Having once been on staff at Blue Ridge Community Church for five years, my primary role was that of an audio director, and thought to take a closer look at the role.
It is vitally important that you lead by example.
When first being proposed this topic a couple months ago, I jumped at the chance to share the things I learned.
The audio director role breaks down into two areas, with one being the physical and the other being the spiritual.
To be successful in this role, you cannot do one without the other.
If you only focus on the physical part of the job, and how things sound, along with getting things done, then you have missed the point of being on staff at a church.
Likewise, if you only concentrate on the spiritual side and do not work on the physical side of audio, then you are not honoring God in everything you do.
One of best things a pastor ever told me following my being hired on at a church as a technical director, is that if he saw me mixing every week, that meant I had failed in developing a team, and had failed at my job.
This really stuck with me.
That's because before his comment, I had assumed that is what was expected of me.
Hearing those words opened my eyes to the fact that God brings all different kinds of people to his local church, to work as a local body, and that my role was to find those who wanted to serve God in this way and enable them to do so.
Church audio teams are usually made from a group of amateur engineers with different technical backgrounds and experience, expected to make everything sound like that crystal-clear audio heard at the big conference everyone just went to.
This is where the role of the audio director starts.
How so? By managing expectations and helping people get from point A (where they currently are) to point B (where they need to be). This is where it is extremely important to have a good relationship, with not only the worship pastor/director, but the musicians/vocalists that are serving onstage.
When that relationship grows to where these people are ones you care about, and they care about you, it makes working together awesome.
As a result, you are able to have those, "Let me help you, so you can help me," conversations that take place often. One such example was when I had to talk with a guitar player about his tone or his overuse of reverb, or the time I had to talk with a vocalist about holding the mic too close to their lips and not mimicking what they see on TV.
Besides being an engineer, I am also a musician, and use that to develop relationships with the people on stage.
Every six months, we would have band auditions. New people would then come in, so I would talk with them about their guitar or amp or pedals. This would help start a relationship with them, so that if there was a problem, we had a relationship that could deal with what issue.
I would stress that it is important to never have an "us (audio team) versus them (those on stage)" mentality. There is nothing about that attitude that looks like following Christ. In no way is God honored or pleased when that is going on.
Therefore, it is vitally important that you lead by example. You must set the culture for your team, in how you go about serving together. One of the ways that this was accomplished when I was at Blue Ridge, was before each rehearsal, the worship pastor would give about a 15-minute devotion and talk about what the message was going to be that coming Sunday.
The band and tech team would then split up into small groups of three or four, and pray for those who were going to be part of the congregation, the person teaching on Sunday, and for each other as a whole.
On Sunday mornings, our tech team would again split up into such small groups to pray together and for each other. It is so important in such examples, to put God first, versus making the purpose of the rehearsal the priority.
One of the things I have noticed over the years while being involved in ministry, is that a lot of tech-minded people are also introverts, such as myself. Therefore, it can be very easy to get lost serving on the tech team, one that can be a great place to hide.
When you have the same people serving every week, it sets up a very spiritually unhealthy situation. You want those on your team to be at church with their family, and sitting with their family.
Remember, this is their church first. They did not come here to just run audio and if that's the case, you need to have a conversation about that.
Part of mixing is listening to things critically. Unfortunately, it becomes very hard to turn off, and then people can find themselves sitting through songs and messages, to where they have not really heard a thing, because they could not shut off their critical listening.
That's why for the previous 10 years, where I was on staff at two churches, I had everybody in a once-a-month rotation.
If I have someone who is a volunteer these days, who only serves once a month, they are not going to be very familiar with the audio console, in comparison to someone who mixes every week. Some things are going to be harder for them or will take more time, like having to change the routing for the direct out to the personal monitor system or making sure that everything is patched to record to do a virtual soundcheck later.
Another issue that you must address with multiple people mixing, is how to get a similar, consistent mix from week to week, regardless of who is mixing. To do this, I first expect that everyone's mix needs to be in the same ballpark. What I mean by this, is that 80 percent of how we mix is the same, leaving us with about 20 percent from week to week where we can personalize. With this approach, the music will always be running at the same SPL level from week to week, and the person teaching is going to be at a consistent level.
At Blue Ridge, we also needed to have our vocals at a certain level above the music to achieve a certain sound. It also helped in determining where the background vocals would be level wise, compared to the lead vocal.
From that starting point, we then also figured out that our church liked a lot of low end, so we had more sub than a lot of churches. To keep that consistent from week to week, though, I got rid of aux-fed subs.
As the audio director, I would take on the role of music producer and help guide their mix until it was in the ballpark, while teaching and explaining the what and why behind it, as we went.
This is why it is also important to strive to be an expert in what you do—no jack of all trades, please.
From there, though, one must continue to learn, grow, and try new things in audio. You should always be mixing, that is your form of practicing.
Understandably, we all get frustrated by musicians on stage who always show up and haven't touched their instruments since the last time they were at church, but that scenario is what often happens with audio engineers, week in and week out.
In today's age of virtual soundchecks, and with everyone able to get a DAW program, you have no excuse to not be continually honing your skills and ears. This is also important for your team, to see you doing this because it sets the expectation that growth is never ending.