A Tech Booth That Makes Sense

Technically Speaking Column with Kent Morris

Now that we as techs are no longer relegated to the upper balcony—or worse, housed inside a small room with a sliding glass window—we are part of the church community residing on the main floor. Generally speaking, today we are allowed to run audio, video, and lighting from a functional position in the midst of the congregation. 

Since we have become mainstream we should take the time to evaluate our service domicile. We can determine how our tech booth should be built, operated and maintained to reflect the ethos of the sanctuary and provide an efficient work flow. 

LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION

As in real estate the primary tech booth concern is location. For audio, the console should be located within the congregation. This is best placed a little more than halfway back and slightly off center within the direct field of the loudspeaker system. For video the concern is two-fold. For lyric and message content, the key is  being able to see and hear vocalists and speakers in order to stay in sync as the service progresses.  

Positioning the ProPresenter computer and operator next to the audio console is customary. On the other hand, for I-Mag, the rule is to visually display something other than what the audience can see themselves. 

This means the video director will need to call shots from cameras over the intercom.  Video production works best outside the sanctuary where directives can be given without disturbing the service. A room adjacent to the sanctuary is often used as it offers close cabling connection, coupled with privacy. 

 Lighting can be handled, depending on the situation, next to audio in the booth. However, It may require a position at the rear of the room with enough elevation to see the space as a whole. 

Less complex lighting designs can be located in line with audio and lyrics in the booth. More extensive configurations will require a separate lofty perch. In some instances the solution is to place the complex control surface in a rear room with a small remote controller in the booth. This allows handy access to standard weekly presets, such as Sunday morning and Wednesday rehearsal, without walking to the lighting booth.

THE BOOTH

The tech booth should be physically large enough for several operators to function while allowing egress across the rear. The booth location should also be considerate of the neighbors and strive to take up as few seats as possible. If the booth can be elevated without obstructing the view of congregants aft, it will give booth personnel consistent views of the platform whether the audience is sitting or standing. However, even a modest elevation of twelve inches can block views. The  booth location may need to be compromised in order to achieve the necessary rise. 

Elevation is sometimes needed to allow for cabling underneath and easy access to conduit terminations and infrastructure. it is a worthwhile endeavor If the booth can be placed nearer the rear of the sanctuary, angled toward the center without causing loss of sound quality representative of the bulk of the room.

Once the size, elevation, and location of the booth are determined, the horizontal surfaces can be addressed. 

It is tempting to build a single solid layer for simplicity’s sake. A better approach is to build adjustable segments as needs may change in the future. Some consoles are high enough to “spill over” the top of the booth, requiring a lower counter for that segment. 

A standard counter height is thirty-six inches. Most tech booths, however, go with the common bar height of forty-two inches in order to operate in a more upright stance. During construction it is possible to temporarily place the horizontal surfaces at various heights until a consensus is made.

An open slot of about three inches depth at the rear will allow for unfettered cable access and is much preferred over hole saw circles placed at intervals. It is a good idea to slant the modesty rail cap that surrounds the tech booth to prevent anyone from being able to leave a drink on it. 

The booth should be built well but not so it is impossible to take down and reconfigure as needs change. Wheelchair access, even when not required by law, should be included to not prevent a gifted tech from performing their service of worship.    

TECH POWER 

Dedicated tech power is now a necessity based on the susceptibility of modern digital electronics to power issues. The tech power should be derived from a clean location in the electrical system and given dedicated grounding as well. It is not out of line to request separate power for lighting because dimming circuits, or simply dimming LEDs, can create audible noise and visible artifacts. The AC power should be terminated in noted outlets easily accessible from the operator’s perspective and as much away from low level signal cabling as possible. 

In a perfect world the tech booth flooring would be made of elevated removable square panels with simple access to cabling beneath. If that approach is cost prohibitive, plywood flooring with dedicated segment cutouts will make future renovations more manageable. 

Low cost carpet squares are a popular option as the final surface because they are simple to replace when worn or torn and they reduce chair noise during service. Chairs need to be height adjustable and comfortable enough for several hours of continuous use. With ergonomics now a science, properly designed seating that reduces back strain is good stewardship. 

BOOTH  ETIQUETTE 

Techs are usually FILO, First In, Last Out. Therefore, it is wise to outfit the tech booth with a small refrigerator, microwave, Keurig machine, and lockable drawers for healthy snacks. 

While theft is a concern, its deterrence must be weighed against ease of access. This means that locks make sense. Locks should be combination or app-based to prevent the chaos that ensues when the key to the mic drawer is missing just before Sunday service. 

Most thefts are crimes of opportunity. Putting things away lessens the chance they will “walk off.” 

Using a dust cover with a Kensington lock around consoles stops most amateur thieves while even the strongest lock is no match for a professional. Criminal pros are best stopped before they enter the building. Accomplish this  by using diligent prevention efforts focused on slowing the theft process through layers of security and making entry onto the church campus a highly visible event.

The tech booth is home for those who serve every event held in the church. It should be well considered, thoughtfully built, accessible and safe for everyone involved.

Booth etiquette centers around common courtesy and the realization that techs are a team within a team. Sharpies are personal property; the coffee gets made before anything else happens; no one on the team is anyone’s mother; sanitation is everyone’s responsibility, and donuts and pizza solve all conflict. The tech director should have a booth behavior guide posted at the entrance listing any special needs or restrictions members may have and stipulations regarding visitors and children.

The tech booth is home for those who serve every event held in the church. It should be well considered, thoughtfully built, accessible and safe for everyone involved.

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