What are the most common questions you get asked as sound engineer? I did a conference recently where all I got asked was about the songs the worship band were using and which CD’s they could buy that would have the songs on. How about the old classic of “does it have to be this loud?” It’s not one I come across that often (and I don’t answer it even if I do).
However, when I come across other sound engineers, the most common question I come across is ‘How can I improve the sound in our church?’
Probably without even thinking about it, they have managed to land at the million dollar question. The question that has plagued sound engineer’s from whence the first speaker cone came. How do you improve the quality of the sound you are producing?
How to improve
There are number of different areas in which you can improve the overall quality of the sound of your worship. We’re going to try and unpack a few of these areas over the next few months. I’m sure you could pretty much fill a book with all the different ways is which you can improve the quality of the sound you’re producing
- Improving your sound System – You can improve the quality of the sound system you are using by increasing the quality of the sound system you are using
- Improving your mixing ability – Improving your ability to mix effectively
- Improving your ‘sources’ – Improving the sound coming from the worship band is paramount; if not a little difficult when it comes to the dynamics inbetween the sound engineer and the band!
- Each of these areas comes with its own challenges and aspects that will need to be considered. We’re going to start to unpack these for you to try and give you some tips on improving in each area.
Counting the Cost
The difficulty in improving the quality of the sound you’re producing is that with pretty much all things there is going to be a cost involved. Sometimes it may be a small cost, sometimes it may be a large cost. Sometimes it may not be so much of a financial cost but it may be a cost in terms of your time and attention.
Financially as a sound team it’s good to have the backing of the church you are a part of. I have to honour the church I’m part of at this point as they excel at investing in the worship team and the quality of the worship we produce. You may have an annual ‘PA’ budget that you need to adhere to or you may find you get nothing! You may even be in the blessed situation where you get an open cheque book when it comes to the investment you need.
Whatever your budget; it’s important to steward the finances that you get sensibly. One of the biggest challenges is to try and find how to make best use of the finances you have. If you have a small budget, it’s probably not advisable to go out and spend £25 on each microphone cable when a £8.65 cable will do just as good a job. Having said that if you have the budget and the equipment isn’t ‘over-specification’ then purchase the best quality you can.
Rules of thumb
Through the years, I’ve found a few general rules of thumb that have helped when considering how to improve your sound: –
- When looking to ‘upgrade’ your system, look to improve your weakest link first.
- ‘Rubbish in, Rubbish out’ (i.e. if the instrument you’re trying to capture sounds poor, you have little hope of improving it too much).
- If you’re going to spend money, make sure that you buy the best you can afford (without over specifying the equipment!).
- Don’t just buy something just for the badge, as you will most likely pay a premium for it. However, there is normally a reason that the equipment with the badge on it is so successful.
- Before purchasing anything, do your research. Find reviews, talk to people who have experience with the equipment and (if possible) demo or test the equipment before purchasing it.
- Make sure you have a image in your ‘mind’s ear’ of how you want things to sound when you approach the mixing desk – don’t just play until it sounds right
- Work on the gift God has given to you – practice as often as you can and spend time listening to music (actively listening!)
Negative outcomes of improving the sound quality
Often when we start improving the quality of what we’re doing there can often be a negative ‘side-effect’. For example, if you are taking more time over sound check to improve the overall sound this will add time to your sound check. If you add extra equipment to your setup, there is more equipment that can go wrong and will take longer to setup. It’s important to be aware of the potential side effects and do what you can to manage them.
If you’re making a change to improve your setup then there almost certainly will be a teething process that gets you used to the change. Preparation, practice, patience and perseverance (+ prayer!) will help you through the process and occasionally there will be impact on the worship however, the best implemented improvements will not detract from the worship but draw people further into the worship by improving the quality of what we’re doing and causing less distractions.
Making a start
Just because we’ve not started to look at the different ways doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about the ways in which you can improve the sound in your church. What’s the weak link that you can improve on? Is there anything that you can change?