Top Ten Reasons for Church Audio Problems

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church audio problemsLooking 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.

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  1. Chuck Hunter says

    I would submit bad or worn cables, mics, etc. to go along with the blown or bad monitors/speakers. Also non conditioned power or stage setup that includes power bleed into the audio cables.

  2. Chris says

    A year ago, I read about a person who was talking with a pianist about suggestions.  No matter how kindly they spoke, the tears rolled down her cheeks.  In some cases, there is no way to do it without offending or having an emotional impact.  That being said…

    Try creating a sound document that can be shared with the band/audio team to convey purpose of what you do (both as an audio team and as a band.  Include statements such as "musicians should use the best industry-standard techniques, such as vocal microphone techniques…."

    The overall tone of the document should convey "the best sound presented to the congregation comes from the best techniques by band members and the best techniques by the audio team. 

  3. dan m says

    Our biggest 2 problems are singers who are afraid to get too close to their dynamic mics, and a bass player who’s concept of the right volume is overpowering the rest of the band.

    Any advice at working on these more psychological and less technical issues? I’ve found that some of the band members get really emotional at any suggestion for improvement, even when it’s given in the most loving way I can think of.

  4. Bobby M. says

    Bad Sound Booth, I am currently working with a church to move their sound booth out of the nursery. Which is an isolated room in the back of the church with a window. Having a sound booth in the sanctuary is a plus, no muddy sound, visual contact, don’t have to rely on headphones.

  5. says

    it is a common problem when using cardioid pattern mics and singers who want the monitor at their feet. I use an Audix f5 Fusion hypercardioid mic in this case. the tight pattern allows me to make their mic hotter forcing them to hold it away from their mouth and gives me more head room on the mix. I have had occasion where I had to set the mic on a stand and install a pop filter to get the singers lips unstuck from the mic to brighten up the input. a trick i use some times is garlic flakes in a windscreen till they learn you smell it your too close. the projector does help a lot. tipping their head up helps them sing better and gets them on axis. check out my study on mic to face alignment on my web page
    I love it when a group comes in and knows the songs. it turns into a worship service instead of a practice

  6. DAVE says

    One problem I run into is the singing like to place their music stands between them and the monitors and don’t understand why the sound boomy.We have cut down on this by adding a video screen to the back wall.Now the singers have their heads raised and are projecting much better. Also it is a big help if the band comes in knowing the songs before rehearsal starts. The sound people need time to build a mix and not spent all of the rehearsal time spent listening to someone learn the song over and over and over.

  7. Josh Schultz says

    he he he your giving out all our secrets to everyone lol. I’ll send more info in an email (after I’m done my homework), but I know some others who read this will have some curiosity so…

    So heres whats up at the moment. I’ve got a great 12 year old girl at Church who sounds really good (voice and piano), as suggested by Fuzzy, I offered an idea of doing a CD with her and said we can probably have it for Mothers day. She has excitedly said yes and I’ve talked to her dad and he thinks its a great idea, and so in order to keep mom out of this project, I also need to talk to the 2 sisters (which it sounds like they know about it….you know how sisters brag….one does for sure…). By having the rest of the family involved, it will allow me to have more chances to get together with her to record/listen/whatever else we need to do to make the recording rock! And I’ve talked to the pastor to confirm that I can use the Church equipment….even though there would be almost no chance of the pastor saying no since I’m the only one who knows what there doing lol…

    I’m also thinking about talking to our drummer from Church and to ask if he would be willing to “make something up” so that we can have the songs be a little bit more exciting….I might talk to a guitarist too….not sure quite yet….but of course this will be up to her as well….

