Hi Everyone, and welcome back to Production Talk with Bill. I recently received a lot of questions regarding Facility Sound Systems so I would like to cover a few basics to clear up the most common questions.
By far the most common problem we encounter in church sound systems is uneven coverage of the seating area. Some seats are way too loud or harsh, while it may be dull or impossible to hear clearly in others. The reason this problem is so common is that good design takes a lot of engineering and experience. There are many factors that play into consistent sound coverage including speaker selection and placement, number of speakers/amps, and even the layout of the seats can be a factor. In fact, it’s almost impossible to get it right without sophisticated computer modeling. However, it can be done. We often tell pastors that you never know where a guest is going to sit, so it’s absolutely critical that every seat is a good one.
The second most common complaint is the unpredictable, screaming feedback that can cause jarring disruptions in the course of any service. Technically speaking, feedback is caused by a positive gain loop between a microphone and a speaker. The microphone picks up the sound from the speaker, and then the speaker amplifies the sound back into the microphone until the system overloads. The result is that too-familiar ear-piercing screech we’ve all experienced at one time or another. In most cases, feedback issues can be resolved with a combination of equalization, volume adjustment and speaker placement, but on a stage full of monitors, it can be a real challenge to figure out which one is the culprit. To make matters worse, it’s often not just the equipment. Poor room acoustics can also be a contributing factor.
With the tools available for modern design and production, there’s really no excuse for feedback from your sound system.
Balancing the Mix
You can see them singing on stage, so why can’t you hear the background vocalist? The third most common problem with church sound systems relates to your operator’s skill level with balancing the mix. Do they really understand how to dial-in and manage the right mix for your worship team in your sanctuary? Perhaps the reason this problem is so rampant is that the solution is not naturally intuitive. To the untrained technician, balancing competing instruments and vocals may seem as simple as setting each channel at an equal level. However, when channel volumes are competing, it’s like all of the cars on the freeway trying to drive in the same lane at the same time. The solution lies in finding the right place for each and every instrument in the mix. For most worship music this usually means panning instruments across the stereo field, controlling the dynamics, carving out sections of the frequency spectrum with EQ to make sure there is room for each element and then riding the faders to adjust for changes in level over time. Many sound techs try to balance everything without this understanding, and that’s why you often can’t hear the vocals.
Good EQ is about tailoring the individual sounds to fit together as a cohesive whole. Unlike Balancing the Mix, the EQ puzzle doesn’t deal with volume so much as frequency.
The human ear is capable of perceiving frequencies between the 20Hz and 20,000Hz range. If that’s Greek to you, it means there’s an almost infinite number of choices with which you can adjust the character of the sound. Easy, right?
The most helpful way to think about EQ, in general, is to remember that every sound needs to be complementary to the others based on how they work together as a whole.
There’s an art to contouring the bass guitar to make room for the low-end of the kick drum. It takes a practiced skill to manage the high-frequency content of the guitars and cymbals to ensure that the airiness of the vocals can still cut through. Electronic keyboards can cover the entire frequency spectrum, often stepping on vocals and other instruments if they aren’t managed correctly.
This, of course barely scratches the surface of EQ, but hopefully, these pointers will serve as a launchpad as you continue to explore this delicate art.
Overall Sound Quality
It may sound redundant, but the final most common problem people find with church sound systems is how the overall sound quality is just… bad. Of course, this problem is often a combination of the previously mentioned issues compounded by a system that just isn’t up to snuff.
Some of the other potential issues that cause bad sound include the poor quality of microphones, improper wiring, amps, speakers, monitors, instruments, and very often, room acoustics.
It may feel like a giant leap from where you now stand, but excellent sound is not only possible, it’s much closer than you think. So how do you shore up the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
Ultimately, the biggest obstacle standing between your church and amazing sound is experience. It takes time to learn, time to practice, and it takes time to tweak and dial everything in just right.
Many useful resources can be found online, in magazines and articles about sound, but by far the greatest way to absorb a new skill is to learn directly from someone who has done the hard work themselves over the course of a long, specialized career. YouTube videos will only get you so far. Please email me email@example.com, I would like to answer your questions and guide you in the right direction.