Recently I was talking to a frustrated worship leader at a church I was helping with their live sound issues, and he was talking about his (volunteer) sound guy: “Dude, it’s not like it’s my job to keep running back there and showing them how to do stuff.” I (maybe not very politely) responded, “Actually Fred (name changed to protect the guilty) it is. Let me explain the difference between paid staff and volunteers, and then hopefully you’ll understand that you’re lucky to have any because if I came to church here I’m not sure I’d work for you.”
Too harsh? In both my travels as a sound consultant, and my lifelong experience as a church brat, band member, worship leader and pastor, I discover over and over that the stereotypes about sound guys exist for a reason. Yeah, a lot of them are grumpy, and many of them lack some needed skills, but if you’re willing to zoom out a little bit, it’s not hard to see why. So, in the spirit of an apology, and sort of explanation to my rudeness to Fred, here are five reasons it’s not the sound guys’ fault.
1.) You didn’t train them. So many good-natured, servant-hearted people are totally set up to fail in this role from day one. Some mechanic who once installed his own stereo system at home gets prodded by his wife during a call for volunteers, and the next thing you know he’s been locked in that booth for five years, with the current plan for him being to have a week off when Jesus comes back. His “training” consisted of a five-minute run-through on a Sunday morning right before he ran his first service. Now he runs the main complaint station for every grumpy member of your congregation and mainly gets attention whenever something goes wrong. Seriously, you should only do this to people you hate. Is it any wonder he bites now? This is why often in my training events I offer time for repentance, and whenever speaking to groups of sound people I offer apologies on behalf of their church staff that “know not what they’re doing.”
2.) They don’t have the proper equipment to do their jobs. Many churches are running like the Millennium Falcon week to week. Turn stuff on, bang on it, and cross your fingers hoping you make it through the service. Having the right tools matters. Pastors, can you imagine having to prepare a sermon using only your least favorite Bible translation? Worship leaders, imagine replacing your carefully curated pedal board with a bunch of random stuff from the guitar center closeout shelf. This is what many sound techs are facing week after week. When the microphone cuts out, everyone shoots a frustrated look at the sound booth. The sound person has been telling the staff that it needs to be looked at for months, but nothing gets done, and people assume the sound person sucks.