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Church Sound: Mixing Two Worship Services At Different Sound Pressure Levels

A process to handle both without rebuilding the entire mix

By Jeremy Carter October 10, 2013

At one of the churches I’m currently working with, the situation is all too common. It’s a large multigenerational congregation with a lot of history. As such, the attendance trend is for an older crowd to populate the early service, with the later service being dominated by younger families.

This is not surprising, as the same thing is happening all across the country, evidenced by numerous posts by technical directors on their blogs.Needless to say it can create some problems.

One which can’t be avoided is the differing SPL preference of these two unique groups. I’ll be honest, I’m using the word preference pretty lightly here. Anyone else who has this problem knows it’s much stronger than that.

Often the older generation becomes pretty vocal in their displeasure when the volume gets too much for them. Conversely, for some in the second service the volume never gets loud enough. If they don’t feel the kick in their chest, they’re not happy!

So what is a sound tech to do? Unfortunately, there just isn’t time to completely rebuild the mix between services and a simple master fader change doesn’t work.

That makes everything lose its presence, including vocals. Yet we don’t want to get crazy with changing instrument faders or we will upset the Pyramid mixing technique.

So we experimented a bit this week. Here is the test method we utilized:

1. During the first half of rehearsal, we built a normal Pyramid Mix as we normally would. We started with the drums and bass, mixing them at the appropriate level for the acoustic volume of the drums in the space. Then we move up the pyramid until we achieved a great mix.

2. For the last half of rehearsal we then reduced the master fader 6 dB.

3. Then at the subgroups, we pulled up the vocals and piano groups 3 dB.

4. Finally, we (politely) asked the drummer to “ease up” on the first service.

So we have nearly “halved” the apparent volume of the entire mix (halving being recognized as a reduction of 10 dB compared to our reduction of 6 dB), while compensating the vocals and piano a bit.

Now for the second service, we only had to adjust 3 or 4 faders. The groups we adjusted were moved back down 3 dB and then the master fader went back up to its original position. Voila, we’re back where we needed to be for the second service!

Some would suggest that we do the opposite (pull down drums, bass, guitars, keys, etc.) But for our situation, our method involved the fewest fader changes.

Jeremy Carter is a veteran of the pro audio industry with extensive experience designing and operating church audio, video, and lighting systems. Learn more at Sound Sessions.


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