Tonight we talk about music. Listening to music, deconstructing it to learn from it, and listening just to enjoy it. We are working to create art; and one of the best ways to do it is to expose yourself to more art.
While I wish I could contort myself into that position, I am pretty sure it’s not possible for me. However, I have learned that staying flexible is one of the most important thing a TD can do. The renovation project I am managing right now has been a perfect reminder of this truth. When dealing with multiple trades, you simply must be flexible with your plans.
For example, I planned on building stages and tech booths on Monday. However, the painters needed the room cleared to paint the ceilings, and the electricians weren’t done wiring the ceilings yet. Nor was the HVAC guy. So all that lumber I loaded into those rooms had to move out, and it would be 5 days before I could actually build.
Not building for 5 days meant my install schedule was messed up. So that meant I had to be flexible to adjust. Instead of building, we cut. Thankfully, I had fully dimensioned working drawings for the stages and tech booths, so we spent a day cutting, labeling and stacking. Now, when we do get the room, we should be able to nail the stuff together quickly with minimal downtime.
Weekend services are a prime time to stay flexible as well. You thought the guitar player was just bringing his acoustic, and 10 minutes before soundcheck, you discover he not only brought his electric but is singing as well. Stay flexible and make it work. You were expecting a half-stage full of musicians, and a whole stage full turned up. Which is great, except you have no light on half the stage. A perfect opportunity to be flexible.
Of course, to be flexible, you have to have well thought out processes and plenty of backup plans. With my build, I was able to keep moving forward so we didn’t get too far behind schedule. To accommodate last minute band changes, make sure you have extra capacity built in to your system so it’s not a major headache to add a few channels. Hang some extra lights coving areas of the stage you don’t normally use, just in case you need them (or at least have some you can re-aim quickly).
I often say that we plan as much as we can so we can take care of the stuff we didn’t know about. We spend a lot of time during the week making sure we’re as prepared as possible come Saturday, so if we do have last minute changes, they don’t send us into panic mode.
These last few weeks, we’ve been talking about traits that make you successful as a TD, and I think this is another one of those. The best TDs I know don’t start with “No” and work their way to “Maybe.” They start with “Sure, we can do that!” and quickly follow it up with, “How are we going to do that?” But they figure out a way and make it happen. We have to be flexible and hold our plans loosely.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I just learned that the painter burned through more than 3/4 of our ceiling paint on the first of three rooms, so I need to figure out how to keep that process moving in the morning…
How have you learned to stay flexible with your plans?
Even though I’ve been really busy this summer, I’ve tried to keep up with my reading. This effort has been aided by the Kindle Touch I bought a few months ago (I highly recommend it). As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m reading Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin right now. Before that, I read Dave Ramsey’s book, Entreleadership.
Dave’s book has so much great content, I’m sure it will generate quite a few more posts. One thing that really resonated with me is a chapter on recognition. He talks about recognition in a corporate setting, but I think it’s just as applicable in the church as well.
Everyone needs and wants to be recognized. Even us techs, who are used to (and generally prefer) to serve in the shadows. We don’t expect to be paraded out on stage to the cheers of an adoring congregation. However, we do like to hear that we did a good job. And if you’re a leader of a volunteer team, know that they like to hear it as well.
Dave quotes NHL Hall of Fame goalie, Jacques Plante, who once said;
“How would you like a job where every time you made a mistake a big red light goes on and eighteen thousand people boo?”
In church tech, we call that the neck crane. You know, any time there is any problem with the sound, lights or video, the entire congregation turns around and looks at the tech booth (even if it’s someone else who made the mistake). That’s the type of recognition that church techs are used to. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I don’t always get this right, but I try to thank my tech team each weekend for a job well done. And more than just thank them, I try to highlight something they did especially well, or some of the things that I appreciate about them being there. I believe in this concept so much, I hired an ATD who is a real encourager to lay down even more love on my team (honestly, I’m not that good at it).
Dave lists four things about recognition that I really resonated with.
The first one is pretty self-explanatory, though we often miss the significance of it. The second one is interesting; it’s really up to us to learn how to recognize our team members in a way that makes them feel appreciated. This takes time and can be hard, but it’s worth it.
We all know people who are dispassionate and unconcerned about their work. We run into them every day. We don’t want people like that on our teams. Sadly, sometimes, we are the ones who created them. Spend the time to recognize your team and build them up. While I don’t feel like we’ve arrived yet, our team is in a much, much better place than we were a few years ago. A friend of mine mixed here for a while, went away and came back after about a year. He noticed a significant difference in the team dynamic, a difference for the better.
I don’t think this change is because I’ve had so many motivational training sessions (in fact, we’ve not had nearly enough training), but is in part because I’ve tried to recognize and encourage my team. This is a long game and it takes time to see the benefits of it. But take the time. Make the effort. Your team and your church will thank you for it!
