The Downside of Making It Look Easy

Really good tech people have one thing in common: we love a challenge. Tell us something can't be done and we'll figure out a way to prove you wrong. Need another monitor mix when all the Aux sends are maxed out? No problem, we can swipe an unused group out, or maybe a matrix out. Need to run 40 channels into your 32 channel board? No problem, swipe the board from the children's room and sub it in. Next challenge…

All this resourcefulness has a downside I've discovered. It can lead worship leaders (especially less technically minded ones) to think that we can do anything, and that it will be easy. Oh, and fast. I have a saying I use over and over (which if you read this blog for any length of time, you will hear a lot), "Planning will set you free." As much as I like to keep my options open in my personal life (I'm an INTP after all...), when it comes to live production I plan as many details as I possibly can. The way I see it, the more stuff is planned, and the more procedures I have in place to carry out those plans, the more I can enjoy the actual event. While I'm pretty good at figuring out problems on the fly, I don't enjoy it. I would much rather know exactly what will be expected this weekend, plan for it, configure the system to run it, then be able to worship while I mix.

Planning allows me to serve the band better, which allows them to lead the congregation into a deeper experience of worship. Some worship leaders seem to follow the, "whatever the Spirit leads" model of "planning," however. Now if the band is a simple set up and everyone in the congregation knows the words, that can work. But when the band gets big and the poor MediaShout operator is just trying to survive following a worship leader that sings the song differently every time, the stress level goes up exponentially.

Take our little sound system set up for example. We have a small Soundcraft Series Two 32 channel board. I've got 4 monitor mixes, 2 recording mixes, and 2 FX mixes tying up the Auxes. Both Matrix outs are used. Same for L&R + Mono. I also have an Aviom personal monitoring system with 16 direct outs going to 5 personal mixers on stage. In effect, I have 9 monitor mixes available, though I have to be strategic for the Avioms because we routinely use more than 16 channels for the band. I plan each service a week in advance, drawing up a stage plot and patch chart so the setup crew knows what to do. Normally I am running at full capacity every week.

Now, say I get a request to add a mic on Saturday afternoon. Sound simple, just plug it in, right? Except, I'm out of inputs in my mic "bank." The singer is on ears, so I need to get his mic into the Avioms, and I'm maxed out on those sends too. I hate to say no, but what choice do I have? If I knew about it early in the week, I could have set up my groups and monitors differently to make it work. Today however, I have to say no.

Sometimes, techies get no respect. I would never presume to jump up on stage during a rehearsal and say to the guitar player, "Why can't you just play the right chords, they're on the page right in front of you!" That's because I have respect for what they do, and playing a guitar is not as easy as it looks. Why then would a musician come back to the sound booth and say, "Just add another mic, it's easy, just plug it in!" I invite every musician from our church to shadow a sound guy some week to see what we actually do. Few ever do it, but those that do come away with an education.

If you're a technician, take pride in what you do and know that your job is every bit as complicated and difficult as any on stage. If you are musician or worship leader, take some time to educate yourself about the technical complexities of a sound system (or video or lighting for that matter) in the modern, contemporary church. And better yet, plan ahead. Everyone will have a more enjoyable, worshipful experience. Believe me when I tell you, planning will set you free!