Getting the Biggest Change in Sound Quality for the Smallest Investment

“How do I get the biggest change in my sound quality for the smallest investment?”

I’m often asked this question from cash-strapped churches that need a sound system upgrade but don’t have the funds to accomplish it all at once.

If it’s the sound operator who approaches me first, his goal is usually to get a new mixing board. If it’s the worship leader, he’s usually focused on microphones and/or monitors.

Then there’s the pastor, who’s most often interested in the solution that will get everybody else to stop bothering him.

So what’s the answer?

I go about solving this dilemma by looking at the number of people who can potentially benefit from each upgrade. With that in mind, what follows is a suggestion of how you can determine your next “best” upgrade.

First, look at what I call the “heart” of the system. That is, loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing. Not only are these usually the biggest ticket items (though the mixing console may compete), they’re also the items that in most cases will bring the most significant improvement to a system.

In surveying the heart of your sound system, first check out the loudspeakers to ensure that they’re working properly. Are there blown drivers? Hear any rattles or other strange noises?

Do some research to find out the coverage pattern of the loudspeakers, and map that coverage over your seating area. Is the coverage adequate or are there zones that are being missed? (You can also hear this by slowly walking through the coverage area with the system playing tracks.)

Continue your research and determine the frequency response of the loudspeakers. If they roll off at 180 Hz, it’s not likely that they’re producing the nice “thump” out of the kick drum or any of the deeper lows from the bass guitar.

Next, find out power handling of the loudspeakers and match that up with the power available from your amplifiers. If you don’t have enough “headroom” (available “extra” power), the system will always sound mushy and like it’s being “pushed.” (As in pushed too hard.)

Finally, give the signal processing a good look. If it consists of a number of analog devices (EQ, crossover, delay, etc.), it could be time to upgrade to a quality digital processing unit. Even better, have a new digital processor implemented by a qualified professional who knows how best to use it to maximize the performance of your loudspeakers.

And that leads me to an important point. If you find any of the above aspects lacking during your research, consider bringing in a qualified professional to help make the most of what you have.

While you may be able to address some of these aspects adequately, it’s not a game for amateurs. Quite often, the use of professional assistance, combined with a new component or two, can make all of the difference in the world while still fitting within the confines of a tight budget. And it’s almost always money well spent.

Once the “heart” of the system is taken care of, feel free to move on to mixing boards, monitors, microphones and other accessories.

I look at it this way: the best sounding microphone is only going to sound as good as the loudspeakers reinforcing it.

Biggest Facilities Failures

Often in life it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

Often in life it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

As related to a facility this can be so true!  Listed below are somethings that I have experienced that have made my visit somewhere less than pleasant.

While none of the items are cardinal sins they did make an impression, not a good one on me.

Dirty bathrooms

Okay I said that none of these were cardinal sins.  Yes, that is true but in my opinion dirty bathrooms come awful close.

I have written about and often talk about the need for bathroom ambassadors. It really is not that difficult to keep bathrooms clean and presentable.  Someone just has to care enough to make sure it gets done!

Strange odor/aroma

I am sure Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Febreze could do well if they marketed to churches.  I have run into or should I say experienced the strangest odors at some of the churches I have visited.  The scents have ranged from enticing but poorly timed to just plain disgusting.

The enticing, the smell of a chicken dinner being prepared in the kitchen during the message had me so hungry that I couldn’t wait for the service to be over as I was literally drooling.  The bad, the smell of raw sewage in a bathroom where the floor looked like the drain had been backed up for weeks and the crusty state of the floor was giving evidence that it had just dried up.

Now if the sermon had been on the satisfying taste of good food and how God provides and blesses us with good things, the chicken dinner smell could have been a great illustration! Provided that we would get to partake of it after the service.

Inappropriate or outdated décor.

Through the years I have seen my share of well shall we say it, bizarre décor or too old to be retro finishing’s.  I know that interior design is a form of art and also very subjective.

So yes our tastes can differ, but I will say that when done well and appropriate there is a wide range of acceptable interior designs.  One strange case that I experienced recently was not even church related.

A new restaurant that opened in our town I am sure took its decorating and design cues from the Apple Store. Yes, white, clean, really clinical looking works great for the Apple Store, I will attest to the fact that it does not work that well for a restaurant.  There is something unsettling eating food in a place that is lit up and feels like a surgical room.

