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Church Sound: We Need To Lower The Volume!

Making it dynamic, just not as loud

By Brian Gowing October 7, 2013

A true mark of a professional is being able to accommodate the varying styles and preferences of the client willingly and without fuss. So to put this in the perspective of the church, the senior pastor is where the buck stops. It doesn’t matter if the worship leader doesn’t agree with his decision. It’s his decision. You can either deal with it or leave.

Sorry to be so blunt but I’ve seen churches where there is such a large disconnect between the senior pastor’s wishes and the attitude of the worship and/or tech teams that it’s impossible not to feel the tension between them. Do not make life difficult for whoever is in charge. You won’t win any friends.

OK, time to get off my soapbox! 

At our church, after getting the mandate from the senior pastor, the worship leader and I got together and brainstormed what would be required to make the senior pastor’s request happen while keeping the fidelity of the music and even improving it, if possible.

We came up with a plan consisting of several elements:

—Relocation of the drums and drum shield to bring it closer to the back wall (now), and to close off the sides with the addition of a Sorber Lid (to be purchased next year).

—Disconnection of the two lower main loudspeakers.

—Flattening of the DriveRack EQ and letting the console handle the EQ processing for a cleaner signal.

—Changing the crossover frequency and pattern to bring more bass to the mains while also adding some mid-low to the subs. This should result in a fuller sound, with more overall balance.

In addition to improved fidelity and performance, the overall goal was reducing average volume down to 90 dB, with peaks at 95 dB.

After doing these steps (except adding the Sorber Lids). I played pink noise through the system and checked that the console was seeing everything flat, which it was. I then fired up the Room EQ Wizard software and checked the frequencies coming into my measurement microphone. Overall, not bad and about where I expected it would be. But there were definitely areas that I could tweak.

I then flattened the EQ on the processor, and reconfigured the sub delays and the crossover. After a quick “pinking,” I played back a multitrack recording from the previous Sunday’s worship service, first at the old sound level to get a base feel, and then at the target dB setting. It sounded decent but a bit muddy.

Looking at the master EQ on the console, I decided that I’d start over by flattening the EQ and going from there. In an effort to not mess myself up, and because I was too lazy to add another scene, I just turned off the EQ. And as soon as I did, the sound came through nice and clear.

You may be thinking that I’m nuts for not running a house EQ. Keep in mind that this is my specific situation, and I don’t recommend arbitrarily turning off the house EQ permanently and tweaking the channel EQs to compensate. If I had to make the same EQ changes on every channel, I would have kept house EQ in and changed those settings.

Now that I had the band sounding really good without any house EQ, I next focused on the kick and bass. Rolled off some low-end and mid-lows on both of them, and got them both sitting in the mix all pretty and not walking over everything else. That enabled me to bring the volume down even further while maintaining the clarity that I wanted to keep. (Yeah!)

Next I had the drummer go up and whack the skins while playing back the mix to see what the drums sounded like live. While they’re a bit louder and I have less control than I’d like because we don’t have a lid on the drum shield, it’s still a lot better than before. Outside of those minor channel tweaks, not much had to change.

Overall I’m pretty pleased with the reduced volume sound. Would I like it louder? Sure, but again, it’s not about me. It’s about someone coming into this church for the first time who’s longing for God’s saving grace and being able to possibly experience it because another distraction has been reduced or eliminated. And if bringing down the volume helps to accomplish that, then I’m all for it.

The takeaways? The senior pastor gets to make a request. Our job is to make it work without making the pastor feel bad about asking for it. That’s what we’re there for.

Further, don’t be afraid to change things and start over. Look for opportunities to make things better instead of just turning the volume down. Could I have accomplished the request without going through all this by simply turning down the master fader? Yes. Would it have sounded as good? Absolutely not.

So we need to bring our A-game to everything we do. Always look for improvements, and starting over can open up unexpected results.

Brian Gowing has helped over 30 churches meet their technology requirements. Brian works towards shepherding the church, analyzing their technical requirements, sourcing the equipment, installing the equipment and training the volunteer personnel.  As he likes to say, “equipping the saints with technology to help spread the Good News.” Contact Brian here.


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