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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Sound Techs

4. Sound Techs Serve as Mentors

Karl talked about being a mentor to another.  He said, “Nothing fosters the growth of the team faster than sharing the ideas and working to support the best ones.” This is so true. When we get to a certain skill level, it’s time we spent some of our time teaching what we know. And here’s the really cool thing: sometimes we can teach things to people who are better than us.

What I mean is that we all have little mixing tricks we’ve learned over the years and let’s say you’re at church and a new guy joins the team and he’s got years of experience. You might find he’s great…but does he know about your little snare drum mixing trick? Does he or she know how to mix for the acoustic oddities in your room? Maybe this isn’t mentoring but it’s sharing your knowledge and that’s important in my book.

But back to this mentoring idea. If you’re new to audio, then it’s not the right time for you to mentor others but it’s a great time for you to find a mentor at your church who can pour into you and help you become the best mixer you can be.

And if you are the big mixer on campus, look around to see who you could mentor and elevate their skills faster than how they are progressing. In Christian-speak, that’s called being a blessing to someone, and isn’t that what we all want to do?

5. Have Good People Skills

Karl Winkler puts forth in his article that, “The people skills will almost always win out over the technical skills. No one wants to work for the “genius” that treats others poorly.”

Great live audio production demands we interface with the church staff, laypeople, musicians, and other people on the tech team. We must have a servant-like attitude but we also must know how to work with people.

There are people that are easy to talk to but there are others who require more finesse. And I certainly can’t talk geek-speak to everyone. For example, I’m not going to get a new mixer by telling the church board that the mix would be better if I could use a compressor and a gate. But, if I say the congregation will find the pastor easier to understand because the newer technology allows me to correct for problems otherwise not able with the current system, well that’s a different story.

If I had to summarize people skills in a few words, it would come down to this: I want sound techs who know how to talk to people, work through problems, accept responsibility for mistakes, and keep others updated on important pieces of information.

6. Sound Techs Have Good Technical Skills

This part is going to run deeper than you might want.  Let me ask you a few questions

  • Do you know how to set the channel gain?
  • Do you know where to put a mic on a kick drum?
  • Do you know what type of mic to use on the kick?
  • Do you know the different properties of a microphone and why they are important?

I hope you answered yes to those questions. Now let’s go deeper.

  • Do you know how to use a voltmeter?
  • Do you know how to solder jacks to a cable?
  • Do you know where all of your cables are routed throughout the entire sanctuary?
  • Do you know the different ways to set up an amp with two speakers?

Here’s the thing. It’s easy to think your job is easy when you’re mixing in the same room every week and nothing seems to change. But the minute you have to mix someone else, you can’t use your same mix settings. And maybe you’re asked to set up for an outdoor event? Could you do that or would you have to phone a friend?

A while ago, I was talking about what to call a church sound operator. Sound techs, audio artists, music magicians, you get the idea. But there is another name I love but am hesitant to use and that’s “audio engineers.” For me, that’s someone who can answer those tougher questions.

So read the books, listen to the podcasts, go to conferences and take classes. I even suggest shadowing people to help take those skills to the next level.

7. Listening

Karl finishes off his article with the idea of being a good listener. He says, ”we have to listen to what people are telling us, even if we don’t agree. There’s almost always an element of truth to what others are saying.”

His words pair well with having good people skills. For example, if someone complains about the volume, ask questions to find out what was too loud.  Don’t assume they are wrong just because you are the sound tech, LISTEN to what they say and you’ll find out if it was a problem with your mix or where they were sitting.

Likewise, be slow to defend yourself or your work. If there is a complaint or a problem, listen to what’s said, and once the person has nothing left to say, then you can either explain your side of things or explain the reason for the problem.

For example, a musician might say he couldn’t hear his instrument in the live stream recording from the previous week. You can explain that it was heard in the room itself but that you’ll listen to the recording and see if there is a problem with what’s being sent to the recording device or two a secondary mixing console.

I know this sounds cliche but you’ll learn far more from listening than you will by talking.

And speaking of listening, that takes us to the final part of listening that Karl mentions and that’s listening to music. We have to have a critical ear so we learn to listen to the specifics of sound. And I want to end this with a great idea Karl gives in his article.

He says, “we must train our brains how to listen critically and [know] what to do with that knowledge….I always recommend spending time listening to acoustic music whenever possible. Listen to or play an acoustic guitar. Go hear an orchestra or a bluegrass band. Get your ears used to what real music sounds like, without any system and the associated distortion involved. And while doing so, ask yourself, “how can I tell this is acoustic sound?”

Karl asks a good question. Why would we do that? So when accidental distortion enters the system, we can identify it and hopefully eliminate it. But also, we learn how to mix music in its most basic form.

So there you have my take on his seven habits of highly effective sound techs.

This article originally appeared here.