From my seat on the bus, as leader over many services on several different campuses for Cross Church in Arkansas, I struggle with how to best involve a volunteer into the direct operation of an audio console during critical services on Sunday morning.
Whoever you have entrusted to operate audio, must be an expert of the day.
I understand those who will read this article could be working in a church, ranging from small to large, where available resources and needs will be significantly different.
I am not an expert, but perhaps I can offer my point of view, to help in the discussion.
The reality is, most venues have one thing in common, an auditory system of some kind. These systems can range from small, featuring perhaps only a speaker and a mic, to large venues that seat thousands, with understructures that would boggle the mind.
The point is that the need to hear is paramount, in communicating the message.
Without proper audio, we are unable to effectively communicate, and I would even go as far as saying that lighting and video are side dishes enhancing the audible.
With that realization, it becomes increasingly important to fund this position with someone who can handle the stress that comes with the role. Just think of the times when you sit during a worship service, where the audio was not criticized by you or someone around you.
For the sake of the conversation, we will speak of venues that work with multiple inputs for music and speaking. The vast majority of people who run audio in most churches are volunteers. One such volunteer years ago, was my father, who tells me stories of when I was an infant, how he “ran sound” for the church he and the rest of the family attended.
Come to think of it, that statement “ran sound,” is really the problem we must overcome. Whether you are paid staff or a volunteer, you are not “running sound,” but you instead are crafting the auditory experience to best communicate the culture of your organization.
To many, that may seem a little dramatic. However, if we don’t look at it this way, we will misunderstand the incredible responsibility our audio positions are tasked to handle each week.
Few, if any, experiential enhancements to a service can overcome poor audio operation.
The focus here will be about the foundational understanding of the importance of equipping those who craft the audio experience in a paid or volunteer role, to accomplish the task.
Furthermore, no position in your media department will be met with as much tension and pushback, as the person sitting behind the audio desk. As the leader, you have a responsibility to protect that person.
If that person behind the audio desk is a volunteer, this is their ministry, and not a place they come, only to be beat down by everyone’s opinion about how loud or soft it should be, etc.
Now that we have set the stage for the burden that you put on your audio person, let’s divide this into two parts.
One, how do you find the right person to volunteer behind your audio desk?
Two, how do you help them be successful in this position, as your audio volunteer?
What must my audio person need to possess, to be successful in crafting the auditory message of my organization?
1. The ability to focus.
With the culture we live in, it becomes increasingly hard to find people with an attention span longer than a few seconds. Mixing audio is a full-time gig, from the first musical note to the final spoken word. Your audio volunteer must focus from beginning to end, to every detail of the room.
2. Thick skin is a must.
As stated earlier, few positions garner the criticism as the person managing the audio. No matter how perfect one may be in handling their various tasks, someone on the stage or in the audience will have an opinion, and more often than not, will share it. Taking that one step further, that input may not always be nice.
3. Diplomatically inclined, people friendly.
With the reality of the last point, you must have someone who is able to be diplomatic, not only with those on the stage, but also those in the room. Your audio engineer will sometimes be the most important one-on-one interaction that your people will have during a worship service. Also, if the part about opinion is true, and the interaction is not pleasant from one side, it is incumbent upon that person behind the audio desk to respond as if they are your ambassador. In short, you shouldn’t have to worry if you and your church will be represented well.
We have dealt with the who, now let’s look at the how.
Say that you have found your person. How do you train them up, to be the best they can be, week in and week out? What steps does your crafter of audio need to take, to be an all-star for your team?
1. First in, last out.
Whoever you have entrusted to operate audio, must be an expert of the day. They need to have tested every line and changed every battery. They need to know the script as well or better than the person who put it together. Again, the responsibility is great, and it takes a great person to shoulder the responsibility.
2. Establish a common ground from the stage to the audio booth.
Opinions are like germs, they are everywhere, and they spread. Too often, the strongest opinion prevails which isn’t always healthy. The opinion factory needs to be closed and collaboration needs to be paramount. Help bridge the gap from the stage to the audio booth, by collaborating on what the goals are. Ask the important questions, such as what is the baseline of audio level in the room?
Use DB meters to achieve this, so you can monitor and document. Work to find common ground, in what is expected to be predominant in instrumentation and vocals and so on.
A united front is hard to argue with.
When the stage and the audio desk are in agreement, then people in the audience will get on board. If there is disagreement, the opinions will spread and take root.
3. Provide tools to improve proficiency.
We live in an age and culture where knowledge is easily attainable. Equip your audio engineer, with the tools to become better. Send them to classes, online or in a classroom.
Network or shadow with those who have bigger venues and more complicated systems in your area. As the leader, make sure they communicate with you desires they have to improve the position. Remember, helping your audio engineer be better makes the organization better.
Finally, the hurdle of working volunteers into a position, is as important as operating your audio is real, but not impossible. It requires work to protect, develop, and maintain.
Audio is a place that cannot and must not take a backseat, and therefore you must find the right person, equip that person, and ultimately trust that person to represent you, your team and your message.