By Worship Team Training’s: Branon Dempsey
That something will go wrong seems to be the motto of most audio teams in the Church, as well as any other form of live and recorded music. Whether at the stadium, restaurant or other social gathering; it’s not so much the question “if” things go wrong, but when. For volunteer audio teams, musicians and singers in the church, knowing the five signs of a technically challenged team can make all the difference between ship-shape and ship-wreck. Here’s how to navigate through the storms at sea and chart a course for team success.
No Navigation Plan
Symptom: The easiest thing to do is throw caution to the wind, begin the service and catch things on the fly. If you do this, you will catch more than what’s on the fly as it will hit you over the head.
The cure: Preparation, as simple as it sounds is often the most overlooked and under-thought. Go figure. You rush up to the church or venue, wherever you came from. Quickly flip on the power, roll out a few lines, climb back on your stool and wait for the band to show: this is procrastination.
One safe way to help you prepare for your team is to create a checklist before every service. In this list, I include things like:
- power supply and audio processors
- check cables and connectors
- test mics and check capsules/cartridges
- test the signal chain overall
- check wireless components
- locate the headphones to help test channels
- put in an mp3 and test the mains and monitor systems
- digital scene tweaking, gain structures and so forth
You’re really preparing before you prepare. We need to be ready, before the worship team arrives, not during their set up. When you’re prepared, you can spend that extra time serving the band by checking on their logistical needs, helping with load-in and being a servant.
No One at the Helm
Symptom: Communication is the number one failure for most audio/media teams. Whether it’s changing the rules or players in middle of the game or not appointing a leader who calls the shots, miscommunications lead to huge shipwrecks.
The Cure: When the worship leader or pastor plans the set list, it needs to also go to the Audio Team before the rehearsal and/or service. This enables the team to be in the know to prepare set up, lines, mix and space on the stage. Keep your game plan consistent, on time and unchanged as much as possible. When change does occur, you’re able to roll with the punches.
- When there is an on-the-fly change, it first needs to be discussed with the Audio and Media Team and Lead Engineer ASAP.
- Changing players is also a big deal. It’s common to have a musician or singer to be replaced and/or missing for the weekend. If it’s somebody like the drummer or bass player, this is a huge adjustment in the respect of equipment and sound needs. If you have a new player who shows up, unannounced on a service/event without communicating first, you’re in for a shark bite.
- My head AE and instructor Kent Morris (Editor’s note: Kent is a frequent contributor to Shure Notes) has an awesome approach. He will go down to the front of the stage and ask the guest musician to share his or her exact needs. If the guest brings in a piece of gear that is not the right application or fit, he will work toward a positive solution.
- Another key factor is channeling the verbiage through one person on stage. Whether it is the MD or Worship Leader, the Engineer can hear one complaint / sound need at a time and not five people all at once. Say no to the choirs.
Attitudes That Run-Aground
Symptom: Uncommunicated last minute or unspoken changes between worship staff, pastoral staff and the audio team
The Cure: If communication doesn’t sink your ship, attitudes will.
- Work with the Worship Leader toward a model that curbs unwanted personalities. How, you say? It begins with you. The more professional, calm and polite you can be, the more people notice and will respond by adjusting their behavior to yours.
- Attitudes need to walk the plank in order to get the positive minds back on deck. I don’t suggest posting a sign that says ”Thou Shalt Not Whine.” Although, it may be effective for some, but for others, they just need a good kick in the kindness. A soft answer truly does turn away wrath.
- Real teamwork is about learning how to serve others. For example, when you have really great service at a restaurant, your dining experience is enhanced. The same is true at worship services. The worship team is like wait staff – serving a meal to enjoy for a common goal.
- Listen and follow through when leaders give direction – even if you disagree. It’s about the team, not about you.
- Know your position on the ship and do your part.
- Avoid telling others how to do their jobs. Let the leader do it.
- If there is conflict either go directly to that individual privately, or work it out with the leader of that ministry. All in all – serve one another.
- A happy team is also a productive team. Like any job or volunteer position elsewhere, your collective positive attitude as a team will keep you on course. You’re able to think clearer and respond more quickly because you’re focused on the plan and not the drama.
Storm at Sea – No Disaster Plan
Symptom: Things will go wrong. When they do, what’s your plan?
The Cure: Expect the best and plan for the worst.
- Years ago, I posted up an Emergency Procedure list in the audio booth. Things like: what to remember or do when a wireless channel fails, a mixing scene freezes, a battery goes out, etc.
- I also provided my own version of product CliffsNotes for the board, amps and other audio/media components. Velcro not included.
- The best pro-action is to have a strategy in place and be ready to employ it. An audio team is working best when it’s solving problems, not creating nor avoiding them.
- Character under pressure is another life preserver. All eyes are watching you. How you handle a stressful situation will help you land in a good place.
- Trust me; no one has ever died as a result of worship service snafus. It may feel that way, but the sun still comes up on Monday. You as the leader or team member are committed to the mission – don’t abandon ship!
Land Ho: Putting Praise in the Praise Team
Symptom: Where is the love?
The Cure: The hallmark of a great service? When no one complains about the sound. A bonus is when people thank each other for their time, effort and goal-focused energy.
- Thank members of the worship team. When’s the last time you did that?
- Another great indicator that the audio and worship team has done their job: the congregation, singers and other participants can hear themselves clearly without any audio difficulties. They too, were able to focus on what is happening service-wise and not the technical errors.
- Think about who the winner is at most meetings. It’s the person who brings the food. Try it. You’ll never lose when you play as a team.
You’ve Got to Serve Somebody
Our technology tools, whether a headset microphone or a digital mixing board, serve the users. The praise band serves the song and the congregation by engaging them in a personal and profound worship experience. The Audio Team serves everyone by delivering great sound. This is one way to honor the Lord who gave us these talents and treasures.
Technically, we can learn all the new tricks on the board, in the mix or at the rig, but the most difficult task requires good old-fashioned people skills. The pay-off of preparation, leadership, communication, teamwork and careful planning will help you reach the shores of performance paradise. Make sure you and your people paddle on both sides of the boat; otherwise, you’re just going in circles.
Fast thinking: Proof that the SM58 can be a vocal mic and an instrument mic – at the same time.
There was a time when a mic failed on stage and the audio team was quick to the rescue. We were running two mics: one for acoustic guitar and one for voice. When my guitar mic failed, I had to maneuver my vocal mic to pick up both my guitar and voice.
Thanks to the trusty Shure SM58®, all sound levels were saved. Thanks also to the skilled engineer who kept his cool. Just one more reason why the SM58 and the ULX-S/SM58 are my personal go-to mics for worship leading.
About BRANON DEMPSEY: He is the CEO, Founder and Training Director of Worship Team Training® a ministry providing workshops and online resources to over 400 churches across North America. Branon writes a monthly column for Worship Musician and is a training partner with Yamaha Corporation of America. For Live Workshops, Online Mentoring and Streaming Education for Worship Teams and Leaders, visit: www.WorshipTeamTraining.com