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Beyond the dB’s

This week, we are taking a look – errr…a listen – at our church venue’s sound.  Yesterday we discussed using an SPL meter to determine a comfortable range to run sound at for our worship services – today we go beyond the dB’s to explore other factors that attribute to “loudness”.

Let me begin by re-iterating something I maintained in the beginning of this series.  You will NEVER be able to please everybody in your congregation.  With that being said – it pays to be on the same page with as many key players as you can.  At your next creative meeting (you are having those…right?), invite all the key players to attend.  Make sure pastors, ushers, musicians, worship leaders, greeters, etc are present.  Take a minute to talk about sound and your new goals for a pleasant worship experience for all.

Robb Says…

“Having only one or two people in authority over the levels during a service is important.  Any more than that can be an issue for the FOH guy, too many bosses can be a serious problem.  This probably should not be a lay person (like most Pastors) but someone with a clue say like a production director.”

During this pow-wow, be careful not to harp on the “dB” word so much.  It becomes gibberish.  The goal of this meeting is to help those who aren’t FOH engineers understand how to better voice their concerns about sound issues – not for you to sound smart.  Find out what issues there are with sound and the perceptions – and have a plan of action to deal with things that need to be dealt with…or educate on things that are simply a matter of perception.

The almighty dB meter can only take you so far.  Perception has tons more to do with it.  What is louder?  An electric guitar at 100 dB or a church organ at 105 dB?  To be honest – I know many older congregants that will readily tell you that the lower dB-ed guitar is the louder of the two.  That, my friend, is perception.  Which one is louder: a song that is heaver on the mids or heavier on the low-end?  I can tell you that the song heavier on the mids is going to sound louder – but an SPL meter will read a much different story and give the victory to the low-end song.

The number of seats you have filled plays an important factor as well.  A room that is 1/3 to 1/2 filled will be extremely loud at 95 dB compared to the same level at full capacity.  The extra bodies absorb the sound waves.  Therefore, you may consider backing down the volume for those low attendance days and cranking it up a tad louder when it is standing room only.

What about volume changes during a song?  If a song starts strong and then backs down – it will be perceived to be loud all around.  Perhaps you can back off just a bit and let the natural dynamics of the song run the show instead of the board?

And, finally, what do you do when that person comes to you and says “the music is way too loud today”?  Do you look at your SPL and smile as you tell them they are wrong?  I can tell you with all assurance that you may not always be correct.  Lets assume that you take your SPL reading from FOH.  You push your level to that 95 dB peak each week.  One week, someone tells you that the music was especially loud.  Looking at your SPL meter during the service, you noted no change.  You brush it off.  The next week, you find out that one of the mains is blown.  It seems that you pushed the other main a little more than normal to make up for the shortfall (unbeknownst to you).  This means that the person last week could have more than likely been sitting near that over-worked main that was, in fact, louder than normal.  Lesson?  Take time during sound-check or rehearsal to walk around and listen to ensure the room sound is even.

So…what are your tips?  We’d love to hear your comments.  Leave us your thoughts below and we will learn together!

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