In the last article, we talked about how complaints about a mix being too loud is more likely a problem with the EQ, or equalization, of the mix, not the volume level.
In the auditorium I worked in, complaints of the music being too loud were fixed by EQ'ing the female vocals to be less harsh, which enabled us to actually increase the volume level while eliminating the complaints. We ran our music portion of the services at 95 dB SPLstrong, but not crazy loud.
In the same room, we hosted a Rebecca St. James concert later that year. They brought in their own PA, and it sounded fantastic, with strong music, no harshness, and no complaints of the volume level. They averaged 112 dB SPL for the rockier parts of the show.
While this showed it was possible to run at those sound pressure levels, should we have tried to adjust our PA system to achieve that for our normal Sunday morning services? No.
In my opinion (and this is where we return the world of subjectivity), it simply was not necessary to go that loud for the services to be effective.
According to OSHA, you can safely be exposed to a 95 db SPL (where we typically ran the music portion of our church services) for four hours per day without risking hearing loss.
That's probably the amount of time the band and creative/technical staff and volunteers experienced the music for on both Saturday and Sunday between rehearsals and the services. At 110 dB SPL, the safe exposure time drops to half an hour. While that would be fine for the audience, given we probably had no more than 15 minutes of music per service, those serving in the room during rehearsals or for multiple services would be at risk. Why bring that level of risk into serving at church?
I've been in churches where they make ear-plugs available to those attending. It seems to me if you have to put in ear plugs to participate in corporate worship, there's a problem.
We found that a mid-90 dB SPL level for music brought the energy level to where it was very effective without risking anyone's hearing or disenfranchising those who find extremely loud music unpleasant. We targeted 86-70 dB SPL for parts of the service where talking was happening, such as the sermon and announcements. And, we used an audio compressor on the pastor's mic to prevent the audio levels from going too high when we got worked up without causing the sound tech to have to "ride the fader" throughout the sermon.
Back to the Rebecca St. James concert. Could our house PA system have achieved similar sound pressure levels of that concert?
Quite possibly. However, I had neither the skill level nor the experience to EQ the mix well enough to achieve that without it being painful. I probably still do not. Mixing is both an art and a science, and it takes people who do it as their full-time vocation years of training from other, more experienced professionals to learn things like this and develop the ear for it.
Which brings me back to a topic I covered last month. How is your church investing in your technical production team to help them get the training and experience to be able to get your room sounding great?