Last week, I talked about the psychological aspect of the job and how the anxiety can prevent us from doing our best. I used to get nervous myself both before and during the whole service or event. What if something went wrong? What if I forgot something? How will I deal with it?
Today, I want to cover that.
You’re new at audio. Or, maybe you still have anxiety about running sound. Let’s face this head on and talk about what happens when something does happen, like the pastor’s mic goes out, you get feedback, or pick your worst scenario.
The Four Reactions to Mid-Service Problems
It’s happened, mid-service, and you’ll do one of these four:
I mean truly freeze. You just shut down. When this happens, someone else runs into the booth, moves you aside, and takes over. That’s assuming you have someone who can do that. The outcome, post-event, is you try to justify and rationalize your behavior. You say, “I was never trained in how to deal with that. I couldn’t have fixed that.”
I’ve been the one that ran up when the audio guy got unexpected loud feedback and when I looked back at the booth, he was just standing there looking at the mixer, frozen.
I have yet to see a sound guy run out of the booth to never be seen again. However, I have seen the emotions and outcomes that go along with Flight. That’s the avoidance. Both of these, freeze and flight, have a large amount of disengagement. The farther away you can feel from the problem, the safer you feel. This can result in saying, “I’m done, I’m not running audio anymore.”
This isn’t what you think.
If you’re confronted by a wild tiger, rabid dog, or a clown on roller skates, then yes, fighting is a good thing. But in the production world, not so much. You do engage with the problem but how you engage and how you behave afterword can be dangerous for the Fight(er).
For example, you might yell, in an angry tone, at someone or you can be heard talking under your breath and cussing or blaming others while you’re trying to solve the problem. Then, after the service, you insult a musician for either an oversight on their part or for something out of their control such as their guitar cable goes bad. For you, it’s all about blaming someone else.
I don’t respect people who do this. There is animosity between them and the band and the rest of the tech team – assuming anyone else is willing to even be on the team. They are also a terrible reflection of what it means to be a Christian.
This is what you should do when something goes wrong.
You are engaged with the service, engaged with the problem, and are wisely working to correct it. You take responsibility for everything and afterward, you look at methods of mitigating the problem in the future. You talk with those involved to find out exactly what went wrong, how to prevent it, and what to do if it happens again. In short, you work with a professional attitude and are a benefit to your church.
From the point of view of the congregation, when they all turn and look at you, you aren’t freaking out. Instead, you appear calm and in control.
The Tough Questions
Time to get real.
Where do you fall in the above?
If you can’t “Face it” right now, then what can you do to change that?
Let’s break down each of the categories.
This is the common response I see from rookies. The problem is they have no idea how to fix the problem. And guess what, it’s usually because they haven’t taken a few seconds to look around for the source of the problem. This is why I mentor techs one-on-one, so the first few services they run on their own but they aren’t alone.
I know I’ve referenced this article before, but it’s really the best way to overcome the Freeze when something happens:
Use that article to find freedom in taking responsibility, learning from what happened, and easily move on. They say the wisest people are those who have made the most mistakes.
Flight is about disengaging from a problem to feel safe. It’s about people who run away never to return. It’s why you can’t get people to volunteer on your team, because they are afraid of what they would do if something went wrong.
I believe the answer to overcoming this is knowing that with a little training, you can completely avoid 95% of problems. 3% you can learn to overcome and the remaining 2% are things even the pros can’t avoid.
If you’ve got another sound tech who runs sound without problems – or they’re rare, then you know it can be done.
When you accept that mid-service problems are rare, that removes a lot of anxiety. But then you have to learn what to do when things to do wrong.
I’m a lover, not a fighter. Jokes aside, these are the people whom provide the most complaints. If you blame everyone else when a problem occurs, if you never take responsibility, even though you work to solve the problem then chances are I’ve heard about you. I’ve received plenty of emails over the years from volunteers who complain about another tech who is just like this.
