Role of an Audio Director: Setting Standards, Supervising, Communicating

Role of an Audio Director: Setting Standards, Supervising, Communicating

Good relationships between the worship team and the audio team are so very important, and they smooth the way to achieving a great worship service.

Many churches have a technical director,' whose responsibilities include setting the vision and operating standards for the entire technical team, recruiting and training volunteers, and generally making sure all things technical go smoothly for the church.

A lack of communication can muddle a working relationship in so many ways.

In a number of larger churches, though, the scope of this job would be unmanageable to have a single person tasked with all those responsibilities. In these situations, it's not unusual for the technical director to have additional leadership roles under them, and one of those common jobs is that of the audio director.'

Many of the responsibilities of an audio director sound similar to those of a technical director, but the primary difference is that the varied responsibilities for an audio director are focused specifically on audio. For example, one of the key components of the job is setting operating standards. In other words, the audio director is responsible for determining what the mixes should sound like, so that each audio engineer has a target to aim for.

Without an audio director's leadership, each engineer might have an entirely different artistic approach to mixing a worship service, but that will only lead to an inconsistent experience for the congregation. Even with this guidance, of course, each person will have their own flavor,' but the mixes should be similar enough, in general, that the congregation can enjoy some consistency.

Keep in mind that, in many churches, the audio director will mix most of the front of house, or FOH, audio during worship services. However, he or she will still be setting the standards for any other engineer who mixes other parts of the service (monitors or broadcast, perhaps), and for those who might handle other church services or events.

The audio director will also supervise the entire audio team, whether paid positions or not, and this will therefore include recruiting and training volunteers.

The training component will, of course, involve a lot of technical understanding of the audio system, as well as general troubleshooting skills. This can be the most difficult part for some people (either the trainer or the trainee), simply because of the complexity of modern audio equipment.

However, it's the artistic side of sound that can sometimes present the biggest training challenge for an audio director. From my perspective, having a good ear is not something that can be taught. Even those who are blessed with such a gift, oftentimes begin with it being a latent, undeveloped talent.

By training someone on how to mix, the audio director will have to evaluate whether or not the individual they are training really has the natural capacity for it. If it's a latent talent, it will simply take time for the trainee to develop and refine their God-given ability. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, in that it's just not a given to be in the trainee's DNA (so to speak). In such cases, it is best for the audio director to then seek out an alternative role for that person, one that doesn't involve mixing.

Understandably, those conversations to transition someone to a different role can be difficult.

Another key area under the audio director's purview is technical projects and maintenance. At various points in a church's lifetime, there will be a need to purchase and install new equipment, perform maintenance, and just generally keep all audio systems operating smoothly. This alone can be very time-consuming, since modern sound systems are very complicated. For example, many new systems are even implemented as specialized computer networks (a la Dante).

In fact, at Lakewood Church, we have so much technical equipment and infrastructure to manage, that the normal' audio director role is actually split into two positions.

Finally, a good audio director facilitates both strong relationships and good communication between the audio staff and the folks on the platform.

Good relationships between the worship team and the audio team are so very important, and they smooth the way to achieving a great worship service. Nonexistent relationships, coupled with lack of communication, often leads to mistrust and attitude problems.

The worship team needs to feel like the audio team has their back, and the audio team needs to feel trusted and respected. A solid foundation here will not only yield the best performances from the worship team, but also lead to excellent audio all around.

We're all familiar with the grumpy sound man' cliché, and I have certainly encountered some audio folks who I feel rightly have earned that moniker. However, a lot of the misgivings between audio personnel and worship team members arise from poor communication and lack of relationships. It's not necessarily an actual attitude problem, but it can simply be a perception issue that would not exist if there were some attempt at a relationship.

A lack of communication can muddle a working relationship in so many ways. For example, at a previous church, I recall situations where members of that team would often yell between the platform and FOH during sound check, simply to communicate.

At the time, yelling seemed to be what was necessary, both because of the distance and the vast number of background noises we were confronted with.

There was no attitude involved; it was merely the most rapid and convenient way to coordinate or explain some things.

One evening, though, I was asked by a member of the worship team about one of the conversations from earlier that day. Because of our raised voices, this person had construed that they had witnessed an argument between one of the audio engineers and one of the musicians.

In truth, I knew that verbal exchange had been completely cordial, and so did the people directly involved. At that moment, though, I realized how easy it is for perceptions to run amok.

From that point forward, we only used talkback mics or radios so that we could keep our voices down when communicating with each other. We also realized that we hadn't put as much effort at that point, as we should into developing relationships with each member of the worship team, recognizing how stronger relationships yield trust and understanding.

In a nutshell, an audio director is much like a technical director focused in one specific technical discipline.

Many times, a technical director will handle each of these audio functions as a part of their job, and this is the case with many churches.

Audio alone, though, can be so time-consuming (and specialized) at a good number of churches, as to require a dedicated person, or audio director, to pursue desired audio excellence for the sake of a great worship experience.

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