respect for the small venue

I go to events at my kids school quite often, and quite often (always) there are problems with the production.  Mics not working, lights turning on and off randomly, switching between the desktop and PowerPoint while it is live to the screen.

2903176259_994d946617_zFor a long time I have been able to sit idly by and take it.  I didn’t offer to help, because I figured if I started to volunteer, I would just get sucked into helping all the time.

Finally, we were at some sports night or something and it was so bad, I wanted to crawl under my chair.  My daughter kept patting me on the shoulder “It’s alright daddy.  Everything will be alright.”  This experience tipped me over into offering to help.  The first opportunity was yesterday.

I was in the booth, alone, running audio, video and lighting.  Our school is a ministry of a church, and so we were using the sanctuary built in the late 80’s with the production “room” in the back corner.  Switching projector inputs with the remote, 24 randomly ordered light switches on the wall, and more A/B audio switches than I could keep track of.  And the fan noise!  I could barely hear myself think, let alone hear what was going on in the room where the people were.

In the process of this event, I learned a couple of things about production.

The first one, is that those of you who work the smaller venue with less than ideal equipment, are amazing!  What you do week in and week out is nothing short of incredible.  Being the only person in the booth doing all the production is not simple.  Usually in smaller venues, the conditions aren’t the best, and regardless you deal out the technical arts every week at your church.  In many ways, it makes what I do every week seem easy and simple.  Way to go, and keep it up.  You should be proud of what you do.

The second is, there is a ton that you can do with very little.  Here were a few ideas:

Know what you equipment can and can’t do, and invest your time and energy making it work properly.  Many of my issues came from not working in the venue all the time.  After a while I think I would figure out how stuff is supposed to work.  I also know that the pile of to-be-fixed items was pretty big.  It doesn’t help to invest in equipment, if it will eventually just sit idle because it has stopped working.  Find volunteers who can solder, or hire a company that you trust to fix your equipment.  Help your leadership understand the need to spend resources to keep equipment functioning.  The church has already invested in the equipment and then having it sit unused is a waste of that investment.

Develop procedures to work with your venue’s limitations.  In my instance, there was really no way around all the random lighting switches, so one of the students had taken pictures of how the switches should look for each type of element:  video roll, piano solo, etc.  The switches were awful, but the picture made it possible to have a successful event.

Keep things as simple as possible.  I know that when you are working with limited resources it can be easy to start jerry-rigging stuff to make it do what you want.  If the one of the goals of production is to create a distraction free environment, making things so complicated does not help the operator succeed.  If volunteers are expected to come in every 3rd week and succeed, making things complicated is setting them up to fail.  (Check out this great post by @KalebWilcoxKeep it Simple)

Again, for those of you in this type of situation each week, I applaud you!  Way to go.  I’m looking forward to my next school event…now that I know which A/B switch gets audio from DVD player #1 to the console.

 

 

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what my kids homework taught me about the technical arts

One of the joys of being the parent of teenagers, is homework.  Nothing could have prepared me for the joys associated with getting my kids to care, and the thrills of helping them figure out how to even do the stuff.

4560939751_f62dd2845d_zI consider myself a patient man, but homework can send me spinning out of control.  And one of the most patient sucking activities is when my kids are frustrated and they ask for help.  As I start sharing my ideas on how to tackle the work, they proceed to tell me how my ideas won’t work or that they’ve tried that or that I’m a stupid person for even suggesting such ridiculous things.  Usually at this point, I say something like “I’m trying to help you, but if you don’t want my help, good luck.”, and I walk away.

After I’ve had a chance to cool down, and they realize that I might not be as stupid as it seems, we buckle down and start working through solutions.

My kids want homework to be a different experience, and even ask for help at a certain point, but they short circuit possible solutions by criticizing, complaining about and then rejecting help making things better.

This got me thinking about how I can sometimes respond when someone presents an idea that needs a solution.  Instead of engaging together with how to solve the dilemma, I can tend to just focus on why something won’t work, or that we’ve tried that once before and it didn’t work or to make someone feel stupid for suggesting such a ridiculous thing.  This is starting to feel like homework time.

Engage with solutions

Most technical people I know are designed to troubleshoot, to figure out how to make stuff work.  Often times our first reaction is to start figuring out what is wrong with an idea, or why it can’t be done.  This might eventually lead to workable solution, but by first poking holes in someone’s ideas, you are putting the burden of solution on the other person’s shoulders.

