Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Being Solutions Oriented

One lesson that took me a while to learn in my role of a TD is that we need to be solutions oriented. By that I mean, when our pastor or boss comes to us with an idea or problem, they want it solved. By us. That’s why we are on staff. That may seem obvious, but something we as techies tend to do is start coming up with possible obstacles, problems, and reasons why it won’t work/can’t be done. And that’s a problem. It’s not beneficial to be in a position of always telling your boss why you can’t do something. Instead, what you want to do is solve their problem.

Loose The Defensiveness
Often times, we think that when our boss comes to us with a challenge, it’s an attack on our competency or ability. We may immediately start wondering why we have to change this or that, and jump into a defensive posture. The mood very quickly becomes adversarial and now our boss is put into a position of having to defend his request, and may well pull the “boss” card.

Other times, if we don’t have a solution to a problem right off the top of our heads, we’ll again become defensive. Instead of feeling like we need to defend our existence, or come up with an answer on the spot, simply acknowledge the request and promise to start working on the solution. Many times, requests that seem unreasonable in the moment, turn out to be perfectly justifiable after some thought. When we sit back and think about the situation, more often than not, we’ll come up with an elegant solution. It’s what makes us good at what we do. So don’t add unnecessary pressure to the situation.

Now, that model works well for requests that have a little longer term timeline; think days to weeks. However, sometimes we’re confronted with something that needs to change right now. How do we handle that?

Just Do It
To borrow a phrase from Nike, Just Do It. Unless it’s illegal, patently dangerous or morally wrong, just do it. When the pastor walks up to FOH and says it’s too loud, don’t engage in a debate on SPL levels, weighting or the spirit of the music. Just turn it down. Have the discussion later. When your boss says the moving lights are hitting people in the eyes and it’s annoying, change the animation programming to get them out of people’s eyes.

A key element of being a good TD is being able to choose your battles. Not every hill is worth dying on; in fact, most aren’t. Every time you engage in an argument in the moment of conflict, you burn precious capital. If you do that often enough, you’ll find you have no capital left. We need to preserve and build up capital so that when it comes to a battle we really do need to win, we have the backing and track record to pull it off.

Present Solutions
Let’s take volume as an example (because it’s easy and common). If the pastor asks you to turn down the volume, do it. Afterwards, see if you can find a few minutes to engage him on that. Start asking questions about why he felt it was too loud. Was it too loud overall, or just certain parts? Was it a frequency thing? Is there too much stage volume? Too many guitar amps on stage? Remember that these are diagnostic questions, not a sneaky way to tell him he’s an old fuddy duddy and needs to get with the times.

Once you diagnose the problem, start suggesting solutions. For example, if you determine that the overall volume wasn’t the issue, but instead the tuning of the PA is producing pain at certain frequencies, you can suggest bringing someone in to help you fix that. Don’t go all audio-geek on him, but explain what’s going on and how it can be fixed. Pastors like that.

Build Trust
It takes a while to demonstrate that you’re a team player. The sad fact is that most pastors have had plenty of run-ins with the tech people. Many pastors are predisposed to not trust the tech guys, or consider them part of the team. That’s mainly because too often, we’re not. We’re too busy pushing our agenda to focus on what’s best for the church. So sometimes, we need to set our agenda and preferences aside and just get along. As we do that, and solve the problems the pastor thinks are important, we build trust.

Once we demonstrate that we’re on board with his plan, only then can we start interjecting some of what we think needs to happen. At the end of the day, it’s really about building healthy relationships; and it will be those relationships that will move everyone forward.

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6 Comments

  1. forevergomer@hotmail.com

    RE: “Just Do It”

    Here’s a struggle. For example, one Sunday morning an assistant pastor walked up and said “I really hate this Countryman mic. I want a lavalier.” I told him why it was a bad idea and would probably result in feedback. “Why can’t you just let me try it.” I told him that if there was feedback, we wouldn’t be able to do a whole lot besides (1) disruptively switching out his mic (2) or keeping him quieter throughout the service.

