Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: November 2007

Becoming a Full-Time Tech Director

I’m sorry for not posting much over the last few weeks. Most of my time has been occupied moving my family across the country to our new home. We’re in Ohio for a day as we travel, so I thought I’d borrow a stray wireless connection and scribble down a few thoughts. I have to confess I’m amazed at how few people lock down their wireless access…but I digress.

I start my new position at Upper Room on Tuesday; give me a week or so and I’ll be back to regular posts. If you’re interested, check out Upper Room’s website…it’s a pretty cool community of people. I’m really looking forward to working there and seeing what God is doing. You can also read of our adventure in moving here.

The topic for today was suggested by a reader some months ago. I’ve thought a lot about it, and am not convinced that I’m the right one to address it, but hey, it’s my blog and I get to write about what I want. ‘;-).

I don’t pretend to have a tried and true method for becoming a tech arts director, nor do I even advocate doing what I did. This is simply the path God lead me down, and I’ll share some thoughts that I feel were critical in getting to this point. The usual disclaimers apply; use at your own risk, your mileage may vary. And, these aren’t necessarily in order…

Be a Servant

Looking back on it, I’ve been a de-facto tech arts director for a long time, at various churches. I was never called that, nor was I paid for it, but it’s what I did. I stepped in and filled a need. In the beginning, there were a lot of things I didn’t know, but I took the initiative to learn them. I spent time with the pastor and worship leaders to find out what they needed, where their perceived pain was, and figured out a way to alleviate it. Sometimes it took 2 or 3 attempts, but I left every church a better place than I found it.

I was asked during the interview process at Upper Room what my leadership style was. I said, “Servant Leader.” I have always tried to make sure my team knows I’m there to serve them and make their lives easier. I learn as much as I can about all aspects of tech so I can pass that knowledge along to others. It’s also important to serve the rest of the team; pastors, musicians and worship leaders.

You’ll likely do this for a while as a volunteer before someone recognizes that you would be good in a leadership role. You can speed the process up by taking on projects on your own. Offer to be the lead tech on a large production, and take the initiative to make sure it goes really, really well. Always jump at a chance to serve. That goes a long way.

Learn, Learn and Learn Some More

For me, this is a lifestyle choice. I read over a dozen trade magazines a month. I follow a bunch of like minded bloggers (check out my blogroll…). I attend seminars and conferences when I can. And I practice what I learn. I meet a lot of young people who think they know a lot about technical stuff. Some of them actually do. However, no matter how much you know, there is more to be learned. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know it all.

A few years ago, I thought I was pretty good at mixing. Then I started reading Live Sound and reading about some of the FOH engineers for major tours. As they talked about some of the stuff that they do every day, I realized I have a lot to learn. So I take what I can from those articles and try it out. Same goes for lighting, design, video production, whatever.

I’ve been doing video production professionally for about 15 years and have won over a dozen awards for my work. However, I’m always looking to learn new techniques, and am often surprised that I learn from people younger and less experienced than me.

Be Humble

This one took me a while to learn, to be honest. When I graduated college, I knew everything. And I wasn’t afraid to tell you so. It’s taken me a long time to learn that someone always knows more than I do, and while I’ve learned a lot along the way that I’m happy to share, I really try not to impress people with what I know. Okay, I do it for fun once in a while, but as a general rule, no one likes a show-off.

This is a corollary to being a servant leader. If you really know your stuff, people will notice. Not because you tell them, but because you’re always ready to help out and know what to do. It’s that simple. I once had a student tech tell me, “I’ve been doing this every week for 3 years, I know what I’m doing.” Yet he didn’t understand the basics of parametric EQ or compression. After coming to one of my classes, he said, “I’m really glad I came, I never knew any of that stuff.” His stock immediately went up with me because he admitted that.

Love God, Love People

Techies often confuse equipment for ministry. I’m guilty of this at times. But the reality is, the people who are the best technical arts directors aren’t the ones with the most gear they command, but the ones who love their staff the most (volunteer or paid). A lot of technically minded people would rather just work their equipment instead of dealing with people. This may make for a good technician, but not a good TAD.

This point was driven home for me a few years ago at Crosswinds when I was still a volunteer. I had spent several hundred hours building and wiring a new rolling cabinet for FOH to get the console out of the tech booth in the rafters (the “servant volunteer” thing in action). On a Friday, I started at 8 am with the final install. After about 11 hours of wiring and relocating equipment, I decided to power up the board. Only it wouldn’t. Along with another sound tech, we spent about another 4 hours troubleshooting. Our worship arts pastor was there the whole time.

At about 11 PM she came over and said, how are you doing? My buddy said he was tired. I said I was sick to my stomach (knowing that in about 18 hours we would have stage full of musicians getting ready for the weekend services…). She said something that I’ll never forget (which I may mis-quote, but the idea is there), “Well, you matter so much more than equipment. Go home and get some sleep, we’ll figure this out in the morning.”

