When I was the father of a newborn, I had two backup plans; keep a spare set of diapers in the upstairs closet and keep an extra can of baby formula beside it. When it comes to church audio, techs need audio production backup plans. “It will never happen” always turns into, “I can’t believe it happened.” They also need two other things that I cover at the end.
The Six Backup Plans You Need:
1. When the pastor’s mic dies
I’ve had wireless mikes die and I’ve had cable connections crackle through the airwaves. Guess who the pastor looks to for blame? Let’s get them trained and talk practical steps.
Make sure there’s a backup microphone and it’s tested prior to the service. This is the go-to microphone with a few exceptions.
If the replacement microphone is wireless and it works on the same frequency as the other, such as in wireless systems that include a handheld and a lav mic, AND the problem is interference, then DO NOT USE THE BACKUP MICROPHONE. We keep a wireless handheld just off stage and it’s on a different frequency. Otherwise, use a wired microphone.
Some of us have stage managers, and that’s a huge blessing in itself and a lifesaver in times like this. For everyone else, talk with the pastor about the backup microphone so they know what to do. If the problem occurs and the pastor (usually a significantly older pastor) looks lost, then suck it up, walk to the front and hand them the replacement microphone.
As an aside, if they don’t notice the microphone died, there might be a problem. This is why you have to have a plan and talk with them. Some people would be OK with a gentle interruption while others would be upset that you interfered with the sermon. I’ve seen both. As a rule of thumb, if the room is small enough and people can still hear, don’t worry about it.
2. When any other vocal mic or instrument mic dies
Simple microphone failures would be problems like a dead microphone battery or a cable that stops working. In these cases, have equipment at the ready. For example, keep a spare vocal microphone (wired or wireless) on a stand just off stage or place it onstage in an out-of-the-way place.
In the case of cables, have a spare cable at the ready so they could be swapped. Or, go the emergency route and keep a wired mic on a stand with a DI taped to the bottom, with cables.
And when do you make such equipment swaps? It depends on the urgency. When it’s a lead instrument or lead vocal, that should be taken care of immediately. The lead vocalist, usually the worship leader, should know what to do. If it’s their instrument, they need to say something to allow you to quickly fix the problem. Or, they can take the initiative and fix it themselves, depending on their technical competency.
I’ve found it best to fix everything else when the band is clearing the stage, assuming they will come back again during the service.
3. When equipment dies
Amps die, consoles die, fuses blow, equipment bursts into flames … it’s more likely to start smoking, but where’s the drama in that!?! If you’re lucky, it’s a blown fuse. Replace the fuse, but if the next fuse blows, then you’ve got an equipment problem.
Backup plans vary here based primarily on budget. In a perfect world, we’d have spare equipment. Well, in a perfect world, equipment would never die, but you get the point.
Worst-case scenario, you’ve got nothing. Most churches have a small portable system for youth or outdoor activities. If the system dies before the service, then you’ve got time to set up the portable system. It’s not pretty but it’s effective.
A better situation is one in which an old spare (from the last upgrade) is available or one from another venue (youth) is available. Power down, make the connections, dial in a rough mix and you’re good to go.