    He insisted. I relented, very (visibly) frustrated. Feedback galore. After the service he comes to the booth and says, “well I guess that didn’t work.” No apology for doubting our expertise or inflicting a terrible day of sound on the congregation. Looking back I probably should have just said, “No, I can’t give you a lavalier” instead of “you’re asking me to change your setup without a soundcheck, even though I’ve told you the worst possible outcome probably will happen” an expecting him to make a good decision. But since I (indirectly) did report to him…

    I guess, what would have been better? Allowing him to have his way and dealing with it for an hour? Or lying and saying “no, it’s not possible.”?

  2. forevergomer@hotmail.com

    RE: “Just Do It”

    Here’s a struggle. For example, one Sunday morning an assistant pastor walked up and said “I really hate this Countryman mic. I want a lavalier.” I told him why it was a bad idea and would probably result in feedback. “Why can’t you just let me try it.” I told him that if there was feedback, we wouldn’t be able to do a whole lot besides (1) disruptively switching out his mic (2) or keeping him quieter throughout the service.

    He insisted. I relented, very (visibly) frustrated. Feedback galore. After the service he comes to the booth and says, “well I guess that didn’t work.” No apology for doubting our expertise or inflicting a terrible day of sound on the congregation. Looking back I probably should have just said, “No, I can’t give you a lavalier” instead of “you’re asking me to change your setup without a soundcheck, even though I’ve told you the worst possible outcome probably will happen” an expecting him to make a good decision. But since I (indirectly) did report to him…

    I guess, what would have been better? Allowing him to have his way and dealing with it for an hour? Or lying and saying “no, it’s not possible.”?

  3. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Sam,

    That’s a tough situation. A lot depends on your relationship with the pastor. If you’ve been able to build a lot of trust over the years, you would give him your professional opinion and he would probably stick with your judgement. If there is a lack of trust (and honestly, most pastors don’t trust their sound techs, sadly), I think you have to submit to authority. He’s the boss, he gets to make the final decision. I would share my concerns with his suggested plan of action, and if he insists on going forward, give him what he wants.

    At that point, you can’t do anything other than try to make the absolute best of it. When it doesn’t work out and he acknowledges his mistake, simply way, “Nope, I guess not. I have your e6 standing by and ready to go for the next service.” Remember the big picture; no babies died, so it really wasn’t that bad. Deal with it and move on.

    Keep in mind, most people (especially pastors) are not secure enough to admit a mistake. He knows he blew it, but he’s afraid if he acknowledges his mistake it will cause you to think less of him (and it sounds like you may already). Instead work to foster a “We’re on the same team,” relationship and you won’t have to deal with that as often.

    mike

  4. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Sam,

    That’s a tough situation. A lot depends on your relationship with the pastor. If you’ve been able to build a lot of trust over the years, you would give him your professional opinion and he would probably stick with your judgement. If there is a lack of trust (and honestly, most pastors don’t trust their sound techs, sadly), I think you have to submit to authority. He’s the boss, he gets to make the final decision. I would share my concerns with his suggested plan of action, and if he insists on going forward, give him what he wants.

    At that point, you can’t do anything other than try to make the absolute best of it. When it doesn’t work out and he acknowledges his mistake, simply way, “Nope, I guess not. I have your e6 standing by and ready to go for the next service.” Remember the big picture; no babies died, so it really wasn’t that bad. Deal with it and move on.

    Keep in mind, most people (especially pastors) are not secure enough to admit a mistake. He knows he blew it, but he’s afraid if he acknowledges his mistake it will cause you to think less of him (and it sounds like you may already). Instead work to foster a “We’re on the same team,” relationship and you won’t have to deal with that as often.

    mike

  5. bill@billwhitt.com

    Great advice, Mike. I think you’ve correctly diagnosed the personality of many tech people, including me. It’s something we definitely need to work on.

  6. bill@billwhitt.com

    Great advice, Mike. I think you’ve correctly diagnosed the personality of many tech people, including me. It’s something we definitely need to work on.

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