It’s not that she was unaware of the consequences of the board not working, she just realized that critical concept that people matter more. And we did figure it out and got the board fixed and it was fine.

The Love God part is also crucial. I don’t think you can really love people, especially techies, without loving God. I say this not as a dig on techies, but just as an acknowledgment that by and large, techies are not a very relational bunch. It’s easy to love people who make up the care teams, because they just love people naturally. People who get really excited about a new microphone, and aggravated when a vocalist doesn’t know how to use it are a little tougher.

If you don’t have a solid relationship with God, you’ll never be a good TAD. Some churches make the mistake of hiring the most technically qualified candidate, even though his (or her) walk with God isn’t what it should be. That’s a mistake, which proves itself over time.

Wow, this has gotten really long. If you’ve made it this far, thank you! Hopefully this will prove helpful to some who aspire to the technical ministry. I don’t think this is the final word, and I will likely have more to say in a few years. Check back in then. And thanks for your patience while we pack, move and unpack. I’m looking forward to getting more content up here in the coming months. Blessings…

God Works Even When We Don’t

This weekend is my last weekend mixing at Crosswinds. I had a variety of ideas of how this would go, but I have to tell you, last night, I felt really out of sync. Stuff just didn’t go right. We had a wide variety of technical problems (the Media Shout computer crashed, the sermon record didn’t go well and others) and things just didn’t go well (at least as far as I was concerned).

Funny thing is, several people commented afterward how well they thought the service went. One commented on how powerful the worship time was, and another didn’t notice any technical problems at all. Last night when I got home, I thought about that. Two things occurred to me. First, if you plan and prepare well enough, you can work through unexpected technical difficulties without people noticing. Planning and preparation is something we’ve worked really hard at over the last year. And when stuff goes wrong, we generally recover well.

Second, and probably more importantly, God is at work, even when we or our stuff doesn’t. This point was brought home when we de-briefed afterward and talked about some of the tough things people are going through in our congregation. In the last few weeks, we’ve had a beloved husband, father and friend loose a battle with cancer. A 22-year old son and friend tragically died. I know of several whose marriages are failing. Some have lost jobs. Others are facing serious health concerns.

Our worship pastor regularly reminds us that these are real people with really big issues. And they come here to meet with God. And despite our failings, He meets with them. What a great promise is that? Even we fail, God is faithful. When the computer crashes, God is still here. When the battery dies in the wireless mic, God is still here.

Remember that the next time something doesn’t go as planned. And remember that people are so much more important than stuff. When a cue gets missed, or a wrong button pushed, remember God is still here. And God loves those around you far more than you can even imagine. Act accordingly. I say this to myself as well.

As I mentioned, I’m in the final week of my time here. I haven’t posted much about it here, but I have another blog that will chronicle our journey to our new home if you’re interested. Check it out here: Mike’s Personal Blog. Thanks for reading! I’ll be back to posting regularly soon!

Baptized Straight to Glory

If you’ve been around church sound for any length of time, you’ve no doubt seen some things that make you go, “Huh.” The other day a video came through the video shop where I work (at least for 7 more days!), that made me go, “OH MY GOODNESS!”

Most of you out there are smart enough to know that electricity and water are a dangerous combination. They even put those nice big tags on the cords of hair dryers to remind you not to use them in the shower. That’s good advice (even if the tags are annoying). In fact, I would say that playing with electricity when you are standing in water is not such a good idea. Agreed.

Well, apparently, the people in the photos below did not get the memo. What we have here is a water baptism at a lake. Great spot for a baptism, really. Lots of water, good scenery, beautiful day. The danger comes when you hand someone mic. Why? Because sound systems run on electricity. Yup…take a look (sorry for the poor quality, the images were ripped from a DVD made from VHS).

Standing by Water with a Mic

Check out the splash of water soaking the concrete below his feet. Notice he’s holding a mic (an SM58 I reckon), while standing in water. Sweet.

Water Mic 2

Now he pulls the poor, unwitting victim… er baptism candidate over. Appears to be a child. Child endangerment anyone?

Water Mic 3

Just when you though it can’t get any worse, he hands the girl the mic! At least when they went out into the water they set the mic down.

I watched the video, and they all came out alive. However, this is a seriously dangerous practice. Had there been a fault in the sound system it is possible (okay, I know is unlikely, but it is possible) that the mic could have become energized. I would also have a sneaking suspicion that the ground was lifted on the board (just a wild hunch), which would make it even more dangerous.

Can we agree to just not do this? If it’s really necessary to have a mic near water (especially if someone needs to hold said mic near water), go wireless. Then you’re looking at 9v at most. Better safe than sorry, that’s my policy. Few things will spoil the joy of a baptism service quite like electrocuting the baptism candidate.

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