By Steven Reed
What is it about a soundboard that causes an otherwise nice and normal person to develop a troublesome attitude? Now certainly there are many wonderful sound techs out there, but for fulltime worship leaders, you will likely encounter at least a certain degree of conflict. It comes with the territory. We’ve seen our fair share of ‘sound-person attitude’ as we travel across the country and the world—this character plague transcends culture, distance, age and race—transferring not from person to person but seemingly from the equipment itself. Worst of all it flourishes in the church—crippling worship teams into a constant state of mediocrity and fear. The good news is that there is help and hope, but you need to know the warning signs and what to do about it.
Don’t make your sound person a whipping boy.
In the 15th century, a royal prince would often have someone called a whipping boy who would receive the punishment that should have been given to them. No matter what the prince did, the punishment for his actions was carried out on their stand in. This practice is still alive and well in worship teams because no matter what is wrong with the sound the person behind the board gets the blame. The truth is that sound is always a two-way street—some of the problems are due to lack of ability on the soundboard however most sound problems are actually the worship team’s fault.
Your worship team may be filled with talented individuals but that does not mean that they will sound good as a group any more than a sports team filled with talented players will be automatically better than a good team. You can’t let a bunch of individuals loose on a sport field and expect it to go well and you can’t just let your worship team members play whatever and however they want and expect the sound person to turn into sonic gold.
Character Sketch: The Sound King
Getting blamed for everything that goes wrong even if it’s not your fault is surprisingly not that much fun, and that’s when the fear sets in, and the defense mechanism builds up. You might be creating a Sound King. Frozen by fear some sound people try and gain as much control as they can and build their kingdom. Their walled fortress is known as the “sound booth” and they are king. Don’t try to enter—there’s a sign telling you to “keep out,” and if you were so foolish as to touch anything you will endure their dreaded wrath. These self-appointed sound kings hide behind technical lingo and your lack of knowledge in order to escape conflict and deflect blame—often onto the equipment even though they themselves usually do not know what the buttons do. Out of a fear of being hurt and frustrated they have lost the desire to work together so they strive for more control by putting drummers in a cage or on electronics, plugging guitars in direct, and give everyone in-ear monitors so they don’t have to hear them if they don’t want to.
It Takes Two: The Mute Singers
The other kingdom lies across the sanctuary, a city on a hill known as the “stage” or platform. The space in-between is where the people are caught in the crossfire that happens every Sunday. There is no communication given across these battle lines—it spirals downward to “you do your thing and I’ll do mine”—many becoming so entrenched that they are not even on the same team anymore. If they don’t like what you’re playing they just turn you off—you don’t know it and they will never tell you. You have two kingdoms that should be one and Jesus said that a kingdom divided against itself will fail.
So what do you do?
- Be careful with blame: nothing is ever one person’s fault so treat everything as a team problem.
- Break down the walls: if you can’t touch somebody’s equipment then someone has set up a kingdom.
- Don’t be afraid: even if you don’t understand. Make them show you to where you can hear the difference.
- Get help that helps: You don’t know what you don’t know so make your sound person humble themselves to take regular training and demonstrate to you what they learned.
- Don’t buy anything! Sound attitude likes to spend—but does it ever sound any better? Not to the average person. If they won’t learn how to use what you have now they won’t learn how to use the $10,000 product they asked for.
- Unite the kingdom: have communication and trust with your sound person to develop a collective sound because they are the only ones who are objective. Regularly ask your sound person how it sounds and be willing to take their suggestions.
- Get unstuck: be willing to try new things and create an environment that rewards working to get better instead of judgment if you mess up.
- Learn how to sound good: make it easy for your sound person by sending them great sounds from your gear and play parts that work well together. Even the best sound person in the world can’t make you sound better than you are.
How do you find a good sound person? You probably have two or three in your church right now, but if you don’t fix the system they work in you will likely continue to get more attitude than results and you wont get any better until you work together.
Steve and his wife, Shawn, travel full time to serve the body of Christ in the area of worship. They lead worship, compose and record, provide personalized on-site training for teams and churches, and teach on the subject of worship in English and Spanish.