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The Right Balance: Sorting Through Tools & Training

At what point do we accept that our tools aren’t what’s holding us back from absolute excellence nearly as much as our skill set?

By M. Erik Matlock March 7, 2019

Recently while washing dishes at home, I realized that almost every piece of cookware in our kitchen is officially an antique. Most of these tools were there in 1989 and they still do pretty much everything we need.

Meanwhile, in the world of the church tech, it seems to have become a mark of status to have the “baddest” system in town. Not always, but enough to merit mention, and it begs the question: At what point do we accept that our tools aren’t what’s holding us back from absolute excellence nearly as much as our skill set? Will that new black box really solve all of our problems or is it an excuse?

Whether it’s tech or cookware (or a lot of other things), I like my tools and rarely see a good reason to replace them. Changing things around might not be worth the hassle. I might propose that in many cases, we’ve become more dependent on the tools than the techniques. Are we out of balance, with our skills swinging like the feet of the child on a see-saw with a pile of gear on the other end, holding us airborne?

That’s a bad place to be. Ingenuity and problem-solving skills made MacGyver cool. He made things happen with minimal resources. A whole lot of grandfatherly graybeards around you likely have plenty of their own stories of creative solutions, and if you ask, most of them will tell you all about the big wins and losses. Get those stories. You need to hear them. They’ve crossed the minefield and you might need their map.

Too many times, I’ve listened to folks in leadership at churches who don’t actually work with sound attempt to describe what they think is needed. If they want a Ferrari on a Fiat budget they don’t really know what they want. The cheap and easy route isn’t always a bad idea if you understand what the actual needs are. Buying tons of new gear might be exactly what your church needs, but maybe not.

Ask yourself a few key questions before unloading the entire budget.

Will throwing money at this problem solve it? Getting the most bang for the buck will always matter. Sometimes we find the solution just by asking the right question. Another new piece of gear might not be as valuable in a year as the same investment in training classes.

What do we really need? Knowing what you need for a church sound system means understanding the vision for the room you work in and the people running it, along with the expectations of the audience. How loud do you like it? What will it be used for on a regular basis? How often will it be pushed for special events? How “live” is the room? Every answer affects the reality of what is actually needed.

Who’s going to run it? Many a great tech found their skills flying solo in church. The old line applies to many crews: “We’ve done so much with so little for so long that we’re now qualified to do anything with nothing.” Pretty accurate. Managing new gear means someone has to operate it. Owning a plane doesn’t make one a pilot.

Once you’ve emptied the coffers and spent it all on whatever you decided was important, how do you get anyone to sit there and use the new gear to deliver polished tech at services week after week? Figure that out before buying the gear, please.

I highly recommend taking those good folks that are willing to babysit a mixer and turning them loose on good training. Find that area that sparks some excitement and teach them to do it properly. Chances are, once your team understands how to operate everything properly, you may find that your gear is more than adequate.


About M. Erik

M. Erik Matlock
M. Erik Matlock

Senior Editor, ProSoundWeb
   
Erik worked in a wide range of roles in pro audio for more than 20 years in a dynamic career that encompasses system design and engineering in the live, install and recording markets. He also spent a number of years as a church production staff member and Media Director, and as an author for several leading industry publications before joining the PSW team.
https://www.prosoundweb.com/author/m-erik-matlock/

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