Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Philosophy (Page 3 of 57)

Advice From An Old Guy: Be On Time


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.

View all the posts in this series.

Advice From An Old Guy


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.

10 Years

Photo courtesy of  Kimberly Vardeman

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Vardeman

Even as I write that headline, it’s hard to believe. So much has happened since I penned the very first post for ChurchTechArts back in early March 2007. We’ve had three Presidents. I’ve been on staff at three churches. I’ve lived in four states. Both my girls have graduated high school and one finished college. I have met hundreds of people, reviewed dozens of products and been blessed to be a part of so many things I never could have imagined back then. This has truly been a journey. 

While there have been plenty of ups and downs over the last ten years, one thing that I’ve always appreciated is hearing your stories. I’ve bumped into you at trade shows and conferences and heard how God is using CTA to help you in your ministry. You’ve sent me emails, tweets and Facebook messages. In fact, I just received an email from someone who in the last few months has gone back and read the entire site! Wow!

I remember being at Seeds a few years ago when a TD from a church in Canada came up to talk with Van and I. He shared his story and ended with, “Your website and podcast have changed the entire tone of our church. Thank you.” I paraphrased, but I’ll never forget that moment. I have heard from readers and listeners in nearly every state and more than a dozen countries around the world. I really don’t know what to say other than it has been an honor to be on this journey with you.

Looking Back

ChurchTechArts has gone from being a labor of love, to a small business and back to a labor of love. You may not have noticed that the sponsors are gone in 2017. This was an intentional decision on my part. I actually had 4-5 sponsors lined up, but I pulled the plug at the last minute. As I neared the end of 2016, I knew I needed a break. My current job keeps me fairly busy and my mind space is less than it was when I was on staff at a church. So, I decided that come the 10 year anniversary, I would take a sabbatical. And I couldn’t do that if I had sponsors to provide value to. 

Speaking of sponsors, I can’t write this post without thanking them. I have enjoyed some wonderful sponsors over the years. So many of them have become good friends and I am truly, truly grateful for the support and encouragement they’ve given over the years. My sponsors not only provided financial support for my family and funded all the travel Van and I did so we could go hang out with you all, but they provided motivation to keep on pushing, growing and developing great content. 

As I said, we’ve had some great sponsors over the years, but I really couldn’t have done it without the original five who signed on, back when we were just getting traction in this space. So, to David Schliep at Horizon Battery; Bruce Meyers formerly of DPA; Rob Read at Roland and Duke DeJong at CCI Solutions, thank you. Thanks for believing in me and what we were trying to accomplish here. And a special thank you to my friend Greg McVeigh at Guesthouse Productions. Greg not only brought Heil on board—thanks, Bob, Sarah and Michelle—but was a huge encouragement and resource as I started putting together ad packages and pricing. I had no idea what I was doing, but Greg was a tremendous sounding board. Thanks man, I appreciate you. 

Looking Forward

So what next? As I said, I’m going to take a little time off from writing. For a while, it has felt like I’ve said all I have to say on this topic. That’s not true of course, as I have a half dozen articles in my “post ideas” folder to my right. But, I need some time off to clear my head and just breathe. The pressure to write anywhere between 7-12 posts a month for the last 6 years has been pretty intense at times, and I’m looking forward to a little time off. 

But I won’t stop writing. I’ve already been in discussions with a publisher about compiling the last ten years of writings into a book. This is something I’ve been working on in my head for 7 years, and I think it’s going to finally happen. Of course I’ll be keeping you posted on those developments. 

I’ve also started another website. I guess I really am a writer at heart… The topic of that site is completely different from this one in every way possible. But it’s something that has become more important to me as a hobby and passion, and I guess I don’t feel like I’m living if I’m not sharing my passion with others. The new site is called Mike on Gun Safety. As you might expect, it revolves around my interest in the shooting sports. However, like this site is partially about production and partially about what drives those who do production, that site will not only be product reviews and match recaps—though we’ll have some of those. I also want to delve into the topics of personal defense, mindset and probably some politics. So, you can go visit if you like. And if that topic offends you, feel free to not click the link. It’s just getting rolling, but I already have more than two dozen posts in progress so it should be a good time. 

