I’ve never been much of an athlete. I tried a couple of sports in school, but found I wasn’t good at any of them and thus never got any playing time. The only thing I had a modicum of success at was bowling, and that was because I and everyone else on my team was bad enough that we gained so many handicap points other teams couldn’t beat us. We were known as the Bely, Bely, Bely Bad Bowlers.
About three and a half years ago at age 50, I decided to start shooting my pistol competitively. Now, this isn’t as “athletic” as say, football or soccer, but the top shooters are fast on their feet, are in great shape and have a solid mental game. When I started, I had none of those things. I believe I finished my first match 19th out of about 32. The other day, I found myself 1st out of 42. Now, this is a local match, not a big one, but I did beat guys who have won state, regional and national trophies. I beat guys 20 years younger than me. How did that happen? A lot of work, and surrounding myself with people better than me.
In the last three years, I’ve taken 21 classes—some of them more than once—for a total of 130 hours of instruction, at a cost of over $5,000 (plus ammo). For the last 3 years I’ve shot 12,000-15,000 rounds annually. I shot 1-2 matches per month, and spent a lot of time watching the guys who were regularly beating me. I would ask them about their strategy, why they went left instead of right and whether dumping that last round was faster than reloading at slide lock. I’ve had guys shoot video of my stages and run it through software that times everything so I can see where I’m losing time. I’ve asked people to critique my technique. I took classes that were way to advanced for me and got my butt kicked. And I practiced. A lot.
Now, I’m not the world’s greatest shooter, and winning a local match doesn’t mean I’ve “arrived.” But, it is a significant achievement. It’s the culmination of a lot of work, time, effort and money. I feel pretty good about it. And next match, I’ll have to shoot better because everyone else will be a little better, too.
A Better Tech
What does any of this have to do with a church production website? I was thinking about this the other day when someone on one of the Facebook groups asked how he could get better at mixing. I didn’t look at the replies because they tend to frustrate me. But the answer is remarkably similar to what I did to go from 19th place to 1st; work really hard, spend a lot of time and money and surround yourself with people better than you.
There’s really no secret to improving at anything. You simply have to do it—a lot. You need to be instructed on doing it better. All that is going to cost you. “But Mike, I’m just a volunteer at my church. You mean to tell me I’m going to have to spend my own money to get better at mixing?” Yup.
Let me tell you another story. I’ve been mixing live audio for almost 30 years. But it wasn’t until about 10-15 years ago that I got really serious about it. By then, I was on staff at church. You know what I did to get better? I took vacation time, spent my own money and went to every conference I could. While at those conferences, I sought out guys who were better engineers than I and I picked their brain. I’ve had conversations that went into the wee hours of the morning plumbing the depths of various mixing techniques.
When I would get home, I’d boot up virtual soundcheck and try out those techniques. Then I’d turn around and do it again. One year, I went to nine conferences. Those weeks were way harder than a week of work and very often involved very little sleep. I didn’t take a “vacation” because all my days were used up going to shows.
I jumped at every chance I had to mix and I even occasionally sent my mixes off to others for critique. Talk about scary…
Note how the thing I did to get better at mixing are remarkably similar to improving my shooting? In fact, it’s pretty much the same thing we do to get better at anything. If you’re a volunteer or work for a church that doesn’t believe in training budgets (welcome to the club), you’re going to have to spend some of your own money. If you’re unwilling to do that, I’d argue you’re not really ready to get better.
Getting better at anything requires time, discipline and effort. It also comes at a cost. We take lessons, go to classes, hire coaches and instructors. We travel, take vacation time and spend money to get better at things we want to get better at—often these are just hobbies, like my shooting. I’m not going to become a professional shooter anytime soon. But I wasn’t satisfied with 27th, so I did the work to get better.
There’s no plugin, no magical piece of gear, no new speaker tuning that will make you better. You have to do the work. It’s going to require you to get out of your comfort zone, find people who are better than you and talk to them. You may have to invest in the equipment to do virtual soundcheck so you can practice. You need to read articles, blogs, magazines, watch videos and listen to a lot of music. You’ll need to travel, seek out opportunities to learn from others or maybe pay to fly someone in to learn from.
“But Mike, that sounds like it’s going to take a lot of work, time and money. I’m not sure I can do that!” Ok, cool. You can hang out on Facebook and look for the secret sauce that will make you a master. Meanwhile, those who want to get better will be doing the things that will get them there.