Sound is a Sound Engineer, Author of GreatChurchSound.com, and a Contributor in the area of Tech Ministry. This interview was originally posted in our January 2016 Newsletter.
Our first featured Contributor is James Wasem. James has been involved in Sound Tech for 22 years, serving in roles ranging from Church Tech Coordinator to Professional Audio Installer and Project Manager. He is the author of “Great Church Sound” and the Great Sound app.
Q: Why are you involved in this ministry?
A: There is something about the effect that good (and bad) sound has on people – that phenomenon and the curiosity to learn more about it really got me started in a great career working in the tech world. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work as a volunteer and as a professional in churches, schools, entertainment, and corporate environments. It was my first experience as an all-volunteer sound team leader that made the most profound impression on me. Technical ministry volunteers are often thrown into a role of service out of a frenetic necessity to fill the need. Thorough training can be a luxury that few church volunteers get to take advantage of, and consequently, the volunteer is left to “fill in the gaps” seeking out training and specialized knowledge on their own. During my time as a volunteer and a technical team leader, I just kept thinking, “there must be a better way.” I’ve had a passion for training and assisting sound team volunteers ever since. And after years of procrastinating, I finally wrote a book and developed an app specifically for the volunteer sound tech – a resource I wish someone had given me that first Sunday I walked up to the console and wanted to help.
Q: What advice or insight do you wish someone had shared with you when you first started out?
A: Looking back, I think the biggest challenges I had were all about the mystery of microphone placement and EQ (frequency equalization). Some basic training in those two areas would have saved a lot of painful moments behind the mixing console during sound check and in front of a live audience! On a leadership level, even as a volunteer leader, I think some guidance on how to lead a tech team and produce great results (without doing all the work yourself) is important. I still struggle with some of that, as many in technical leadership positions do. I’m thrilled to see so many blogs and online resources where people candidly discuss these topics, and I wish I had exposure to more of that when I started.
Q: What are some of the specific lessons you’ve learned throughout your service in this ministry?
A: I’ve learned that, especially with sound, there is no better way to get good at the craft than by practicing it as much as possible. “Spare time” behind the console should be spent practicing EQ techniques, training your ear to hear different frequencies in musical instruments and vocals, figuring out how your system works, fixing simple issues like bad cables or mic stands, and getting prepared for what will happen in the service/event. Maybe the biggest lesson for the novice: don’t be afraid of feedback! Learn why it happens and how to control it. So much of my time as a beginning sound engineer was spent dealing with that one thing. Things got a lot easier for me behind the console when I finally stopped fearing the next burst feedback.
Q: What skill set or specific attributes does someone need to possess or develop to be effective in this ministry?
A: A fundamental curiosity about sound and how things work is important. Equally important is the desire to deliver great results and continually improve. Mixing sound is an art and a craft. There can be a lot of artistic interpretation and technical skill required to “get it right”. It is important for someone in technical ministry to be organized, methodical, and willing to embrace both the artistic and technical components of running live sound.
Q: What are some of the challenges of being involved in this ministry? What advice can you offer for overcoming them?
A: For the novices and new recruits, there can be a training issue or knowledge gap that makes it difficult to achieve great sound. There are so many great resources to help technical volunteers learn the basics and start getting solid results. You don’t need a degree in physics to do this! Be curious, seek out knowledge, and practice the craft as often as possible – that’s how you’ll get great sound. For the over-achievers and ambitious volunteers among us, the danger is burnout. I was lucky that my worship pastor warned me about this early on. That didn’t stop me from burning like a rocket though! It’s easy for a technical leader to over-work him/herself. Pace yourself. Dedicate time off. Take some time to simply attend your church as a worshiper, not a worker. You need to be emotionally and spiritually fed in order to deliver your best. You can’t do that when you’re exhausted and burned out.
Q: What encouragement can you offer those who are involved in ministry and may be feeling discouraged?
A: As a tech volunteer it can be easy to feel like you’ll never really know everything you need/want to deliver the results expected of you. It can feel like a vertical learning curve every Sunday! The first thing I would say is, “You CAN achieve great sound!” It is simpler than you think, and you don’t need to know everything about sound to get good results. Develop your curiosity to learn and be excited to practice that new knowledge. Don’t be intimidated by someone’s experience or skill. Take small steps to better yourself and your craft every day.
Q: What are some of the specific ways you have been blessed by serving in this area of ministry?
A: There are so many blessings I’ve felt being involved in technical ministry over the years. I’ve had the privilege of serving alongside some wonderful volunteers and working for some dedicated ministry leaders. I feel fortunate to have been given the opportunity to really mess things up, to learn, to succeed, and to be genuinely thanked for what I do (running sound can feel like a thankless and invisible job sometimes, so feeling appreciated in even the smallest way can be a big deal). And perhaps the biggest blessing is that what we do “behind the scenes” is a critical part of helping bless those around us – that’s the feeling that keeps me going.
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