Study Hall

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The Inevitable Rise Of The B-Team

Provoking your church sound crew to attain the right balance in matters of tech and life.

I know it’s hard to believe that a highly cultured and refined guy like me would have a thing for B-movies. But it’s a fact.

My watch list is actually a mix of top and “substandard” films. Honestly, some A-movies are really just B-movies that fell into the right hands. Maybe that goes both ways.

What I love about them is the quirks, the mistakes, the amateur production techniques, and mostly the understanding that this train wreck had to screech past lot of people before getting approved for release. The idea that writers, editors, producers and directors would release anything so spectacularly low caliber to the public is mind-boggling. That’s a whole lot of folks who think that good enough is good enough.

Well. Maybe it is.

“Who cares that the film is set in 1945 and there’s a Corvette in the background.”
“Nobody is going to notice that everyone changed clothes in the middle of a scene.”
“Does it really matter that we can’t understand a single word and it looks like it was lit with flashlights?”

My own personal fail in this genre is the time I “helped” with sound for a film: capturing audio for several scenes with a “not-exactly-a-boom” microphone switched to the wrong pattern, then attempting to blend the un-blendable result into something cohesive. Yeah, I did that.

There’s even a lovely restaurant scene where you can clearly hear absolutely everything… except the dialog. It was my contribution to knocking a potential B-movie into the nether regions of the alphabet.

“Sleep-deprived, adrenaline-fueled, slightly-arrogant madman reporting for duty,” says the guy who thinks he is helping.

That’s the stuff that separates the A from the B. The A is 90 percent or more perfect. Grade one. Really. Pick a great movie and compare it to a low-budget bomb, then mark off a point for every inexcusable mistake you see in each one. It’s just a theory. Obviously, no actual research was attempted.

Making The Grade

Nevertheless, with the slightly optimistic thought that maybe that’s some good criteria, where else could we use this criteria? Let’s see… Ah yes, how professional is your church sound team? How well maintained is your system? Are we talking about A-level, B-level, or somewhere into high-scoring Scrabble letters?

Keep one word in mind before you break out your red marker and charge into battle like Zorro. The word? Inexcusable.

Grace, people. Don’t forget the grace.

If you’re working with a state-of-the-art collection of pre-1980 Radio Shack components, you have my deepest sympathy. You also don’t get to take the blame for it unless you recommended it, installed it, or simply haven’t gotten around to suggesting that it be taken outside and shot.

Maybe “shot” is overkill. But once, I took a wireless microphone into the parking lot and knocked it flat with a hammer. We’d just installed new wireless mic systems, and someone mentioned that we should keep that disco-era, unbalanced, non-diversity tormentor as a backup system.

Ha. No we can’t.

Seriously. If nobody cares what it sounds like, what the stage looks like, or even if that 18-inch subwoofer hanging from a dog chain above the platform will fall and hurt someone, why should you? Maybe call it a wash.

I can’t imagine anyone tolerating a perpetual 60 Hz hum, crackling instrument cables, or a wireless lead vocal mic that has more dropouts than… Well, you know where that was headed. Let’s move along.

Even though I can’t imagine anyone tolerating these things, folks do it every week. That’s what makes me crazy. And while I might not be the best person for critiquing film projects, I have a lot of experience with straightening out tech crews pretty quickly.

When I was training crews, I often told them that it’s all right to make a mistake. We learn from them. We get better because of them. We find areas that need improvement when there’s a mistake. You just don’t get to make it twice. Then it qualifies as intentional.

So when we use the word “inexcusable,” we know how to apply it. Dead battery during a service, that’s a big red check mark. Look at the condition of your stage. Coffee cups, empty water bottles, piles of guitar cases and unused junk, visible snake pits of cables… Check, check, check, check.

Setting Priorities

Take heart that while your initial grade might be a total fail, it can come up fast if you want it to. Nothing in here remotely suggests that you become complacent or accept your fate to spend eternity duplicating cassette tapes. Some things are obviously more important and need to be dealt with first.

Like this one…

Are you allowing your people to struggle in silence? Are you allowing your crew to treat this job or volunteer gig like it’s more important than their families? Do your people really know each other and watch out for each other? Do any of you really have a life?

Allowing team members to neglect their families and health? Red ink everywhere. For this one, think red paint in an open blender. Now turn the dial to “on.” Just brutal.

Back to me again. The moment I knew I had to retire from a media director position was when we realized that my four-year-old daughter thought I lived at the church and just came home to visit. Check and check mate. I’d gotten off track. Way off.

Don’t attempt to live off excuses. If it matters, fix it. If you can do better, do better. If you can use your position as a way to truly minister to the needs of those around you, do it. That’s the reason we’re here.

Just don’t do it at the expense of everything else that matters.

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