I have been in more meetings than I can remember where an idea comes up and people just focus on what’s wrong with the idea and not dig into coming up with solutions.  In reality, not every idea is good or even possible.  I’m not suggesting that we just say yes to everything, but that instead of just saying “your idea won’t work”, that we engage with “what about this?” or “if we did it this way, we could…”.

Being solution oriented is key to not only being seen as a team player, but actually being one.

As the technical artist, you are there to figure out how to implement ideas.  Use your technical creativity to shape ideas into things that can be done and will actually work, not just shoot them down.

 

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“movie elrond” is a downer. are you?

I was watching “The Two Towers” with my kids the other day, when I realized that they will always think of The Lord of the Rings as a movie and not a book.  As someone who saw the movies as a culmination of my love of the books, this seems very wrong.

5883443210_f67f7027bb_zOne of the other things that felt wrong while watching it this time, was what a downer Elrond was.  I started making fun of him to my kids, because he was so negative, nothing like he was in the original story.  Just when things were darkest and it seemed like all hope was lost, Elrond would show up and say “Yep.  We’re all going to die.  Let’s jump ship while we still can.”

While it might be easy to give up hope on Middle Earth, with a giant flaming eye trying to take over and all; this got me thinking about how easy it is to abandon hope here on normal earth.

Really, life is full of less than pleasant things.  In the book of Job, it says:

Yet man is born to trouble
as surely as sparks fly upward.

When things are not looking good, am I going to be like “Movie Elrond” or someone else?  When bad things happen, do I assume the worst or do I look for the positive in each situation?  Do I drag everyone down or do I lift them up?

In some ways, this makes me think back to Colin Powell’s brilliant first rule:

It ain’t as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning.

When the British people were faced with an invasion by Hitler in 1940, I imagine that most people wanted to just give in to despair.  Instead, Winston Churchill said:

If we can stand up…the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.”

These are the exact opposite of “Movie Elrond”.

As leaders, your followers are looking to you and how you respond.  Will you abandon hope run for the Undying Lands with the elves, or will you point them toward the broad sunlit uplands?

 

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production as a low priority

 

Based on my last post, let’s say you’ve done your darnedest to communicate the value of production and it still falls at the bottom of the list of things that matter at your church.  The easy thing to do is to wish it were different and hunker down and complain about how bad it is.  The more difficult thing to do is to realize that this might not be the place for you and to move on.

127384774_94e6749332In reality, production may never be an important component to the vision of your church.  It is necessary to realize this and do something about it before you become the crusty old tech guy that is never satisfied.

God created the body of Christ to function in a particular way.  You complaining about how your church doesn’t care about what you care about, was never a part of His idea for the church.  You really have three choices here:

  • Accept that production might never be high on the list of priorities and joyfully use your genius to serve in your current capacity.
  • Figure out how to joyfully use your gifts to enhance the vision and mission of your church, whatever that might look like. In other words, if your church is all about providing shelter for the homeless, how can you use your production knowledge to help create a wonderful environment at the shelter?
  • You can joyfully begin looking for a new church to serve in.  If you are in fact a genius, it feels like a waste to use your production ability at a church that will not fully utilize them.  The kingdom needs your genius!

Joyfully being the key word in all three options.  It’s a fruit of the spirit, people.

A church can’t have great production without the leaders of your church first buying into how production can support the mission of the church.  Either you can joyfully be a part of the solution, or joyfully figure something else out.

 

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what we’ve got here is failure to communicate

So let’s pretend that you are an amazing production person.  That you are able to do amazing things through the use of technology.  Not only are you an incredible technician, but you are an artist.  In a word, genius.

Détail de "Blah, blah, blah" du studio Louise Campbell (Maison du Danemark)Now let’s say that you are at a church that has a low priority on production values and they have a budget to match this very low priority.  As a result, your genius is being wasted…like pearls before swine.

So far, I am preaching to the choir.  Now, to the kicker:  for the leadership at your church to place high value on the technical arts, it is your job to cast vision to them, to convince them that it is worth spending resources on production.

I think that most senior pastors understand 2 languages:  vision and money.

Senior leaders are about some kind of mission, some driving vision for why they are in ministry in the first place.  They are also running a business, for lack of a better way to say it.  Money matters.  If the mission is going to be accomplished, it requires money to keep the ball rolling.

From a communications standpoint, when you talk, your senior pastor hears that you want some new fun toy, that will make your job easier and it is going to cost a bunch.  You are speaking the exact opposite of the language that they respond to.

We need to learn to speak in terms of vision, then money becomes a secondary conversation.  How will your idea advance the cause of your church?