Finally, one thing you’ll notice is that at the end of March, there will be no more emails from CTA. Right now that’s costing me about $15/month to maintain that service and as I’m not going to be writing much, it seems like a waste. So I’ll be killing that off in the next few weeks. Save this email—it might be worth something someday…

We’ll keep on doing the ChurchTechWeekly podcast, though it’s not likely to be very weekly. We do it as we can and we’ll keep trying to answer your questions. Speaking of the podcast, I could not have done that without my dear friends and partners in crime, Van and Duke. I appreciate you more than you know. And to all our guests over the years, thanks for providing amazing content that built up the Church. You rock.

I may write a post here once in a while, so check back every so often. Or just follow along on Twitter. Thanks to all of you who have been part of this journey. It’s been an honor.

Why Finding Tech Volunteers Is So Hard

Photo courtesy of  Paul Townsend

Photo courtesy of Paul Townsend

A few weeks back, I was having lunch with a young TD. He was telling me about his experiences coming into a church with a much older volunteer tech team, and how he was able to rally them together into a well-functioning team. I said, “That’s great because finding good volunteers is one of the hardest things most TDs have to do.” As a natural people person, he asked why it tended to be so hard. As I shared with him my answer, it occurred to me that this might make a good post.

What’s Your Type?

A number of years ago, I was in a career change process. During that process, I took the Meyers-Briggs personality type assessment. Thankfully, not only did I take the assessment and get a result, I had a certified assessor interpret the results for me. That was the best part. I am an INTP; Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, Perceiving kind of guy. 

That all made sense to me. What I didn’t know is that the 16 personality types are clustered around the four sets of middle letters; ST, SF, NT, NF. He told me something that I’m going to come back to in a minute that will blow your mind. But first, here’s an observation I’ve made over the years. Most people that gravitate towards the technical arts are NTs. In fact, almost every person I’ve asked in the last 5 years has told me they are an NT, usually an INTx. 

The I makes perfect sense; we tend to be introverted, and thus we prefer the relative safety of a quiet tech booth with only a few people around us instead of a crazy children’s classroom with 30 people. Intuitive also makes sense. We tend to just know how stuff works. People that are good at mixing may not be able to explain why they set the EQ the way they did, they just know it was the right thing to do and it sounded better. People who rock at lighting just know the right time to bring them up and bring them down. We’re also thinkers, we live inside our own heads. We like long walks to our thoughts. The P/J continuum seems to be more of a wild car, and I’m not sure it has much bearing on what I want to talk about, so we’ll table that for now.

We Are Not Legion

So back to the thing my interpreter told me. He informed me that the worlds population was made up of roughly 4% NT people, roughly distributed at 1% each in the four NT types. Stop and let that sink in for a minute. The people that are more than likely to volunteer to do tech at your church make up 4% of the population at large. 

Let’s assume that your church congregation has a roughly typical distribution of personality types, and let’s do some math. If you’re a 500 person church, that means there are roughly .04×500 or 20 people that would have the personality type that gravitates toward tech. A 100 person church has about 4. A thousand church might have 40.

Now, those are the people that might be prospective candidates. That doesn’t take into account whether or not they have the desire, time or willingness to serve. But think about this: If you’re a TD at a mid-sized church of 1,000 (and technically, that’s a large church, but roll with me), your most likely potential pool of tech volunteers is 40 people. And if we apply the 80/20 principle to that, we’d find that about 8 of them would be willing to volunteer.

It’s Not Your Fault

One of my favorite scenes in Good Will Hunting is near the end when Dr. Maquire starts telling Will that it’s not his fault. He Will says he knows. Sean tells him again. And again and again and again until it finally beings to sink in. It’s a powerful moment. I like to tell TDs the same thing; it’s not your fault. I know many TDs who keep taking hits from leadership on their small tech team. The children’s department will put out a call for volunteers and get 60 people signed up. Tech will put out a call and we’ll get 2. And those two will only replace the two that left last month. It’s not your fault.

