One of the defining components of society rests firmly on how people gather together to hear, to listen, and to sing.
We see these gatherings take place in the house of worship space across countless different faiths all around the world. Whatever scripture is used, it is heard more than it is read, as part of the communal ceremony that is a religious service.
Recent decades have seen worship services evolve into ever more complex and theatrical events, incorporating rock music with amplified instruments in some cases, along with multiple camera operators, and huge video monitors addressing thousands of participants.
Whether one worships in a “megachurch” or a small, local congregation, the goal remains the same: to engage people in practicing their faith, together. That is what audio production means in worship.
AV that serves the community
As an audio production specialist for any house of worship, your job is first and foremost to serve the community of worshippers, and second to serve those leading the services.
It is entirely likely that neither the congregation or its leadership understands audio gear, audio terminology or behaviors - but they do know when it sounds good. They most certainly know when a service has been clear, enjoyable and impactful.
When these two groups are happy, you’ve done a good job, no matter what knobs were or weren’t turned, no matter how fancy, expensive or simple that system may be.
This raises an interesting question: How does one work humbly to achieve these goals? The answer is to listen and communicate, without personal judgment. To admit and to learn from mistakes.
Listen to the words being spoken or the lyrics being sung during a service. Are they crystal clear? Can you easily understand what is being said? Are people telling you that they can or can’t hear well? If they are having issues, this is not a criticism of you as a person - it is a data point to help you make things better.
Don’t be afraid to ask the worship leader if he or she felt that they were clearly heard. Don’t hesitate to talk with band members and find out what it’s like for them on stage. Do they think that they are being heard? Are they hearing too much of something else?
When those with whom you work feel heard, you hear better things from them!
A time to every purpose
A critical component of listening and communicating is time. You must allow sufficient time for conversation, discussion and careful adjustments – or everything will be a repeating loop of errors.
Don’t show up at the last minute to run sound for a service. Be the first one there, check in with the worship leader and band or choir, to make sure everything works. Keep notes on how services go over weeks and talk with everyone involved well ahead of time to address problems.
There is no way you can run sound well, if you don’t know what is happening at every minute. Is there a song coming up next? Who sings it? Will there be accompaniment? Are the levels set on instruments such as keyboards or plugged-in guitars?
Time spent solving problems well before the performance is key, as is working with worship leaders in tandem to coordinate the sequence of events in well-documented, reliable ways.
If you forget to turn on a microphone as someone starts to perform, you may feel embarrassed - but the performer and those attending are really the ones who miss out. Worship is special for everyone involved - including you.
Build on the right foundation
So far, we haven’t mentioned any specific audio equipment - largely because the fundamental skills required for worship audio production are very much human in nature.
This is not to say that equipment doesn’t matter – it most certainly does – and can work to make matters easier or more difficult.
The audio system in any house of worship needs to check several boxes:
- Are the speakers well placed? This can make or break nearly any audio system, even if the speakers themselves are good.
- Are the speakers of good quality? More than any other component, loudspeakers color and affect the distribution of sound in a room. Work with your installers and integrators to audition speakers for the quality you need in your worship space.
- Do you have enough channels for the job at hand? A small church may require only one channel for vocals and one for a piano, while another may have bands that consume 32 or more channels of microphones and direct inputs. Choose a mixer that will get you through all anticipated scenarios, but don’t feel obligated to purchase more than is necessary.
- Is the system easy to configure and re-configure? Houses of worship often support a wide range of activities, from services to music performances to plays, each requiring a different arrangement of microphones, monitors and other components.
Legacy analog systems are easy to understand but are often cumbersome to troubleshoot and rearrange. Consider building your system using AV-over-IP as the foundation. AV-over-IP systems use common computer networking gear to distribute audio (and video) and allow changes to be made and recalled using software. Because AV-over-IP keeps all signals in the digital domain, it delivers absolutely clean, noise-free audio to congregants at any scale.
Audio networking is rapidly becoming the de facto standard of professional audio, with thousands of interoperable products available from hundreds of manufacturers.
The mission: To connect people
Audio production in a house of worship is much like audio production elsewhere when it comes to knob twiddling. The exception lies in the mission you are working to achieve, which is to connect people with words and ideas they came to hear, and not simply to entertain. This means the audio engineer is fully a part of the team delivering the worship experience to congregants, working for them so that they might hear.
Treat the job and the others on that team with the time and respect they each deserve. Choose an audio system that will scale with your needs now and in the future, and you’re on the right path.