Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Qualifications for an Audio Volunteer

I had the immense privilege to be part of the Worship Arts Technology Summit last week. WATS is a gathering of worship artists from many disciplines who come together for training, skill development and encouragement. After hanging out at FOH with Lee Fields for most of the day, Lee and I were joined by Van Metschke and Dave Hatmaker (who is currently at Yamaha, but is also a genius of epic proportions). For over an hour, we fielded questions from the audience. Several of those questions will make great posts, and this is one of those.

What do you look for in an audio volunteer?

For some reason, everyone on the panel looked at me. I do have some thoughts on this (as you might expect). While I like the old standards of Faithful, Available and Teachable (and those are all important qualities, ones that I pretty much insist on), I also look for a few other things. 

First, I look for someone who is either a musician or who loves music. Though we have some pretty impressive technology in our tech booth, I can teach almost anyone how to run it, provided they have even a modicum of technological savvy. What is really hard to teach is how music fits together. Now, if your church has very simple services with one or two mic’s for worship, then this isn’t as important. But if you are doing modern, rock-style music (or any other musical style for that matter) during worship, you need people who know music. Most of the problems I’ve had with audio volunteers are rooted in the fact that they don’t listen to, enjoy or appreciate music. So that’s a biggie for me.

Second, I look for someone who has a lot of enthusiasm to be there. I make it a little hard to join the audio team. I have four people who joined the audio team as A2s almost a year ago. Two of them (and one in particular) have shown a lot more enthusiasm about being on the team; and they’re the ones who are currently mixing FOH. But they’ve spent the last year setting up the stage, coiling cable, patching IEMs, running down batteries and just sitting next to me watching. The ones who have been involved eagerly are the ones who move up the ladder.

Going back to FAT volunteers, obviously, we need people who are available. At my church (and many others) running FOH is a 7-hour Saturday and a 6-hour Sunday. It’s a big commitment. I need people who can be there. And they need to be there when they’re scheduled. If we schedule a team, we schedule it based on what we need for the weekend. If someone bails, we’re short handed and everyone has to work harder. 

But the capital T in FAT is the most important to me. Being teachable is a big deal. During our panel, Lee chimed in and said this was one of his biggest qualifications. He wants people that he can train to mix like him. With this, I totally agree. I don’t want to have four or five different styles of mixing. Our churches put a big emphasis on consistency (as do many others). It shouldn’t be apparent who is sitting behind the desk each week. Apparently, we’re doing OK with this; the first weekend we had our new volunteer mix, I didn’t tell anyone—he just mixed. During Saturday’s debrief, everyone said the audio was great. They had no idea it wasn’t me. That tells me his overall style is close enough to mine that most people aren’t going to notice.

Of course, since I’ve been mixing considerably longer than he’s been alive, my mixes should sound a bit better. But his need to at least sound similar. This particular volunteer has proven to be a sponge in soaking up what I’ve been teaching him. That will carry him far down the road. 

In a nutshell, that’s what I look for. Someone who is musical, enthusiastic, faithful, available and above all, teachable. What do you look for in an audio volunteer?

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11 Comments

  1. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I usually start by looking for people who have done this in the past at other churches. Having even a small foundational knowledge helps because I'm not starting from scratch. That being said, I took a guy who is very passionate about music and trained him. For me it's the qualities that I know will create issues that I try to avoid in potential volunteers. For example we can't have someone working back there who can't keep a cool head under pressure or adjust to last second changes.

  2. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I usually start by looking for people who have done this in the past at other churches. Having even a small foundational knowledge helps because I'm not starting from scratch. That being said, I took a guy who is very passionate about music and trained him. For me it's the qualities that I know will create issues that I try to avoid in potential volunteers. For example we can't have someone working back there who can't keep a cool head under pressure or adjust to last second changes.

  3. Anthony

    This was a great read and I couldn't agree more. We've been doing the same things and I have found that having the trainees just watch, coil cables, change batteries, and just build a frame of reference for how we do things is a great test of not only their competence, but their character. And it really doesn't matter how tech-savvy a person may be, if they don't love music, it's kind of hard to translate what the worship team is doing on stage out to the congregation.

