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Church Sound: What Changed? Taking The “Simple Stuff” Seriously

Taking the time and putting forth the effort to search for clues as to the culprit for unexplained changes in a system

By Gary Zandstra May 19, 2015

This article is provided by Gary

How many times—in the middle of a sound check/rehearsal—do you get a nagging feeling that something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on it?

Even with the same system, the same band and the same setup every week, I still run into this situation more than I would like. (Or at least more than I like to admit!)

What changed? That’s always what the worship leader asks. The specific question is usually something like, “My voice sounds different in the house that it normally does—what changed from last week?”

Now, I must admit that the snarky side of my personality wants to say, “Your ears!” or “Did you go to (or play) a really loud gig last night?” But as time has not only aged me but also mellowed me out a bit, I keep the snarky stuff to myself (most of the time). 

Instead, my usual response now is to ask the leader to describe the difference he’s hearing—“My voice sounds really thin” or “There’s no edge to the voice, it feels a bit buried in the mix” are among the descriptions he’s shared with me.

With this in mind, I ask the band to continue playing/rehearsing and take the journey from the sound booth balcony location to the main floor. I stop in the center of the main seating area and listen for a moment to double check that what I’m hearing is consistent with what I was hearing at the mix position—and the vast majority of the time, it is.

The only time it’s radically different is when somebody has their monitor cranked up way too loud and it’s spilling into the house. 

After this, I head up to the stage to take a listen to what the worship leader is hearing, and 90-plus-percent of the time, I hear exactly what he’s described to me. 

That’s when I go into detective mode. (The other 10-or-so-percent of the time when I can’t hear it, I ask for further description, and at that point, he says it’s good enough, and he chalks it up to a head cold or some other physical reason.)

By detective mode, I mean that I analyze what I’m hearing, listening and looking for clues as to the culprit. Usually in a matter of 30 seconds or less, I can locate the issue(s). And most times, the fix is simple:

• Adjust the treble and bass EQ on the personal monitor mixer

• Adjust the levels on the personal monitor mixer (the worship leader likes to hear a combo of monitor and house and sometimes the balance causes some strange things to occur)

• Move the monitor wedge so it points at the worship leader’s ears rather than his knees

• Re-position the monitor in relationship to the microphone

• Walk around and listen to the other monitors to see if some spillage might be the culprit

• Get the worship leader some water or coffee and have him clear out his throat

Sometimes the solution is a bit more “exotic.” One time I stuffed some padded fabric in the mouth of the monitor’s horn, but that was because we had borrowed that particular monitor and it sounded harsh (“ripping our heads off”), and I had no time to patch in an EQ to deal with it. 

But here are my primary points:

1) It’s wise to keep our “snarky sides” in check and respect what others are saying. Their views (and ears!) are valid.

2) It’s our responsibility, if we’re truly doing our best for everyone, to take the time and put forth the effort to get out in the house and on stage and actually investigate the problem.

Really, it’s simple stuff that anyone can (and should) do. 

Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 30 years.


About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.


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