Role of an Audio Director: Plan Both to Succeed and Fail

It may seem obvious to anyone that works in production that planning well out in advance is crucial. However, the hardest thing to plan for could just be winging it.

I'm not sure you are ever prepared to be a leader, but chances are you've worked hard and have just become the go-to guy or gal to suddenly find yourself now in charge.

However, it becomes even more daunting when you take on a technical role, particularly that of an audio director.

No pressure there, only the entire event is being communicated through the audio systems you have become responsible for. To top it off, everyone who is not on the audio team, is an audio expert and will gladly share with you their opinions.

If you are a seasoned veteran of large venues, or a volunteer responsible for the small church down the road, you are always looking for ways to improve those things for which you hold responsibility.

It is my hope that some of the following key areas can be a guide to help you reach greater potential within your audio systems and teams.

Have thick skin 

This might not have so much to do with audio, as it does with how you interact with others that choose to share in with what you do. By that I mean your own technical team, musicians, pastors, and yes, even those who can't wait to tell you what is wrong with audio.

Let me give you the good and bad news right away here.

OK, here's the bad news: audio is probably hands down the single area of ministry that is most complained about, blamed, left out of conversations, underbudgeted, forgotten, and hardest production skill set to master.

The good news is that audio can have some of the most direct impact to the body of the church as the pastor itself. As much as the pastor gives credit to God for using him to speak through him to the church, the audio systems of the church are also a vessel in which God speaks to the church.

I want to encourage you to have thick skin on those days that it just sucks. Remind yourself of the bigger picture, and of all the great things God uses what you do to communicate through you! At a later time, go back and have some conversations to improve on some of the tougher things that your team struggles with.

Setting up workflows for success 

Managing an entire audio system is as much about planning as it is actually doing the work. One cannot exist without the other.

There is a saying in the audio industry, if you are on time you are late. The reason for this is that it takes a lot of preparation to get to a place, where you can finally just mix audio. Not only that, as you plan and prepare things, considerations must be made as to how other aspects of the stage and event could be affected.

Think about the bigger picture when it comes to how you structure your consoles. Regardless if you have just one console slated to mix front of house, monitors, and broadcast, or you are just a dedicated monitor console, you need to make all the pieces fit together. Ensure that there is clear communication and processes understood between audio positions, so that needs and concerns are met.

Be cognizant of changes that may only apply to just your mix position and how they could affect other technical positions. Many audio engineers only think about what they need to mix. Encourage your teams to think through their workflows and how it may directly impact other areas. If you are using a Solo In Place mode on the console to listen to a guitar, is that impeding the graphics operator from following the song lyrics? If you change gain structure, is that affecting another audio console? If an audio cable just went bad and you have to replace it, did you inform other mix positions to mute that input? These are just but a few examples to consider if you work with multiple team members.

If you have a lot of volunteers that mix, having familiar and consistent show file templates for them to use raises the confidence level of those serving. This can particularly be true if you have several venues and mix positions across your church campus.

Organization matters!

Not only can storage of audio equipment set you up for success, but so too can organizational planning of event details make a big difference. Plan with stage plots, input lists, labeling wireless devices, operational how-tos, call times, and coordinating event details, using such software as Planning Center Online.

Plan ahead to wing it 

It may seem obvious to anyone that works in production that planning well out in advance is crucial. However, the hardest thing to plan for could just be winging it.

Setting up workflows to adapt and change very quickly is an extremely valuable asset to any production. They can include versatile console show files that can handle additional inputs, having an extra wireless microphone ready to go for a last-minute addition, fast and flexible on-stage inputs, design your stage for quick stage setups and strike, an extra vocal or guitar input on each side of the stage for a quick band change, etc.

While you may think this is a lot of extra work, being quick and flexible can save you a lot of work down the road. It also can take you from being a leader that says no,' to a leader that can say yes.'

Planning to fail 

This one is hard, because the last thing you ever want to happen is to have a technical failure. Try as we might to avoid anything unfortunate happening, let me just be honest with you, technology will fail you and you need to have a plan.

The best failure we can plan for is something that can be resolved when an event is not on the line. Such preventative measures are; budgeting for the future to replace aging gear, protect your gear with battery backups, taking time to do maintenance and repairs, and have backups for software, hard drives or entire computer backups handy.

The failures we dread are failures that happen when an event is on the line. The only thing we can do at that point is to calmly enter a mode that can either work around a technical failure or quickly resolve it.

One of the best suggestions I can make to you to handle mid-event failures is to build varying redundancies throughout your stage, systems, and workflows.

Know your systems. If a software or hardware issue appears, do you know how to work around it, without further complications or roadblocks? Think through scenarios and build workflows around bypassing problems quickly. If it's a nonrecoverable failure that requires a reset or reboot, how long would it take?

Simpler in-event problems that can be resolved quickly could include having spare direct boxes, cables, power strips, and batteries within arm's reach of the stage. Have a backup mic ready for a singer or pastor ready, should something happen.

Do you know where the breakers are, and if it's behind a locked door, could you get in quickly? I know that seems silly, but as a seasoned engineer who is a guest at varying venues, I even get bit by this one on occasion.

While there is a lot on the plate of an audio director, I encourage you to do your best to know your systems and capabilities.

Planning both to succeed and fail can only deliver the best possible outcomes.

If you foresee an issue that requires some changes, work with your leaders to understand and overcome potential obstacles. Not only will you garner the trust of your audio teams but your leadership as well knowing you are giving it your very best.

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