need one. Some churches do. But if you can’t articulate what tasks need to be done that aren’t getting done—and would be accomplished by this new person—don’t add a person. If you have some general ideas bus need help organizing them, by all means, ask others for similar job descriptions. But if you have no idea what the person would do, think long and hard before you start asking someone to give up their weekend to sit around and watch rehearsal. 

Not All Churches Are The Same

This is a big one for me. I hear from so many people who want to do things the way the church at that last super-groovy conference did it. For example, I’m heading out to Seeds next month, and while I love the guys at COTM, they have very different production and staffing needs than most churches. It doesn’t make them better; it makes them different. Not all churches need to staff and produce like COTM. Or Northpoint. Or Saddleback. Or whoever the hot church of the month is. 

Sure, you can learn from them, steal ideas and modify them to suit your organization. But don’t think that because the big church has a given weekend position that you also need it in order to be successful. In fact, that’s one of the things I love about the guys at COTM. They’ll say at Seeds, “This is just what we do. It doesn’t mean you should do it, too. In fact, you maybe shouldn’t.” Two years ago, Whitney George said, “People are always coming here asking us how we do things. That’s the wrong question. They need to ask why we do things. That is much more beneficial to you.” 

Always ask the why questions first. Why do we need this new position? Why should we consider changing this to that? Why does Super Mega Church do this, and what can we learn from it? Once those questions are clearly articulated, you’re in a much better position to ask for help with specifics. 

So, to answer the original question, can I help with details on a weekend service producer? Not really. In the context of the churches I’ve been a part of, it was an unnecessary position and I lobbied for cutting it years before we did. But, that’s just me…


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