October 24, 2007 Featured Article


Sanctuary Sound—I hope it's Working Well for You

by Ken Johnson

Ken Johnson, President & CEO
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I’ve recently been working with a local church that has been having problems with its sound system and that has reminded me of a number of things about church sound systems that I would like to share with you.


First and the most important principle to remember, is that it should be used as <strong>“sound reinforcement”</strong> not <strong>“sound blaster.”</strong>


Over the years I have had the privilege of working with a number of sound people who have had a wide variety of experiences with sound and honestly it can try your mind and heart. In every instance these people have had the best interests of the church or secular performing group in mind, and they did the best job they were capable of doing, but they weren’t always successful in their endeavors.


The most interesting experience I can tell you about is a church that had a deaf grandfather running the sound. He ran the sound based on a VU meter with a needle. When the church finally asked him to turn it over to someone else he and his family left the church in anger. If you have worked in a church for any amount of time you certainly have many horror stories about sound people, but I hope that you also have a number of good stories. Over the years I have had a number of excellent sound people the best of which was a team of sound people that not only ran the sound but also built the system. They were wonderful, saving the church literally thousands of dollars while providing the best sound ever. I still call the head sound man once a year and tell him how much I appreciate what he and his crew did for that church.


Generally speaking the people who volunteer to run sound have either no experience or very little and need a lot of guidance. The problem is that they have at sometime run a board in a recording studio or their stereo at home and think they know everything they need to know and it will be hard to help them understand that they need help, but it is imperative that you get them help. Find a sound company or a capable sound person at another church and let them spend time with your sound person. This will pay big dividends.


Many times sound people are like Prima Dona musicians. You need to find ways to communicate with them.


The problem with most church sound systems is the people who run them. Somehow those people need to develop an ear that hears who the people are in the sanctuary and on the platform. They need to run the sound for the people in the seats not for themselves.


If you have a mixed age audience you need to run the sound for the older ears. Run the sound for the people in their late 50’s and above, not like a rock concert with young ears. If the audience is 40 and younger then you can run the sound as loud as the building will accept. When the building begins to crumble then you need to turn it down.


Some suggestions:


  • The ideal place to have the sound board is on the floor level behind the congregation not in the balcony. Don’t have the board behind a window or in some kind of enclosed room, have it out in the open at the back of the auditorium.
  • The sound person’s purpose is to make the person at the microphone sound as natural as possible. Using the EQ with very slight changes will accomplish this task.
  • Don’t run the sound at the top edge of feedback because you will have ring and distortion. This doesn’t create a pleasant atmosphere.
  • Generally speaking run the main controls higher so you have more control of each individual mic. I hope you understand that.
  • Make sure that you are not blowing the people away with over blown consonant sounds—use wind screens. Many mics have built in windscreens.
  • Generally speaking have the people hold the microphones about a fists length away from their mouth.
  • If you use wireless microphones try to have the receivers as close to the microphones as possible. This makes for better pickup and fewer problems with outside interference.
  • Always, as much as possible, use fold back or monitor speakers when someone is singing with accompaniment tracks.
  • With the recent developments of excellent-economical head mics it pays to use them instead of clip-on lavaliere mics. When you use clip-on mics your head is moving close to and away from the mic and it is impossible to keep a balanced sound. The head mic moves with you and provides far superior sound.

If you need repair or replacement of your sound system and you live in Colorado or the surrounding states I suggest that you call Elite Sound at 303.781.6667 or email Gordon Close at: Gordon@elite.com. I don’t receive anything from them for recommending them, but I have had Gordon and his company install and repair a number of systems for me over the years and they have always done excellent work.


© 2007, Ken Johnson, President and CEO of The Ken Johnson Group, LLC, Church Consultants. To contact Ken, or for permission to reprint this article, send an e-mail to: ken@thekenjohnsongroup.com


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