By Chris Huff
Audio techs rise to the occasion to perform whatever task is requested, with one massive exception. The task of teaching is so daunting for many, it’s where they draw the line. Training volunteers, whether en masse or one-on-one, is simple as long as the right preparation work is performed and it’s entirely not what you think.
Reasons for Training
The first step is recognizing the three reasons for training; teaching for mix consistency, correcting bad practices, and getting everyone to the same level.
Mix consistency is a requirement, whether you believe it or not. A congregation member shouldn’t walk into the sanctuary, see an individual behind the mixer and think, “Here comes the bass.” Volunteers should create a mix that’s fairly even from one weekend to the next, regardless of who is mixing.
Bad practices exist in church audio production because most techs are self-taught or lack training. Therefore, they’ve learned the wrong way to do something, they’ve believed a myth, or they just guess. This goes for everything from microphone usage to performing the sound check. The result is a sub-par sound and a poor experience for the congregation. In some cases, it’s also a poor experience for the band.
The last reason for training volunteers is the most obvious; train them so everyone knows what to do, why to do it, and when to do it. Most audio techs have fielded the question, “do you know what all those knobs do?” You want volunteers who can say, “Yes I do and I also know how to work with the gear on stage, back stage, and in the booth.”
As an aside, don’t assume training should only be for rookies. I’ve taught in-person sessions and had seasoned techs tell me they learned new stuff. Every good tech recognizes the benefit of life-long learning.
Use Training as a Recruitment Tool
The second step is recognizing training is a marketing tool. People want to join the tech team but are afraid to ask because they lack experience and believe the answer would be a quick, “no.” Use training sessions for both the current team and for potential volunteers.
The third step is where the work begins. A training time must be decided that works for everyone. Having lead training and knowing church technical directors who perform their own in-house training, I can say there are three common time slots; full day, after church, and evenings.
Set a Training Schedule
Full day training requires the most preparation. For those with a fear of public speaking you’ll be running for the hills – assuming there are hills in the area. Using this method, plan for fifty-minute blocks of time with ten-minute breaks. Breaks are great for answering those questions best answered outside of the instruction time, preparing for the next session, and giving people a chance to breathe.
Hour-long after church sessions are popular because they enable focusing on one area of audio production. It could be an hour on effects, drum miking, vocal mixing, or whatever else the volunteers need. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what areas of instruction would be helpful. I’ve been surprised at the answers.
The last option is evening sessions. They aren’t ideal because it’s the end of the day for most people; tired, things to do, etc. I’ve tried it and found people would miss a day and then I’m answering basic questions a few days later.
Create a Curriculum
The fourth step is creating a curriculum and there are three ways to do it; focus on your unique problem areas, work through processes (preparing the stage, performing a sound check, mixing a song), or teach them the fundamentals of audio production while including the uniqueness of your church. The last is much more expansive but it comes back to giving the team what they need.
Every audio team has problem areas. I’ve worked with teams afraid of effects, teams that could mix but couldn’t set up the stage to save their life, and teams with such a variety of experience that rookies felt intimidated. The more specific the problem area, the more likely an “after church” session is best. They don’t have to be huge problem areas, they could be refresher courses in topics like gating and compression.
The wider the volunteer experience level, the more likely the need to focus on both best practices and teaching the basics. A great benefit of teaching the fundamentals is the wisdom of the more experienced techs. I’ve taught such varied groups and when a rookie asked a question relating to a particularly unique issue at their church, the older techs would explain how they’ve learned to handle it.
The fifth and last step is to get past the fear and make a plan. At this point, you know the team needs and the more in-depth training required, the more likely you’re thinking, “Forget it, it’s too hard and I’ve never done it before.” It’s not too hard. Well, it’s not easy but it’s not impossible – which is sometimes exactly like audio production.
There are three methods of performing full-on training; co-lead, hire, or use a teaching template. Co-leading works by teaching along with another audio tech. Ask a seasoned tech for help. Look within your church or look to other churches for techs who can help.
Hire a professional to come in and train the team. There are many people, myself included, who perform in-person training. In some cases, the trainers can help with existing audio problems at the church.
The best thing for your audio team in 2015 is training, be it for unique topics or full-on training. The result is more than consistent mixes and well educated audio techs, it’s a cohesive team that works hard together, laughs together, and helps each other.
Chris Huff is the author of Audio Essentials for Church Sound. Find out more at www.behindthemixer.com