Crappy coffee…area

Like the bathroom, this example really bothers me.  Why can’t someone be the coffee ambassador and simply make sure the counters are wiped clean of coffee drips and spills? It’s also important to make sure the cream and sugar containers are filled. Also, while they are at it, could the outside of the coffee pot and handle be clean and dry?

One more thing, not facility related, why does church coffee also have to taste so crappy? There are plenty of hearty coffee roasts to choose from. Why not make your morning cup-of-joe one that’s eagerly anticipated?

Bad signage

Why is signage so difficult?  Just put it in a visible area, keep it simple and use common names for things.

When we use names like narthex, gathering area, the commons… how is someone not familiar with church supposed to know what that is?  Why not just call it the Lobby?  The Sanctuary? The Gym?

KEEP IT SIMPLE…I suppose one good thing about bad signage is I may not be able to locate the bathrooms, which could save me from a potentially stomach-turning experience.

As I said at the start, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

Plus, in this case the little things come with a little price tag. It doesn’t cost anything additional to keep the bathroom tidy, keep the coffee area clean or freshen up the smell.  Additionally, décor updates and signage can be done well on a very modest budget.

As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

What Makes A Great Church Building?

In the pursuit of worthy facility, what elements must come together to create a sacred space?

There are some facets that go into what makes a church building great and they all intertwined together.

It’s really the collision of form and function in an explosive manner that brings greatness.

Form can be looked at and described in many ways.  I would prefer to call it design rather than form.  Design in our modern vocabulary congers up ideas like beauty, inspiration and engagement.

Good design actually also includes function.

If we look at the iPhone most people would give it compliments on its design.  They would say, its sleek, classy, beautiful and it works great.

Shouldn’t our church facilities be referred to in the same fashion?

In my home town is Hope College, on its campus sits Dimnent Chapel.

The beautiful Gothic structure was completed in 1929. The construction cost was $404,000 (about $5.6 million in 2016 dollars).

At the front of the 1150 seat chapel is the beautiful rose window, a gift from the Hope College Class of 1916 and constructed at a cost of $4,000, it contains three rows of petals.  When the sun shines thru this magnificent work of art it is absolutely breathtaking. The tall walls and beautiful wood work gives you a feeling of awe and wonder as you sit inside and gaze around the structure.

There are two organs in the chapel, a four-manual Skinner organ in the chancel and a Dutch classic tracker organ in the balcony, built by Pels and Van Leeuwen in the Netherlands and installed in 1971. The Skinner organ with its 2,932 pipes was installed in 1929. Both organs sound fabulous in the space.

Yearly the college does a Christmas Vespers service. The program of Christmas carols and anthems features more than 200 performers. The choir with minimal acoustic instrumentation along with the Skinner organ is a thing of sure beauty.

For me the Chapel as the locals call it is a great building.

It is engaging.

Just looking at it from the outside calls you to want to enter to see what the inside is like.  The soaring 108’ tower makes the approximately 175’ long by 60’ wide structure appears larger than life.  Once inside all of the elements I mentioned above, particularly the stained glass windows personally draw me through their beauty closer to my creator.

It is inspiring.

Just as it is engaging, drawing you in, its beauty inspires you.  The magnificence of the marble floors, the deep wood colors and colors splashed about by the sun penetrating the stained glass windows brings light and hope deep into my soul.

It’s functional.

Hosting events like a student lead chapel service that features modern music, an organ concert, a choral vespers service as well as bachelorette.  The building is well used and services multiple different types of events extremely well.  There have been modern elements and conveniences added to the building like Air conditioning, modern restrooms, a performance sound system along with production lighting and video screens.  But all of that has added to the function and comfort of the building without taking away from the beauty of its design.

Really what it boils down to is that the experience that you have attending an event there is enhanced as you walk up to the building and then as you participate in the event that takes place inside.

Today what are we doing in our worship spaces to bring design and beauty into the facility? Think of ways, like bringing in artwork or creatively using projection and lighting that you can use to bring beauty.

 

Forget the Greeter!

Hopefully your greeters are doing more than just being an obstacle to get around.

