Be a Soundman – In Two Hours!

28 05 2007

Recently I was given a challenge. It wasn’t posed as a challenge, but the more I thought about it, that’s what it was. We have a new ministry starting up in our church, and like most of our ministries, they needed technical support. Early on, they established the laudable goal of recruiting and training (well, I would train) volunteers to provide that technical support (sound, lights and video). A few weeks ago, they had some new recruits, and wanted to schedule some training. Now here was the “challenge;” I was asked, “Will 10 AM – Noon be enough time?”

Sounds innocent enough, right? Is two hours enough time to train a group of volunteers with little or no experience in the technical arts how to do what I’ve spend the last 20 years learning how to do. All I could say was, “Uhh, sure, that will be fine.” As I sat there staring blankly at the open door of my office, I started thinking about all the things I’ve tried to teach in 2 hours. Recently, I taught a 2 hour class on how to use compressors (could have used more time…). Before that was 2 hours on EQ and basic mixing techniques (went 30 minutes over…). Shoot, last summer to teach a group of Jr. & Sr. high school students how to do tech in that same room, I did two 3-hour sessions!

Once again, I got to thinking…there is a lot to this tech stuff we do. Precious few people can walk up to a soundboard, even a small one and start mixing. Some people can pick up on how to use Media Shout in an hour or two, and while programming a simple light board isn’t rocket science, it’s not exactly intuitive if you’ve never done it before.

I came up with an analogy (I love analogies…). Trying to teach someone how to do tech in 2 hours is rather like trying to teach someone how to play guitar in 2 hours, and then have them stand on stage and lead worship. Some years ago, I tried to learn to play the guitar. After about 4 months I gave up. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I would “play” for several hours a night sometimes. Turns out, playing the guitar well is hard. The same goes for the technical arts.

Sure I can show someone how to advance a script in MediaShout, maybe even talk about how to add a song or a graphic. But once the lights go down and it’s showtime, it’s another world. I can show someone that “this is a fader, it makes the mic or instrument or CD player louder or softer in the house,” but go beyond that to patching stuff in, setting up multiple monitor mixes, effects, EQ…by now most people’s eyes are glazing over.

If you are a faithful volunteer or staff person who has mastered some level of proficiency in the technical arts, give yourself a pat on the back. This is complex stuff we’re doing here, and getting more so all the time. Have a commitment to learning all you can to improve your craft and don’t let anyone call you a button pusher. Yes, sometimes we do push buttons, but it’s knowing which buttons to push when that sets us apart. We’re no more button pushers than the lead guitar player is a string plucker. To all the technical arts people out there – I applaud you. Thank you for using your technical aptitude to serve the Kingdom of God. The service could not go on without you.

So what did I do with my 2 hour training window? Well, I simplified everything as much as possible, sent out a 7 page handout in advance for them to study and wrote a 15 page booklet with as many diagrams and screenshots as I could get in there. I talked as fast as I could and hoped I covered enough so that they can get started. Then I invited all of them to my upcoming 2 hour session on basic mixing…




One response

28 05 2007
Daniel Koster

I have been in the position of training volunteers with no previous experience numerous times and a few weeks ago I decided I was going to put together some kind of book (or at least pamphlet) that I could give to people before doing a formal training session. I figured if I did this, I’d want to share it with other ministries too, so I got the domain (as that is my current working title). I haven’t put any content online yet, but will soon.

Would you be willing to share the handout and pamphlet that you put together? I’d love to see what ideas you put in and use them in my own work if you don’t mind (and I’d certainly give you credit).

I love your blog. I found it after I decided that such a blog is needed to share information with others in the production ministry. I’ve since put my plans on hold since you’ve covered my topics pretty well so far. But fortunately we’re not in competition (as we are both on the same team trying to bring glory to God), so hopefully soon I’ll have some content up at the website that will compliment your site.

PS – After I finish the booklet, my next project will be a CD or something of the sort to help teach people about EQ’s (using samples of different frequencies and hearing how different settings can affect the overall music or speaking). Since you’ve also taught classes on that subject, I’d love to get your input on such a project as well. If you are ever interested in working together on such materials, please contact me! (I’ll send you my phone number if you e-mail me).


Daniel Koster

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