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Install Your Own Church Sound System? Here Are Some Cautionary Tales

It isn't exactly rocket science, but you need to do your homework

Audio consultants often find themselves working with people in churches who seem eternally bent on saving money at any cost. This is the kind of church that will call with the seemingly innocent request to have the consultant design a new sound system for them.

At some point in the conversation they’ll add that they want to do the installation themselves.

That approach can be a mixed blessing both for the consultant and for the church.

On the one hand, at least they’re using a consultant’s seasoned advice to make the best choices of gear for them to use. The problem starts when they begin to think that the process of actually installing the gear isn’t all that difficult.

Here are some textbook cases. In order to protect the innocent, I’ll use their real names.

Momentary Lapses of Intelligence

So one day my friend Warren calls me and announces that his church is ready to renovate their existing sound system, and they want to do it right this time. He invites me to meet with their sound committee, and within a few days I’ve got the project to design the system.

This article is provided by Church Soundcheck.com.

In order to save money, the church plans to use volunteers to run all the wire, hang the loudspeakers, and wire up the sound booth gear. I insist on wiring up the amplifier rack myself, to be a friend, save them the work, and me the headache of possibly having to fix it later.

A couple of months later the equipment is all sitting at the church, and the troops are ready to proceed with the install. So I arrive with TEF and solder station in hand ready to talk them through the install.

Now right off the bat, I’m scared by what I see. To free myself from any liability in the future, I do what every good consultant does – I don’t give them any advice at all about how to hang the loudspeakers in a safe manner. That’s really the job of the sound contractor.

Worth It?

They assure me that they’ve researched their hanging method carefully, and at my insistence have even had a structural engineer sign off on their solution, but I make a mental note to not find myself standing under the cluster for any length of time.

After a lot of scraped knuckles, sweat, grunts and groans, the loudspeaker wire, microphone snakes and return lines are finally pulled into place. At around 1 am on the third day of the installation, we finally light up the system and start to voice it.

By this time, everyone is toast. I’m so tired I can hardly see straight, let alone hear really well. The volunteer crew is absolutely wiped out, but we’re so close now that they’re not about to leave without hearing the system lit up for the first time, so they’re napping on the pews while I continue to work.

To their credit, there were no polarity reversals anywhere in the system. Bless God, somebody was paying attention.

Don’t get me wrong. The church loves their new sound system. And I’m sure the crew has good memories of the time they invested on that project.

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But by the end of the project everyone was wiped out, stressed out, on the verge of being mad at everyone, and just plain in a bad mood.

More Angst

I recently finished another project like this. My friend Duane had his best “ain’t no way on earth that’ll happen” look on his face when he considered the idea of using a sound contractor to do their installation.

So I designed the system, gave them a shopping list, and answered a myriad of questions as the project went from a few pieces of paper to loudspeakers hanging somewhat precariously from the steel.

Here again, the weakness seems to come in not knowing precisely how to safely hang really heavy loudspeakers over people’s heads.

Hanging heavy loudspeakers isn’t easy in the first place. Getting them precisely aimed is an additional challenge.

But when I saw the loudspeakers hanging from S-hooks and swing-set chain, I knew they had ignored my urging to buy their hardware from a professional rigging supplier.

They didn’t have smiles on their faces when I insisted that they replace the chain and hardware with the real stuff. And don’t even get me started on the points they wanted to hang the boxes from.

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