What do I mean about the art of the soundcheck? Well, there’s this old joke…. You can never cancel soundcheck, you can only postpone it until show time.
Either you are working out the bugs and making your show perfect with an audience or without one. Most professionals prefer to do all that without the audience.
One of the churches I worked with put it like this. The pastor was a pilot, he explained his preflight checklist. Before I take off, I am required to personally check several thing and verify the condition of this airplane. It’s required. Before that plane even cranks up, he needs to know that everything is safe and working the way it’s supposed to work.
At thirty thousand feet in the air, his life depends on that checklist. His words to me? Once this room is full of people and the music starts, you are thirty thousand feet up. You had better know that everything in here is working properly.
He wasn’t kidding. He was dead serious. He had been burned too many times by a sleeping or distracted tech. Too many services were wrecked by a person he depended on. He had watched his sound guy wander out of the booth while the band was playing. He had endured persistent feedback while someone took a nap. He had frantically waved at them from stage, in front of hundreds of people, trying to get someone to turn his mic on.
He had no intention of allowing me to burn him like that. He didn’t try to sugar coat it. He was very serious. He even told me why he hired me.
I had been a volunteer for years, I knew the system, I knew how to run a show. I could do repairs and upgrades. The band liked me and trusted me. I could mix as well as anyone. I was always concerned about the monitors being perfect. All that was good. But none of that made the difference in moving from volunteer to staff.
He put me on staff so he could chew me out when he got burned. Seriously. He had dealt with poor attitudes, thin skin, complainers, attention deficit issues, no shows, hack job repairs, arguing and every other problem a pastor gets for a tech. He decided the way to solve it was to make it a job that required accountability. He had a simple policy for me. No excuses. Make a mistake once, I understand. There is no excuse for it happening twice.
The great thing about that, was that he wasn’t the only person treating me like that. The worship leader was retired military. He had zero tolerance for stupidity. He expected anyone brave or cocky enough to volunteer with him to do it right. A lot of people got offended and left because of him. A lot of people complained and whined about how he did things. I loved the guy. He was about excellence. Do it right or move on. He pushed me to be better.
That’s not all, folks! I was also working with a traveling evangelist who had the same ideas. He was an old school southern rock band veteran. Spent most of his life on stage and on the road. He wasn’t that squishy, lovable Christian. He was, and is, a good man. But, he had a low tolerance for stupid, too. He did live shows constantly and ran a recording studio.
He was my primary mentor when this adventure started. He had absolutely no problem informing me of exactly how wrong I was from time to time. Not the coddling type. If I did or said something stupid, he was quite happy to explain, in detail, why it was stupid. I learned a lot about the business and life from him.
Add to that list one more character. The second AV crew I worked for, had a very outspoken owner. A hands-on kinda guy. Like wanting to put his hands on you and choke you. He was not a Christian. Very confrontational. Fun guy to hang out with after work. Aggravating and hard to work with. He accepted absolutely no excuses, either.
He wasn’t like the other three. They corrected me in various ways. He would scream in my face. He chased off a lot of good techs who just couldn’t work with him. I had already been seasoned by the other three. I have been told that nobody survived as long as I did, with him.
I liked the guy. We clashed constantly. He thought the best place for me was under the bus and threw me there often. We actually had an argument that cost me almost two years of work with him. But, he pushed me to be better. I did understand that.
I will get into more stories from the four horsemen as we move forward. They all pushed me to be better. They all refused to tolerate excuses. They all wanted to kill me at one time or another. They all suffered through lousy techs and decided not to put up with it anymore.
They all shaped who I am and how I work. I am thankful for each of them.
If you want to survive in this business, you have to let them push you. If you argue, or fight back, or run away and hide… You will never be more than you are. Take your beating. Listen to the guys who have learned more than you. Stop making excuses and do it better next time. Learn from your mistakes and stop repeating them.
Remember where you are when it’s show time. Thirty thousand feet in the air.
Adding a note here. As promised, my book is done and available here.
My actual steps and technique for a solid soundcheck are only in the book, not in the blog.
Promised that to the folks who already bought the book. Thanks for the support.