In churches, our sound volunteers have a difficult job: take a novice rock band, a poorly tuned room, inferior equipment and somehow get it all sounding beautiful before noon on a Sunday. “No feedback!” and “not too loud!” sums up many church’s sound techs manuals. Hurtful volume at church has less to do with decibels, but with the poor timbres that painfully pile up. As a result, many churches put so many volume safeguards in place, it results in a very timid and sad sound. Many have taken the role of simply babysitting the soundboard, but I suggest we take a more active role in the worship experience. If what we proclaim through our gathered worship is true, then it would make sense to desire a captivating sonic engagement! Sound techs, let’s work with the worship leader and musicians to get the most beautiful, dare I say loud mix, without it hurting the average ears. Here are some practical tips:
1. Prep, Control, and Ask
Prepare the stage. Before the musicians arrive, make sure microphones are properly placed and everything is in working order.
Know what is in your control (sonically). When you turn DOWN the master fader all the way on the soundboard, what you hear is what you CAN’T CONTROL. With that fader down, walk the stage and make adjustments to factors that are contributing negatively to the sound in the room. For instance, a bass amp on stage might have the “low” knob turned all the way up (because a punk band rehearsed the night before) making it impossible for you to control the bass in the house. The drum shield might need to move 8 inches to the right to block more of the cymbal bleed into the saxophone mic. The snare drum might have a brutal overtone. Fix stuff.
Ask permission. Your role here will vary from church to church, but I encourage sound techs to speak up and ask for specific instruments to get clarity when you need it.
- “Jimmy, do you mind singing alone for a sec, I need to adjust the EQ?”
- “Ingrid, can I hear your bass line on the chorus of this song?”
- “Drummer, would you be willing to push your foot into that kick drum a bit more…. it will help me get the mix right. You sound killer by the way.”
- “Susan, your voice sounds amazing, do you mind you singing a little more directly into your mic?
- And the classic: “Bob, can you give me a little less volume on the electric guitar amp? I will compensate in your monitor?” I want you in the house mix!
2. EQ, Compress, and Automate
If equalization or compression is a mystery to you, take 10 minutes to learn the basics. It is vital you know how to use these tools. Never stop learning. Every single channel on your mixing board will probably benefit from some instance of EQ and Compression. EQ and compression help sounds be present without being painful.
Automate the mix. Put your fingers on the faders. Be an active mixer throughout the set. Turn singers up when you can’t hear them or better yet, turn down some guitars during certain sections of songs. These should be gentle and artful moves. The pain of “too loud” is often times just one or more instruments sticking out of the sonic landscape.
3. Walk and Watch
During rehearsal, take a walk into the seats and LISTEN. Close your eyes. Are there any obstacles to you worshipping? Spend some significant time on the floor.
During the church service, if you have an assistant or wireless device, do the same walk. Look at how people are reacting to the sound. Their response might give some clues of how you are doing.
4. Consider Overall Volume
Lastly, employ the master fader in subtle motion up and down to control the overall impact of the band. Assuming the basic mix is good, you should be able to address a rogue volume issue quickly here.
SHARE this post with your sound techs; ask them what they think and how you can work better together to serve one another and the congregation we are leading. Worship team training happens one conversation at a time.
Dan Wilt’s brilliant take on loudness in church environments
Doug Gould’s Guide for Church Sound
Winning the Volume War Introduction and For Drummers
My name is Mike O’Brien and I am passionate about teaching and mentoring worship leaders and teams. My calling is to use my experience as a producer, worship leader, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist to come alongside musicians, helping them more fully worship God with their instrument and lives. Contact me to talk about how we can raise the bar through virtual or on-site training for your worship ministry.