Study Hall

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Worship Audio Q&A: Church Sound Editor Samantha Potter Fields Questions From Readers

Advice on communicating with the worship leader, dynamics, and wireless systems.

“Our worship leader doesn’t communicate with me and expects miracles every week. I want to give my best to the church, but it feels like I’m being set up for failure. What can I do?”— Atlanta, GA

To put it short: communicate with someone. If your worship leader isn’t helping to set everyone up for success, then you need to go to someone else who can help. The head pastor/minister is usually an excellent place to start. Everybody on the worship team should want services to be a success, and any hindrance to that needs to be addressed. Conversations can be hard. Hard conversations can be impossible. Playing a finger-pointing game with the worship leader will never pan out. We’re all a team and we should all be on the same page. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about worship leaders who have a “god complex” or think that they’re above the volunteers in some way.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but it’s one thing to be full of grace and understanding and have patience and it’s entirely another to take away the ability for people to worship, and/or add distractions, and/or perform in a lesser capacity because of an easily-solved issue. I bring my best to every service, and I expect my other team members to do the same. Yes, life happens, but a continued pattern of miscommunication or a total lack of communication is a symptom of a much larger problem.

Have that difficult conversation, reader. This is your sign.

“What exactly are dynamics?”— Washington, DC

Dynamics (as they relate to audio) are the range(s) between the quietest point and the loudest point in a sound. For example, string orchestras are very dynamic, as in there’s a large span of how quiet the orchestra plays and how loud the orchestra plays. If a piece of music or a person isn’t very dynamic, this means that the performance stays within a certain “volume” level throughout without much variance.

We care about dynamics because if things have too large of a dynamic range, we sound people could be riding faders throughout an entire event. That’s never fun. We use dynamic plugins and hardware to help control the dynamics of an input or performance. Compressors, limiters, gates, dynamic EQ, and others fall under dynamic processing.

Compressors squash down the louder parts of an input to make them have less dynamic range. Limiters are very powerful compressors — they limit how loud an input can get. Gates don’t let any of the input into the channel unless it’s a certain level. Dynamic EQ is like a compressor that will only compress a certain part of the frequency spectrum – it’s an amazing tool and becoming more and more prevalent in the live sound world. (I’m excited and you should be too!)

So, dynamics are relative. It’s a range of loudness, if you will. Radio stations have almost no dynamic range and jazz groups have a gigantic dynamic range. When used appropriately, dynamics can be one of our most valuable tools in music and sound reinforcement.

“Our church desperately wants to start using wireless systems on stage. How can we start implementing them on a tight budget?”— Marshall, MO

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You can’t. Gone is the world where we can buy wireless of any kind and it will simply “work” in any given location. We’re now bound by a very small range of available wireless frequencies and coordinating those frequencies is becoming a very real role within the world of audio tech.

Think… Do you really need everything to be wireless? What are the top three inputs that could benefit from it? Pastors may be a great contender. After all, some of them walk around a lot and being chained to a lectern might be difficult. But do drummers need wireless in-ear monitors? Probably not. They aren’t moving from that one spot, so why spend the money?

See where I’m going? Be picky because wireless is an investment. If you’ve got a budget of $500 for six wireless channels, it’s time for a dose of reality. Spending less than $400/channel on wireless mics/monitors will cause a lot more headaches than convenience.

I keep a set of wireless in-ear monitors in my kit for the odd gig where I want to listen to something at the board but need to walk around. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $450 and they’re not perfect. How far I can get away from the receiver is pretty limited. But, they’re great for my needs. A system with the ability to change frequencies is a must, as well as external antennas on the receiver.

Be careful about buying wireless equipment. Brands very much matter.

Email your worship audio questions to Samantha at [email protected]

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