10 Most Common Church Sound Problems

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Sound problems can be caused by anything from architectural defects to misguided equipment operators. Here are some of the most troublesome sound problems that churches struggle with and what can be done about them:

10 Most Common Church Sound Problems

1. Echo, or excessive reverb

This church sound problem can be the result of poor architectural design or timing variations between speakers. Timing problems occur in large rooms in which speakers face each other from different sides of a room. If a church has a long, narrow sanctuary and puts a speaker on the back wall, that speaker should have a slight sound delay. Otherwise, the sound waves from the front speaker will arrive at the back of the sanctuary after the rear speaker releases its waves. It’s easier to place all of the speakers at the front of a room and adjust their volume and position to reach the back row.

Some buildings have flat, reflective surfaces that make sound waves act like bumper cars. For example, if a church holds a potluck dinner in a gymnasium or multipurpose facility with hard surfaces, table conversation will become a muddy hum that gradually increases in volume. A speaker’s voice will bounce around the room. This problem can be remedied by hanging fabric panels, banners or baffles on the walls or from the ceiling.

2. Feedback

Feedback occurs when amplified sound from a speaker or monitor circulates through a microphone and is amplified again, giving off an obnoxious squeal. This kind of sound loop is due to monitor placement as well as microphone technique. If a singer points a microphone directly into a monitor or if there isn’t sufficient distance between the microphone and the monitor, feedback is inevitable. Feedback also happens when a speaker moves around on a platform, pointing the microphone in various directions. For churches with such speakers, several manufacturers offer a feedback controller that eliminates feedback by constantly shifting audio frequency.

3. Inadequate training.

“How can we have sound problems? We have great equipment!” Sound equipment, no matter how costly, won’t perform well if technicians don’t know how to use it. After determining that a person has a solid interest in serving as a sound technician, work with the person until that person is qualified to serve. Invest in training materials such as books, videos and trade publications.

The best sound system can be compromised by a performer. A singer who holds a microphone far from his mouth, for example, forces a technician to turn up the volume on a channel, which could result in feedback. Singers should adjust their microphones according to the volume of their voices. On a high, strong note, the microphone should be moved away from the mouth; on a low, soft note, in closer.

4. Poor communication.

Technicians must explain what they’re doing to performers. For example, a performer might want more reverb in her monitor, but the sound technician knows that singers maintain better pitch quality without hearing reverb in the monitors. The sound technician could mix some reverb into the system and eliminate it in the monitor, but if the singer doesn’t understand what the technician is doing, she will perform with less confidence. The moral for technicians is to be diplomatic. The moral for performers is to trust the technician.

5. Muddy sound.

Inexperienced technicians are often plagued by muddy sound, which is quite often the result of monitor wash. For example, if the worship leader has a monitor on the platform, it is usually pointed at the back wall and away from the congregation. If the monitor is turned up too loud or includes too varied a mix, the sound will bounce off the back wall and collide with other sounds on the way to the congregation. The solution could be as simple as adjusting the volume of the monitor. If a worship team is large enough, it might need multiple monitors. Monitor mixing is an art that requires much practice, however.

Five more sound problems on page two . . .