The Church Balcony and the FOH Engineer

 

 

Over the past few years, I have been privileged to visit quite a few churches on the east coast and run sound for worship services.  During that time, one problem that I have seen in some churches lies in locating the production booth to the balcony of a church auditorium.  While this may be aesthetically pleasing and creates more room on the main auditorium floor, the trade off is not usually beneficial in the long run.

There are a few major things that need to be taken into account when determining whether a position for a production booth is good or not.

Line of sight is by far the most important.  The sound tech needs to be able to SEE everything all parts of the stage and main floor.

Many times because of the “line of sight rule” people think that a balcony would be a good place to put a production booth when in reality the opposite is true.  I have seen and mixed at churches that have a balcony that is adjacent to the main auditorium and they have knocked a hole in the wall providing them a window for line of sight but unfortunately, while the FOH tech may have a great view, it is not a good location for a number of reasons.

First, when you run sound in any environment, your goal is to create a good mix for the audience and in order to do that, you need to be in that same environment.  The goal is to hear the same thing that the audience hears so that you can create a proper balance and make adjustments based on that.  Also, you cannot take into account the room acoustics, sound dynamics, and the overall perception of the audience if you are not on the same level as they are.

Also, if you put the audio booth on the balcony, the audio tech will never hear direct waves.  We would never position speakers directly towards a back wall and that is exactly what you would need to do in order to for the audio tech to hear what is necessary to get a good mix.

Also, consider the practicality of access from the production booth to the stage.  The worship team and the production team need to function together as one team and one body in order for a service to go more smoothly.  The access from the balcony to the stage will most likely be difficult at best especially when there are people in the room.  One thing I have been trying to cultivate is a trust between the worship band and the production team.  I am trying to accomplish this by encouraging the production staff to take a more pro-active role in working with the worship team and helping them to make sure the production needs are met.  Placing a production team on a balcony means that any time assistance is needed on stage, they will have to exit the balcony, walk down the steps, through the foyer, into the auditorium, up onto the stage.  Sometimes, troubleshooting requires multiple trips back and forth from the sound booth to the stage.  This can prove to be both exhausting and frustrating.

The bottom line is that in order to get a good mix and the continue to improve the quality of production at any church, the production crew, especially the audio tech, needs to hear exactly what the congregation is hearing in order to blend an accurate and quality mix.  Trust between the worship band and production team is also key in creating an atmosphere of worship in those who are serving in ministry.

I would love to hear feedback and opinions on this blog.  Feel free to email me at jason@jasoncastellente.com or comment below.

If you feel that my blogs are helpful to you or your ministries, feel free to link people to my blog, tweet links, or repost links on Facebook.

Check out some other posts that may be helpful:

Church Audio – Killing Feedback

Church Audio Problems

Check out my website at www.jasoncastellente.com/

6 Responses to “The Church Balcony and the FOH Engineer”

  1. Josh Fisher May 10, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I completely agree with your post! Our church built the sound booth up in a separate room. It’s extremely hard to mix for the audience being up there and even more difficult to communicate with the worship team. We are actually in the process of moving the mixer downstairs. Can’t wait!

  2. Carl Redding May 13, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    Hey Jason, thanks for the post. I love reading your perspective on this, especially with your experience in running sound in different venues! I agree with you on all of the points. It’s extremely difficult though with the current buildings that we have to use! I couldn’t even imagine the work involved in moving our audio/video control booth down to the floor. Our sanctuary was designed to have it where it is and it would be a nightmare to try and convince anyone in the church (unless they are a skilled sound tech) otherwise. That’s just where you are supposed to mix from! It can be brutal when you have to weed through the preconceived ideas of church people, board members and other staff members! You have great points but that fight I think I will leave for another day… it’s very functional where it is at and as long as that facility is opened, it will probably remain there! Thanks for posting that though it really makes me think about it!!

    • jasoncastellente May 16, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

      Pastor Carl,

      First, thank you for reading my blog… I really appreciate you taking the time to check it out.
      I’ve always had alot of respect for you, your opinions and enjoyed talking to you. Preconceptions and tradition are difficult to break. I just really wanted to put forward a solid argument and opinion. Of course you always need to take into account the leadership that God has instituted above you as a sound tech. If the church leaders decide to put the production booth in a position that is less then ideal, I believe that God will bless that mix position 🙂 It may be difficult but you must then do your best to make it functional. If that’s the way your auditorium is designed, sometimes you will just have to live with it and make it work. I do understand and respect that.
      My intention was to put forth a solid point of view that was understandable to the average person rather then one that is filled with tech jargon. Communicating clearly is at least half of the battle!!

  3. Anthony Stowell February 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

    We all know Jesus mixed FOH from the balcony, in a room, with a window that didn’t open 😉

    But seriously, you make great points in the article for putting the production booth on the floor or at least the audio side of things. My favorite part is when you said in your comment about trusting the leadership that God has put in place. It may be hard to mix and they may not let you move to the main floor but other solutions are available such as a console that can be adjusted remotely. It may not be ideal BUT at least your ears are in the same space as the rest of the audience. Thanks Jason for giving us information to help better inform our leadership so they can continue to lead us well.

    • jasoncastellente February 13, 2012 at 11:47 pm #

      Anthony,

      Thanks so much for your comment. Always good to hear what people think after they read my posts and thoughts. I really appreciate your thoughts!

      My posts (including this one) usually stem out of real life things that I struggle with and how God deals with my heart and thoughts in the process of figuring out the right thing. The whole trusting the leadership that God has put in place is a tough one sometimes, isn’t it? I’ll spin it the other way too though. If a church determines that you’re competent enough to give you the job of technical director and entrusts you with that responsibility, they need to give you some leeway to make changes…even big changes. I’m sure they’ll question your reasoning and that’s okay, but in the event that they don’t understand your reasoning, I would hope that they trust you enough to say “even though we don’t understand, we trust your judgement and believe that what you’ve decided is best for everyone.” It’s certainly a huge balance that is hard to keep sometimes.

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