When looking at the demands of audio, houses of worship are unlike typical live events. Yes, all the standard "Audio 101”-type advice will still apply to a live performance in a house of worship – however, this particular niche in the audio workplace introduces a unique checklist of concerns.
There is a level of professional delivery every worshipper has come to expect, no matter their religion or denomination.
These differences are significant enough, that even an individual with the confidence of more than 30 years’ experience, would be foolish to assume that they are prepared for the unforeseen circumstances or complications that are traditional with live audio.
Unlike the standard live music or corporate speaking event, if something should go wrong after the worship event begins, there will often be no tech running out to adjust a poorly-aimed microphone or swap a cable. Worship services — be they loud and grand with live bands, demure and bold with choirs, or more dependent on the spoken word — rely on a certain level of pace and rhythm that brings with it a sense of craft.
Live bands can riff, if a cord is yanked out. A speaker can ad lib when a battery in a microphone dies.
Ask yourself, though, have you ever seen someone replace a microphone from a podium mid-sermon. No, there is a level of professional delivery every worshipper has come to expect, no matter their religion or denomination.
Everything absolutely must work correctly from the start. If not, you are in for a long and uncomfortable event, where no one can hear the message and everyone in the venue has little more to do with their time, than look around for who is in charge of the audio.
Consider the following insights, sourced from individuals working in the house of worship audio space, as critical considerations for live mixing during a service.
Always use fresh batteries
First, foremost, ALWAYS (the capitalization is required here for reinforcement) use fresh batteries.
This is no place to attempt budgetary prudence.
The battery that brought you through last week’s services is not your lucky battery. It is now half dead.
It may seem just fine right now, but you must assume it’s going to let you down halfway through the service. At this point, it won’t matter what is being played, sung or spoken, the delivery has broken down.
Don’t let that happen.
Add fresh batteries to every wireless lapel, every handheld microphone, and each battery-dependent device, before the beginning of every service.
Microphone placement is an all-too-common error
Meet with the purveyor of the spoken word, well before the service begins. Place the audio equipment upon them after they have donned any ceremonial wear. This is the only way to absolutely ensure wireless microphones are pointed in the correct direction, and within range. An incredibly common occurrence in a worship environment is that wireless lapel mics are placed upside down and pointing toward the floor. It is also too common to see wireless headset microphones pointed outward toward the audience, rather than toward the speaker.
The system sounds great, the sound check is complete, but then the message is delivered all muffled.
No one can hear what is being said.
The only option is to somehow get on stage either blatantly or covertly, and physically fix the mistake. To avoid this truly daring endeavor during a live service, set the microphone correctly in advance.
Discuss microphone technique
Also critical with microphone consideration is instructing guest speakers as to proper microphone technique, well in advance of the service.
Services regularly include those who may have never spoken in public via any type of public address audio system. Their message needs to be heard, just the same as anyone. Explain to them that the microphone cannot be waist level, pointed in any direction, or cupped when unwanted.
Some 101 advice here but lay all of this out: the microphone must be held at least at chest level, and though it may be held at an angle, it should be within 8-to-10 inches of the signal source, i.e., their mouth. If the microphone is too far from source, all it will end up amplifying is background noise, and this will feed back long before useful signal becomes intelligible.
This tip of course goes hand-in-hand, with the placement of guest speakers. Just like we avoid placing the flutist in front of the full speaker stack, we must also avoid placing the guest speaker near the pipe organ.
Plan for presentations
Always cue up any digital media well in advance. Videos and recordings are becoming regular features of worship events. With these additions, it must be noted that audio levels can vary wildly.
Unless properly planned for, and tested before the service, the message could either pin the attendees to the back wall in shock or start off by being completely inaudible. Both cases are sure to prompt panic from the engineer at the helm.
Simply put: do not wait until the last minute to find out what is on the audio track. Play it out ahead of time and adjust accordingly.
Proper line checks
Just as with live video, it is important to run tests before the show. At the end of the day, live audio in a house of worship is still live sound.
As we’ve noted, it isn’t just a person speaking into a microphone. There are musical instruments, live bands, choirs, video signals, and more. Because of this, EQ, filtering, and the ability to place an instrument in the mix — and then blend accordingly — are essential requirements.
Take the time to do a proper line check in advance of the service. Always dial in the channel EQ ahead of time.
Do not rely on feedback suppression to be your EQ, use compression where applicable, and cut the “mud” out of the mics.
Support is easier to come by than most expect
Most importantly, always partner with an integrator or a manufacturer who can provide helpful insight, based upon real-world experience and first-hand accounts. This is what yields useful advice and quick troubleshooting, if a more in-depth problem is discovered.
Regardless of the size of your service or congregation, the integrators and manufacturers you work with should view you as a long-term partner.
A sensational sounding service will help attract more to the house of worship.
As you grow, your partners will be happy to grow with you.