  4. hook@ps139.com

    Great points Mike. Adding the 'Musician/Musical' and 'Enthusiastic' pieces to the equation results in FAT ME. It's a good reminder about qualifications for volunteers and NOT to bring too many pastries to the booth each week.

  5. hook@ps139.com

    Great points Mike. Adding the 'Musician/Musical' and 'Enthusiastic' pieces to the equation results in FAT ME. It's a good reminder about qualifications for volunteers and NOT to bring too many pastries to the booth each week.

  6. scott@reliancechurch.org

    I've been dealing with a sound volunteer that is proving… difficult. He's faithful, available, musical, enthusiastic… he's just very set in his ways. And don't get me wrong, there is nothing "wrong" about the way he mixes, it's just very inconsistent with our standard. The situation is complicated ever further by the fact that he is quite a few years older than I am, I think that makes it more difficult for him to learn from me.

    Instead of crushing his spirit and causing division by telling him that his mix is wrong for our services, I have decided to tell him about our 8am service and how I think it will benefit from his mixes. It is a very laid back, acoustic type service, and the way he mixes lends itself to those types of setups.

    I think it's important to remember that everyone has a place in the body of Christ and we can either help them find it, or risk causing division and contempt. This article came at a perfect time, thanks Mike!

  7. scott@reliancechurch.org

    I've been dealing with a sound volunteer that is proving… difficult. He's faithful, available, musical, enthusiastic… he's just very set in his ways. And don't get me wrong, there is nothing "wrong" about the way he mixes, it's just very inconsistent with our standard. The situation is complicated ever further by the fact that he is quite a few years older than I am, I think that makes it more difficult for him to learn from me.

    Instead of crushing his spirit and causing division by telling him that his mix is wrong for our services, I have decided to tell him about our 8am service and how I think it will benefit from his mixes. It is a very laid back, acoustic type service, and the way he mixes lends itself to those types of setups.

    I think it's important to remember that everyone has a place in the body of Christ and we can either help them find it, or risk causing division and contempt. This article came at a perfect time, thanks Mike!

  8. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Scott,
    Your approach is very similar to what I've done in the past. Sometimes we just need to move people to another area of ministry where they can be more effective. That keeps people engaged and also keeps the standards where they need to be. Well done!
    mike

  9. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Scott,
    Your approach is very similar to what I've done in the past. Sometimes we just need to move people to another area of ministry where they can be more effective. That keeps people engaged and also keeps the standards where they need to be. Well done!
    mike

  10. yonekg@chapel-sandusky.org

    Nice piece Mike, I echo everything you alluded to. Audio techs need to be musical, love music, or at least have some artistic bent with a desire to learn a new medium. A servant's heart and teachable spirit willing to catch the vision and production standard aligned with the church leadership. I've found another trait that's somewhat common among my stronger audio techs and that's the ability to think on the fly and out of the box. They often grew up "tinkering" with things, modifying things. These guys can diagnose stage issues quickly or make a fast adaption or repatch. Once they understand the board and gain some experience they use the tools to problem solve and improve the mix. Things like EQ and compression become tools they begin to apply with confidence and with a desired goal in mind.

  11. yonekg@chapel-sandusky.org

    Nice piece Mike, I echo everything you alluded to. Audio techs need to be musical, love music, or at least have some artistic bent with a desire to learn a new medium. A servant's heart and teachable spirit willing to catch the vision and production standard aligned with the church leadership. I've found another trait that's somewhat common among my stronger audio techs and that's the ability to think on the fly and out of the box. They often grew up "tinkering" with things, modifying things. These guys can diagnose stage issues quickly or make a fast adaption or repatch. Once they understand the board and gain some experience they use the tools to problem solve and improve the mix. Things like EQ and compression become tools they begin to apply with confidence and with a desired goal in mind.

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