Free Ways to Improve your Church Sound
1. Use effects like Decay & Reverb Sparingly
Balancing decay and reverb is foundational to improving your church sound. Think of these effects like salt. You only need a little. Therefore, using too much reverb and decay will put you on the expressway to a muddled mix. As a result, your church sound will be unnatural. The best philosophy to follow for mixing in a church environment is to mix without distractions. Our goal as church techs is to place the focus on Jesus, not for us to impress people with our mix. If your mix is clean and allows the congregation to focus on the Lord, you’re mixing to perfection. When too many of these effects are added, we become a distraction. Reverb can blend things beautifully. However, keep the less is more philosophy in your mind as you use your effects.
2. Attend the Worship Team’s Rehearsals
Whoever is mixing FOH needs to know the nuances of that week’s songs: solos, particular instruments, etc. If you can easily hum the songs, you’re heading in the right direction. Since this is important, attending the weekly rehearsal is a must. Attending this rehearsal each week can be a big ask for a church tech volunteer, but this is a critical step to improving your church sound. Here is what our lead gear guru had to say:
If you’re the FOH person for Sunday, you must attend the weekly rehearsal.-Brian Cigainero
If a volunteer is doing the FOH mix, you’ll need to ensure they are not the FOH person every week. Since you’re asking a lot of your FOH volunteers, it could lead to them burning out quickly. Make sure you’re recruiting church tech volunteers often so that your team is big enough for rotation and church tech volunteer burnout is less likely.
3. Is EQ making your church sound painful?
Have you ever had someone ask you to turn your church sound down? Instead of turning it down, check your EQ. EQ will affect the quality and perception of your church sound. If you have certain frequencies that are too loud, the congregation will only hear those frequencies rather than your mix as a whole. If rogue frequencies are going everywhere, the congregation will think your volume is too high.
Your congregation doesn’t have the same language you do as a church tech to say the thing that is bothering them is the EQ rather than the volume. If you have the SMAART program on your computer, you’ll be able to check for these frequencies during the church service. You’ll have a red bar indicating that you’re fighting your mix.
4. Turn Your Church Sound Down (For a Moment)
If your EQ is good to go, try turning down the sound as a whole. If you’re trying to check your church sound quality and hunt down problems, you’ll accomplish this easier by hearing the sound at a low volume because anything is going to sound decent enough if it is loud. When you are in rehearsal that week, turn the sound down and listen. Nothing can hide when your volume is turned down. If your church sound feels right, then you are good to return the volume to normal. If something sounds off, you’re on the right track to identify it.
5. Zero your Mixing Board Out
This practice is becoming less frequent with the advancements we’ve seen in pro-audio; however, zeroing out a board is still helpful in your quest to improve your church sound. If you’re sitting down at your board each Sunday with your presets saved from last week, this can cause your board to “build up” with a bunch of presets that you don’t need. The EQ that you had saved for Samantha’s voice won’t be the same as the EQ you’d place on Tim’s voice. Imagine this process building up for months. Yikes!
Think about it in an analog sense. You are pulling everything down. You’re forcing yourself to start at the beginning of the process during soundcheck to make sure each vocalist and instrument is being tuned for them and not for the person/instrument that was there last week. You can do this during rehearsal/soundcheck. If you bring in a tech to tune up your room, this would be an excellent time to zero out your board.
6. Strategically Place Your Board
You can make all the efforts in the world to improve your church sound, but it won’t matter if you are in a place that prevents you from hearing the mix during the service. Therefore, you need to make sure you and your FOH mixing person are in the best place to hear the sound. If you are behind a big glass wall or sitting under an overhang, you’re not going to hear the full sound. If you’re under an overhang, you’re only going to hear half of the sound. However, being stuck under the overhang can be a fact of life. If that is the case. Walk out from under it frequently and give the mix a listen. This quality control check will improve your church sound.
7. Do the Church Sound Speaker Check
Your Auditorium’s Shape Matters
The shape of the room dictates the type of speakers you pick. If your room is a long, singular hallway type, a set of line array speakers is best. If your room fans out in a semi-circle shape, a line array isn’t going to help you. You’ll need a cluster of speakers. If you bring in a tech to give your church sound a tune-up, ask them to look at your speaker set up to see if they agree with the types of speakers, the number of speakers, and the direction they are facing.
