The Technical Director

By Leon Sievers
Sound Professional
May 18, 2023

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- Serving God & Man

Every church has a need for a technical director. Nearly every aspect of church is affected in some way by a technical service or function that needs to be performed by someone. Often times various people with different degrees of aptitude pitch in to cover the bases. Usually it falls on the music pastor or worship leader. As a church grows, the need for technical services increases proportionately, as does the need to do things correctly. So what does a technical director actually do?  I hope to begin to answer that question in this first article as we look at some of the job functions performed by a technical director or sound team leader within the church. 

As the technical director it is important to know who your boss is. We serve God by attending to the technical needs of the pastor and worship team. This is to be done with a servant’s heart and in love for one another. Understand that you are the answer man (or woman) and everybody is looking to you to make things right. Your choice of words and actions can either inspire or deflate the entire worship team. 

Preparation is the key to making any worship or service trouble free. This includes attention to the planning, functional and technical aspects of the ministry. It is equally important to attend to the spiritual elements of service as well. Arrive well in advance of your scheduled time and spend some time in prayer. God always has the lead in producing an event and it is important that you take the time to ask for his help. Ask the Lord for his presence, wisdom and knowledge. You may not need it then, but when problems arise, his presence will allow you to react confidently and quickly to avoid disaster. While you're setting the stage, pray over the equipment and the stage area to make it a peaceful place rather than a battleground. The stage may be a place of spiritual warfare during rehearsal and even during a worship service, but we can each help do our part to usher in angels to guard over the area.

It is important to work closely with the church pastor or another ministry leader to help determine what actually sounds good. Strive to provide an even mix without showcasing instruments through radical changes in the mix. Pay specific attention to the equalization of the vocals and maintain enough separation in the mix so that the vocals remain highly intelligible. Attend regular staff meetings to stay on top of tech support needs for upcoming worship services and other events. I especially want to encourage church leaders to include their technical staff in these meetings This makes it especially important for the technical staff to take good notes, especially about stuff that went wrong in last week's services and communicate the problems and recommended solutions to the proper parties. It is equally important to pass along to your volunteers any encouraging comments from your pastoral staff, worship team and congregation about stuff that went right. Take the time to meet weekly with the music pastor, worship leader, and/or worship team for production meetings to review how things went during the previous week's worship services.

The sound team has the potential for burnout depending on the amount of time required. Every church is different in the amount of time it takes for their tech support team to setup each week. Some have perma­nent setups and traditional worship music setting, so their setup is simple and can be done in twenty to thirty minutes. Other churches have a music group which requires a much more complex setup, and may even change literally every week, so their tech support team finds themselves starting from scratch each time they setup and putting in a few hours to be sure it's right. Therefore it is important to continually recruit, develop, support and encourage all tech team volunteers. If your church offers women's retreats, then you have understand one important reason why you should invite and include women as part of the tech support team.

Ongoing training for all tech volunteers in the correct procedures for operating all audio / video equipment is vital to glitch free events. Make sure that everyone has a copy of the owner’s manual to each piece of equipment. Take the time to discuss, demonstrate and permit hands on use of each piece of gear. Whether you string cables, hang mics or mix the sound, everyone should have some working knowledge of the entire sound system. Cross training is important and beneficial to everyone involved. It is helpful to develop and document a system and checklist to ensure that the tech systems are operated properly and to your standards of technical excellence at all times. 

To avoid burnout, regularly rotate staff so that everyone enjoys serving. Solicit their involvement well in advance for special events, holiday services, concerts, etc. Pastor the volunteers working with you. If your team can't logistically meet with the worship team for prayer before a worship service or other event, pray with your team before services. Consider expanding your technical team into a bible study or other group, which can inspire one another in their spiritual growth. 

System maintenance is critical! Keep the production booth clean and straightened up. Also, ensure that you have an adequate supply of batteries for wireless microphones, duct tape, audio tapes (cassette, DAT etc), spare connectors for all types of audio cables, bulk wire for building cables, headphones, headphone boxes, mic stands, boom arms, mic clips, and other items. Maintain all audio, video and lighting gear in proper working condition. Remember to include equipment in the main auditorium, children's ministry, and all other ministries that require the use of technical support systems, including portable systems. Do regular preventative maintenance checks on all tech support gear and regular listening tests of all loudspeaker systems. Test, then fix or replace broken mic cables, speaker cables, MIDI cables, guitar patch cords, coax cables for wireless mic antenna connections, and other necessary stuff. Test your VCR, and video projectors well in advance of the service. Troubleshooting video problems often takes longer and results in significant solutions. Regularly clean and degauss all audio cassette decks, videotape decks, and duplicators. As the technical director you should take a copy of the duplicated tapes and listen to them during the week to make sure that quality standards are being met.

Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all church-owned tech support equipment. Make product recommendation for new equipment and then develop, submit, and manage the ministry budget. This includes tracking monthly expenses for consumable supplies. When your event exceeds the technical capacity of your church, arrange for rental gear as needed. Develop a relationship with a local sound company who can provide equipment as needed. 

Develop a workable stage layout. In determining where instruments and vocalists should be placed on stage, we must consider good mic technique, sound isolation from other instruments and monitors, stage lighting, as well as comfortable sight lines for the worship team and for the congregation. Have your team and equipment ready well in advance of the worship teams arrival. It is difficult at best to set the stage while musicians are setting up there own gear. Have the rough mix and monitor levels set when the worship team takes the stage. Pay attention to the visual aspects of the stage area. It is easy to be consumed with the audio aspects of our jobs, but it is equally important that we look good doing it. Many people listen with their eyes and we are trying to recreate an ideal worship environment for everyone. Take pride in dressing the cables, and placing equipment. If your church has lighting, take note of how the players and set pieces are lit. Refocus any fixtures necessary to accommodate a change in the layout. Periodically change the lighting gels and scenes to keep a fresh look on stage.

As a technical director or regular engineer mixing the worship service, we should attend rehearsals each week to "practice" new songs along with the vocalists and musicians. Practice might not make perfect, but it can lead the way to excellence. This is also a good time to teach proper instrument mic placement and vocal mic techniques. Rehearse your mixing techniques during practice. Use this time to try a new effect, dial in a compressor or eq the system. Strive to improve your mix every time you sit behind the board. Place a priority on establishing an awesome monitor mix that provides each player with just what he or she needs to lead the congregation into worship.  Remember that if the worship team is unable to engage in worship, it is equally difficult for the audience. Strive to satisfy each member of the worship team with the proper level and equalization. Carve out time for the less experienced musicians and vocalist so that they can learn to evaluate what they need and how to communicate their need to the sound team. Regularly measure the stage volume and moderate the ever-increasing SPL from drums and guitars. If the sound volume on stage typically overwhelms the house sound system, then educate your worship team on the benefits of electronic drums, headphones and ear-worn monitors.

And in conclusion, the most single important piece of advice I can give anyone serving in a technical capacity is to learn to gracefully accept complaints and criticism. Humbly accept input from the congregation, the worship team and the pastor. Even when you are doing your absolute best, problems can and will arise, and you can rest confidently knowing that God knows how hard you have tried. Leave your anxiety at the throne and respond with a loving heart!  

If you can adapt this attitude while doing sound, just imagine how it could change the rest of your life!

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