One of the biggest problems churches face week after week is the reality of poor sound reinforcement during the worship times. This is something leaders should work hard to correct – and fast. After all, we are gathered to communicate. If the congregation cannot hear or understand the message of the songs and spoken word, then we will not be very effective and might be wasting our time.
I’m sure when Jesus asked, “How can they believe in who they have not heard?”, He was not talking about the sound system. But the question is still valid. How can they engage in the worship if they cannot hear what is being done?
Many churches have epic problems with their sound systems that cannot be addressed in a week. Issues such as, the system is inadequate or poorly installed – or, the console is in the wrong place (in the balcony or on the last pew). You won’t fix that before this Sunday. But, there are a few simple things you can do to make your sound better this week… and hopefully, your people will have a better experience without the distraction of a bad sound mix. Here are five problems and their solution:
- The “rehearsal” sound check. Many churches fall into the pattern of having a rehearsal before the service instead of a complete sound check in which all the levels are set for the service. A quality sound check takes time and requires a channel-by-channel review. This is especially true if your space is used through the week and settings are changed or if you have a rotating sound operator schedule. A concert artist will spend an entire day setting their sound system levels before the concert. Why do we use 10 minutes?
Solution: Spend the weeks leading up to the service to prepare the music. Use the pre-service time to get the sound levels exactly right. Start with instruments and then vocalists. Be painfully stubborn to get levels exactly right before the worship begins.
- No target to hit. Many church operators have no idea what they are trying to achieve as they run sound. Define for them your expectations as to what is important and help them find that place in the sound levels.
Solution: Communicate to your operator what you are aiming for in the right mix. For me, it was always to have the choir vocals on top and preeminent in the mix. I want the drums and bass under control and the intelligibility of the text, both spoken and sung, to be most important. Whatever you decide is most important, make sure your operator knows what they are trying to accomplish.
- Too many cooks in the kitchen. Have you ever been in a sound check when the soprano said, “I need more vocal in the mix,” and the tenor said, “I need less vocal in the mix”… at the same time? The operator is often caught between contrasting opinions from the musicians and even from members of the church. They will hear, “It was too loud” and “I couldn’t hear” on the same Sunday. If they respond to every comment with an adjustment, you will never have consistency. And, an operator that does not have confidence will be one that makes mistakes.
Solution: Have this conversation with you operator, “You only have one set of ears to make happy… mine (or your designee). Listen and smile every time you get a suggestion – and even go to the board and make a faux tweak – but only respond to me.” Then tell your musicians to make every suggestion about sound to you – and stick to this. You can improve incrementally this way. You will never get better if your operator responds to every opinion.
- Captain is on the bridge. You may have an operator that knows sound and knows the board and has tons of experience. But, the one thing they don’t have is restraint. That is, they are constantly adjusting and changing the EQ and mix throughout the service. The changing sound will be a distraction as you hear your pastor go from a tenor to a bass during the message.
Solution: Set the sound before the service begins and make very few, if any, adjustments in the service. Help your operator know the time to make major changes to the sound is in the sound check or even better, in an empty worship center mid-week.
- It’s too loud. The biggest mistake most churches make is they run their sound too loud. This is especially true of churches that have a rhythm section or orchestra. A trained technician can easily make this mistake as he tries to create a mix on top of the loudest variable, usually the drums. The music leader can help by leading your musicians to present their music with varying dynamics.
Solution: Decibel meters are easy to find. You can even download decibel apps to a smart phone. Your technician should have one available in every service and should test the overall volume throughout the service. Find your “sweet spot” level and keep everything at, or below, that level all the time. You probably have some “dead spots” in your worship space that leads to some saying, “Turn it up! I can’t hear,” and when you do, you burst eardrums in other places. Find some smaller speakers that can be connected and serve as “fills” for those dead spots. You can do this relatively quickly and inexpensively.
There is so much more that could be said here. Let me just add that this aspect of your ministry is more important than many realize. As a worship leader, make sure you are involved in this part of worship each week.
An architect once told me that churches make their biggest mistakes when they under-invest in two things: sound systems and parking. Chances are, you are in a church that has not invested in the proper equipment for sound. Don’t use that as an excuse. Make every effort to improve this part of the worship experience for your church.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.