How well we work determines the results of our work. In an article by veteran audio guy and Vice President of Sales at Lectrosonics, Karl Winkler tackled what he considers the seven habits of highly effective sound people. Today, I want to cover these habits and dive deeper into each one.
1. Have Excellent Organization
Karl’s advice is to establish effective routines for everything you do and to use the simplest tools to get the job done. That is a good way to stay mentally organized. Our job is a bit of a crazy one so organization for us does tend to be more process-oriented.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few ways we can do this…
- Mix prep method. – review of songs, review of stage requirements, a very need-oriented process
- Stage work – when I work on the stage, I don’t do it randomly, I organize my channels to my stage locations for the musicians and I do things in groups. For example, I’ll put out all of the vocal microphones, then I’ll put out all of the wireless packs. Optionally, I could pull out everything for each musician but I prefer this method instead as I find it easier to track what I need to do next.
- Backstage gear organization – this is a big one for me. We use electrical extension cord reels for storing all our cables by type and by length. We have a full upright toolbox with labeled drawers for wired microphones, wireless microphones, di boxes, in-ear wireless units, etc. This means we never have to search for a piece of gear because we know exactly where it’s located.
- Console channel organization – believe it or not, there is a standard method for labeling channels. And this method means no matter where you are, if you look at the console in that venue, it will be organized in much the same way. For example, all vocal microphones are in channels next to each other and all guitars are in channels next to each other. There is also a layout for how everything should be located next to each other, such as drum channels next to bass, next to guitars, etc.
- Communication organization – This is a big one because there can be a lot that goes on in the days or weeks before the service. For example, we use [a] planning center for our service schedule but also for our volunteer scheduling. We also send out emails to everyone on the list for that week for updates. In short, everyone involved in the production of the service is up to date on everything.
- Finally, a plan for what to do when things go wrong. Yes, I’m putting this under organization because when something goes wrong, chaos can follow. By proactively developing contingency plans, you’ll be organized and know what to do when something does go wrong.
A note on tools. [Karl] mentioned using the simplest tools to get the job done. I’m not sure if he was talking mixers, rack units, or what. I will say that as we move forward, more and more gear is digital in some way, running a computer instead of the gear and that means we’re learning new tools, keeping them updated with firmware, and always keeping an eye on them. Not that that is bad. But, if I need a piece of gear to do one thing and do it well and I can buy a fancy version that accomplishes the task in a complex way, or a plain version that does it in a simple way, I prefer the gear that uses the simple method. I’d rather punch one button than six.
2. Are Continuously Learning
Karl says, “audio equipment is constantly changing and getting more complex and sophisticated. He also says, “But even without chasing the latest software or hardware solution, we need to be on a path of continual learning in our craft… where art and science meet to create new experiences.
So what does continuous learning look like for us?
To start, know your equipment. Know what each knob or button or interface screen does. I’ve been burned before because a problem occurs because an obscure setting was accidentally changed and I had no idea what to do about the problem.
I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to do something on their mixer when the solution could easily be found via youtube videos, product videos, or dare I suggest online documentation.
But let’s look more at our craft.
What does it take to be great at what we do? We have to know the science of sound, the art of mixing, how to have a servant’s heart, and how to work with other people. If you are in a leadership role, then there’s even more to it.
I’ve recently finished a book on leadership called The Advantage, that helps understand the health of a team and organization and what you need to do — and what you should never do.
I’m reading the exam guide for the CTS-D exam because the more I work in audio production, the more I find myself involved with some aspect of video or lighting.
But I’ll also geek out over a science video on sound that I might stumble across. Not to mention reading about mixing techniques.
If you want to dive into a specific area like learning Dante, then checkout Audinate’s website for free training. If you’re ever available to attend a conference like InfoCom, NAMM, or WFX, check out the available training.
Maybe you need help with one area like mixing vocals, then check out my guide….
Finally, think about learning with a VERY open mind. I’ve taken classes on lighting, video production, and even worship musician classes at some of these conferences not because I directly work in those areas but because they are all part of the live production.
3. Have a Good Attitude
Karl states this quite well. In the article, he’s talking more to the professional audio engineers so I’m going to rephrase his words now, that is to say, “Without a good attitude, you will make enemies and stunt your growth as a tech. But with a good attitude, you’ll be more able and willing to learn, take direction, and properly support the band and the pastor.”
Here’s where I want to step in and add a few points.
I like to think of it this way. If you love your work then you’ll have a good attitude about it. That means being positive, being helpful, and doing your best. And remember, when the band is practice, guess who they are looking at? That’s right…you!
When you have a good attitude, you’re more likely to go the extra mile. This might mean bringing in bagels or something else for breakfast for everyone the morning of the service. Maybe it means you stay late to help a musician with a problem. Our jobs are 50% working with people and 50% working solo.
And what if you do have a bad attitude? What’s the reason for it? Figure that out and start working toward a solution. Maybe there’s a rift between you and the worship leader…talk with them or talk with someone who can help bring resolution and restoration.