Know that everything in the venue that’s related to audio production is your responsibility.
I’ve run sound and watched the boom arm of an overhead drum mic slowly swing away. It’s not the drummer’s fault. It’s my fault because I forgot to tighten the arm before the service.
Sometimes something goes wrong that can’t be avoided. A cable goes out. Or the power goes out. Or something that couldn’t be predicted just happens. It’s your responsibility to take care of it. And here’s the thing…
It’s also an opportunity to teach fellow techs, at your church, how to overcome the problem.
But here’s the other thing. Once you are willing to accept responsibility for all things audio, you’re going to work harder and smarter, and best of all, you’re going to gain the confidence and respect of the musicians and leadership.
If I’m visiting a church and there is an audio problem, my first thought is, “I wonder how long this will take to get fixed.” When I’m at an event with professionals and something goes wrong, my first thought is, “this will get fixed quick, if not, they’ve got big problem.” And I have the same thought when I’m at a church where I know the sound techs are great.
Put an End to the Fear and Anxiety
A little bit of anxiety keeps us on our toes. It’s when we let our guard down that we can miss something.
What I Do
Time to get personal. How have I survived the anxiety of running live audio over the years?
It comes down to several things.
- Have Confidence. I have confidence in myself that I can do a great job and overcome obstacles. In my early days, what I lacked in confidence, I made up for in ambition.
- Work smart. Acknowledge that things beyond my control will happen and work proactively to prevent them – as much as humanly possible.
- Respect God’s choice for me to work in audio. Audio production is a unique ministry and whether you are paid staff or are a volunteer, he has you in an important position and he wants you to be successful. I have to develop the skills but I also know he would not place me in a role this important where I couldn’t succeed.
- Learn from others. I’m always learning and I’m open to learning from others. Someone might find a better way to do something, a new way to mix something, a better way to do…anything. I’ve talked to techs after an event where something went wrong and I asked what happened and how they overcame the problem.
- Be willing to fail. I’d like to have a “perfect” service every time – at least from an audio production standpoint. But if I make a mistake, I don’t let that define me.
- I know my role on the team. The “team” is the tech team, the band, and the pastor. Working with this mindset, I’m in communication with everyone and the team knows my dedication to my role. They know I’m going to have their back, support them, and do whatever I can so the congregation can enjoy the service.
The Fear of Embarrassment
I judge the quality of an audio tech by how well they do their expected work, from stage to mixer, and how they react when something goes wrong. When something does go wrong and the congregation turns to look at you, it’s easy to get embarrassed. For some, the fear of embarrassment can be crippling.
I’d invited a friend to come to church. I promised them they wouldn’t hear an ounce of feedback, unlike at their church. And what happened when they came to church and I ran sound. Yep, feedback. Red-faced, I wanted to walk out.
Don’t be embarrassed when something goes wrong.
Do you know the difference between you and the rest of the congregation?
You are the one who has the courage to work in live audio production.
Don’t worry what they think. When the tech team, the pastor, and the band know the high quality of your work, they trust you and that’s what matters.
The Fear of Complaints
People complain because:
- They think the volume is too loud.
- They think your mix is bad.
- You mix was bad.
- They don’t like that style of worship music.
- It’s in their nature.
When someone complains to you, respect their time, listen, and then analyze their complaint. Maybe they always complain, maybe you did have a bad mixing day, may you learn something about the acoustics of the room, or maybe you learn that everyone has an opinion on audio production.
Your Next Steps
It’s easy to imagine all of the things that could go wrong during a service. Go ahead, imagine them. With such a list you have two option:
- Let anxiety rule you.
- Use that list to plan for how to react.
There is so much that’s preventable when working pro-actively, like turning off mic channels when the band leaves the stage. And all those other possibilities? Have a plan!
The next time you’re running sound, you could be worried about what could happen next or you could have a plan and be willing to FACE IT!