Advice From An Old Guy: Learn Your Craft

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Mixing sound, lighting design, video production (live and post), graphic design—these are all crafts. They all take a tremendous amount of time and dedication to learn and master. I’ve visited churches and had the FOH guy ask me which plugins I would recommend to make their sound better. I invariably tell them they don’t need plugins, they need to learn to mix. You shouldn’t be buying a ton of new intelligent lighting fixtures if you can’t make your static lighting looks look amazing.

While listening to a podcast the other day, Steve Anderson (of That Shooting Show) said the following:

“Technique is the middle of mastery. Technique is not the end of mastery. Mastery is not simply an encyclopedic knowledge of techniques. True mastery is the embodiment of principles.”

That really resonated with me. Being a master of audio mixing isn’t simply having an iLock with the Platinum package on it. It’s not simply knowing 10 different vocal mic’s or 5 ways to mic a snare. It’s knowing the principles of sound, music and mixing, and applying them to the situation at hand. That is developing your craft.

Time, Dedication, Effort
You can learn a lot about mixing by attending an MxU daylong event. One of the things that becomes apparent pretty quickly is that Andrew, Jeff and Lee have spent a long time honing their craft. I’ve been talking with Andrew and Lee about mixing for nearly 10 years now, and I know that we’ve all learned from each other, and from other people. When we all sit down at a table to talk mixing, it’s a free exchange of ideas with everyone contributing. We then go back to our respective consoles and try the ideas. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But we’re always learning.

It’s not a plugin. There is no magic EQ that will make your vocals sound good (so stop asking on Facebook, OK?). You don’t need another mic or console. You need to take time to learn the fundamentals of mixing and music. That will take a long time. You can’t learn by reading Facebook groups. You need to sit down in front of a console with a hard drive full of tracks and mix. Thankfully, this is very easy today. Figure it out and do it.

It’s Easier with Help
Learning a craft is always easier when you have someone who can guide you along the journey. This is increasingly hard to do today because there is a shortage of guys in the Church today who really know what they’re doing. But if you can find someone who will give you honest feedback, you’ll grow a lot faster.

But you still have to do the work. If you want to learn to mix, listen to music. A lot of music. Preferably music that was produced in the 1970’s-1990’s before master limiting compressors ruined music. If you want to learn lighting, watch a lot of concert videos. Watch musicals. Watch any live event that has lighting. Pay attention to what is being done and what is not being done. Sometimes restraint is the better part of lighting.

If you don’t know how your equipment works, get someone in to teach you. This will probably cost you some money. But there is no better investment than you can make into yourself than learning your craft. Ideally, your church sees value in you getting better at your job and will fund this education. But even if not, it’s worth it. When I worked at a church with a staff of 40 and a $4M annual budget, I took vacation and paid my own way to conferences and training because the church didn’t see the value. But I did.

If you really want to get better at your craft, take a job as an assistant to a tech guy who is really squared away. You’ll do a lot of grunt work, but you’ll also learn more, faster, than under any other condition. This is how it should work, really. I wish we had more churches with highly skilled, senior-level tech guys who could hire a new ATD every few years to train up and send out. We’d have a lot better tech in the Church if we did that. Senior pastors, give that some thought, OK?
Ultimately, it’s up to you, though. You have to put in the time, you have to put in the effort, and you will probably have to pay for it. However, once you master this craft, you won’t want for work.

That’s a good thing.

View all the posts in this series.