Forget the greeter, give me an advocate

I don’t know about you, but when I visit someplace new I rarely go alone.  I usually take a guide (someone who has been to the place before) or a friend that I can share the uncomfortableness that I feel when visiting new places.

There is something about being with someone you know, experiencing something new.  I also think there is something even better that happens when someone who already knows the territory takes your around.

Now, in general churches do a good job of greeting people.  You know the couple standing at the door wearing a name tag and a glued-on smile. They are eager to shake your hand and say welcome.

I have had the question on my mind, “Why do we just have greeters and not advocates?”  An advocate is someone who is on your side. They are there to help you succeed.

So what is the difference between a greeter and an advocate?

A greeter says hi, an advocate steps in and helps.

When you walk in the door, a greeter does just what the name says, they greet you.  One of the large chain superstores has greeters at the door.  At least in my area the greeters are nothing more than an obstruction to walk around as you enter the store.

Hopefully your greeters are doing more than just being an obstacle to get around.  A good greeter will smile, be courteous and give a warm welcome.

At the same chain store I have never heard a greeter add on to the welcome statement, “how can I help you?” Right there with that question a greeter now becomes an advocate, a person that is there to help.

So have your greeters add the simple question “how can I help you?” right after the hello.  Also the greeter (now advocate) should introduce themselves. You want to know the name of the person that is advocating for you.

A greeter points, an advocate takes you there.

Another store in my town has really worked at stepping up their customer service. Recently, I asked where I could find a light bulb.  The employee smiled and said, follow me.  WOW she didn’t just point me in a direction but actually was taking me there.

On the walk there she asked what kind of bulb I was looking for, she even added that she had just switched to LED lights and was saving over $20 a month on her electric bill.  As we walked down the aisle with the light bulbs she took me right to the location of the type of bulb I was looking for.  I have to admit I was impressed.

When someone walks in the door at your church and asks where the children’s area is, I bet your greeter dutifully points them in the right direction.  Let’s get them to be an advocate and walk the visitors to the children’s area and on the way explain how the check in system works and let them know how much the teachers love kids.

A greeter smiles, an advocate engages you

A good greeter will actually give you an authentic smile and a warm hand shake.  An advocate will not only do that but they will also look you in the eye, introduce themselves, ask a little about you and then assist you with whatever you need.

A greeter makes you feel welcome; an advocate makes you feel at home.

A good greeter who is genuine will make you feel welcome.  An advocate is unequally positioned to make you feel comfortable and at home.  Often its little things, like them asking where you live only to find out that your neighbors are best friends with the advocate.

Perhaps its finding out your kids have the same teacher at school, or it could be a number of other things.  The important thing is that there was a connection made, some common ground, friends or experience.  That is exactly what makes people feel comfortable and at home.

Your assignment.
Go fire your greeters and rehire and retrain them as advocates.  Advocates of every person who walks thru the door at your church.  If you do this, I think you will be surprised at how quickly new people will feel cared for and want to keep coming back.

What’s important to a worship leader?

According to worship leaders, what are the most important aspects of being a church sound operator?

I’ve been doing an informal survey on this topic, asking worship leaders for their views.

The answers have been surprising, at least to me. For example, to this point not one of them has mentioned that a sound operator should have musical talent. Nor have they brought up the value of having a critical ear when it comes to music. Continue reading “What’s important to a worship leader?”

Technical Upgrades: How and When

How and when to upgrade….

Over the past year the church I serve at has gone through a number of upgrades and expansion of the technical systems. Some of them were necessitated because of the growing ministry, some because of the age of the equipment. All of the upgrades were necessary and there are still more that are needed.

So how and in what order did we choose to upgrade what we did? Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation? Continue reading “Technical Upgrades: How and When”

When Our Tech World Is Turned Upside Down

Sometimes things can be going so well and then when something goes wrong. well…

Most of us who have been involved in church production have had at least one mistake or failure during a service (I have many), where you just want to disappear in the booth.

One of my most egregious mistakes took place a number of years ago. It was so significant that I still wear the scars from it.

Back in “the day”—when video projection was almost nonexistent because of the huge cost of projectors—I was serving on staff at a large church that used 35 millimeter slides for the visual presentation elements of the service. All of our worship songs, hymns and even the sermon notes were made into slides and projected on a large rear projection screen centered on the wall behind the worship platform (we didn’t dare call it a stage in those days).

