Asking for Help

I made a conscious decision some years ago that I was not going to be able to know everything. This may seem like an incredibly obvious conclusion to come to, but up until that time I was on a all-out quest for knowledge of all things audio/visual. But one day, I was reading about Albert Einstein, who remarked once that true intelligence was not knowing all the answers, but knowing where to find all the answers. I figured if that was good enough for Al, it would be good enough for me. Part of that revelation was the realization that there simply wasn't enough time in my day to mix on every sound desk out there, through every available speaker in every kind of venue. And that doesn't even get to mics, DIs, and other outboard gear, let alone the myriad of options available for video, lighting and projection.

So now I'm good with not knowing everything. I still have a thirst for knowledge, and continue to learn as much as I can about the equipment and techniques I have at my disposal. But now rather than being on an all-out quest for knowledge, I have learned to learn where to learn. Go back and read that sentence again. Just as important as knowing what you know, is knowing what you don't know, and knowing where to fill in gaps in your knowledge base as you need to. The good part of all this is that there is always someone who knows more about a given topic than you or I do. The really good news is that most of the time those folks are happy to share their knowledge.

I learned this when I was between jobs a few years back. I began talking to people I didn't know, and was amazed at how willing they were to help me. I've found this to be true in the church tech community as well. I regularly ask others for their opinion about a piece of gear I'm not familiar with, or about a technique that I'm a little fuzzy on, or how to handle a personnel issue. Every time I ask for help, I gain some valuable knowledge. My network grows, and often I end up making a new friend in the process. It's what Michael Scott likes to call a "win-win-win."

While it's often said there are no stupid questions, there are good, better and best ways to go about asking for help. Consider the following scenarios for asking for advice on a kick drum mic.

Option 1: Which kick drum mic should I buy?

Option 2: We'd like to upgrade from our existing Beta 52, and we have a budget of around $350. Any suggestions?

Option 3: We'd like to upgrade from our existing Beta 52, which we don't like because it just sounds like mush, to a new mic that will give us a little more snap and definition. We've tried the D4, and while we liked the tightness, it lacked oomph; and when we tried the ATM250DE, we liked the condenser element and the snap and definition it provided but weren't impressed with the dynamic capsule as it overloaded often. Our drummers are really good, and the kits are in excellent shape. Our style is pretty progressive, Crowder, Brewster, Tomlin, as well as modernized versions of hymns. Our budget is around $350. Suggestions?

You can see the difference in the three approaches. The first option is so broad, that it's almost impossible to answer. And if someone give you an answer, it's not likely to be a good one as you have not provided enough information to give an intelligent response. Option 2 gives some more parameters, which helps narrow the choices. By stating the mic we're upgrading from, the person being asked knows what we don't like. Putting a budget in also helps narrow the field. Option three really qualifies what the desired result is, and it's far easier to formulate a good response.

So who should you be asking for help? That depends. When it comes to equipment related questions, I like to ask disinterested third parties. That is, people who have no financial incentive in the outcome. I'd much rather ask a fellow church sound guy about kick mics than the salesman at the store. This is not to say that you can't, over time, develop a trusting relationship with a vendor, but you have to be careful and take it slow. Local vendors tend to get asked a lot for advice, then the customer goes out to the internet and buys the suggested product from someone else. This makes it hard to get good advice, and for good reason. On the other hand, the vendor wants to sell you a product, and they want to sell you what they sell, not something they don't. Nothing wrong with that per se, unless what they're trying to sell doesn't really fit your need.

That's where a third party can come in helpful. When people ask me for advice on something, I'm not invested in what they end up doing in the end, because I gain nothing from the transaction except good will. I have no incentive to steer anyone toward anything. On the other hand, I and other church tech guys may have a more limited pool of experience with a given set of equipment. I've worked with a lot of mics, but not all of them. I've mixed on quite a few desks, but not all. So I'm likely to be biased toward what I do know. Again, nothing wrong with that, as long as you realize that going in.

As I said before, most church tech people I've met are more than happy to offer their advice on a given topic. I get requests a few times a week for help, and I'm sure the other guys whose blogs I follow do to (see the blogroll list to the right). Read the blogs, and see who has a passion for your area of need and ask for help. It also never hurts to get to know fellow church techies in your area. Remember, we're not competitors; we're all in this together. The more we realize that, and work together, the smarter we become collectively.

Tomorrow, in honor of Thanksgiving, I'll talk about what to do after you ask for help. Any takers on the subject of that post?