Producing great sound in a worship service can seem as elusive as finding a soloist who always sings on key. However, this doesn’t have to be.
Many factors influence the quality of sound: room acoustics, sound-system design and performance, operator experience, and quality of musical performance.
Here are some practical tips on how to tie all of that together toward an optimum result.
1) Understand The Basics
To get the most out of a sound system, you must first understand how it works. Basically, acoustic energy, or the sound you make, is converted to electrical energy via a microphone, then colored or equalized via a mixer.
The mixer sends the sound through processing equipment (crossover, equalizer, signal delay), then to amplifiers to enhance the signal. Finally, the amplified signal goes to speakers, where it’s transferred back to acoustic energy.
The key components of sound—processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers—should be professionally designed and set in a church, then left alone. The mixing board is where you should make adjustments in tone and sound levels.
2) Build A Team
A sound system won’t run by itself. It needs a trained, motivated crew to function to its true potential.
I like to recruit one-on-one, much like a hunter who goes to the woods looking for a specific target. The hunter may see ducks, squirrels, and turkeys, but he sits tight for a certain kind of deer. When he sees exactly what he’s looking for, he pursues it with vigor. The same can be done when developing a sound team. Decide what kind of people you need, then recruit them vigorously.
You can also try the fishing-pond approach. That means recruiting candidates from a select gathering of people.
For example, when Marty O’Connor was at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, he and his video crew offered a yearly seminar on how to make movies with a video camera. After the seminar, the crew would bring out their studio cameras and invite seminar attendees to try operating one of the “big boys.” All the while they’d look for people in that “pond” with special aptitude for working on a video crew. Then they’d recruit them.
3) Grow A Team
The acronym TEAM—meaning “Together Everybody Achieves More”—particularly applies to a sound crew. To be truly effective, team members must grow together on the job in knowledge and experience as well as in spirit and emotion.
Make sure that you provide spiritual, emotional, and technical food for sound-team members. Every week, I spend about 30 minutes in prayer and devotions with my sound crew before our hour-plus sessions in sound training. That time helped unite us and focus our work.
It’s also important to keep the team informed of what’s happening in the sound industry, such as regular visits to ProSoundWeb and reading other industry publications and sites.
Finally, to encourage ownership and 100-percent participation, every sound crew member should be welcome to make suggestions about the sound system. I take seriously crew member suggestions on equipment purchases.
And thank the team! Saying thanks is powerful, but showing thanks is even better. My favorite way of showing gratitude to crew members is to send thank-you notes to them and their spouses.
4) Aim For Consistency
“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle once wrote. “Therefore, excellence is a habit not an act.”
Doing everything right with sound in a performance is hard enough, but repeating it can seem impossible, especially when different volunteers are involved.
To raise the percentage of success, standardize the layout of your mixing console, label it, then get everyone to conform to it. Example: I always lay out my mixing console with drums on the left, followed by bass, electric and acoustic guitar, then keyboards, and finally vocals. The lead vocal is always in the farthest right channel next to the subgroups and masters.
I’ve been doing that for the past 20 years, and my team follows this layout consistently. But how you lay out the board doesn’t matter as long as it’s logical and everyone follows it. The advantage is that when something goes wrong or there’s feedback, they know instinctively what to grab to fix it.
Aim for consistency also with equipment storage. Organize cables, stands, and mics so that even with last-minute changes, such as having to work with five singers instead of the four you had planned on, you can secure the proper equipment to keep a rehearsal moving.