Failure comes when we forget the fundamentals, be it basketball, chess, or live sound production.
Here’s the typical situation a sound tech encounters on a Sunday morning…
1. Walk into church – usually with coffee in hand.
2. Set up the appropriate equipment on the stage.
3. Walk into the fortress that is known as the sound booth.
4. Start the work behind the mixer which includes setting sound levels for the singers, orators, and musicians.
Given the above situation, let’s consider three separate environments in which this could take place.
First, a small square-ish sanctuary that seats a few hundred people.
Second, a very wide sanctuary but not a very deep one – maybe 400 people.
Third, a very large sanctuary – 1,000+ seats.
In all of these environments, the sound booth is located in the back of the sanctuary – directly opposite the stage.
These environments now described, let’s say the sound tech in each situation sets a volume level for the worship band at 98 dBa with that reading taken from the sound booth.
In all three scenarios, the sound techs think the volume level is perfect for their audience and the type of music.
The assumption at this point would be that the 98 dBa level is appropriate for everyone in the sanctuary.
Not so fast, buster.
The inverse square law explains the ratio at which sound levels drop given distance. In a huge sanctuary (#3), it’s possible that a 98 dBa in the sound booth is significantly louder in the first few rows of the congregation – even painfully so.
Please note that speaker arrangement can make a big different in the accuracy of the readings if you have such instances as secondary speakers located farther back in the sanctuary due to size. In this case, the sound booth is closer to the secondary speakers and readings more relatable to the seating.
Now let’s go at this from another angle.
Let’s say you are setting volume levels in a large auditorium and you know that you are a long way away from the speakers, compared to the congregation. You don’t want to blast them out of their seats so you turn the volume levels down to where you think they might be more appropriate.
In both of these situations, if you haven’t left the sound booth, you are guessing at the proper sound level. That leads me to one of the fundamentals of live sound production; you have to walk the room.
Walking the room means getting out of the sound booth and walking around the venue (church, theater, etc.) and listening to the quality of the sound. This includes listening for dead areas and frequency issues but for this article, we are going to focus on the volume level.
By walking the room (and taking a sound meter with you), you will hear what the audience will hear. You might find the volume in the middle of the sanctuary is good but the outer edges are suffering enough that it warrants a volume boost – one that isn’t too much for the middle. You might find it’s too loud in the front of the sanctuary. You might even find the volume too low.
It is possible to walk a room and only use your ears for checking volume levels. I like a sound meter as well because it helps me spot the little differences.
By walking the room, you are able to set the volume levels correctly. Otherwise, you are only guessing.