Tech Director Torture: An Engineer in the Audience


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I have a confession to make. I am terrible in the audience. Sorry. It’s just a fact.

It wasn’t always like this. Back when I was an amateur musician, music lover, young Christian and uninformed about the tech side. Before recording school, I heard the song and music. After recording school, I would catch myself, at the end of the song, having heard nothing but a ringing snare. Seriously. I ruined my wife like that. She does it, too.

When we moved to Florida, we visited several churches. The largest one had a full band. As we went through the worship service, I tried to just get into it. But, the acoustic guitar was hanging on the edge of feedback. You know that point where it going to break loose any minute? It was right there.

There were several things that went like that. One instrument dominating the mix when it wasn’t featured. One guitar using an effect that was really weird. One singer that should have taken a sick day. Yeah. That stuff.

To 99.9999% of the human race, none of that was an issue. To the person who spends their life trying achieve perfection in their productions every week, it’s a horror story.
“Don’t they hear that?”
“Why don’t they do something about it?”
“Is the tech crew on break?”
Don’t judge me. You do it, too. Admit it and we can move on.

There was a time, early in my life as a tech, when I would go to the board and “try to help.” Using the standard introduction, of course. “Hi. I’m Erik, a super genius, highly experienced, professional audio engineer. I am here to explain what is wrong and how to fix it. Please give me your full attention while I explain everything your incompetent mind can’t seem to grasp.” Not my exact words, but that was the kind of attitude that was there.

Naturally, I hated it when it was the other way around. I am the tech, now. I am the poor slob trying to get this thing under control. I am at the mercy of the knucklehead who decided to adjust his acoustic guitar AFTER Soundcheck was over. I am the guy trying to get the pastor’s wife to sound human, even though her voice is not cooperating. I am the guy trying to fix things that the youth group adjusted the night before. I am the guy running on nine cups of coffee because I work night shift and haven’t slept. I am the guy who is trying to fill in for the main tech who called in sick at the last minute. I am the guy who had an argument with his wife and kids on the way to church. I am the guy trying to keep cool and stay calm because they need me, even though my world is in shambles. I am the guy who might choke the next clown who sticks his head in this booth.

We have all been there. If you have been mixing more than three hours, you understand most of this. And, for the record, I never actually choked anyone in the booth.

Two things changed my attitude from the audience.

It was my crew, my guys, my room. When one of my guys was having some issues, I had to wait. I would look at the booth. If there was movement, I knew they were working on it. If it kept going for more than a minute, then I would work my way out of the audience and go help. Here’s why.

I knew these guys. I knew their lives. I knew their hearts. We had become a solid team, but I was the guy getting chewed out when there was a problem. I was in charge. Part of running a team, is putting the right players in the right position. If I put them there, it was because I trusted them. If they were having a problem, I was going to give them a chance to fix it. If the congregation saw me get up and run back there for every little thing, it would crush my crew. It would tell them I had no confidence in them.

Not the message you want to send if you want a solid team. Not the message you want to send if you ever want a weekend off, either. What will the pastor think if he knows you are the only problem solver and aren’t there? The next service is doomed because they expect something to go wrong.

Now, if they obviously can’t figure it out, don’t make the audience suffer. Go help. But, try to go back there as calmly as possible. Try to keep your hands in your pockets, to show that you aren’t going to choke anyone. Ask the crew if they need help before taking over. Offer as much respect as you hope to receive when you have a problem. Take that opportunity to build up your team.

Knowing how my team worked together, changed my attitude towards other teams. I learned some patience and respect.

I remembered that we weren’t there for absolute technical perfection. We were there to worship. I am learning to detach from the tech position when I am not responsible for it. I am trying to remember something I witnessed in 1998.

I had the honor of mixing for the first ever Russian Pastors Conference in Moscow. The Russians were just starting to allow more freedom to Christian churches. It was an amazing time to be over there. The problem was that there was no money to work with. Pastors were riding on trains for days to attend. People were scraping change together to make this thing happen. It was truly a work of passion.

I spent two days, traveling all over the city, borrowing stuff from every church we could find. A microphone here, a speaker there, a tape deck somewhere else. We found a powered 16 channel powered mixer from the Stone Age and hauled it to the hotel we were renting. I was actually impressed with the electronic monstrosity we had created. The room sounded good. Recordings were clean. Everything was perfect. Soundcheck and rehearsals went flawlessly. I was excited.

I promise, I am not making any of this stuff up.

On the first song, first open chord from the acoustic guitar, in front of a packed house… The magic smoke escaped from that powered mixer. Pop went internal amp number one, then the second one popped. The speakers went silent. My heart stopped and my brain almost exploded. But, guess what else happened. Magic.

The band transitioned to a full acoustic set. The electronic instruments were replaced with tambourines and other percussion instruments. Every musician stepped up and added their voice to the team. The audience never flinched. The worship continued and was amazing.

They came to worship. Not to be entertained. I still wasn’t calm, but I saw it. I ended up doing nothing but recording the rest of the day. Nobody complained, everyone was very happy with the whole experience. God changed a few things in me that day.

It’s still tough to be out there in the audience. I still get frustrated some days. But, not like before. Not since I saw all that.

There’s more like this in my book.

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