Advice From An Old Guy: Be On Time

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We used to have a saying back in the day; early is on time, on time is late and if you’re late, don’t bother showing up. The corollary is that, “call time” is the time we call your replacement. Normally, I’m a pretty laid back person and I don’t get too stressed out about my daily schedule. I work from home and can flex as need be. However, if I’m scheduled for a gig, church service or other production event at 1 PM on Saturday, I’m going to plan on pulling into the parking lot at 12:45. If I expect bad traffic, I’ll allow more of a cushion. But I’m not going to be late. I take my job seriously and I will do what I need to do on my end to make sure I end up there on time. Which is, of course, early.

But Muh Grace!
Now certainly there are those out there right now saying, “But Mike, it’s not that big a deal. We’re the church, we are full of grace. If someone is late, it’s OK. We love them and go on.” Sure, that’s fine. But think about this: If you are the TD and you’re late, that means there is a good chance that everyone else is going to have to wait for you to get there and get things going.

There may be 6-8 people in the band who are giving up their Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon waiting for you. The 4-8 tech volunteers who are doing the same will be waiting for you. That’s a dozen or more people waiting. For you. If you’re 15 minutes late, that’s 3 man-hours. In the church, we tend to think of time as free. But time is all we have. And when people consistently find their time is being wasted by others, they get frustrated. When they get frustrated, they eventually leave.

A Pattern of Behavior
Now, I’m not talking about the “once in a while, something really bad happened at home and you’re late once this year” situations. I’m talking about people who are habitually late. Nothing says, “I don’t take my job seriously” like being habitually late. And if you don’t take your job seriously, why should anyone else?

I occasionally hear from frustrated young TDs because they don’t get no respect. When I dig into it, I find out that they are always late, the stage is never set and ready when the band arrives and everyone is continually aggravated at having their time wasted. It's not hard to see the cause the respect problem.

My Best Compliment
Several years ago, when I was a TD, we had a drummer who played with us about once a month. In addition to being a great drummer, he regularly played with a really big, internationally famous, Grammy-winning band. One day as I was chatting with him as he set up his cymbals, he said to me, “Mike, I gotta tell you; I love coming here to play. I can come in, sit down and play. Everything is set up—the monitors, the mic’s—it’s all perfect. Seriously, this is my favorite place to play. And I give a lot of credit to you and your team. Thanks for making this easy.”

I recount this conversation not to pat myself on the back, but to illustrate a point. Here’s a guy who plays international tours and really enjoys playing on my stage. A big part of that was because while he needed to be there at 2 (and he was always there at 1:45…), I arrived at noon. I allowed enough time to make sure the stage was entirely set and line checked long before the first band member ever set foot on it. Every weekend. Even when nothing changed from last week.

Why did I put so much extra time into this? Because that’s the job. If you need an hour to set and check your stage (and you need to check it—every weekend), you should allow yourself 90 minutes. Now it’s true that most weekends, you’ll be sitting around talking with your tech team for 30 minutes every week. But, having that 30 minute cushion allows for things to break or go wrong, last-minute changes or just getting to know your team. There’s no downside.

Contrast that to the TD that shows up 15 minutes before—or worse, 15 minutes after—the band does and is super-stressed out trying to get everything up and running as the band is setting up. Which TD do you think gets the most respect? One of the easiest things you can do as a TD to start to build the respect of your team, your band and your leadership is be on time. Which is to say, early.

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Advice From An Old Guy

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A few months ago, I was talking with a younger TD. We got to talking about the state of production and leadership in the church today. I mentioned that with all the traveling I do to different churches around the country, it has begun to depress me how things are looking. Sure, the pics on the ‘gram look great, but when the work lights come back on, everything is kind of a mess.

Like most challenges in the church today, I feel this is a problem of leadership—or the lack thereof—and lack of professionalism. When the concept of the Technical Director (or Production Director) began, nearly all of us had years of professional production experience outside the church before joining a church staff. Having either toured or done corporate production for a long time, we came into the church with the mindset that we were pros and ran the departments accordingly.

Then we all aged out. Being a church TD is definitely a young man’s game, and as we get older, we get too tired and too expensive. With church budgets shrinking, churches turned to younger guys with little or no experience outside of the church they grew up in. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. We all started somewhere. However, the current leadership crisis has led to a situation where there is no one to train the younger guys how to be professional TDs. I know a lot of old guys like myself who were explicitly or implicitly told that when our services were no longer required, our opinions, experience and knowledge wasn’t either.

This is tragic because production is a craft—a craft that you learn best from someone older and wiser. I’m thankful to have had several older mentors as I was growing up in the business that helped shaped the way I approach production. Sure, you can figure it out on your own, but it takes a lot longer. And as tempting as it is, the internet is not much help anymore. There is so much mis-information out there that ranges from simply bad to truly awful.

The Facebook groups are mostly the blind leading the blind and often end up like many Amazon questions: Q—“Does this product do X, Y and Z?” A—“I don’t know. But I love mine!” Yeah, super-helpful. Thanks

As I was going on about all this with my younger TD friend, he asked me what I thought could be done about it all. I actually didn’t have any good ideas. Honestly, it’s a bit exhausting to think about. Sometimes, the questions I get make me want to retreat to my reloading bench and spend the rest of my days tweaking powder charges and overall lengths to squeeze the most accuracy possible from my rifles.

But then God got in my head and said, “Seriously Sessler, you complain about this all the time. Why don’t you do something to fix it?” So, here we are. I don’t know that I can fix the entire problem, but I’m at least going to contribute to a solution. This is the first post in a series of advice I would give to young TDs getting started in this business. Occasionally, I do run across guys who are eager to learn from someone with a little more experience. And since I’ve been doing this longer than many TDs have been alive, I may have a few things to contribute to the conversation.

Over the next unspecified number of days and weeks, I’ll be posting short, one-topic articles that will address things I think every TD or Production Director should know and do. Someday, I’ll take on the senior leadership crisis—but for now, I’ll stick to something I know a little bit about. Check back in next time for the first topic: Be On Time.

View all the posts in this series.

Another 600 MHZ Update

Hey y'all. As we wind down summer, a little tidbit came across the desk of one of our engineers, Steve Lund. He was pursuing some info put out by James Stoffo of Radio Active Designs. James does a lot of work coordinating wireless gear for things like the Super Bowl, the CMAs, and pretty much every major award show. I actually met him at the CMAs a few years back. Great dude. 

Anyway, shared this map that came from Professional Wireless Systems. This shows the counties that T-Mobile is planning on lighting up starting November 1. Of this year. 2017. So if you happen to live in one of the little green squares, and you have a wireless mic or IEM running above 617 MHz, you're going to need to shut it down after Nov. 1.

Remember, it's not a matter of interference. By law, once the new owners of the spectrum start testing, every other operator needs to cease using it. Could you get away with it? Maybe. Should you? No. 

There's a little early Christmas gift for you. Time to order up those new wireless units, or better yet, wire everything you can. This isn't going to get easier going forward...

UPDATE: I've been asked about a larger map. Can't find a larger map, but I did find this spreadsheet of counties that presumably generated the map in question. So, there you go.