Back in November 1991, the push was on. The small church that started in a living room then moved to a cafeteria had grown enough to build a building. I was blessed to be part of that church and that build. We started a campaign called, “Home for Christmas” to encourage as many congregants as possible to help out to get the building done for our first Christmas service in the new building. It was a tall order. I took a week off of work in early December to help wire, and getting in by the 25th seemed impossible. But it happened.
In January, Pastor Ron taught on trusting God to do the impossible. Ron is a man of incredible faith, and I still remember him challenging us with this thought, “What are you doing that if God doesn’t show up, it will utterly fail?” I’ve held on to that phrase for over 20 years.
It’s easy for us to get stuck in a rut, especially while working in the tech department of a church. As we know, weekends come around with shocking regularity. And for most of us, the services are pretty much the same. Some singing, some announcements, more singing, teaching, walk out. Maybe you get crazy and throw in an interview or video once in a while, or the band changes up a little bit, but for the most part, what we do week in and week out is pretty much the same.
In that environment, it’s easy to get dialed in and forget that God is in the business of doing miraculous things. I’m in the middle of this right now, with another church build. We are working on a pretty major renovation of our kids and students wing, and I’m the project manager. Now, to most people in the church, it’s “just knocking down a few walls and painting.” In other words, no big deal.
In the actual world, it’s demo, framing, electrical, alarm, sprinklers, insulation, HVAC, drywall, taping, painting, AVL, carpeting and decor. All those trades have to be coordinated, scheduled and kept on task. And you have to get them to show up, too. When I saw the plans, I said it was a 10-12 week project. We were given 6. And a budget 1/2 the size it needed to be.
We’re now 3 weeks into the project and I would guess about 30% of the way done. The next three weeks are going to be crazy. And if God doesn’t show up, it will utterly fail. Thankfully, I still have those words of my friend and mentor, Pastor Ron in my head. This is not a problem, but an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to work hard to be sure, but more than that, it’s an opportunity to stay out of the way and let God do something amazing.
I actually enjoy being in this position. We’re in a position that I can’t fix it if things start to go wrong. The only way this happens on time (forget budget…) is if God brings in some big guns and gets it done. And the cool thing is, it’s often hard to tell how that happens. At some point about four weeks from now, we’ll look back and say, “Man, how did that all get done?” The answer will be, “God.”
You might think this puts me—a high-capacity, planner, type-a, control freak—in a very nervous position. However, as I’ve allowed God to stretch my faith, I’m actually sleeping better than ever. Once we recognize that we can’t do it without God, the pressure is off. Sure, I’ll put in 10-12 hours a day for 2-3 weeks straight to get it done, but I could work 24 hours a day in my own strength and not get it done. So I will work hard, bring in help and expect God to do amazing things.
So, what are you doing that if God doesn’t show up, will utterly fail?
Back in the day, Heinz ran an ad campaign for their ketchup called “Anticipation.” If featured all sorts of people eagerly anticipating something, which of course, ran parallel to their eager anticipation of the delicious red sauce coming out of the bottle. It was clever, and by licensing the classic Carly Simon song, memorable.
The Mac Dictionary App defines Anticipate with the following two possibilities:
1) guess or be aware of (what will happen) and take action in order to be prepared: they failed to anticipate a full scale invasion.
2) look forward to: Stephen was eagerly anticipating the break from the routine of business.
Heinz was referring to the second definition. Today, I want to focus on the first; to guess or be aware of what will happen and take action in order to be prepared (especially the last part).
I am becoming convinced that one of the keys to being a great tech leader is to anticipate. We need to be aware of what will likely happen, and prepare in advance for that eventuality. This is not nearly as hard as it sounds.
For example, take a look at the service order around Wednesday or Thursday. See an interview on the list? You know that means you will likely need a handheld or two prepped and ready to go for service. Don’t wait until 5 minutes before service start for someone to tell you that they will need two handhelds for the interview. You know what is going to happen, and what will be required. Prepare ahead of time.
If your worship leader sometimes (but not always) stops and prays between songs, get in the habit of dumping the effects on her voice at the end of a song so if she does, there won’t be 3 seconds of reverb at the beginning of the prayer. Prepare in advance.
If you always do a big Christmas production that requires extra wireless mics and lights, start booking them in late October; don’t wait for someone to tell you about it in early December.
I’ve been told on many occasions by my boss that he appreciates the fact that he doesn’t need to manage me. I hear from a lot of tech guys that they hate how much “management” their boss exerts on them. The reason I don’t have that issue is that I anticipate what needs to be done, and do it before he has to say anything. Thus, he doesn’t feel the need to track my movements and monitor my time. I just get it done, and he doesn’t worry about it.
If you want to enjoy the same freedom, anticipate the needs and deal with them before someone else has to tell you to do so. This work in concert with one of my earlier posts, Do a Good Job. If you learn to anticipate well, and then do a good job, you will enjoy a level of freedom in your work that will make your job a real joy. Fail at those tasks, and expect to have a lot of micromanaging in your life. The choice is yours.