The Direction and Placement of Speakers Matters
Are these in the right spot and direction in the worship center to maximize them? The absolute best place for the speakers is at the front of the stage pointed out towards the audience. Therefore, resist the urge to hide the speakers in the back of the stage to remove them visually from the setup. If your speakers are in the back, your church sound will suffer from added feedback.
8. Check your power amp & speaker power levels
Pull out some paper, a pencil, and head to your speakers. Look up the spec sheet for your speakers and amps. The spec sheet is where you can find the power needs are for both. After you’ve listed them all, write down the watts/ohms for each to ensure your production gear power levels are balanced. For example, if you have a power amp that can do 1500 watts at 8 ohms, you can only have one speaker at 1500 watts at 8 ohms. If you had two speakers needing 1500 watts at 8 ohms each, your power amp will split between the two speakers. You’ll only be able to run half power to each speaker. If your speakers are only getting half power, you’ll have an unpleasant church sound, and you will also risk blowing the speakers.
9. Directing your Church Sound’s Movement
Does your church have the right sound absorption panels on the walls? These come in different thicknesses and absorption ratings. If you’ve had a tech come out to tune your room, they can guide you on if you have too many or too few panels up. They can also give you guidance on where the panels need to be. As a result, you could improve your church sound by simply rearranging your panel placement. You can learn more about acoustic panel sound placement here.
10. Bad Amplifier Ventilation can hurt your Church Sound
When was the last time you checked the ventilation on your power amps? If it’s been a while, you should check those out. An easy, free way to improve your church sound is to ensure your amps’ vents are clear. When these vents get clogged, it causes your power amps to overwork themselves. This will impact your church sound negatively, cause your amps to die sooner, and could even cause a speaker to blow.
Regularly checking your ventilation is the equivalent of a car oil change. It’s just something you have to do to keep things running smoothly. Thus, check the vents twice a year if you’re in a modern building. If you’re in an older church that has that old church smell(we all know the one), you should check these every six weeks.
11. Embrace new tactics
The day you stop trying new tactics is the day your church sound never improves past its current level. Since there are thousands of ways to improve your church sound, its important to always strive for improvement. Remember how you are going to rehearsal every week now? Try out your new tactics here. Worship leaders like to change things up often, so you’ll need to get used to change. You’re going to find new methods that improve your church sound so much you won’t be able to imagine your Sunday Service without them.
12. Audit your pro audio gear for broken pieces
This tip is crucial if you’re a new church tech director. If a piece of gear breaks during soundcheck on Sunday, you’ll have to make a quick patch to get you through the service. After the service ends, it can be easy to forget about that broken element in your setup. Now imagine if that has happened for the past five years without a production gear audit. As a result, you’ve just accepted a new job along with unknown production patches everywhere. Yikes!
Establish a rhythm of checking every piece of gear in your system twice a year. As a result, your other church sound efforts will be protected.
13. Only Buy Pro Audio Gear you Know or Plan to Learn
Are you thinking about buying a piece of production gear you aren’t familiar with to save some money? Are you contemplating buying new production gear that you don’t know how to use?
Buyer, beware. It’s better to have lower-quality gear without the bells and whistles than it is to have pro audio equipment you don’t understand. All those cool, new features will only hurt you if you’re unsure how to use them.
Furthermore, being a good steward is important. Do you need this gear, or do you want it? If you want it, you should probably pass. If you need it, then buy that production gear with confidence.
14. Continuously communicate with the band
There can be a vast philosophical divide between worship teams and tech teams. If either side wants to move in a different direction, neither team will succeed. While one group is playing instruments and the other is mixing them, you’re both ultimately on the same team. If you feel the urge to work without them, fight that feeling. You’re both pulling an oar in this canoe, and if either side isn’t in sync, you’ll be going in circles.
15. Be careful with Gain Structure
Keep an eye on your gain structure. We’ve seen a tendency to mix with gain rather than faders. When you do that, you can quickly run the gain too high.
- Pull your gain and faders down.
- Next, raise your fader to where you want it to be(our headgear guru prefers -5).
- After that, you can raise your gain if you need more volume.
This will improve your church sound by giving you more head room and minimizing feedback.
16. Eliminating feedback from your Church Sound
When you want to eliminate feedback, the first step is to check your gain structure from the above example. If your faders are down and your gain is high, you’re on the highway to feedback. Secondly, move the microphone as close to the source as possible. The farther back the singer is from their mic, the more gain you’ll need, and thus more feedback will come with it. Benton Electronics has a great list of feedback-eliminating practices on a post here. Just scroll down, and you’ll see the list.
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