Jim Shrimplin

Lessons From The Booth

“Check!  Check!  Is this thing on?”
I believe that one of the most important ministries in the church is often overlooked and forgotten about… until someone can’t be heard.  I have been doing church sound off and on for 25 years.  I started at my home church in Lawrence, Kansas.  It was my introduction to ministry and I loved it.  I have spent countless hours in church sound.  I am not a professional sound engineer but I have learned a few things over the years and I wanted to share then with you.  Hopefully, you will come to appreciate the person “running sound” at your church.

The sound booth can be a lonely place especially when the speakers are feeding back that high pitch whistle that everyone hates.  One thing that every church sound person can be assured of when the sound invades the room is that every head will turn and look toward the booth.  Here are some things that that sound operator wants you to know in that moment.

  1. I am a volunteer so please cut me some slack.  I am working as hard as I can to get the problem fixed.
  2. It is taking me a long time to get the problem fixed because I am not well trained.  I am 14, 15, 16 years old and this is my first taste of ministry.  Everyone thinks that because I am young I understand technology.  While I am good with my smartphone and tablet, I have never really worked with this kind of thing before.  As far as training goes, I sat next to “Bob” for one service and he “showed” me how everything works.  The problem is Bob is a good guy and the services he runs the board in sound great but he is a terrible teacher; for me at least.  He went to fast.  He did everything himself.  I never even got to touch the soundboard and now I am on the schedule for the next 16 Sundays in a row.
  3. Everyone wants the sound in the church set just for them.  They will come up to you, or even worse they will tell someone else while you are within earshot, that they could not hear.  They say, “Hi Jim.  I am so glad you are doing sound but I could hear today.  Next week could you please turn it up a little bit?”  What they don’t know is that 30 people have already talked to you and said, “Hi Jim.  I am so glad that you are going sound but it was too loud today.  Next week could you please turn it down?”  Now, who do you listen too?
  4. A lot of “performers” have no idea how microphones work.  The classic example is the person that has the mic too far from their mouth.  What does the tech do? Right, they turn up the volume.  How does the “performer” respond?  Right again!  They pull the mic farther from their mouth which causes the tech to again turn them up even more.  The tech and the perform play this game until either the sound echoes or “performer’s” arm becomes too short so they bring back to where they started and blasts everyone out of the church and the game begins again.
  5. We spent $XXXXX 5 years ago, how come this piece of equipment doesn’t work?  While I know it is frustrating to spend a pile of money on new equipment and things not work properly, the problem is Audio/Visual equipment is constantly needing to be tweaked in some form or fashion. When you add that with #2, there are times that the equipment is not the problem.  It is the fact that the tech running it does not know enough to run it well.  Not only that some sound equipment is delicate.  You put a “hot” amp in a cabinet with poor ventilation it is not going to last as long as an amp that is properly ventilated.
  6. Do we really need that?  Again I understand that churches have tight budgets and that piece of equipment or repair might not be “doable.”  For this reason, I would advise that churches budget for A/V repairs and replacement.  The attitude of “if it not broken don’t budget for it” will cost you more in the long run.  If you budget for A/V equipment over time, when the time comes to purchase the equipment you can afford the better stuff.  You won’t have to get the budget equipment that will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
  7. Why did you put it there?  There are so many churches that have balconies and that is almost always where the A/V equipment goes.  While the A/V equipment is out of the way, the problem is that the sound tech does not hear what the congregation hears.  I would recommend if at all possible put your A/V equipment on the same level as the majority of your congregation sits.  This will cause the A/V tech to see and hear the same things that your congregation sees and hears.  In turn, this allows the tech to make adjustments that are actually a benefit to the overall enjoyment of the experience.
  8. It can be a thankless job.  The Sunday service went perfect; not a problem or mistake.  The pastor shakes hands at the door as everyone files out. People are telling the minister that the service was great and that they did a great job.  Where is the A/V tech?  They are collecting mics to take back the sound booth, putting rechargeable batteries back in their chargers for next week and other after service things that need to be done.  While they are not on the sound team for the praise, you know how many people come up to them and say, “Great job up their today?”  Right again. no one.  But you let there be one A/V mistake and a line will form, not to shake the tech’s hand but to ask, “What went wrong?” at best or at worst “chew you out” for not doing your job.
  9. Not enough people!  Have you ever looked back at the tech and wondered why the same person does it every week?  The reason is simple.  No one else wants to do it which can lead back to number two above.  The pastor asks for volunteers but no one comes forward.  The tech wonders how they ever got “conned” into this job.
  10. Finally, number 10?  What do you think 10 should be?  Leave a comment and tell us your Number 10!