Like most churches I know, the running and maintenance of the sound system in a modern western church building is done by volunteers. The skill and knowledge of these volunteers can be as wide ranging as the breadth of this country of Canada. I do not take it for granted I will be around each week to be the “go-to” guy in case equipment doesn’t work or an adjustment is needed. Something has to be done that will outlast my time at our church or even here on this earth: creating an operational handbook to set up and use the church’s sound equipment. The goal is to provide consistent use of the equipment from week to week and person to person.
The scriptural basis for this idea is taken from 2 Peter 1:12-15 and Exodus 25-31. It is useful to commit what we’ve learned in some form of current archival format. In the case of the Tent of Meeting, it provided the blueprint for the restoration of worship in various periods of Israel’s history after a moral and spiritual falling away. It is a form of leadership that, while maybe not inspiring, still needs to be done. Our church’s Worship Coordinator recently provided this description of that leadership: “Seeing what needs to get done. Caring that it needs to be done. Caring how it gets done. Ensuring that it gets done.”
In my early days of learning to use sound equipment, my previous church was blessed with decent quality hardware. They also had the backup of one of the best sales/installation companies for houses of worship in the area. Documents and seminars were a regular part of training to make the best use of our equipment. It was not so in my current church when I first came there, but God placed me there at just the right time to help them through the choices of upgrading their sound equipment. I learned a lot and began envisioning a new booth layout.
What does this preamble have to do with a handbook? A foundation of four things needs to be done before writing one:
1. Get the information or people needed for sound advice if upgrading.
2. Document all equipment that is owned or to be purchased on a spreadsheet.
3. Become very familiar with all equipment and settings. Experiment with adjustments to understand the effect on sounds.
4. Photograph everything related to the sound system – whether it will be used in the handbook or not – for an archive of how things look or are positioned.
The first step is to find a trustworthy person or company who will carefully look over the needs of the church and recommend equipment the technicians can really use (i.e.: within their level of expertise). It will be within the budget of what the board is planning to spend and will meet possible expansion needs of at least five years down the road. Install the equipment and have things like EQ’s calibrated by a professional. Use the equipment and become familiar with settings so that setup can be done fairly quickly.
As this is going on over a period of months, the handbook can begin to take shape. Document every piece of hardware that is owned by the church: descriptions, quantities, model numbers, serial numbers and places of purchase (if known). Insurance companies love this sort of thing and it provides the church board with a good handle on one aspect of their assets.
Get owner/user manuals; especially in electronic format such as PDF. Information on operation and schematics can be very helpful.
Take digital photographs of knob and slider positions. If someone messes around with settings, a reference is there for proper resetting. A recent example of this happened with our wireless hand-held microphone. A battery was going dead in the wireless and the technician on duty kept boosting up the receiver’s output to the sound board (and the line gain) during rehearsal. It was mentioned to me that it was “acting up” and needed adjustments. I knew this was unusual since nothing ever goes wrong with our equipment (LOL). During Sunday’s speaking time, our guest speaker had the mic go dead halfway through his talk. He was quickly given a cabled mic and I began diagnosing what might have gone wrong – starting with measuring battery voltage levels. The batteries were replaced. A quick glance at the board and mic receiver revealed knob positions that were way outside normal, but I couldn’t remember exactly where they should be. Photographs were archived on the computer in the sound booth and it took a few minutes to figure out what the normal settings should be and were corrected. When the mic was used later in the service, it was fine.
Take photographs of the equipment layout on the stage. Microphone cable routing is critical to avoid the possibility of people tripping. Note mic positions in respect of guitar amplifiers and even the baptismal tank (if your church is equipped with a permanently installed one).
Once the upgrading, usage and settings, and platform information is gathered, it becomes easier to lay out the handbook in a logical, sequential way. These are the two main formats used at our church:
• PowerPoint slideshow with broad overview of getting started.
• A text document with more nitty-gritty (specific) details.
The PowerPoint begins with a slide with an overview of the purpose. The second outlines some very basic dos and don’ts. The slides progress from where to find the equipment to platform hook-ups and layouts to some special events like baptisms.
Then comes basic sound board settings. Just take one line strip and multiply the procedure by how many lines are being used. Ensure lots of clear photos with additional arrow, circles and captions are used. Avoid using more than three or four per slide.
When the PowerPoint is done, export to a slideshow (
.pps) format and archive on a commonly accessed church computer. Our church has a multipurpose one right in the sound booth area. The final step is to print each slide so it can be put into a duo tang.
The second format is to create a text document with more detail then the slideshow. This will include a step-by-step setup with rules of thumb for slide and gain and auxiliary knob or slider settings to get started. Again, save the document on the same commonly accessed church computer. Lastly, print the document for the duo tang.
One final sheet kept on hand is settings for the projector. Ours is kind of sensitive to colouring, brightness, colour temps, etc. and sensitive to different inputs (computer, DVD, VHS, etc.) plus the sunlight coming through the sanctuary windows. The best settings are compatible to the most commonly used projection – usually a song PowerPoint and maybe the pastor’s laptop for sermon notes. Create a flow chart diagram that follows the menu selections with the base settings in each box. It should be a simple one page sheet that is a quick reference in case something looks askew when the projector is started up.
One other item done was making schematics of plug locations in the sanctuary – this required a few separate sheets for different locations. One sheet had connections for all the equipment in the sound booth. These may or may not be used as reference sheets in the back of the handbook.
Doing all this has accomplished two things: made me more astute as a sound technician on how to use the church’s equipment and began a good foundational legacy for current and future sound techs.