Role of an Audio Director: Open Lines of Communication Key

Time is precious, which is why you asked others to do that job in the first place. The best way to empowerment is training and coaching.

Your job is a less than enviable one.

Don't get yourself into the position where you are the only one who can fix things.

It seems that whenever someone forgets to turn on their microphone or a cue is missed, everyone immediately looks over at the soundboard. Well, take heart; while sound may always be the red-headed step child of service; there are things that you can do to prepare.

My number one is always communication -  both with your team and with the musicians. This can be a delicate balance, because of the temperaments of those involved.

Everyone has a different opinion, and everyone wants a different mix in their ears or on stage, and that is before you even begin to get the mix for the house ready.

Let's start with your team. It is a good idea to remind them that we are servants, both of the Lord, and those on stage. If we serve them well, our job will be infinitely easier, and when a conflict arises, you will have on open line of communication to discuss the best option for going forward.

There are many resources for training people to run sound. It is not just about running the board, though. It is about communicating with everyone involved, and making them all feel like you acknowledge what it is they want or need. That does not mean that you will always be able to give it to them, but having built a relationship over time of trust and respect will go a long way toward the inevitable compromise.

I also let my team know that they are musicians themselves.

Placing instruments in the proper place in the mix is not always an easy task. And they should be actively listening and watching everything that is happening. Also coming to rehearsals is paramount to a good mix.

If you have more than one volunteer on the board, I would encourage them to come to as many rehearsals as possible. Knowing the songs will help for a better mix, as will watching the director and the musicians on stage to be in tune with their needs.

Songs ebb and flow. Knowing when there is a lull, when there is a solo, when to increase or decrease someone's microphone depending on their part in the song, are all integral to a quality mix.

Remind the sound guys running the board to fully flush out the needs of the musicians during preservice practice.  Ask questions of the music director and let everyone feel comfortable enough to ask for what they want.

Everyone knows that you are busy, because they see you running around putting out fires. My advice is to come in a little early and make sure that everything works before you begin practice. By doing this, you will have the time to answer people in an unhurried manner.

In a recent article on the Worship Tech Director website, Debbie Keough discussed how things can be done to be prepared in advance, for those things that come up at the last minute. I would suggest reading that piece to learn more about that aspect.

Part of communication is listening.

To listen, you need to stop and then listen.

I faced such a situation recently. It was my week to run the soundboard, and there was a problem that I was attending to.

One of the musicians then asked me a question, in the middle of what I was doing. Instead of stopping and listening, I gave them an answer on the fly. I proceeded to continue what I was doing, and then came back to them.

Several weeks later, that same musician needed something, but did not bother to ask, because they felt that I was too busy and did not want to disturb me.

This brings me to my next point, which is to delegate.

Now when it is my week to run the board, I simply delegate.

And only that.

I need to be available for the musicians. We all have teams. Some bigger or smaller than others.

Don't get yourself into the position where you are the only one who can fix things. For example, work with the technical director to identify who can do what and who is willing to learn. This way, when something does happen, you can direct someone to fix it so that you may continue to do what it best for the worship as a whole.

We all wear many hats. We need to know which hat we are wearing, while also developing others to put out fires, so that we can remain fixed on what we need to do for a successful service.

After delegating to people, is working to empower.

Just asking someone to do something is not enough. They need to be properly trained and feel that they can do what is necessary, without coming back to you every few minutes to ask permission.

Time is precious, which is why you asked them to do that job in the first place. The best way to empowerment is training and coaching. Often just giving them the training they need is only half of the battle.

Many people do not feel comfortable making decisions on their own, which is why you are the director and not them. However, for you to be successful, you need them to make these decisions. After you have trained them, I have found it works well to set up situations that need to be attended to and under my supervision, encourage them to work it out on their own. After a short while, most volunteers can make these decisions on their own, giving you the time to devote to other pressing matters.

The next and hardest aspect that I find is training people on the soundboard. I wish it were as easy as telling them to run up the slider when someone comes to the microphone or to raise the level of the piano during a solo, but it's not.

Not everyone is musical. We all hear things differently, and we all have different styles.

I have found a way that works for me, having gotten this out of the book, “The Art of Mixing: A Visual Guide to Recording, Engineering and Production,” which I read once, asking one to envision a big black box. Inside the box are many balloons.

The big round balloon on the bottom of the box is the drum kit. Around it are many other balloons. Some big, some small. One for every instrument. The balloons are in many places in this box. The higher they are, the higher the decibel (treble). The lower they are, the lower the decibel. (bass). Right or left is the pan. And front or back is the volume.

Then I ask them to put on headphones to a six- or seven-piece jazz band on YouTube and have them close their eyes to listen.

I want them to be able to pick out each instrument, and to pretend there are different shaped, colored, and sized balloons and to then imagine this inside the big black box. Once they can do this for a jazz band, I ask them to pick their favorite group and to do the same. Then I ask them to do this with a recording from our service.

After all this, I then ask them to try and replicate this when they are mixing. You should be able to concentrate on each instrument and hear them individually in the whole of the mix.

A good way to practice this is to put on the headphones, select the house mix and then solo each instrument or voice individually. From there, one should be able to go back to the house mix, to see if you can pick out their voice. Are they too loud not loud enough?

This brings me to my last point. When is it too loud, too often I hear people continue to turn things up. Once you get a good mix, I would start thinking about whether an instrument or group of instruments are too loud and can be brought down in volume, to make room for others in the mix.

Our pastor always says that every Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday. I have found that most Super Bowls are lost due to mistakes by the losing team. If we are prepared, and have a trained empowered staff, we will avoid most of these, and be able to serve and save. In Christ.

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