    Should be fun! Can’t wait to actually start recording! :D

  8. Josh says

    I actually did try it out a couple of weeks ago…needed 2 guitars and 1 computer between 2 di’s, but the one guitar that had one of those hole pickups(??) I just couldn’t get a good signal going through to the board I think….can’t remember….at least he plays fairly loud usually lol….if I turned it up too much I would get a lot of airy noise….when I get some more money in my pocket, I’m gonna get another di ( and a few other things…that di seems to be really good for its price….quite stable and durable and has 2 20db pads, lift, phase, and a filter (I believe hpf)…so I’m gonna pick up another one soon…

  9. says

    last month I was given an I-pod with all the songs for a choir I was lost! it was the first time I ave ever held an i-pod much less know how to work it. I went out and got a walkman mp3 player and loaded 1400 songs on it so I could get use to using that kind of media.
    last week I listened to one more bad sound guy (that is what I do ,teach) he had all the sound in the monitors and down fill speakers and nothing in the mains in the room. their pastor was ticked.

    Josh I do not remember, do your di boxs have 2 1/4″plugs? did you try 2 guitars in one di yet? I had to dubble up 2 base players last week at a wedding. I had them both on the same monitor and told them to keep their guitars balanced it works good

  10. says

    Great list. I think I’ve experienced all of them, including being the bad sound guy :-/

    At one church they had Avioms and two of them were plugged into powered monitors for the background vocals. Talk about stage volume nightmares. They don’t even ask to turn themselves up.

    I would add Bad Installation. For instance, not knowing the room or considering its acoustic behavior before slapping the speakers in an easy spot.

  11. Chris says

    We've used that Aviom setup.  I'm not a fan of it.  I check stage volume and if it's too loud, I let them know so they resolve the issue. 

    Bad install – oh, definitely.

  12. Josh says

    This comes down to gear, but not having enough stuff is a problem some times….the other week I needed 1 more DI box, but not even the guitarists brought one of their own (shouldn’t they keep something like that with them at all times???) and of course needing another channel on the board once and a while…

    Chris, heres an idea for an article. How to make your Service more exciting. Thats what I’ve come up with as an idea for us. We’ve pretty much had the same population for the last 15 years and the worship really hasn’t changed much. So I’m trying to think of ways to make our worship service more exciting. This is slightly out of the sound guys range, but if they have a good relationship with the worship director (which I do), then it shouldn’t be a huge problem giving suggestions.

  13. Chris says

    Making the service more exciting…one article on fireworks and fog machines, coming up…

    I think a lot of it has to do with arrangement.  Great song arrangement gives  a song a feeling of movement.  Too often, worship songs are three chords and one strum pattern.

  14. Craig C says

    4 and 5 (house volume) are directly affected by 7 (house EQ) and 10 (Bad Install from the above comment). I feel that with our setup and congregation there’s a fine line of “just right”.

    I think 9 breaks down into a grid of attitude vs. skill on the part of the sound guy.
    Bad skill can be dealt with over time, with good attitude (from themself or a mentor)
    Bad attitude is obviously not beneficial, and might be linked to whether the person is feeling burned out, or their faith in general. Or they might just be bugged that they’re asked to run audio when they really want to be on the lighting console.

    Personally I’d add: distractions in the sound booth. This could be having Facebook open on the sound PC while the vocalists do a six part harmony that you’re supposed to be riding faders for.
    Equally it could be having some kid next to you asking to watch things on Youtube, during a Christmas service (true story).

    BTW: style issue: using Firefox, the text on the edit box stays gray even when it has focus, and doesn’t stand out well from the background.

  15. Chris says

    Attitude has a lot to do with it, as you said.  Most of the time, a good attitude will lead to a better sound guy.

    Regarding the edit box, I run firefox and I get white as the edit backgroud.  It's probably a CSS / permissions issue…I'll look into it. [updated; fixed it – might have to reload screen to pick up updated css file.]

  16. says

    I have noticed one thing you have not talked about here. And that’s just the plain and simple thing of using old equipment. The youth group I attend has an old hand-me-down analog amplifier along with a 15 year old sound board. All of this adds up to create a very noticeable hum/crackling sound in the speakers constantly.

    The other thing they have gone wrong on is acoustics, they have a room that is surrounded by brick walls with no acoustic paneling to speak of.

    I think half of the issue is that the church have struggling financially and things like tech needs are one of the first things to slip. And of course unless the church highly believes in their youth program it slips away to especially in the tech area as most of them get the left overs when it comes to tech stuff.

