Church Audio Problems

 

As many of you know, I am on staff full time at National Community Church in Washington DC as their Production Coordinator.  Part of my job is to help improve production at each of our six locations and help maintain quality across those venues.  I noticed one of the hardest areas to train people in and also an areas that is really hard to “get good at” is in mixing audio.  I’m grateful for all the volunteers that work hard week in and week out at NCC.  They are great and make it happen every week and I appreciate each and every one of them.

Mixing audio is a difficult volunteer position for a number of reasons.  There is alot of organization that goes into making a system work right and making sure that each instrument sounds good.  Having a musical ear is very helpful in situations like this but everyone has to start somewhere.  How do you begin?

Well, if you are reading this, chances are you have already made the plunge and volunteered at your local church and have the opportunity to run sound on at least a fairly regular basis.  Maybe there are issues that you wish you could fix, but struggle with.  Maybe there are problems that you hear, but don’t have the know how to solve.  I am going to go over a few things that you can do step by step to try to improve the audio in your church and more effectively communicate the gospel through technology.

Here are a few common issues that I have seen at various churches over the past few years:

#1 – STAGE VOLUME

Okay, so most churches have a worship band.  The members of that band vary but almost always include drums, bass, guitars (acoustic and electric), keyboards, and of course vocals.  There are certain instruments that are simply louder then others.  For example, drums, electric guitar amps, bass guitar amps and instruments of that nature tend to create what we call high amounts of stage volume.  The problem with this is that when there is alot of stage volume present, it will compete with the sound coming out of the main speakers in frequency response and also time delay which causes phasing.  This forces the audio engineer to attempt to mix the sound from the stage volume with the sound from the speakers.  That becomes impossible when time delay phasing becomes a factor.  If the sound is coming from the back of the stage and from the speakers at the same time, it will reach the listener at two different points in time causing phasing.  This is almost impossible for an audio engineer to fix and creates a muddy and unclear sound.  Guitar amps should be kept to a minimum or moved far enough away so as not to cause issues.  Drummers, in a small room, should play conservatively and the church should consider purchasing a drum cage to contain the volume.  Another issue stage volume causes is high levels of sound from some instruments make it difficult for other people to hear what they need to.  They can’t hear what they need to because they are hearing too much of everything else.  So, be respectful to everyone and think before you crank!

Another issue that can cause stage volume is from stage monitors.  When you run your stage monitors at levels that are too loud, you risk having the sound bounce around on stage and ultimately out in to the audience causing the same muddy and time delay issues that a loud instrument causes.  Many musicians on stage think that in order to hear something specifically in their mix, that they need the audio engineer to turn it up more.  In some cases that is true, but you, as a musician, may want to listen more closely to your monitor before asking for something to be turned up.  Is there one or two instruments that are much louder in contrast to the others?  If so, you may want to ask the audio engineer to turn those down before asking him to turn other things up.  Try it!  It works!

#2 – MICROPHONE TECHNIQUE

First, you need the right microphone for the job.  There are a wide array of microphones out there.  But you need the right tool for the job.  Check out the make and model number of your microphone and look it up online.  You don’t need to understand what all the technical jargon means, just understand what the microphone’s intended purpose was and how it should be used.

Once you understand the microphone’s application, then you need to set it up and position it in the right way.  Way to often, I see a Shure SM57 hanging over the top of a guitar amp dangling over speaker.  First of all, that mic is positioned completely wrong and is micing the floor rather then the guitar amp.  You are micing indirect soundwaves which is probably introducing some type of phasing into your mix as well.

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