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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sound Techs

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How well we work determines the results of our work. In an article by veteran audio guy and Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics, Karl Winkler tackled what he considers the seven habits of highly effective sound techs. Today, I want to cover these habits and dive deeper into each one.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Sound Techs

1. Have Excellent Organization

Karl’s advice is to establish effective routines for everything you do and to use the simplest tools to get the job done. That is a good way to stay mentally organized. Our job is a bit of a crazy one so organization for us does tend to be more process-oriented.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few ways we can do this.

  1. Mix prep method. – review of songs, review of stage requirements, a very need-oriented process
  2. Stage work – when I work on the stage, I don’t do it randomly, I organize my channels to my stage locations for the musicians and I do things in groups.  For example, I’ll put out all of the vocal microphones, then I’ll put out all of the wireless packs. Optionally, I could pull out everything for each musician but I prefer this method instead as I find it easier to track what I need to do next.
  3. Backstage gear organization – this is a big one for me. We use electrical extension cord reels for storing all our cables by type and by length. We have a full upright toolbox with labeled drawers for wired microphones, wireless microphones, di boxes, in-ear wireless units, etc. This means we never have to search for a piece of gear because we know exactly where it’s located.
  4. Console channel organization – believe it or not, there is a standard method for labeling channels.  And this method means no matter where you are, if you look at the console in that venue, it will be organized in much the same way.  For example, all vocal microphones are in channels next to each other and all guitars are in channels next to each other. There is also a layout for how everything should be located next to each other, such as drum channels next to bass, next to guitars, etc.
  5. Communication organization – This is a big one because there can be a lot that goes on in the days or weeks before the service. For example, we use a planning center for our service schedule but also for our volunteer scheduling. We also send out emails to everyone on the list for that week for updates. In short, everyone involved in the production of the service is up to date on everything.
  6. Finally, a plan for what to do when things go wrong. Yes, I’m putting this under organization because when something goes wrong, chaos can follow. By proactively developing contingency plans, you’ll be organized and know what to do when something does go wrong.

A note on tools: Karl mentioned using the simplest tools to get the job done. I’m not sure if he was talking mixers, rack units, or what. I will say that as we move forward, more and more gear is digital in some way, running a computer instead of the gear and that means we’re learning new tools, keeping them updated with firmware, and always keeping an eye on them.  Not that that is bad. But, if I need a piece of gear to do one thing and do it well and I can buy a fancy version that accomplishes the task in a complex way, or a plain version that does it in a simple way, I prefer the gear that uses the simple method. I’d rather punch one button than six.

2. Are Continuously Learning

Karl says, “audio equipment is constantly changing and getting more complex and sophisticated. He also says, “But even without chasing the latest software or hardware solution, we need to be on a path of continual learning in our craft… where art and science meet to create new experiences.

So what does continuous learning look like for us?

To start, know your equipment.  Know what each knob or button or interface screen does.  I’ve been burned before because a problem occurs because an obscure setting was accidentally changed and I had no idea what to do about the problem.

I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to do something on their mixer when the solution could easily be found via youtube videos, product videos, or dare I suggest online documentation.

But let’s look more at our craft.

What does it take to be great at what we do? We have to know the science of sound, the art of mixing, how to have a servant’s heart, and how to work with other people. If you are in a leadership role, then there’s even more to it.

I’ve recently finished a book on leadership called The Advantage, that helps understand the health of a team and organization and what you need to do — and what you should never do. It certainly applies to sound techs and church sound teams.

I’m reading the exam guide for the CTS-D exam because the more I work in audio production, the more I find myself involved with some aspect of video or lighting.

But I’ll also geek out over a science video on sound that I might stumble across.  Not to mention reading about mixing techniques.

If you want to dive into a specific area like learning Dante, then checkout Audinate’s website for free training. If you’re ever available to attend a conference like InfoCom, NAMM, or WFX, check out the available training.

Maybe you need help with one area like mixing vocals, then check out my guide….

Finally, think about learning with a VERY open mind.  I’ve taken classes on lighting, video production, and even worship musician classes at some of these conferences not because I directly work in those areas but because they are all part of the live production.

3. Have a Good Attitude

Karl states this quite well.  In the article, he’s talking more to the professional audio engineers so I’m going to rephrase his words now, that is to say, “Without a good attitude, you will make enemies and stunt your growth as a tech. But with a good attitude, you’ll be more able and willing to learn, take direction, and properly support the band and the pastor.”

Here’s where I want to step in and add a few points.

I like to think of it this way.  If you love your work then you’ll have a good attitude about it.  That means being positive, being helpful, and doing your best. And remember, when the band is practice, guess who they are looking at?  That’s right…you!

When you have a good attitude, you’re more likely to go the extra mile.  This might mean bringing in bagels or something else for breakfast for everyone the morning of the service.  Maybe it means you stay late to help a musician with a problem. Our jobs are 50% working with people and 50% working solo.

And what if you do have a bad attitude?  What’s the reason for it? Figure that out and start working toward a solution. Maybe there’s a rift between you and the worship leader…talk with them or talk with someone who can help bring resolution and restoration.

Maybe you don’t feel like your work is respected? Why is that? Is it based on a comment someone once said or a lack of regular appreciation?  n most cases, it’s a matter of a new perspective so you see the involvement of the congregation in the worship as a sign of a job well done. Maybe if you started complimenting people running lights or video that they would end up thanking you for your efforts.

When you have a good attitude, people want to be around you, help you when you have problems, and are more likely to compliment you. And, as I mentioned, the better attitude you have, the more likely you are to do your best work…and that’s something that definitely gets noticed.

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chrishuff@churchleaders.com'
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. He also teaches all aspects of live audio production, from the technical fundamentals to creative music mixing to keeping your sanity. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com