Looking beyond just a bad mix, there are several reasons for a bad sound. Primarily, it's because modern praise music is just plain wrong. Just kidding. There are a variety of factors that can kill any attempt at creating a beautiful sound for the congregation. Let's jump in…
Reasons for Church Audio Problems
1. Excessive stage volume. When the stage volume level is too high, everyone suffers. The volume bleeds too far into the congregation so they hear more of the stage volume than the house mix. The musicians are likely not hearing the sounds they need because their ears are being blasted with more sounds than what they need. And the sound guy has to try and mix with the stage volume as part of the house sound.
2. Poor microphone usage. There is the singer who holds the microphone a foot away for one song and then right up to their mouth the next. There is the microphone hanging down into the middle of the amp cone. There is also the case of "I don't need to mic that instrument" as can happen with a piano. No microphone means no control in the mix.
3. Poor monitor usage. Too loud. Not loud enough. Not the right mix of instruments / vocals. The performer stands in the right location for setting monitor volume during the sound check but once the performance starts, they move back a few feet and then wonder why they can't hear anything.
4. House volume too high. No, I'm not getting too old if it's too loud. A house mix that is too loud will negatively affect the congregation. It can kill the worship mood.
5. House volume too low. A sound guy did a simple experiment. He raised and lowered the overall house volume during some music sets. The result? It was almost like the congregation members were puppets on a string. When the volume level was too low, people didn't have their hands raised in praise. As the volume went up, so did the hands. When the volume went too far up, hands started dropping. Um…I don't mean their hands fell off their arms…just to be clear.
6. Bad room. Acoustic treatment exists for a reason. I was at a church recently where the sound guy told me that at one point, low end frequencies were causing headaches for people who sat in certain areas. Whether it is hot spots in the room, echo, or a variety of other possibilities, a room with bad acoustic characteristics is a killer.
7. House EQ not set properly. The acoustic characteristics of each room are different. Therefore, the house EQ needs to be set to account for these characteristics as well as account for the type of sound most common in the church.
8. Blown / damaged speakers. Depending on if it's damaged or blown, the quality of sound can vary greatly. A blown woofer will make crackling / popping sounds.
9. Bad sound guy. I'm just saying.
10. You tell me! What would you add to this list?
In future articles, I'll cover how you can overcome some of these problems.