Tech for the Rest of Us

"I Hate Electronics"

[UPDATE: This article was written in 2014, and has been updated somewhat. The pendulum between "liturgical" and "contemporary" has swung quite a bit, but as you read this, realize that the core values, I believe, still need to prevail.]

If you've been around me when I'm wearing my professional musician hat, you may have heard me make the above statement. Sometimes I say it in jest, sometimes it is accompanied by the shaking of my head. Most people, in context, understand that I don't actually hate electronics...I just have control issues, and I'm not sure there is a person on earth who knows how to control tech stuff 100% of the time. And before you tell me about your cousin George who is a wizard with everything electronic, re-read this whole paragraph again.

In what may seem like a non sequitur, I've been having lots of econversations with writers. That's good news, because it means that we are in the process of adding a lot of new expert voices to our cadre of writers for the magazine and the website, and I'm excited to share their expertise with you.

As I was saying...econversations. One of which was about tech. In the process of writing an email, I, for the first time, was able to fairly and rather objectively articulate my position on tech. So names have been changed, etc., but I thought I'd share it with you.

Reader Guidelines

  • You may disagree heartily with my pov. Fine...
  • Despite the prose, I want to heartily affirm that I am not a luddite. If that is your foregone conclusion, however, I'm not sure that reading further will be of any use.
  • Yes, grammarians, I just used heartily in two straight sentences but I like that word. OK?

Away we go...

Tech Core Values

As fast as tech gear is changing, I think that a lot of the tech core values don't: people skills, true, but also an emphasis upon ears rather than personal preferences in service to worship.

We have a whole series of articles from the magazine that explore this topic, which cover topics like the components of great church audio, dealing with hearing aid feedback, setting monitors for choir use, picking mics for enhancing choir sound, recording a choir, the organist as "audio engineer" and what to do about the fact that, in many "liturgical" churches, the acoustics are not designed for sound reinforcement.

As you can see by that list, it reflects the place that a good percentage of church musicians are at: "traditional" musicians adapting to "contemporary" worship values and the almost daily evolving role of being "worship leaders."

I think what those people are lacking right now is, in some ways, a more "professional" information set: stuff that assumes that whoever is reading it knows what they want musically, but may not know how to get it from the gear.

Part of this problem, I can tell you from experience in speaking at conferences, is vocabulary: what do you say to your tech when you want to achieve "x."

Part of it is that the "traditional" musician rarely controls, and seldom has input into, the purchase trajectory of new gear.

Part of it is that the "traditional" musician rarely cares about gear in the way that the "contemporary" guys do, in part because a much lower percentage of "traditional" (I'm going to quit using the quotes, you get my point by now) people come from guitar based backgrounds. (One of the interesting parallels, though, is that an organist will roll their eyes at a guitar player's pedal boxes, yet spend hours figuring out the right set of stops to bring out the melody in a Bach trio sonata in contrast to the "continuo" part on another manual. But they don't see any connection...)

So, I believe, folks need to know about tech in a way that speaks to both musicians in a blended/divided congregation, and to not be afraid to treat them as if they have a reasonable to excellent musical education.

You need to assume that I fall into the "don't care much about gear" category. I don't hate it, but for the most part I personally presume that the tech person understands what the gear does, so that they can react when I ask them to do something for musical/balance/acoustical/artistic or other reasons. I believe that there is a pre-disposition on the part of a lot of tech jockeys (and I'm not being pejorative in using that term) to think that traditional (you could spell that o-l-d-e-r if you wanted) musicians simply have the wrong values...and that most tech problems can be solved by raising the volume.

I say that because I may not completely understand what a tech is talking about when it comes to specs, etc. So if I ask a tech to explain something, it doesn't mean I hate the tech, or the tech person. I'm just satisfying myself that it makes sense in order to place that information in context in order to achieve the optimum artistic result.

Back to real life and away from the econversation now...So if you ever hear me say "I hate electronics," and you're a tech, ask not what I can do with electronics, ask what electronics can do for me. You may be surprised that we have the same values.

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