Maybe you don’t feel like your work is respected? Why is that? Is it based on a comment someone once said or a lack of regular appreciation? In most cases, it’s a matter of a new perspective so you see the involvement of the congregation in the worship as a sign of a job well done. Maybe if you started complimenting people running lights or video that they would end up thanking you for your efforts.
When you have a good attitude, people want to be around you, help you when you have problems, and are more likely to compliment you. And, as I mentioned, the better attitude you have, the more likely you are to do your best work…and that’s something that definitely gets noticed.
4. Serve as Mentors
Karl talked about being a mentor to another. He said, “Nothing fosters the growth of the team faster than sharing the ideas and working to support the best ones.” This is so true. When we get to a certain skill level, it’s time we spent some of our time teaching what we know. And here’s the really cool thing…sometimes we can teach things to people who are better than us.
What I mean is that we all have little mixing tricks we’ve learned over the years and let’s say you’re at church and a new guy joins the team and he’s got years of experience. You might find he’s great…but does he know about your little snare drum mixing trick? Does he or she know how to mix for the acoustic oddities in your room? Maybe this isn’t mentoring but it’s sharing your knowledge and that’s important in my book.
But back to this mentoring idea. If you’re new to audio, then it’s not the right time for you to mentor others but it’s a great time for you to find a mentor at your church who can pour into you and help you become the best mixer you can be.
And if you are the big mixer on campus, look around to see who you could mentor and elevate their skills faster than how they are progressing. In Christian-speak, that’s called being a blessing to someone and isn’t that what we all want to do?
5. Have Good People Skills
Karl Winkler puts forth in his article that, “The people skills will almost always win out over the technical skills. No one wants to work for the “genius” that treats others poorly.”
Great live audio production demands we interface with the church staff, laypeople, musicians, and other people on the tech team. We must have a servant attitude but we also must know how to work with people.
There are people that are easy to talk to but there are others who require more finesse. And I certainly can’t talk geek-speak to everyone. For example, I’m not going to get a new mixer by telling the church board that the mix would be better if I could use a compressor and a gate. But, if I say the congregation will find the pastor easier to understand because the newer technology allows me to correct for problems otherwise not able with the current system, well that’s a different story.
If I had to summarize people skills in a few words, it would come down to this:
I want a sound tech who knows how to talk to people, work through problems, accept responsibility for mistakes, and keep others updated on important pieces of information.
6. Have Good Technical Skills
This part is going to run deeper than you might want. Let me ask you a few questions
- Do you know how to set the channel gain?
- Do you know where to put a mic on a kick drum?
- Do you know what type of mic to use on the kick?
- Do you know the different properties of a microphone and why they are important?
I hope you answered yes to those questions. Now let’s go deeper.
- Do you know how to use a voltmeter?
- Do you know how to solder jacks to a cable?
- Do you know where all of your cables are routed throughout the entire sanctuary?
- Do you know the different ways to set up an amp with two speakers?
Here’s the thing. It’s easy to think your job is easy when you’re mixing in the same room every week and nothing seems to change. But the minute you have to mix someone else, you can’t use your same mix settings. And maybe you’re asked to set up for an outdoor event? Could you do that or would you have to phone a friend?
A while ago, I was talking about what to call a church sound operator. Sound guys, audio artists, music magicians, you get the idea. But there is another name I love but am hesitant to use and that’s “audio engineers.” For me, that’s someone who can answer those tougher questions.
So read the books, listen to the podcasts, go to conferences and take classes. I even suggest shadowing people to help take those skills to the next level.
Karl finishes off his article with the idea of being a good listener. He says, ”we have to listen to what people are telling us, even if we don’t agree. There’s almost always an element of truth to what others are saying.”
His words pair well with having good people skills. For example, if someone complains about the volume, ask questions to find out what was too loud. Don’t assume they are wrong just because you are the sound tech, LISTEN to what they say and you’ll find out if it was a problem with your mix or where they were sitting.
Likewise, be slow to defend yourself or your work. If there is a complaint or a problem, listen to what’s said, and once the person has nothing left to say, then you can either explain your side of things or explain the reason for the problem.
For example, a musician might say he couldn’t hear his instrument in the live stream recording from the previous week. You can explain that it was heard in the room itself but that you’ll listen to the recording and see if there is a problem with what’s being sent to the recording device or two a secondary mixing console.
I know this sounds cliche but you’ll learn far more from listening than you will by talking.
And speaking of listening, that takes us to the final part of listening that Karl mentions and that’s listening to music. We have to have a critical ear so we learn to listen to the specifics of sound. And I want to end this with a great idea Karl gives in his article.
He says, “we must train our brains how to listen critically and [know] what to do with that knowledge….I always recommend spending time listening to acoustic music whenever possible. Listen to or play an acoustic guitar. Go hear an orchestra or a bluegrass band. Get your ears used to what real music sounds like, without any system and the associated distortion involved. And while doing so, ask yourself, “how can I tell this is acoustic sound?”
Karl asks a good question. Why would we do that? So when accidental distortion enters the system, we can identify it and hopefully eliminate it. But also, we learn how to mix music in its most basic form.
So there you have my take on his seven habits of highly effective sound people.
Take care and I hope to talk with you soon.
This article originally appeared here.