It’s Too Loud
Many Churches have begun reopening and getting back to live services. People no longer have a personal volume control which will inevitably lead back into volume complaints. While there is no sure-fire way to eliminate them, there are some factors that may be contributing to the comfort level of your audience. Most importantly, there are probably some things you can do about it that don’t involve earplugs.
Disclaimer: I’m not going to address SPL (Sound Pressure Level) in this post but rather the factors that an SPL meter can’t tell you. I’m going to assume that you are running at a reasonable SPL and still receiving complaints.
1. “I want to hear myself and the people around me sing”
There is power in corporate worship when the people of God sing His praises together. It serves as a way of reminding each other of who God is and what he has done.
2. “I want to sing loudly and not worry about others around me hearing how bad I sound.”
There is also a personal side to worship as we each individually praise God for the things he has done in our life or cry out to him for the things we need.
But They’re Still Coming….
Once you’ve reached a decision and adjusted accordingly. There are some further considerations to make as to why you may be receiving volume complaints.
Often it is a quality of sound and not a quantity of sound issue. Meaning there isn’t too much level but how it sounds is abrasive no matter the volume level. If things are out of balance or hard to distinguish from one another it can be hard to listen to. The average person doesn’t have (and doesn’t care to have) the knowledge to differentiate between abrasiveness and volume so they will simply say ” it’s too loud”. This is even more true in cases where an individual’s ability to differentiate between sounds diminishes like in cases of hearing loss where medical devices are required for the individual to hear.
In my experience, there are 3 primary reasons people perceive it as being “too loud” (not including if it is extremely loud).
There’s an old audio joke that goes something like “In the beginning, God made perfect sound, then man built walls”. While you could easily poke holes in the jokes realism, it gets the point across that reflective surfaces add complexity to the sounds around us that then have to be differentiated by our ears. For the most part in normal circumstances, our ears are very good at doing this and we don’t even have to think about it. Think about when you’re in a crowded space where there are a lot of people talking. It’s usually reasonably easy to hear and focus on the person you are having a conversation with. With music, however, it can be a different story. Drums especially can create additional challenges for intelligibility. When a highly percussive sound bounces off everything and all the new sounds hit the ear at varying times, it makes it hard to understand what you are hearing.
It is also important to note that when this happens our natural inclination is to try and increase the volume level of the “main source” (usually the sound system). To address these issues (once the room already exists), you need to work with a professional. Acoustics is an exact science and requires specialized knowledge to get right. Guessing on solutions can be very costly. The way we have come to listen to music is very clean and processed and when you mix this clean processed sound with a raw acoustic source in the same space, it can greatly affect the intelligibility of the sound if they are not working together properly; which leads to the second factor.
When a sound system isn’t correctly designed for or installed in a space or isn’t working properly it can create significant discrepancies between zones within that space. A good system should deliver consistent and even sound across every part of the room. When it’s uneven, people can have good or bad experiences based on where they are sitting and how it sounds there in comparison to what it sounds like at the soundboard (where the mix decisions are being made). This is a recipe for bad sound in certain parts of the room and good sound in others which can create additional frustration. This is not something the average person thinks about but instead, they would express that “things are inconsistent sounding from week to week (if they move seats regularly)”. Or they may say “ the bass is overwhelming” when it’s balanced from the mix position. If you are experiencing this, you want to see what can be done to better balance out your room. If you don’t have experience doing this, you may need to call in a professional to help. This is another area where guessing gets expensive. (How Not to Waste Your Churches Money)
Now that we have either Identified a challenge that needs addressed or ruled the hard things out, it’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. What’s the quality of the mix? At the end of the day, it comes down to the person behind the board. Do they know how to mix in such a way that things are balanced well and intelligible or is it harsh and overwhelming? Does it sound like music or noise? (You Don’t Need More Gear) To remedy this, you can either hire a professional to mix every week or get training for your volunteers.
Unfortunately there is no quick and easy fix for sound complaints, so take the pressure off. You don’t have to fix everything overnight. Break it down. Discover where the problems actually lie, then develop solid solutions that move you closer to your goal. (How not to waste your churches Money)
If you are experiencing any (or multiple) of these challenges and want to talk further about specifics of fixing them in your context, send me a message.
Written by Chris Eslinger. Chris is from Fairfield, OH where he’s married and has three kids. Chris is the Production and Technical Media Director at New Freedom Church. To learn more about Chris, read his blogs or talk more about how he can help you create quality experiences, visit his site.