"Time to make the doughnuts."
In 1983, Michael Vale uttered those famous words that placed the commercial for Dunkin' Donuts into the advertising history books. Michael's role was "Fred the baker." If memory serves me (and I refuse to use youtube to check), he woke up at three in the morning, walked into the bathroom and looking as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, said to the mirror, "time to make the doughnuts."
He knew that in a few short hours, customers would be yearning for the yeasts, the cream-filled, and the jelly-filled doughnuts and it was up to him to provide those very doughnuts.
The life of a sound tech is much the same as Fred the baker. "Time to mix some music" could easily be our morning mantra.
Traditionally, the only person who has ever made it to church before me has been the pastor. Oh, we now have early morning prayer time so I might see a few other cars when I arrive. But for the most part, it's just me and my cup of coffee because that's the life of this sound guy.
My first priority is unlocking the doors. Ok, that's a lie. I'm sorry. Forgive me. My first priority is drinking down at least have of the coffee because without it, I am nothing. Then, it's unlocking the doors, checking the automatic thermostats, and turning on all the lights in the sanctuary.
Here are the next eight steps I go through. Pay attention, there may be a quiz.
1. Stage Setup:
Our sanctuary is a multi-purpose room. Therefore, our stage is cleared after each use. Therefore, I spend my first moments in the sanctuary setting up the microphones, cables, DI boxes, monitors, avioms, and whatever else is necessary for that particular service. I already have the schedule for the service and know the worship team that's playing so there is no guesswork in the stage setup.
2. Communications (the first round)
I'll check that the service order I was emailed is the same as the planned order. The pastor might inform me the order of events has changed or that we have added or removed the "special music" line item. At this point, the worship band members start coming in. That's when I find out if any members are gone on vacation or if any additional singer or musician has been added. At that point, I add or remove equipment from the stage.
3. Worship Band Practice and General Run-Through
The worship band practices their songs and during this time, I do all line checks, sound checks, and board work. Monitor levels are also set at this time. Once the worship team is finished, anyone performing/singing "special music" can practice. I set levels (general board work) and make appropriate notes. Once this is done, my service order has filled up with notes for "round one" of changes.
4. Communications (round two)
I talk with the worship leader and the pastor again. The worship leader might call out the addition, subtraction, or replacement of any of the worship team songs. It might include songs being played at a different point in the service. Some of this occurs naturally during #3 but it's always best to confirm. The pastor might inform me of last minute changes – the soloist called in sick, he decided to add a video at the start of the sermon so I have to run the audio for it, anything is possible at this point. In short, I have to make sure the service order sheet is right so when the service starts, I know what to expect.
5. The Service
This would be everything that people expect from the sound tech. Mixing, hitting mic cues, providing audio via recorded media, preventing feedback, recording the sermon, etc. As long as I have done my job in steps one through four, this step is easy.
6. Pack'em Up
In an amazing amount of time, the worship team and their instruments have disappeared. There, on the stage, alone, is a mass of cables, mic stands, and other gear that is now left to yours truly to put away. Being honest, I've usually got a few sound tech's that might help me if they are available. The fact of the matter is this is yet another part of being the sound tech that people forget.
7. Communication (round three)
Talk with the worship leader and pastor for a quick face-to-face about the service, discussing issues that came up, problems with equipment, and anything else that is important such as retrieving the wireless mic from the pastor.
8. Lights Out
After everything has been put away and all communications are finished, the day ends much the same way it started; just me in the church. I'll mark anything that needs to be fixed, purchased, or completed before the next service. Then I turn out the lights and lock the doors.
What Does All This Mean?
It means the roles and responsibilities of the sound tech are not limited to the work which is accomplished during the service. Even the list above does not mention work which occurs throughout the week such as meetings, equipment repair, scheduling, and working on practice days if required.
If you are considering volunteering at your church to be [drum roll] "a cool sound guy" then you must know it's not as glamorous as you might think. You'll spend just as much time outside of the sound booth as you will behind it. Some weeks you might spend even more time outside the booth.
If you are a worship leader or a church leader or pastor, use my condensed list of sound work as a means of recognizing that the guy who "runs sound" in your church does much more than just sit behind the mixer. He or she must perform technical work such as equipment setup and repair. They must perform the art of mixing so the band sounds great. They must also work in the areas of communications, negotiations (another topic, another time), and in organization.
If you already work as a sound tech and are feeling a little burned out, list out all the work you do each week with regards to the sound system. Then, see what can be delegated to another person and delegate it! Next, look for any area in which the work you do is not beneficial and then stop doing it. Do you really need to inventory all the equipment every week? Is there anything that you do that someone else would love to do? For instance, there is a retired dentist at our church who works with a lot of electronics in his home. Whenever we have cables that need fixed, we give them to him and he does the repairs. Bottom line, by listing WHAT you do, you can see WHAT you can eliminate.
The first article in this series discussed measuring success. Success comes from hard work, skill, and determination. Being a church sound tech requires a lot of hard work outside of the church service time. If you aren't willing to put in the time to do this job, you will see (and hear) the results come service time.
Next week, I'll cover the training aspect of being a successful church sound tech and how ongoing training is an absolute necessity. I'll also give a list of resources, from books, to videos, to classes, that will boost your confidence and your technical ability.