Running any sort of production, no matter the scale, is never a one-person job. The multitude if elements of any production need to flow together as seamlessly and effortlessly as possible. Understanding individual roles in the process can go a long way to achieving this goal, and it is important everyone to be on the same page. Even though roles will vary from department to department, the playbook never changes. Many people (including some audio engineers) believe that the pushing faders is the only thing that happens at front of house. I am her to change that mindset.
Front of house is responsible for a great many things. Chief among those responsibilities is making sure the musicians on stage can function at their best. This means having everything ready to go before they even start, minimizing delays, troubleshooting issues efficiently, and assisting the players with things they often forget about or didn’t plan for.
It is important that rehearsals and performances start on time. While your church may not employ a show runner or a producer to run the service, starting on time and cueing players on stage is key to running an effective unit. Some things that will help in facilitating this are:
Preparedness: Arrive early. Always. No exceptions. Arrive early enough to set the stage if needed, insert fresh batteries into devices that require them, turn your system on, do a brief soundcheck to make sure it works, and accomplish whatever other tasks are required of you at your venue. Check your inputs, and make sure that things are plugged into where they are supposed to be. How many microphones are required that day, and where are they gong to be placed? Are there any extra instruments today? Is it an acoustic set?
Understanding: Know what’s going on around you in the production, when it is happening, and who is responsible for it. Always. No exceptions. Walk-throughs of production aspects is always a good idea. Staying on the same page with the rest of your team is paramount. For example, the lighting tech will go all black after the last song. During the blackout, the band will begin to walk off-stage while the visuals tech starts a video on the screens. While the video is playing, the pastor is walking on-stage, so that as soon as the video is over, the lighting tech can fade up stage/spot lights and the pastor can begin his message. As a FOH engineer, we would be responsible for muting the band, fading in the video audio, fading out the video audio, and fading in the pastor. You can see how knowing the moving parts and communicating with the different aspects of that brief exchange can allow the service to flow seamlessly.
Troubleshooting: Identify problems as they occur and move on from them as fast as humanly possible. Always. No exceptions. Do not take more than a few moments to diagnose and correct an issue. Have extra cables ready to go. Understand how your patch bay works. Understand plugins and/or outboard gear. Above all, know signal flow forwards and backward (wolf langis). If you can figure out an issue and make a change in a few moments, do so. If not, let the worship leader know you are aware of the issue and to continue with the rehearsal. Work behind the scenes to correct issue on the fly. During performance, communicate that you’re working on a fix and to just keep going. In the event of a category 9 catastrophe where stopping a rehearsal is unavoidable, work as quickly and efficiently as possible make a fix.
Knowledgeable: Know the how to operate equipment and software that the other parts of the production are using. Always. No exceptions. Knowing how the lighting console or software works, or how your visual projection software works goes a long way to ensuring that you are ready to take over for them at any given time. People make mistakes or otherwise run into problems that could cause them to freeze or be unable to function properly, and your knowledge of how the systems work (even at just a basic level), could mean the difference between keeping things running smoothly, operating without an element of production, or having to stop the production entirely.
The extra mile: Go above and beyond. Always. No exceptions. There are a number of things you can do to enhance the atmosphere on stage, or quickly overcome a potentially disastrous incident. Make sure there is a bottle of water at every musicians station at the start of rehearsal and before each performance. Your pockets should be filled with guitar picks, a pair of drum sticks, AA and 9v batteries and an extra microphone. Set up an extra vocal mic on-stage, but off to the side. Equipment can fail without notice, and having an escape route planned makes you a hero.
Whatever your title or job description may be, you should always strive to be the best you can. Being able to be counted on in a pinch, or known to be knowledgeable about all facets of production ensures that you are ready to lead in any stage of the game, and that you are not limited by what’s in front of you.