I’ve been having quite a few discussions of late as to what separates great technical artists from, well, less great ones. More specifically, the discussions have focused on the reasons it’s hard to train people to be great tech artists, and why it takes so long. You see, it’s not enough to simply know how to use the gear. In most cases, that’s the easy part. No, the real challenge is to know how to use the equipment in context and create a moment that would otherwise not be there.

Laying in bed the other night, I was thinking about this and six characteristics came to mind that seem to be present in the best technical artists I know. This is not likely the definitive list; however, I do think anyone who aspires to be a great tech would do well to develop these characteristics in increasing quantity. This is going to be a series, and I’m going to attempt to present not only the characteristic and it’s description, but some examples as well. These are not necessarily in order; indeed I’m not sure there is an order, as I think all are necessary, at least in some degree.

Characteristic One: Situational Awareness

I would define situational awareness as simply being aware of one’s surroundings, constantly taking note of what is happening in the room, what the other disciplines are doing, and of the general mood and feel of the people in the room.

I learned of this phrase years ago when doing some self-defense training. In that context, having high situational awareness would keep you from being mugged, for example. Paying attention to those around you—do any of them look out of place, shifty or potentially dangerous—and taking note of potential escape routes. I used to spend more time in a downtown area, and would always be on high alert, continually scanning my surroundings for potential danger.

Maintaining a high situational awareness in a production environment is a paramount skill. I know many technicians who are decent mixers, but often fail to miss subtle (or even obvious) cues that something needs to change—such as a pastor coming up to pray at the end of a shortened music segment. 

It’s easy to get lost in our own little world when we’re mixing, running lights, presentation or directing video. After all, we have these really bright screens, knobs and buttons blinking and glowing in our face. But failing to look up and pay attention to what’s actually happening in the room is the downfall of many a technical artist. 

When I’m mixing FOH, I try to keep my eyes up on the stage area as much as possible. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen very carefully to what’s happening in the room, and can almost always say, “Will you pray with me?” at the same time the pastor does at the end of his message (even if I’m working on an e-mail at the time). 

We always have to be aware of where people are (are they walking out of the light?), who is speaking/singing (is someone else coming up to pray using a mic other than the one we put in the snapshot?), or what verse we are on (did the worship leader loop back to repeat verse 2, when we thought he was going to the end?). How is the audience responding? Do you need to raise or lower the volume or the lights? 

Even during the times when you think you have nothing to do (the sermon for example), don’t check out completely. Be aware of where you pastor is both physically and in his message. Pay attention to the volume; is he too loud or too soft? Is he walking out from behind the pulpit into the congregation creating a potential for feedback? Don’t get lost on those things. Pay attention to your surroundings. 

A great technical artist knows what is going on around him or her, and pays attention to what everyone else is doing as well—Situational Awareness.

Next time, we’ll cover every tech’s favorite—People Skills.

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.