Sound Advice

Sound Advice
By Matt Cramer

Sometimes pastors feel as if they’re held hostage by their sound techs and musicians while serving as the “complaint department” for disgruntled church members. Knowing something about the basics of sound technology can help you communicate with the sound tech, and ease the tension that exists between you, the worship band, and the congregation.

In nearly 10 years in worship ministry circles, I’ve come to learn that when people say, “It’s too loud,” they often mean something else. The translation may be “I like things the way they used to be,” “Do we need to have an electric guitar in church?” or “I don’t like bass and drums.” Then again the worship service music may be too loud, for unnecessary reasons. Your sound crew can save wear and tear on the equipment and people’s ears by applying three basic principals. Bear in mind, though, unless your room is set up acoustically for an amplified band, these principals will only be moderately effective.

Make Space

One time a worship leader stopped the band during a rehearsal, turned around, and said to us: “People, re-member that the sum of what we play must always equal one.” This principal applies just as much to the mixing console. The two, four, 16, 120 channels of sound being sent to the speakers should all add up to one cohesive sound. For your sound tech this means equalizing each channel differently. Amateur sound technicians often equalize each channel individually without taking into consideration how the variety of instrument qualities and intensities will interact with each other when layered together. After equalizing every channel individually and getting a pretty good balance between them, the main volume is turned up and the chaos begins.

Your sound tech can achieve a more spacious, ear-friendly mix by applying the following recording-studio principals.

1 Learn The Frequency Range Of Each Instrument On Your Stage. For the ranges of commonly used instruments, see the Frequency Chart below.

Voice – 80Hz, 6kHz
Guitar – 80Hz, 13kHz
Cymbals – 1kHz, 20kHz
Kick Drum – 50Hz, 3kHz
Bass – 40Hz, 580Hz
Keyboards – 28Hz, 39.5kHz

2 Eliminate Unusable Frequencies From Each Channel. For example, your mixing console has EQ controls that probably range from 35Hz to 12kHz. The bass doesn’t produce frequencies above 580Hz, so turn the frequency controls above 580Hz all the way down. This will eliminate hiss on that channel.

3 Build The Mix From The Bottom Up. Drums and bass come first, then guitars, then keys, then vocals. Getting a good band mix gives you an appropriate palette to layer your vocals over.

4 Accentuate Frequencies Of The Instruments You Really Want To Hear. For example: You have a bass pumping out low-frequency sounds, so reduce them in other instruments that would overlap, such as guitars and keyboards. Accentuate more mid- and high-frequency sounds from your guitars and keys. By giving them their own place to fit in the big picture, you reduce noise and make it easier to hear them, even at lower volumes.

Reduce Stage Noise

One of the biggest reasons that worship services are too loud is excess stage noise. For the main (front-of-house) mix to sound good, the sound tech has to turn up the main volume high enough to cover the sound levels coming from the amplifiers, drums, and monitors on stage. There are some good solutions to this problem with-out telling your band that they have to turn down their amps.

In a couple of the churches that I’ve played in, we put amps backstage or offstage in an isolated closet. The amps were then mic’d, the signal mixed at the console, and a moderate monitor level was fed back to the musicians on stage. In another case, we got rid of guitar amps completely and ran the guitar through a digital multi-effects pedal and a speaker cabinet emulator before sending a DI signal to the soundboard.

Clear Plexiglas shields are a good idea for drums. The drummer can still see and communicate with the rest of the band while presenting a reduced volume to the room. Plexiglas shields also work well to reduce the harsh blast on the front row from guitar amplifiers when they can’t be moved off stage.

Reducing stage noise removes a lot of the mid- and low-frequency rumble that tends to muddy the sound and results in a need to run a louder front-of-house mix.

Keep It Simple

More gear in the sound booth is not always better. If your sound tech doesn’t know what each piece of gear is and how it works, you run the risk of having a noisy service. Excess processing of signals from the stage fills in the good space in music. Most churches can do quite well with a reverb unit, a good multi-band graphic equalizer, and a pair of two-channel compressors. These are easy to use and have a fairly shallow learning curve.

If your sound tech mixes your band as a group, rather than as individuals who are simply playing at the same time, if can take your worship service from “it’s too loud” to “you’ve got to check this out!”

Article “Sound Advice” written by Matt Cramer is excerpted from REV! Worship And Preaching the 2007 May/June edition.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”