  17. JayDub says

    Bad room–my pet peeve! We worship in an asymetric cinder block octagon, and FOH is underneath a low balcony. I leave the mixer and stand momentarily in the middle aisle several times every service.

    A couple more:

    Settling for “good enough”. I sometimes have musicians (and occasionally me) who are content to rehearse until it sounds “OK” rather than pursue excellence.

    Wrong equipment for the right job. Well intentioned helpers use speaker cables for instrument cables, or vice versa. DI boxes with pad switches on the wrong setting. SM58 as an ‘overhead’ mic. I suppose this could also be titled, “Sound guy forgets to check ALL stage connections himself”

  18. Chris says

    The good enough mentality I see slipping in when I go for the "good enough" during sound check with the "eh, I'll clean it up during the first song."  But that's usually when I have one of those days where I just can't get the mix down.  I find going for a brief walk helps me clear my head (sometimes during the practice) to let my ears rest.  Then I can get back down to business.

  19. CP says

    Don’t forget lack of prep-time! You have to love the praise team leader that lets you know that there will be extra singers or musicians about 10 minuets before the service is to start. I always like to mix a show with no sound check time.

  20. says

    how about the concept of “just a volunteer” … i’ve seen this over and over where the volunteer running sounds just knows how to connect the equipment but doesn’t really have the real knowledge of EQ, gain structures and mixing in general. or the worst, does not want to even learn how to do it properly.

    btw, this also goes to all the volunteer musicians just like me, too!

  21. Chris says

    I do hate to see that.  Volunteer is not Greek for "one who does as little as possible."  I figure a great way to judge our ability and mentality is by asking the question "if I switched churches, would they want me on their audio team?"

  22. Razor says

    On 5, I’ve definitely noticed this.

    I spent my first year or so mixing leaving the main fader alone. Then one day we had a professional come in and mix, so me and the other guys could watch and learn a bit.

    I was blown away, the guy could really control the feel of the song just by adjusting that main fader. Until then I didn’t realize that was possible.

    Now I have to admit I’ve gotten back into the habit of setting the main fader and forgetting about it. That’s something I really need to learn to work on.

    Never “set and forget” your main fader! That thing is one of your most useful tools! :)

  23. Mike H says

    How about the Special singer that brings you a 20 year old tape that they say is good and ready to play right as service is starting. I’ve had this happen on several occasions and it never seams to turn out good. I have had it lock up half way through the tape or the volume will go up and down and sound like it’s dragging in some spots. We have ask our special singers not to use tapes if at all possible. I’ve even offered to transfer their tapes to CD if they can’t find the song any more but they still keep bringing them.

  24. Josh Schultz says

    You could always use the excuse “Sorry, but we no longer use a tape player and have none available to us. Please bring me the tape a week before service so that I can use my personal tape player to record it to a CD”.

    You could probably just put the tape player in the back storage room so that you can still transfer it to digital formats, but if its not out, you can’t use it on Sunday…too bad for them.

    We used to use tapes at Church, but I stopped bringing the tape player after a while and just said “not happening” very politely. Since then I’ve never had anyone come to me with a tape and they always either give me a CD, send me the song via an email, or at least bring their own mp3 player (which could cause its own headaches, but thats one of Chris’s other posts). They all understand that because we setup every week in a gym, I can only have so much stuff and a tape player just isn’t used enough to justify having it around. If I really had to use a tape player, its about a 10 minute drive to the Church office and 10 minutes back….so if its 5 minutes to service….not happening….

    However you deal with those tape users, you just have to be polite and try to convince them for the future :)

    Good luck!

  25. Chris says

    Years ago, something even worse happened to one of my sound guys.  Last minute, of course.  CD is handed to him as the backing track for a soloist.  Two problems; the CD only had 1 track and it the lead vocals still on it.  Second, the soloist such SO LOW and held the microphone so far away that the result was a woman from another country sining on stage but what came from the speakers was Patsy Cline. 

    I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  I think I ended up mostly in prayer through that song.  Afterware, i talked to the SG and he said "I tried everything!  The vocals couldn't be panned out and if I pushed the microphone anymore, I was at the feedback point.

    Never again.