I started running church sound at a young age. Back then we ran everything in the Sunday worship service through an Electro Voice 16 channel audio board, model BK-1642. Each fader controlled the volume of each individual mic and sound source, typically comprising of a piano, organ, instrument mics, a worship leader, a gaggle of singers, and then the ol’ standbys of church sound: the pastor’s mic, the pulpit mic, the line input for karaoke music ministry soundtracks. Each individual channel routed sound to the main speaker and also had different levels for stage monitors, ancillary spaces, and the master cassette recording for the very active tape ministry. It was 1993. I was still in Junior High, spending my time either at the church or at an old store called “Radio Shack”, though they sold much more than radios and were usually upgraded from shack to at least a strip mall. Occasionally I’d have a “Shack Attack,” which by the way has no relation to the NBA, except that maybe Shaq hit his head on a doorway of a Radio Shack in an attempt to buy a 1K ohm resistor, which doesn’t seem very Shaq like. In those days, Radio Shack sold everything, including mics, mixers, tape decks, and the ubiquitous Tandy Computer, and my Shack Attack meant I had to go get my free battery of the month. These were strange times.
I had some excellent teachers in my life, and I’m not just talking about the patient educators that carried me through public school from c to shining c. I refer to the musicians, the worship leaders, the pastors, the experienced managers and show runners who were willing to answer my questions and let me awkwardly watch in the shadows. This, by the way, is why I fit right in at Radio Shack.
Looking back, I find myself especially thankful for all the lessons I received while learning to run sound. Church audio is a bit like doing air traffic control. No, the operator errors aren’t nearly as catastrophic, though every church sound tech knows what it’s like to be stared down when something goes wrong. They hardly ever get recognized for keeping it all together, but miss a mic cue or leave a pastor’s mic on while he’s in the restroom, and suddenly he’s shunned like a Judas Junior.
The best way to run sound is to not be noticed. How does one avoid detection? By not missing something in the service. How does one not miss something? By paying close attention. A good sound tech will slide a fader up when someone up front grabs a mic and starts-a-talkin’. A great sound tech will watch and anticipate human behavior based on previous experience and say “I bet they’re going to pick up the mic…” and keep their hand on the fader just in case. If it’s a particularly busy service, this kind of thought process — anticipating what could happen and taking some pre-steps to be ready — might take place over 100 times. This is why church techs take long naps on Sunday afternoons. Not only is it biblical, it’s required for sanity.
Sure, how-to knowledge is found in books, imparted through anecdotes, dispensed through instructional videos (plus ads). Wisdom, which is knowledge applied at the right time and in the right way, can only come through experience. Paying attention is what translates experience to wisdom. A good memory and a mind that says “I’m going to avoid that next time” helps, too.
It was always hard to watch a crash and burn from the sound board in the back of the room. Wireless mics being left off or switched off when they were already on, while the speaker fiddled with the switches and people shouted “your mic’s not on,” even though the only switch is on the mic itself and nothing can be done from the back except for awkward hand motions that only lead to more confusion and unintended plane landings. Such chaos, and it’s not the fault of the tech, though few realize this. Meanwhile someone in the pews is praying about throwing a hymnal at you. You know… in Jesus’ name and all.
A sound guy I know named Jim figured out a way to make it so that wireless handheld mics couldn’t be turned on and off — it’s no more complicated yet just as effective as the kind of latch guard you might put on your kitchen cupboards to keep the toddlers out. It works. It’s brilliant. It’s not done everyplace. Today’s mic have lockouts and little tasers that reinforce behaviors, but back then, it was all 9 volts and huge, tempting switches.
Knowledge says “well, if they turned it off, it’s their fault.” Wisdom says “As the sound guy, I’m going to get the blame anyway, so I’m going to make this mic switch foolproof.” Wisdom wins the day. The mic is left on and small catastrophe has been avoided again. Behold the unsung hero: the church tech.
Consider, though, the steps that lead up to rightly applied knowledge. It’s like a big phat math problem:
Knowledge + Human Nature + Experience + Lessons Learned + Proactive Steps + Adaptation + Fresh Batteries + Good reflexes = the wisdom of running sound.
I keep thinking about how this can be applied to all of life. As a husband… as a father… as a friend… as a leader. Many of my foibles draw back to misapplied knowledge = lack of wisdom = foolishness.
No wonder the book of Proverbs tells us to go after wisdom more than we would gold, or, by extension, our own comfort and meh.
God likes it when we chase wisdom because 1) He is wise and has created us in His image and 2) He wants what is best for His creation. The Heavenly Father wants His daughters and sons to pursue wisdom because, in doing so, they are pursuing Him. Oh, and that’s the best and most mysterious part: God dispenses wisdom freely to those who ask for it by faith. He says “what? He wants wisdom and he want it so they can better love me and love others? Here ya go, kid!”
My challenge is to make sure we’re both asking for and paying attention to the methods of developing good wisdom that already exist by God’s design. The Consequence of Paying Attention is Wisdom. He has made us to pay attention — to watch, learn, apply, and to have the humility that leads to wisdom. Surrounded by teachers? We all are. I see that in a way I didn’t before.