We all know that it’s important to develop the technical skills needed to ensure trouble-free, effective services. But in this article, let’s leave the technical considerations aside for a moment, and talk about the skills needed to complement the technical skills.
A friend of mine who does seminars on recording songs always closes by reminding attendees that every aspect of the recording is there to serve the song, not the recording engineers or the gear manufacturers. Similarly, we need to remember why we do what we do, for whom we do it, and what we’re serving with the work we do. In that spirit, here are 10 skills you can practice that have as much to do with Worship sound as making sure you set up your mics properly and create a great mix.
1. Practice Humility
I don’t know everything. You don’t know everything. No human being knows everything, so check your ego at the door. We are here to serve the church: so be a servant first, and place the needs of the pastor, the worship team, and the congregation above your own. Always ask what you can do for others, whether it’s creating a better monitor mix, adjusting a microphone stand, or getting some glasses of water for the praise band. And if you really want to be known as the go-to person who solves problems and makes life better, do everything with a smile on your face. Remember, it’s not about you—it’s about them. This is your chance to make others happy and comfortable.
2. Practice with the Band
You are as much a part of the band as the musicians. The more time you can spend rehearsing with them, the better your communication and relationship. You’ll also be able to refine your techniques without the pressure of being exposed to the public—experiment with different stage plots, mixing, and processing options, as well as different microphone and monitor placements. All of this will have a positive “domino effect” that over time, will make everything run more smoothly.
3. Practice Listening
Faith comes by hearing. What separates good audio engineers from (shall we say, “less-good”) ones is a developed ear. Listen to music—lots of it, and in different genres. (Listen especially to the types of music your worship leader favors.) You can learn something from all types of music, whether Bach or heavy metal. As you do Worship sound, spend 90% of your time listening, so that the 10% of the time you spend tweaking controls is more effective. Is the bass balanced? Is the treble sweet—or screechy? How does the overall mix sound compared to commercially available recordings? Learning how to listen is one of the most important skills you’ll develop. I recommend the book Critical Listening for Audio Professionals (Fig. 1), which will help you train your ears.
4. Practice Leadership
This doesn’t mean being a dictator or ordering people around, because the best way to lead is by example. Emulate Christ. Encourage, serve and inspire. Take the time to train and equip your team, as well as review the team’s progress periodically. Cast a vision and set goals. Learn how those you work with think, what matters to them, and how they receive information. That doesn’t happen in a few minutes before the service; relationships are built outside of the workplace. Pray for your people, but perhaps more importantly, pray for your ability to understand and help them.
5. Practice Learning
The most important skill you need to learn is how to learn. As mentioned earlier, you don’t know everything. But it’s fun to try! Be a lifelong learner. Find someone to mentor you. Spend time with people who know a lot more than you do, and be humble enough to listen to what they say. Carve out time to read books, watch videos (DVD, GearCast, or YouTube), enroll in online courses, and attend training seminars—and then practice the methods and techniques you’ve learned. If you can’t practice in your church, inexpensive computer-based recording software, like PreSonus Studio One 4 Artist (Fig. 2) or Cubase 10 Elements, makes it possible for you to practice mixing tracks recorded from your services. You can also find pre-recorded tracks online (sometimes for free). It’s well worth investing some time and money into anything that makes you a better sound engineer.
6. Practice Patience
If you have a thin skin, you may not want the audio tech job because people will complain, they might get personal, and often, any negative attitude will be unjustified. But while some comments may seem personal, remember that maybe the person doing the complaining just got laid off from a job. Or maybe a relative died. Or maybe there’s an unanticipated car repair that drained a checking account. Granted, they shouldn’t take it out on you, but they’re not perfect. When sound system feedback occurs, they won’t understand how difficult it is to prevent feedback, so they’ll crane their necks back to your position with “that look.” Just turn down the level, look back, and smile. Handling a situation graciously will have a ripple effect that de-escalates any negativity, and may even end up giving you the opportunity to accept an apology—graciously, of course. Gentleness and patience is always a better option than wrath.
7. Practice Responsibility
Whether recognized or not, the audio operator serves in one of the most important ministries in the church. You are the one who makes sure that everyone coming through the door can hear the Gospel, the sermon, and the lyrics of the hymns and choruses with clarity. I care about production values, but I care most about people being able to hear the Word, which transforms lives. Take this role seriously. Arrive before the band does. Check that everything used in the service is working properly. Walk around the room, and make sure the speakers are covering the room adequately. You have an important job—it’s an honor, not a burden.
8. Practice Simplicity
Consistency may be “the hobgoblin of small minds,” but it’s the best thing possible when running House of Worship sound. Simplicity will reduce frustration and confusion. Don’t change the routine any more than is necessary, especially just before the service starts. Don’t incorporate that new piece of hardware or software until you’ve rehearsed with it for a while. This is especially true for in-ear monitors, wireless devices, and anything related to computers.
9. Practice Developing a Sixth Sense
This may sound impossible, but it isn’t. As you gain experience with doing worship sound, you’ll begin to “sense” what may go awry during a worship service. You can practice creating “what if this happens?” scenarios. What is your plan if a wireless microphone fails? What do you do when, without warning, someone hands you a homemade CD five minutes before the service and informs you they’ll be singing a special song, now, before the service begins? What will you do when a person approaches the pastor and whispers in his ear during an altar call—will you mute the head-worn microphone so that the personal plea isn’t recorded or broadcast throughout the church? Services may seem routine, but you should anticipate what to do if they vary from the norm.
10. Practice Makes Perfect
There’s a saying that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something. That’s equivalent to practicing 40 hours a week for seven years. Many volunteer sound techs in churches may mix an hour or two a week on average, which is 52-104 hours a year. At that rate, it will take 100 years to accumulate those 10,000 hours! So, to log more hours, you’ll need to find time during the week—not just on Sunday—to practice the skills outlined here. There are really no shortcuts to becoming an expert, but don’t give up! We need you back there—let me know if I can help.