Lately, I have noticed that I turn this around and emphasize how “cheap” a solution is, just barely accomplishing the mission.  I need to be better at dreaming big, so that the mission of my church can advance the most, worrying about the money part later.

How can you communicate in terms of your church’s vision?  How can I communicate vision before money?

 

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td community

When I was a younger person, just starting out as a technical director in a local church, I felt super inadequate for the job I was supposed to be doing.  In desperation, I started looking around for other technical people at near by churches to no effect.   There weren’t any other full time tech people at local churches way back then.

Close to 20 years later, I have had the privilege to be a part of the Church Technical Director’s Retreat, sponsored by ChurchTechLeaders.org, at the WFX conference this year in Atlanta.

DSC02361[1]DSC02379[1]DSC02364[1]

DSC02366[1]There are 2 big reasons that I love this event and the #ctln crowd.

The first is that I get to hang out with my peers and share ideas, share struggles and laugh at the unique situations we get put in as technical artists.

The other reason I love this event, is that it is a chance to talk about what matters most to me; to remember why I have chosen to give my life to production in the local church.

DSC02369[1]Both of these reasons remind me that I shouldn’t just wait for a once a year event, but that I should be investing in myself and in other tds locally.  So we can remind each other how important community is, especially for a group of people that are often misunderstood.

We get each other and so we should make an effort to invest in each other.

What can I/we do to foster the technical arts community? 

Check out churchtechleaders.org.  Follow @churchtechlead on twitter.  Look for hashtag #ctln for questions and answers to questions.  Think about hosting a lunch for the TDs in your area.

 

Photos:  Instead of blurry, I like to think of them has having a hipster type filter applied to them.

art with guard rails

I like to think of myself as an artist.

More than just a tech person, who happens to push buttons at just the right moment, but someone who can create with the tools in front of me.

My team and I have talked quite a bit about various levels of production, the baseline being tech support…that whole pushing buttons at just the right moment thing; and enhancing an element through the use of technology…creating art through production.

This second version of the technical arts is where I want to live.  It is one of the things that has kept me in the game this long.  Working together with other artists in other disciplines to create together, something that none of us could have done alone.

To shamelessly quote our mission statement:

“To create life-changing moments through the fusion of the technical and creative arts.”

The challenge with this noble idea is that it is difficult.  It is difficult to do because people are involved.  It is difficult because it involves giving up a part of your idea for the sake of the whole.  And it is difficult to do in a vacuum, which is where I see things break down.

Trying to get all creative in the area of the technical arts by yourself doesn’t really work.  Without an initial idea to start with, it doesn’t matter how many lights you aim at it, or how artsy the mix is, it still isn’t something until someone creates it.  Once there is a thing, that’s when we start collaborating on how to apply my specific art to make it the best version of that thing possible.

Like many churches, we use lots of volunteers in the production ministry.  Without them, our church would have to seriously re-think how it gets church to happen.

I am a big proponent of offering volunteer opportunities where people can succeed.  I am also big on letting people bring their own creativity to the table, so that they can feel fully invested in whatever they are doing.  This assumes that each person’s creativity and skill level is exactly what a particular element or service needs.

While at the Tech Director’s Retreat at WFX Conference in Atlanta, we had a conversation about how the vocalist that should never be allowed to hold a mic exists at most churches.  We can have the same type of issue in the production area if we aren’t specific about what the expectations are.

There are the baseline expectations, mics on, lights aimed, graphics ready.  Then we come to the artistic side of production.  These expectations are fuzzier but just as important.

For our teams to really enhance our services, we must be on the same page with the creative team about what we expect from the technical arts.  Inevitably this will define what we need from the audio mix or what the lights should look like.

I like to think of these as guard rails.  These aren’t rules to restrict someone’s creativity, just boundaries for creativity to happen inside of.

Help your team by giving them music to listen to in the style you are trying to achieve.  Look for examples of lighting to help people understand what you are thinking.  Watch concert DVDs of your favorite bands to see what IMAG could look like.

As a leader in the technical ministry of your church, go after that stuff with your creative people.  Don’t wait to be told something isn’t working in the moment.  It is too late then.   Be proactive to figure out what “enhance” means in your situation.

Without this open dialogue, even nailing the basics of production won’t be enough to outweigh something that is mis-enhanced.

photo by: thisisbossi

colin powell’s 13 rules

perpetual optimism is a force multiplier

I think that General Powell’s 13th and final rule is my favorite, yet one of the most difficult ones to carry out.  Come on, “Perpetual optimism” are you kidding?  Obviously Colin was never involved in production in the local church.

