February 01, 2017

By Ryan McLouth

I hope your new year is off to a great start, and that your Christmas season was fantastic. Heading into the new year, I am reminded of things that I told myself I would focus on to facilitate successful worship services. One of those major components for me was technology, particularly live sound reinforcement.
    
It seems that live sound production is a hot topic in most churches these days. Those who serve as sound engineers in their local church know what I mean. Besides working to meet the needs of the congregation, the musicians and those speaking, we also face the challenge of using our technology and equipment to its maximum capacity. Sometimes we are working with outdated equipment; Sometimes there’s a learning curve with brand new equipment, sometimes the natural sound of the room is a challenge. And the list can go on.
    
One challenge that I see many congregations facing is the balance between “on-stage sound” and “front-of-house sound.” Let me take just a moment to define these two terms to make sure that we are on the same page. On-stage sound is the volume level and balance of all instruments and voices from the performer’s perspective. Since the performers are on stage, behind the main speakers of the sound system and are closer to their own sound source, this mix may be very different than front-of-house. Front-of-house sound is the volume and balance from the congregation’s perspective. As sound engineers, we should strive to have complete control over front-of-house sound. 
    
The first step in doing this is to minimize the amount of on-stage sound that the congregation perceives. In other words, instrument amplifiers, stage monitors, drums and other high-volume components cannot be louder than the main speakers of your sound system. This can be a very tricky feat, but I have a few suggestions on where you can start. Step one is to ask all instrumentalists to play at a volume that is the lowest they can tolerate. If your lead guitar player constantly has his amplifier “turned up to 11,” you’ll never achieve control of your front of house sound. Now, perhaps you have convinced all players to play at their lowest level, but you’re still hearing some on-stage sound from the congregational perspective.     
    
The next step is to place all amplifiers as far backstage as possible, and face them toward the rear of the stage. Basically, we want to get the sound source (speaker) as far away from the congregation as we can, and face it away from the congregation. For this option to work, it is good to have the ability to mic the rear-facing amps, or send a line-out from them to the sound system. This way, the congregation can still hear them, but you have much more control over the level. The final option that I would offer is “total” sound isolation for instruments. This is difficult but can be done. For this solution, many sound engineers place amplifiers in a separate room, build sound-proof cabinets to place amplifiers in, and set up plexi-glass shielding around acoustic drums. This essentially eliminates all on-stage sound and affords complete control for the engineer. Of course, you’ll need to mic these instruments, so they can be mixed in front of house speakers and monitor systems.
    
I always enjoy sharing with you, and I love hearing from you! If you have any questions about sound in your worship service, please do not hesitate to call. Or even if you just want to share your own ideas, please contact me at rmclouth@centralmethodist.edu or (660) 651-9964. Until next month, keep playing and singing!