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The Five Signs of a Shipshape AV Tech Team
By: Branon Dempsey

"Something will go wrong" seems to be the motto of most audio teams in the church, as well as any other form of live presentational and recorded music. Whether at the stadium, restaurant or other social gathering, it's not so much the question of "if" things will go wrong, but when. For volunteer audio-media teams, musicians and singers in the church, knowing the five signs of a technically challenged team can make all the difference between ship-shape or ship-wreck.

1. Setting Sail
The easiest thing to do is throw caution to the wind, begin the service and catch things on the fly. If you do this, you will catch more than what's on the fly as it will hit you over the head. Preparation, as simple as it sounds, is often the most overlooked and under-thought. Go figure. You rush up to the church or venue, where ever you came from. Quickly flip on the power, roll out a few lines, climb back on your stool and wait for the band to show…this is procrastination.

One safe way to help you prepare for your team is to create a checklist. I perform this before every service/event. In this list, I include things like: power supply, projector bulb(s), projector fan filter(s), computer systems, lighting system and dimmer packs. For audio, this would include checked cables (for damage/wear), test mikes and check for damage on capsules, test the signal chain overall, put in an mp3 and test the mains and monitor systems, digital scene tweaking, gain structures and so forth.

You're really preparing before you prepare. In other words, we as a tech team need to be ready, before the worship team arrives, not during their set-up. When you are prepared, you can spend that extra time serving the band by checking on their logistic needs, help load-in and overall be a servant.

2. The Chain of Command
Communication is the No. 1 failure for most band and audio/media teams. Whether it's changing the rules in the middle of the game, players in the game or overall, who is calling the shots, miscommunications lead to huge shipwrecks.

When the worship leader or pastor plans the set list, it needs to also go to the audio team before the rehearsal and/or service. This enables the team to substantially be in the know to prepare set up, lines, mix and space on the stage. Keep your game plan consistent, on-time and unchanged as much as possible. When change does occur, you're able to roll with the punches.

Speaking of, when there is an on-the-fly change, it first needs to be discussed with the audio and media team and lead engineer ASAP. Changing players is also a big deal. It's common to have a musician or singer to be replaced and/or missing for the weekend. If it's somebody like the drummer or bass player, this is a huge adjustment in the respect of equipment and sound needs. If you have a new player who shows up unannounced on a service/event without communicating first, you're in for a shark bite.

My head AE and instructor Kent Morris has an awesome approach. He will go down to the front of the stage and ask the guest musician his or her exact needs. If they bring in a piece of gear that is not the right application or fit, he will encourage them along and work toward a positive solution.

Another key factor on communication is channeling the verbiage through one person on stage. The engineer can hear one complaint or sound need at a time and not five people all at once. Say no to the choirs.

3. The Beacon of Teamwork
If communication doesn't sink your ship, then attitudes will. Work with the worship leader towards a model that curbs unwanted personalities. It begins with you. The more professional, calm and polite you can be, the more people notice and will respond by adjusting their behavior.

Attitudes need to walk the plank in order to get the positive minds back on deck. I don't suggest posting a sign that says: "Thou Shalt Not Whine." It may be effective for some, but, for others, they just need a good kick in the kindness. Or, as they say, kill 'em with kindness.  All kidding aside, a soft answer truly does turn away wrath. Much of the teamwork is learning how to serve others.

For example, when you experience a really good wait staff, you will better enjoy the restaurant and your food. The same is true at worship services and/or events. We as the worship team are the waiters serving the common good for a common goal. Listen and follow through when leaders give direction – even if you disagree.

It's about the team, not about you. Know your position on the ship and do your part. Also avoid telling others how to do their job. Let the leader do it. If there is conflict, either go directly to that individual privately or work it out with the leader of that ministry. All in all – serve one another.

4. Storm at Sea - Abandon Ship?
Things will go wrong. When they do, what's your plan? Years ago, I posted up an Emergency Procedure in the media booth. It included things like what to remember or do when a projector, switcher or computer fails. In addition, I posted one for audio as well: channel failure, mixing scene freezes, if a battery goes out, etc.  My team also found it helpful to provide my own version of product cliff notes for the media components.

The best pro-action you can give is to have a strategy in place and be ready to fix it. As you know, a good AV team is working best when it's solving problems, not creating nor avoiding them. In the end, the ideal situation is to calmly man the ship when things go wrong.

Character under pressure is another life preserver. All eyes are watching you. How you handle a stressful situation will help you steer in the right direction. Trust me, no one has ever died due to a worship service. They may feel like it, but they also wake up again on Monday. You as the leader or team member are committed to the voyage – stay on it.

5. Land A'Hoy
The pay-off of preparation, leadership, communication, teamwork and careful planning will help you reach the shore. What does a great service or event look like? It's when no one complains about the sound.

A bonus is when people are thanking each other for their time, effort and energy of the goal.  When's the last time you thanked your teammate or someone else on the worship team?

Another great indicator that we've done our job is when the church can see and hear with clarity as well as serving the upfront worship team and speaking pastors. What a great match and attempt to honor the One who gave us talent and to those whom we serve.

Technically, we can learn all new tricks on the board, in the mix or at the rig, but the most difficult trade to master is good, old-fashioned people skills. You will never lose when you paddle together as a team; otherwise, you're just going in circles.

Cheers to you and your team!

Branon Dempsey is the CEO, founder, and training director of Worship Team Training, a ministry providing workshops and online resources, www.worshipteamtraining.com.

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