Recently I was talking to a frustrated worship leader at a church I was helping with their live sound issues. He was talking about his (volunteer) sound guy: “Dude, it’s not like it’s my job to keep running back there and showing them how to do stuff.” I (maybe not very politely) responded, “Actually Fred (name changed to protect the guilty), it is. Let me explain the difference between paid staff and volunteers. Hopefully you’ll understand that you’re lucky to have any because if I came to church here, I’m not sure I’d work for you.”
Too harsh? In both my travels as a sound consultant, and my lifelong experience as a church brat, band member, worship leader, and pastor, I discover over and over that the stereotypes about sound guys exist for a reason. Yeah, a lot of them are grumpy, and many of them lack some needed skills, but if you’re willing to zoom out a little bit, it’s not hard to see why. So, in the spirit of an apology, and sort of explanation to my rudeness to Fred, here are 5 reasons it’s not the sound guys’ fault.
1.) You didn’t train them.
So many good-natured, servant-hearted people are totally set up to fail in this role from day one. Some mechanic who once installed his own stereo system at home gets prodded by his wife during a call for volunteers, and the next thing you know he’s been locked in that booth for 5 years, with the current plan for him being to have a week off when Jesus comes back. His “training” consisted of a 5-minute run-through on a Sunday morning right before he ran his first service. Now he runs the main complaint station for every grumpy member of your congregation and mainly gets attention whenever something goes wrong. Seriously, you should only do this to people you hate. Is it any wonder he bites now? This is why often in my training events I offer time for repentance, and whenever speaking to groups of sound people I offer apologies on behalf of their church staff that “know not what they’re doing”.
2.) They don’t have the proper equipment to do their jobs.
Many churches are running like the Millennium Falcon week to week. Turn stuff on, bang on it, and cross your fingers hoping you make it through the service. Having the right tools matters. Pastors, can you imagine having to prepare a sermon using only your least favorite Bible translation?
Worship leaders, imagine replacing your carefully curated pedal board with a bunch of random stuff from the guitar center closeout shelf. This is what many sound techs are facing week after week. When the microphone cuts out, everyone shoots a frustrated look at the sound booth. The sound person has been telling the staff that it needs to be looked at for months, but nothing gets done, and people assume the sound person sucks.
3.) No “win” has been clarified, therefore all anyone can do is lose.
Sound techs intuitively assume that their job is to offend no one since it is church and we’re supposed to be nice. When they receive complaints (from people that generally just don’t like rock music and are going to be unhappy no matter what), they feel personally responsible and begin to mix out of fear, trying their hardest to do what every pastor knows is impossible: please everyone in the church. Volume and mix preferences are wildly subjective, and no two people (including professional mix engineers) totally agree on what good is.
4.) They are volunteers.
In most churches (like Fred’s), these wonderful people are here only out of the kindness of their heart. They are among the first to arrive and last to leave on a day that for many people it’s their only day to sleep in.
In most churches I’ve seen, they serve more frequently ([fewer] Sundays off) than any other area in the church. And they carry a tremendous weight of responsibility. Is there any other volunteer position in the church where the pressure of the entire service is on someone? They’re not paid, and they’re there as long or longer than the staff?
And last but not least:
5.) You forgot to turn the mic on, bro.
The most common answer to “what’s wrong?” is “someone on stage did the wrong thing.” Not that that’s going to stop anyone from blaming the sound person.
Now that you, I and Fred are on the journey of repentance together, maybe consider if that Starbucks gift card is really adequate to express your appreciation for the team this holiday season.
Article written for MinistryTech by Caleb Neff. Caleb is a producer, pastor, songwriter, worship leader, husband, and dad from Cape Coral, Florida. His passion is helping artists both inside and outside the church develop their full creative potential. Check out his website, http://www.juniperrecording.com