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DIY Church Audio Gone Bad

The pitfalls of DIY sound system installs in churches.

We all know how important it is to save money. While it may seem like a no-brainer to spend money on audio design, installation can be another story. Many churches are tempted to do the work, or even have volunteers step in. That DIY approach can end up costing more than you’re actually saving. Installing audio gear can be a difficult process. Here are some textbook case of church installs gone wrong.

Volunteer Install
So one day my friend Warren calls me and says his church is ready to renovate its existing sound system, and they want to do it right this time. He invites me to meet with their sound committee, and within a few days I’ve got the project to design the system.

In order to save money, the church plans to use volunteers to run all the wire, hang the loudspeakers, and wire up the sound booth gear. I insisted on wiring up the amplifier rack myself, to be a friend, save them the work and save me the headache of having to fix it later.

A couple of months later, the equipment is all sitting at the church, and the troops are ready to proceed with the install. I arrive ready to talk them through the install.

Right off the bat, I'm scared by what I see. To free myself from any liability in the future, I do what every good consultant does - I don’t give them any advice at all about how to hang the loudspeakers in a safe manner. That’s the job of the sound contractor.

They assure me they’ve researched their hanging method carefully, and at my insistence have even had a structural engineer sign off on their solution. But I make a mental note to not find myself standing under the cluster for any length of time.

After a lot of scraped knuckles, sweat, grunts and groans, the loudspeaker wire, microphone snakes and return lines are finally pulled into place. At around 1 am on the third day of the installation, we finally light up the system and start to voice it.

By this time, everyone is toast. I’m so tired I can hardly see straight, let alone hear really well. The volunteer crew is absolutely wiped out, but we’re so close now that they’re not about to leave without hearing the system for the first time, so they’re napping on the pews while I continue to work.

To their credit, there were no polarity reversals anywhere in the system.

Don’t get me wrong. The church loves their new sound system. And I’m sure the crew has good memories of the time they invested on that project. But by the end of the project, everyone was wiped out, stressed out, on the verge of being mad at everyone, and just plain in a bad mood.

More Angst
My friend Duane had his best “ain’t no way on earth that’ll happen” look on his face when he considered the idea of using a sound contractor to do an install at his church.

So I designed the system, gave them a shopping list, and answered a myriad of questions as the project went from a few pieces of paper to loudspeakers hanging somewhat precariously from the steel.

The weakness seems to come in not knowing precisely how to safely hang heavy loudspeakers over people’s heads. Hanging heavy loudspeakers isn’t easy. Getting them aimed precisely where they need to be aimed is another challenge.

When I saw the loudspeakers hanging from S-hooks and swing-set chain, I knew they had ignored my advice to buy their hardware from a professional rigging supplier. They didn’t have a smile on their face when I insisted that they replace the chain and hardware with the real stuff. And don’t even get me started on the points they wanted to hang the boxes from.

Part of the angst of Duane’s project came through the scheduling. All involved wanted the system to be in place in time for their Easter pageant. Flying the loudspeakers meant having to move scaffolding into the room in order to pull wire and hang loudspeakers.

During the same time frame, the drama and music team needed access to the stage for their pageant rehearsals several evenings each week, so having scaffolding on the stage was a problem. Just try sharing a stage with those two groups.

The installers had to remove the scaffolding and all of their stuff each evening so that the pageant rehearsals could continue as scheduled. That process added undue pressure on the volunteer sound installers.

Before I continue, please understand, the guys that find themselves in these predicaments are bright, sharp, astute, focused, detail-type personalities. But by the time they realize they’re in over their heads, it’s too late to drop back and do anything else about it.

This article was republished from ProSoundWeb.com.

TAGS: Audio
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