One of the tougher things to teach young sound engineers is EQ. Not the concept of what the knobs do, but where and when do to it. Learning to identify frequencies is tricky business, and it takes time and experience to learn it well. Often times, I’ll be doing some training and demonstrate a cut at particular frequency and someone will ask, “How did you know it was 450 Hz?”
My answer is usually, “Well, I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve learned some things along the way.” As I’m EQ’ing channels, I always pay attention to what frequency I end up at, so I can note it for later reference. I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years, but I always strive to get better. The challenge has been, how?
Recently I was introduced to a program called Quiztones. When I first heard about it, I thought it was just what it sounded like; an application that plays tones and you have to guess what they are. Useful, but perhaps boring. Then I actually tried it.
Now, keep in mind, I’m not a big gamer, but I found myself instantly addicted to the “game.” At first, I started off with the tones. You pick a quiz level, and the app plays a sine wave tone, then presents you with four possible choices. Pick the right one and you get 100 points. Get it right on the second guess, get 50 points, and so on.
Suddenly, there are points involved and you need to choose carefully! Then I started digging a little more and discovered that they also have a whole variety of samples of everything from instruments to voices. You can choose from easy (+10 dB) EQ boosts, hard (+5 or -10 dB) or expert (+6 dB but at 1/3 octave). Again, it’s surprisingly addictive.
If found myself doing two things; first playing it over and over trying to best my score, and second, getting better each time I played. We talk all the time about getting better at our craft. I think learning frequencies and being able to identify them quickly is one thing that makes you a better engineer (not the only thing, but it’s a component).
It’s available at Audiofile Engineering’s website, and for iOS devices at the iOS App store. On the Mac, it’s $19.99. For iOS, it’s $4.99. Think of all the times you have an extra 5-10 minutes when you could pop in your ears with your phone and improve your mixing skills. It’s not a bad deal…
How you approach mixing is critical to how the service turns out. However, what we do each week is a lot more about picking the right plug in or setting the EQ. It’s about a comprehensive picture. We dig into this topic this week.
I’m a big fan of Seth Godin. The guy is super-smart and generates content like no one else. And by that I mean he generates useful content that has power and meaning; he’s not just putting out link bait. A while back, he wrote a book called Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?.A linchpin is an essential item in a machine, something that if it were not there, would cause the machine to stop working. In the human-organizational world (i.e. your job), becoming a linchpin is about the only way to be sure you’ll stay employed. Given the economy that we are working in right now, being indispensable is far better than the alternative.
I’m not going to try to re-write the book here (and I’m only 39% of the way through it according to my Kindle), but so far, he’s said some things that I think really resonate with me as a church tech director. For example:
People with passion look for ways to make things happen. The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.
People with passion look for ways to make things happen. Do you have passion for what you do? Does it consume you? Are you always finding better and smarter ways to get things done? When your pastor or worship leader comes to you with a crazy, last-minute request, do you say no or do you find a way to get it done? The answer determines whether you are a linchpin or a dispensable cog in the wheel.
He talks a lot about art, and what art is. This is perhaps one of the most intriguing definitions of art I’ve ever heard.
Art, at least art as I define it, is the intentional act of using your humanity to create a change in another person.
Think about that as it relates to what we do every weekend. Getting the mix right, creating the right setting with lights or making sure the proper Scripture verses are up during the message; we do all of those things to create change in others. So it’s art. That means you’re an artist. And artists strive to get better at what they do. When they get really good, they become indispensable. They become linchpins.
Another concept he delves into is that of emotional labor. He spends a lot of time talking about the difference between physical labor and emotional labor. Physical labor is the stuff that anyone can do (with proper training, anyway). If you need this moved over there, almost anyone can do it. If all you do is move this over there, you don’t have much job security. But if you invest emotional labor into your job, that’s a different story.
Nobody cares how hard you worked. It’s not an effort contest, it’s an art contest. As customers, we care about ourselves, about how we feel, about whether a product or service or play or interaction changed us for the better. Where it’s made or how it’s made or how difficult it was to make is sort of irrelevant. That’s why emotional labor is so much more valuable than physical labor.
I’ve been re-thinking this concept of late. I have a high (some might say too high) work ethic. I go in early and stay late. I work really hard. I get a lot done. The problem is, not many people care. Oh sure, my boss appreciates the fact that he doesn’t have to manage me, and my church leadership doesn’t expend any effort keeping me in line. However, I wonder if I’m not operating at full efficiency. Anyone can stay late soldering a ton of connectors. I want to be the one who came up with the plan for that system. I want to be the designer more than the implementor. I want to spend more time thinking about better ways to do things, while handing off the physical work to others.
Coming up with a consistent stream of really good ideas that further the mission of our church will make me indispensable.
This is only a brief overview of a few of the concepts in this book. I highly recommend it; unless of course you don’t want to be a linchpin…
All quotes are from Seth Godin (2010-01-19). Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? (p. 87). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.