The congregation will be the source of your greatest joys. They will be the source of your greatest frustrations.
Guess what? That’s the way it should be.
All of your work, from mixing to microphone placement, centers on giving to the congregation.
There are two areas of importance when working with (perhaps working for) the congregation:
The congregation has expectations just like the pastor and the musicians. The problem is their expectations are unspoken. The pastor will tell you when you aren’t meeting an expectation. A congregation member will complain to friends, the pastor, or, if you are lucky, they will tell you.
There are five primary expectations of the congregation:
1. “I want a distraction-free service.” What does this mean as far as your work? It means you have microphones on when they need to be on. A person in the sanctuary chairs doesn’t want to be distracted because they didn’t hear the first sentence where he said “Turn in your bibles to Psalm 27.” It means you pro-actively prevent feedback so they don’t get knocked off their seat if it were to happen. It means you do everything possible so they stay focused on the pastor, the music, or whatever else is going on at the front of the church.
2l “I want to understand the pastor.” I’ve had a surprising number of people tell me they can’t understand the pastor at their church. Their common complaint is “he’s not loud enough.” However, it’s more than just volume. Referring back to the EQ process, specifically on EQ’ing for the spoken word, you can see how a person’s speaking voice can be enhanced so their words are easier to understand.
*Tip on EQ’ing the pastor’s voice; when the sanctuary is empty, playback a recording of the sermon and see how you can improve the sound using the EQ. The playback might not be exactly the same as you hear it live, but it gives you a place to start.
3. “Can I get a copy of the sermon?” People are now asking for sermon copies as soon as the service ends. In the old days, a copy of the sermon would be available the next week in the form of a cassette tape. Today, modern technology allows us to not only record the service, but have it available for download as soon as the service ends.
* Tip: Digging a bit more into sermon/service recording, make sure the recording volume is set at an appropriate level. Hardware can have controls over the volume of the incoming signal. A signal that’s too low requires the listener to crank the recording on playback. This is bad for a couple of reasons; increases noise in the output and when they stop the playback and switch to something else, they could be shocked at the sudden volume hit because they forgot to turn the volume down.
4. “This porridge is too hot. This porridge is too cold.” The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a perfect illustration regarding appropriate volume levels. The congregation wants the volume “just right.” Be aware that the volume you think is right may not be best for the congregation.
*Tip: if the sound booth is in a balcony, take volume readings of the same sounds in the sound booth and then throughout the main level. Draw the sanctuary floor on graph paper and mark down your SPL meter readings. Also note the reading in the sound booth. Readings can be taken using the proper type of constant noise generator. If the booth reading is +/- 6 dB then you know you are hearing at significantly different levels than the congregation.
5. “The band should always sound good.” I’m not sure I’ve ever heard someone utter those words, but the sentiment is very much implied. This means you need to do a few things; support the musicians and the worship leader so they can play their best, you can mix your best, and provide a consistent mix.
A consistent mix is best described as the song you mixed last week sounding like the same song you mixed two months ago. You can have improvements in your mix and subtle differences but as far as the congregation is concerned, it should sound familiar.
You might be new to church audio and if that’s the case, you should expect your mixes to change each week. How then can you mix consistently? In this case, you should be improving your mix each week. In time, you will settle into mixing a consistent sound.