How one audio engineer has found value to those closest to him amidst a global pandemic.
Words by Janae Janik
In a few hours, thousands would infiltrate Olympic Stadium in London where the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic games was being held. Millions more would watch at home, eyes glued to their television screens in anticipation.
The atmosphere was electric as the athletes walked in proudly waving their nation’s flags. In a quieter back room behind the scenes, Justin Arthur breathed a well-earned sigh of relief. Finally, after months of tedious preparation, this was the moment. They had done it.
Since 8:00am that morning, Justin Arthur, along with the rest of the audio systems team had been checking every single detail to make sure everything would be working for that evening. His job as a Senior Systems Engineer, alongside his team, was to capture the sound from the main stage so that everyone, no matter where they were sitting, would be immersed in the dynamic artistry of that ceremony. It was no small task in a stadium holding up to 80,000 people.
“I would go for three walks around the stadium looking at, just looking at all the cable paths and making sure that, you know, a cable’s not hanging by a thread that has been damaged,” Arthur explained. “Is everything in its proper place?”
The team rehearsed all possible scenarios where something might malfunction. What should they do if a computer crashed? What was their backup? This was one of the largest events in the world and they had to be ready for anything.
But once the planning was finished and everything was checked and sorted, it turned into a waiting game.
“That’s like the most nerve-wracking time cause you’ve done what you’ve done, everything you can do. You’ve checked everything,” Arthur said.
This was the largest show Arthur had been a part of, and an incredible accomplishment to pull off. But of course, every talented creative starts somewhere, and for Arthur, that place was his local church.
His dad played the bass and he started helping out with the sound team on Sunday mornings. These early years laid a foundation for being able to see the bigger picture when it came to this field.
Arthur has also been in charge of sound design for many of Hillsong’s conferences and says that his faith helps keep him interested in his work. “You kind of feel like you’re part of something. You know, you’re serving a purpose with what you’re doing.”
In addition to serving at his church, his school had a strong music department with a recording studio that enabled him to develop his skills. By his early years of High School he was in charge of all of the sound equipment at his school.
Surprisingly, he never officially went to university for audio engineering. Rather, he learned by being open to any opportunity presented to him. Companies would let him take equipment home or stay late and he would continue to teach himself about the technicalities of the audio world. He says in the industry, a person’s success is based largely off their reputation. When he did a good job, people referred him to others, which led to additional opportunities.
Those opportunities have included traveling all over the world as an audio systems engineer. Companies from places like New Zealand, Greece, Singapore, Russia and the Middle East have requested his expertise. Often, a job would take him away for three to six months out of the year.
It was a conversation that him and his wife had early on. The two of them met through caroling where his wife would sing and he was on the production team. They were friends for ten years before starting to date, and when they eventually did get married, Arthur would often fly his wife over to spend some time together in the exciting locations that his work would take him.
Nowadays, him and his wife have three young children all under the age of six. When he travels, his wife stays home with the kids and they communicate through phone calls and video chats.
“We were both kind of in the mindset that, in that first stage of life for a child they’re not really aware. They’re not really, you know, they don’t really understand the world around them or what’s going on. So if I wasn’t there for the first three months of their life then it wouldn’t really be a problem per se.”
However, when Covid hit, the entire industry changed. With traveling out of the picture, Arthur found himself at home for the first time in years and specifically for the early moments of his youngest daughter’s life.
“The biggest thing I’ve realized at the moment is you know, how much not being at home affects the family,” Arthur said.
He’s noticed that his relationship is stronger with his daughter because of having been there earlier on and even his older two kids are significantly more engaged when they have video calls since he’s been at home. Where they used to simply give a wave and carry on with what they were doing, now they want to have a conversation with him.
These days, the weight of grandiose opportunities is measured against those small joys. For Arthur, he’s decided to put his family first.
He’s recognised the incredible significance in the seemingly mundane moments – being there for the little things, like family birthdays or his kid’s school plays. The small joys that make up life are what make everything worthwhile.
“You sit there in a stadium for you know, a fourteen hour day for an opening ceremony of an Olympic Games or whatever, which is really cool and interesting. But for me, I think my priorities have shifted where it’s like, I’d actually rather go and do, you know, a corporate dinner up in Sydney and then be home the next day with the family.”
And maybe that’s one thing the pandemic has taught us. That beyond the busy schedules that fuel us as creatives, our families and the people we surround ourselves with are what truly matter. They are still there at the end of the day when the show continues on. When the accolades fade into oblivion or the accomplishment becomes another typed line on a resume, it’s their laughter and dreams and hope that give meaning to the work we do.
This article is part of our Artists Still Live Here online magazine (Issue 3). You can download the full magazine here.