What we do is hard. It takes a lot of work, time and skill to master. Frankly, almost anyone could work in the children’s department. Almost anyone can be a greeter. About four percent of the world is likely to be in tech. And some of those people will be terrible at it.

There’s not a good answer to this, and I don’t have any secret tricks for making it better. If I can persuade him, I’m hoping to get this young TD to write some articles for us because he’s actually quite good at building teams. But the bottom line is that it’s hard. It’s hard for all of us, so don’t feel bad. Hopefully, this makes you feel a little better.

Test the Theory

In closing, if you know your Meyer’s-Briggs profile, leave it in the comments below. I’d like to see if this holds. Like I said, almost everyone I’ve asked in the last 5 years has been an NT, but I’m always up for a larger sample. Even if I have to re-think my theory.

Three Things to Stop Doing in 2017

Remember last year when I told you we had some new authors coming on deck here at CTA? Well, I’m excited to introduce you to another one. Matt Lewis is the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Beachpoint Church in Huntington Beach, CA. I’ve known Matt for a few years now and have always been impressed with his heart for the church, worship and tech guys. A former tech guy himself, he understands what we go through, and I think he’s going to bring a great perspective to this site. Welcome Matt!

I hope this post finds you well and that your Christmas and New Year’s brought you memorable times with your teams and families. Now that 2016 is behind me and 2017 stretches out in front of me, I find myself reflecting on the past year and the ways in which this year will be different. Out of that time of reflection, I was struck with the thought of how much lies ahead in 2017. There will be plenty to do, so I thought it could be good to consider the things we should stop doing that will result in leading healthy ministries. These three things aren’t necessarily easy to implement, but I believe they are game changers for each of us and will help us to continue in ministry for a long time.
Saying Yes To Everything
When was the last time you nicely said, “No, I can’t do that?” No tech artist wants to utter the words that something can’t be done, but your sanity may be on the line if you don’t say, “No.” For some reason, technical artists get asked to do a lot; sometimes the seemingly impossible on a shoestring budget. And, the seemingly impossible gets pulled off, over and over and over again. At what cost to the technical arts team? If the cycle of saying yes to every little thing that comes your way never stops, both you and your team will burn out. What’s the solution?

  • Be honest with yourself about your and your team’s capacity
  • Adopt “No” into your vocabulary and learn to use it regularly and politely
  • It’ll feel weird at first, but keep honoring the boundaries you’ve set in place

Doing It All Yourself
When was the last time you didn’t operate a piece of equipment on the weekend? If you find yourself in the production booth, mixing week after week—and you like it so much you won’t let another person step in—then something is wrong. Attempting to be the guy shouldn’t be the goal of leading a tech arts ministry. Being the guy means everyone comes to you, for everything, all the time. The culture this creates in your organization is one of the false belief that you, as the tech person, are indispensable; without you, things just wouldn’t happen. What happens when you leave? Where does this leave the organization?

  • Empower people to exceed your skill level
  • Build the culture around a vision not a personality
  • Lead from the sidelines, not the field
  • Giveaway responsibilities—consider what things on your plate you can entrust to others on your team

Operating Without Systems, Standards & Processes
Do you know the how, what and why of you technical arts ministry? If the answer to these questions aren’t contained in writing and accessible to your entire team, then it will be nearly impossible to onboard and train new team members, keep consistency week to week and build a culture that is healthy and ordered. It will take the time to sit down and put onto paper what is contained in your mind, but the rewards will be great. What are some practical tips for next steps?

  • Utilize Google Docs as a file sharing platform for your entire team—it’s free and simply amazing!
  • Create a weekly checklist of things that have to get done each week
  • Draw up stage plots and spreadsheet input lists templates
  • Craft “How To” docs/videos for your team as points of training and reference for your entire team
  • Provide written clarity for each role by writing up ministry role descriptions for each role on your team (similar to a job description)—you have one of those, so should people on your team
  • Come up with a clear on-boarding process for your team, providing clear steps for how to get in the game
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