They heard the need and they answered the call. With audio techs in HOWs running the gamut from full-time audio engineers at megachurches to volunteers with no experience at smaller congregations, major pro audio retailers are offering worship audio events to address the educational needs of this live sound niche.
For Luis Rivera, pro audio sales consultant, Dale Pro Audio (New York, NY), motivation to help came after fielding myriad calls from HOW techs who were trying to figure out why their sound systems were not working properly. “I realized that they didn’t really know much about the systems they had,” he says. “They just knew they needed a sound system.”
Jeff Barnett, senior sales engineer and director of Worship Sales, Sweetwater (Fort Wayne, IN), realized that the HOW worship techs and staff could benefit from the innovations devised by his college friends, members of the band, The Digital Age, who formerly played with the David Crowder Band.
“They’re performers and worship leaders, and I was always trying to get them to do a workshop here at Sweetwater; what they do onstage is very instructive,” he says. “They have figured out ways to use tech to fill in crew gaps on tour. They use laptops and software for running video, lights and audio, and they’ve build a robot to play drums.”
Barnett knew his customers had a lot to learn from the musicians since many churches also are short-staffed. And Andrew Scriven, Sweetwater’s director of House of Worship Marketing, had a hunch that this opportunity had much more potential than just a simple workshop. He invited industry partner MultiTracks.com to join in on the training sessions with The Digital Age. MultiTracks brought along Ian Mcintosh, keyboardist for Jesus Culture, and Peter James, keyboardist for Hillsong, as additional presenters for the workshop. Scriven quickly mobilized a video crew to capture the workshop sessions, and a two-day worship event was born.
Together, Barnett and Scriven have leveraged Worship Connect into the only major worship training event held at a music store in the U.S. “Considering the fact that Sweetwater’s Music Store maintains the largest on-site inventory of any music store in the country, Worship Connect is a truly unique experience in the worship market,” Scriven says.
The next Worship Connect is planned for April 2017, featuring Shane & Shane. In addition, Sweetwater offers Live Sound for Worship workshops, designed for entry-level volunteers, and Drumming for House of Worship events, separate from Worship Connect.
BRINGING IT HOME
Rivera started hosting HOW training events in the field about 10 years ago with a friend, founder/CEO of Worship MD, Doug Gould, an industry veteran who works with manufacturers. “We used to hold them at churches in Pennsylvania and around the region, but that became too costly for us, so we now offer them in-house here at Dale Audio in New York,” he says.
Event participants are both full-time HOW audio engineers and volunteers. “They’re from mega-churches and smaller congregations,” Rivera says. “They’ve come from as far away as Texas, although most come from D.C., Pennsylvania and the New York region. Our events are held over two days, Friday and Saturday, and are absolutely free. We provide meals and giveaways like t-shirts as well.”
Dale gets the word out through an email blast to its own large base as well as on its web site. “Doug has his own followers, and I contact [contemporary Christian radio syndicate] K-LOVE to announce the events in this region,” he adds. “In addition, I ask manufacturers to help me cover event costs. Audio-Technica, PreSonus, JBL, Crown, Electro-Voice, EAW, RCF, Williams Sound and DiGiCo have been very helpful.”
When event participants arrive, numbering from 45 to 60, they are treated to a breakfast before classes begin in the Dale event room. Gould generally does the speaking with hands-on training overseen by Rivera and the Dale sales staff. A recent Dale event included a video boot camp. “We don’t sell video equipment,” Rivera explains, “but we work with E.C. Pro Video Systems and recommend them as they do a lot of broadcast and HOW video work.”
Topics, each of which are covered in one-hour presentations, include Mic Applications for Modern Worship; Worship Leaders are from Mars, Techs are from Venus; In-Ear Personal Monitors; Assistive Listening; The Future of Worship Mixing; How to Mic the Drum Kit; the Future of Wireless Mics; Recording a Worship Service; and How to Choose a Portable Worship PA system. The video workshop covers live streaming, lights and lighting, unlocking new revenue streams and more.
Some event participants represent congregations that are outgrowing their spaces and are looking to move. “Their sound systems may not be adequate for their needs and size, so we teach them how to choose the correct speakers,” Rivera says. “Many of the attendees are new to the HOW systems. The most frequent issue we hear from them concerns controlling mic feedback. Some are not knowledgeable about how to operate the analog audio mixer. Our event room is fully stocked, so they can demo whatever they may need. And a HOW tech can call me after the event to set a date and time for a one-hour training; if they call me from their HOW, I can walk them through everything on the phone.”
