Mistakes Happen in Music and Sound Ministry
I’ll never forget the moment I blew it live in front of 2,500 worshipers at church mixing Front of House on Sunday morning. I was 22 years old when the accident happened and the moment is seared into my mind.
The senior pastor was wrapping up his sermon, leading everyone in a prayer with their eyes closed. It was a quiet, reflective moment. The keyboard player and female vocalist were quietly slipping into position on the edge of the stage. I reached for the single earphone (we’d taken the headpiece off so I could listen to just one ear). I was about to check to make sure the keys were playing on the mixing channel before I turned up the volume in the room.
Then it happened.
As my left hand hit the “solo” button on the keys channel, my right hand pulled the single muff earphone to my head, but what I didn’t realize was that the cable to the headphone was caught on the edge of the mixing console. The earphone was ripped out of my hand as the snag became taut and landed squarely on the main channels, instantly shoving them up to the stops, adding an extremely loud screeching feedback into the room right at the closing of the prayer.
The feedback seemed to pierce the room and jolted everyone. Though the sound only lasted less than one second as I quickly pulled the faders back down, the damage was done. That’s when things went from bad to worse.
The pastor looked up at me in the sound booth with a glare and said live, for everyone to hear “what are you doing!?” Mortified, I ducked my head and prayed that the service would end right then. Instead, I still had to mix the music and finish all the way through the altar call (where, oh, by the way, no one came down front).
It was, bad, enough that the accident happened. It was, really bad, that it happened at a quiet, important part of the service. But what made it, worse, was being ridiculed and called out very publicly from the platform. Everyone knew the sound guy had made a mistake, but I cannot image that a single audience member thought “wow, I wonder what made the sound guy want to do that at the end of the pastor’s prayer?”
In all my years of mixing at Front of House (FOH), I’ve never made a mistake of that magnitude again. The lesson for me was two-fold: move more slowly and purposefully so as to not make a silly mistake; keep the earphones around my neck so they can’t be ripped off and fall onto the mixing console ever again.
I�ve had lots and lots of lessons over the years. Heck, part of life is making mistakes and learning from them. I remember switching video for the first time on a switcher that flipped the Preview and Program busses. The result? Camera one, stand by WHOOPS! Nope, you’re live!. I remember hitting fast forward at 50x speed instead of 10x speed while cueing a second video during a weekend service of 4,000 attendance where the audio of fast-forwarded video screeched on, only to stop it and rewind back to the beginning (yep, with the audio still up and the rewound voices playing loudly the whole time). I even remember way back in the day having one of my volunteers use an “Ace” card wipe accidentally using the Video Toaster (thank God, it wasn�t a KiKi wipe [for those old enough to laugh along with me] during a worship song.
You and your teams will make mistakes. Some will be live where everyone knows about it, others will be less obvious. Knowing that mistakes are inevitable is part of the job, as is doing everything possible (training, documentation, more training, consistent systems, even more training) to try to avoid those mistakes. Learning from the mistakes is the key.
ACCIDENTS & FAILING TO PREPARE
I think the majority of churches I’ve been around have staff and volunteers that aim for flawless execution. Accidents will still happen, just not very often for the prepared team. But I’ve also been to more than few churches where mistakes are the norm. The lack of leadership and accountability mean that the failure to prepare will have frequent, high costs.
There are pastors and worship leaders who can tell horror stories of train-wreck services. And there are pastors who’ve shared with me their complete lack of confidence in the unprepared, unmotivated tech teams. The trust equity necessary is gone and the results are consistently poor.
There’s a huge difference between an, occasional, accident and simply failing to prepare. The church leadership’s responsibility is to determine which of those two is the case.
GRACE & TEACHABLE MOMENTS
Colossians 4:6 says it this way in The Message:
“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.”
It doesn’t matter if an accident happened or unpreparedness slapped the hand of the unprepared; grace is to lead the conversation. A simple axiom to remember is this:
“Praise in public; critique and correct in private.”
I wish the pastor had not said anything that fateful Sunday morning. If he had said anything, oh that he would have said “It’s OK. Just a little feedback. Sorry about that,” and then continued on as if nothing had happened. He could have then had a one-on-one conversation to find out what happened (I made a beeline to him after service to apologize and tell him the issue had been resolved and would not happen again.) and given me any critique or correction he wanted. I would have been an astute listener and appreciative for the private conversation.
Notice that I didn’t rush to tell him what happened. That’s not what a pastor is interested in; they just want to know if you know why it happened and have taken action to solve it (and keep it from happening again). This leads me to my last axiom:
“All success is shared. Failure is the sole responsibility of the leader.”
In this instance, if the pastor had apologized (as the overall leader) to the audience, and I’d apologized for my mistake as the leader (or my team’s mistake if the mistake wasn’t directly my fault), the situation would have been smoothed over. I’ll never say to my pastor well, volunteer Bob made that mistake today. As the leader, I take the heat – not the volunteers – and I solve the problems so that pastor has confidence in our team’s ability to execute well most of the time and respond well in moments of failure.
So, pastors, please don’t call out a person or point out the mistake publicly. Praise in public and critique/correct in private. Your team will gladly go the extra mile when they know you won’t humiliate them (trust me, they’re cringing anyway when a mistake happens!) in front of everyone.
Techs, please have the ownership, leadership and accountability to show your pastors your team is giving 100% in preparedness. Over time, you’ll build trust equity that will pay the debt of mistakes and gaffes later on.
From: www.churchcentral.com web site. May 2009
The above article, “Mistakes Happen in Music and Sound Ministry,” is written by Anthony Coppedge. It was retrieved from www.churchcentral.com, where it was published in May of 2009.
The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study and research purposes.