Given the reality that it is very easy for most production people to descend into cynicism and pessimism and any other negative –ism you can think of, nothing could be more true that optimism can change most any situation.  So how can I move myself and my team mates toward perpetual optimism being more the norm?

Complain up

In the movie “Saving Private Ryan”, the small group of soldiers sent to save Private Ryan are trying to get their captain to complain about how stupid their mission is.  Tom Hanks character explains to the men that he doesn’t complain down, only up…that’s just the way things work.  If the captain had given in and moaned and groaned with the rest of this men, they would all have been paralyzed in achieving their objective.

How are you at listening to complaining without joining in?

Speed of the Leader, speed of the team. 

This is one of those overused phrases where I work, yet it is uber-true.  Your team, whether staff or volunteer are looking to you.  They are complaining to you, to see how you are going to respond.  What do you think of the situation?  What is your perspective?  Do you think this plan is as idiotic as the rest of us?

They don’t really know they are doing it, but they are being used to set a trap for you.  They are trying to get you to agree with them, to validate their feelings.  They want someone to help justify their negativity.

What they really need is someone to rise above the situation and provide necessary optimism.  As a leader, you should have a large and wider perspective on why things are playing out in a certain way, and it is your job to point people towards the glass being half full, not half empty.

In my everyday life, I am in need of vision.

I need to be called to something greater…to be lifted up past my complaints.

The people you lead need this too.

As their leader, if you don’t give it to them, who will?

photo by: aturkus

critiquers, complainers and quarterbacks

Colin Powell’s Rule #12 Continued:  Don’t take councel from your fears or naysayers.

In the last post, I talked about not taking counsel of your fears.  Now onto the second group not to take counsel from…naysayers.

No matter what church you are a part of, or whether you are an audio, video or lighting person, we all have the same groups of naysayers:

“How hard can it be? All’s you’ve got to do is…”

“It’s too loud.” or “Why do you have to shine the light in my eyes.”

“We can’t put the drums there.  We always put them on stage right.”

These are just a few examples of types of naysayers:  some that don’t understand anything about the world of production; those that are just consumers of the content you are trying to enhance; and team members that always have a better idea of what you should have done.  How do we handle each of these different groups?

Uneducated

Most non-production people have no idea what it takes to do what you do and for many of them, they just see the end result of all your hard work.  To help educate the uneducated, we need to figure out a way to tell the story about what it takes to do the amazing things that you do.  To just say “yes” or “no”, without a story isn’t helpful.

One way would be to keep a log of what you spend your time on each week and how long certain types of ideas take.  This kind of concrete information will help put context around what is truly involved with making production happen.  It is also helpful to always be telling your story, especially when the pressure isn’t on.  Waiting until something really needs to be done to tell me it usually takes 200 hours of work, is helpful, but not as helpful as if I knew that part of the story sooner.

Complainers

There will always be a line of people at the booth after a service to complain about the volume, or the bright lights, or the haze in the room.  You cannot get rid of this group of naysayers, no matter how hard you try.  There are 2 necessary elements to not being overwhelmed by these comments.

Have a great understanding of who you listen to.  Is it the senior pastor?  Is it the music director?  Is it your Aunt Bertha?  Who helps you make the decisions about how loud it should get, or what kind of lighting you do, or whether to use haze or not.  Understanding why you do some of these things really matters.  Having someone that you listen to for feedback is critical.

Now that you know whose opinion matters, you can let the comments from complainers roll off you back, but you still have to deal with them.  What should you do?  Be nice.  Listen.  Hear what they have to say.  Is there any truth to what they are complaining about?  If they aren’t satisfied with your answers, have your boss connect with them.

Monday Morning Quarterbacks

It is always easier to see better choices after something is already been done.  In some ways, responding to this group is very similar to the consumers.  Listen to what they are saying, pull the helpful parts out of their complaints and then move on.  There is no way to plan for something perfectly, so get over the fact that you can’t please everyone with the perfect plan.  Something will always not go according to plan, so there will be critique.

I like Dwight Eisenhower’s quote that I have referenced before:

“Planning is everything.  Plans are nothing.”

Making mistakes is a great way to learn what not to do again.  It is the way that we can stretch and get better.  Acknowledge the errors, thank people for their observations, and learn from them for next time.

Naysayers are a part of life.  Tech people are universally known for not dealing with them very well.  It is up to you and I to change that perception.

photo by: jmegjmeg
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