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Can You Hear Me Now? What Every Church Sound Guy/Gal Should Know…

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Worship leaders – don’t ever undervalue your sound techs. They are just as important to the worship in your church as you are. One major difference – they don’t get to take their instrument home each week and practice! With that in mind, I want to take a few days and help you understand the dynamic of what your sound team deals with, what basics they should know, and some key ways they should grow in an effective sound team ministry.

We often have a view of our sound team as one of a lesser importance not because they are – but because we forget that they are there. If things are running smoothly – this can often be the case for us. After all, we tend to get our monitor mixes set for ourselves and go about our business. As long as nothing rings, buzzes, gets too loud, too soft, or dies….we’re pretty much set – right? It’s when those problems arise that we tend to remember that we have a sound guy/gal or a sound team. I can assure you, however, that there is another demographic who knows each week that there is a sound guy/gal/team – your congregation.

It’s all about the mix and the volume, baby!

Your congregation may think different – but when they tell you that the music is too loud…they may actually mean that they couldn’t hear vocals clearly or that a particular instrument’s low or mid range was a bit too much…they just can’t put that into proper words. I struggled once at a church with hearing from congregants that “we can’t understand a word you say when you talk”. Was the issue that I needed to be turned up? Was the issue that the other instruments were too loud? The problem…was with the mix…and that is where we find a starting place for most problems in church sound.

Mixing a worship service is a bit different that mixing for – let’s say – a Bon Jovi concert. At a Bon Jovi concert, the strong strains of Richie Sambora’s guitar would likely take on as much of the space as Bon Jovi’s vocals would. It’s as much about the band as it is the vocals. In a worship experience….it is about the music…but it is much more about the participation. It is about connecting those participants with God in worship. When you mix for worship – you should be mixing in the order of this priority:

  1. Lead vocals / main melody – This is what everyone is following. Shouldn’t be a shocker.
  2. Lead instrument – This would be either keyboard/piano or guitar. Whatever the songs are being primarily led with. If all other instruments were stripped away…what one instrument could the whole service be carried with? THAT’s your lead instrument.
  3. Rhythm – This is most likely the drums but could also be rhythm guitar, aux percussion, or a variety of other instruments.
  4. Bass Guitar – here is your backbone.
  5. Background Vocals / Harmony – this is buried way down here not because they aren’t important but because they add beauty and aren’t what most people follow while singing.
  6. Everything else – yep…this even includes lead guitar. I know that’s a shocker…and almost blasphemy to some. ‘Tis still true.

There are many well meaning sound engineers who have no idea how loud they operate at on a weekly basis during service. Many of them do so because we haven’t equipped them with the training needed to understand volume. I’d strongly encourage each of you to read a three part series we did a while back on the topic starting with Your Worship Music Is Too Loud! then moving on to Taming Your Worship Volume and then ending with Beyond the dB’s before we proceed.

After reading the articles (or if you’re already proficient in the ancient arts of dB’s – then let’s press forward. Ultimately, your services should peak no higher than 95 dBs and maintain about 85-90 dB’s. Keep in mind that you may get a reading around 100 dB’s right at the speakers – so keep your measurements low back where you operate from with an understanding that they will be higher the closer to the stage you go. On that note…please remember this one big crucial piece of advice:

Please always remember to leave your happy little nest and take measurements from various location in the venue during rehearsals.

If you don’t have a device to measure the dB levels in your church – GET ONE! They are inexpensive. You can even get one from your smart phone (though I would advise against them as the microphones in iPhones / Androids aren’t as accurate).

Now that we have our basis for our mix and we know our target for our volume – tomorrow, we will talk about the vital role the sound engineer plays in the UNITY of our worship team.

Until then – we’d love to hear from those of you serving in sound out there. What struggles do you face? Are there questions you’d like to see answered? Comments you’d like to share? Wisdom you’d like to impart? We’d love to hear from you using our comments below.

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