REPORT TO HQ
Sweetwater’s workshops are presented exclusively at its Fort Wayne headquarters. The program takes full advantage of the large campus, with general sessions and breakouts in the 250-seat theater, various conference rooms, classrooms and the retail music store. Songwriting workshops and roundtable chats in the Sweetwater coffee shop have no specific agenda, fostering a more casual, open discussion with musicians.
Training is provided by industry leading artists, engineers and band and crew members of groups such as Chris Tomlin’s Band, Jesus Culture, The Digital Age and Hillsong. Manufacturer representatives who attend include those from Ableton, Yamaha, Roland, Shure, Bose, Gretsch, PreSonus, D’Addario, Waves and Digital Audio Labs. Industry partners include The Church Collective, MultiTracks and All Pro Sound.
Dale Gould, CEO and founder of Worship MD, runs many of the presentations at Dale Pro Audio’s House of Worship Audio/ Video Workshop.
The event team also includes Sweetwater’s sales engineers. The most recent Worship Connect called for an expanded group effort, Barnett says. “About 80 Sweetwater employees were involved; it was all hands on deck.”
Worship Connect presentations offer technique demonstrations, panel discussions, hands-on experiences, personal interaction and mentoring, manufacturer demos, vendor expos, dining and worship.
Most events have a fee associated with attendance. “There’s a very deliberate effort to keep the costs down, though, and all of our events are much less expensive than a typical worship conference,” he says. “Our last two events have been sold-out, with about 250 attendees. We’re planning on offering two Worship Connect events each year, in the fall and again in the spring because demand is so great from participants and because of our ongoing marketing need for the video content that Worship Connect helps us capture.”
To date, participants have come from around the country as well as from as far away as St. Lucia in the Caribbean, Barnett says. “We tailor these events for all types of congregations. We know that most of our HOW customers have fewer than 700 members, so all of our Worship Connect events are designed with large and small churches in mind, and we make sure the content is applicable for volunteers. Some breakout sessions are targeted towards more advanced participants, but most are not.”
A large percentage of attendees are audio volunteers and some are worship musicians. “Many are not tech volunteers at all, but are pastors,” Barnett says. “They want to know how they can be more effective at what they do.”
Everyone who attends the Sweetwater workshop has a specific sales engineer who is focused on helping them, and that direct access to a pro is part of the business model, he explains. “When they leave, each individual has that ‘personal engineer’ they know they can call with technical questions anytime. They can get advice from highly educated sales engineers and the best customer service. We take care of our customers.”
“Sweetwater is relationship-based company,” Barnett says. “Worship Connect gives us a huge opportunity to build on these customer relationships. And I get to meet, in person, those customers who I have known only online or on the phone. Anything we can do to the deepen relationships will build sales, and customers who visit here are more likely to buy from us.”
In addition, manufacturers brought into events as sponsors and to teach see increases in their sales, both at the workshop and afterwards. “We were honored that PreSonus announced their new StudioLive 32 mixer here,” he says. “It was the first time they debuted it anywhere. A lot of our customers asked about it and some have ordered it already.”
Sweetwater’s HOW market currently represents about 17-percent of its business and is a growing segment. “The trend in the HOW market for several years is that as high-quality equipment becomes drops in price, more churches can afford it,” Barnett notes. “Line arrays and 32-channel digital mixers that were out of reach can now be purchased by smaller HOWs.”
Sweetwater’s competitors, he says, simply do not invest in their sales forces in the way Sweetwater does, or in a web site to provide accurate, up-to-date technical information and expertise. “We put out a Worship Sound Pro catalogue twice a year and we film our entire workshops and have clips online for anyone to watch.”
Beyond the Worship Connect presentations themselves, what event participants say they valued most was worship itself. “Some of the most important and meaningful aspects of Worship Connect are the times of worship in our Performance Theatre,” Barnett says. “For people who spend every Sunday morning working at their respective tasks, to lay it all down in a music store and worship is very powerful. It’s led by the key presenters such as Todd Fields—worship pastor at North Point Community Church, one of the largest churches in the US—Christy Nockels, Jesus Culture and others. It’s an opportunity to not run sound, lights, or video, but just to lift their hands and voices in worship.”
Dale Pro Audio