Continue reading “When Our Tech World Is Turned Upside Down”

Church Etiquette For Parking Lots

 
Traffic flow can greatly influence how a ministry functions. Here are four keys to developing a parking lot plan to ensure a safe, timely and engaging welcome.

 

At an earlier point in my life I was on staff at a large church that at the time held 5 services on a Sunday. Three in the morning and two at night.

Particularly in the morning we had huge traffic flow issues.  If the first or second service went over in time by more than 5 minutes our parking lot would literally fall apart.

For that season our parking lot dictated a lot of our ministry, most notably the time element of ministry.

As I look back we did a number of good things to help minimize the problem, but it wasn’t until we expanded our sanctuary and parking area that we could really relax and not feel pressured to push people out right after the service was done.  I am sure this took a toll on the amount and quality of fellowship that normally occurred before and after the service.

Note that traffic flow and parking does not just impact a large church, but a church of any size.  How it is handled at every church leads to many perceptions that people form.

Why does parking and traffic flow matter?

When I visit different churches as I do 30 or so times a year, my first impression after seeing what the facility looks like is the parking lot and traffic lanes.

I usually have an immediate insight into a number of things about the church and its ministry based on what I see.  If the parking lot is full, I begin looking for clues as to how to navigate to find a spot to park.  If the lot is empty or sparsely filled I wonder if I am in the right place, or if the person that invited me inflated the number of people that attend on a given weekend.

Now I am going to make a bold statement.

Every church should have at least one parking attendant and yes they should be wearing a safety vest.

Why would I make such a statement?

Surveys say that the average church on a Sunday morning has 186 people in attendance. Additionally, 50 percent of church goers attend a church that falls in to the top 10 percent of churches based on size.

Another way of saying the previous statement is that ½ of all church goers attend a church that has attendance of 350 people or greater.

Using the figure of 2.5 people per car, that means that the average church has 75 cars in its parking lot on a Sunday morning.  That translates into 75 times parking attendants can share a smile, a warm welcome as well as help and instruction every week. For the top 10 percent of churches where ½ of all church attenders go, that first impression number is obviously a lot larger.

What does a well-trained parking lot attendant (or as I like to say, “parking greeter”) do?

  • 1. Depending on the size of the parking lot and number of parking greeters they are directing traffic. The goal is to keep traffic flowing, moving.
  • 2. A parking greeter helps keep the lot picked up and clean of debris. As traffic flow usually becomes an issue just before or just following the service a parking greeter has sometime before the people start arriving to canvass the parking lot and grounds and pick up litter blown in or left behind.
  • 3. Parking greeters provide a feeling of and actual safety and security.  I recommend that a parking greeter or two should remain present in the parking lot the entire morning.  This will ward off any opportunistic thief that might look for the easy score of the contents of an unlocked car.  It also wards off vandalism attempts and mischief of any kind.
  • 4. I believe that the most important reason that parking greeters are there is to do just that. Smile and greet people.  What an opportunity to make a first great impression on a guest.  Immediately upon arrival they are greeted and have connected with someone who can answer some basic questions that they may have.

Some additional things on parking and traffic flow.

If you are geographically located in the north, you should provide valet parking for those who need extra help and care during those months when the parking lot is covered in snow and ice.  I know a church where the Elders and Deacons run the valet service.  They view Valet parking as a way to connect and to keep watch on the elder community.  If they do not see someone on Sunday morning an Elder will give them a call just to make sure they are doing okay.

I have been at churches that have the Disney style golf carts that pick up people at or near where they park. I have also been to churches who’s parking lot only holds a handful of cars so most parking must take place on the street.

I contend that no matter the size of your church, you need a ministry of active and vibrant parking greeters.

 

What is Good Design and How Does It Impact Your Church Facility?

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building.

 

What is good design and how does it impact your church facility?

We live in what I have heard Daniel Pink describe as the dawn of the conceptual age.

As we moved long ago from an agrarian society to an industrial society to an information society, we are now making the transition to a conceptual society.

Pink in his decade old book A whole new mind talks about this transition subtitling it Why right-brainers will rule the future.

As most know the brain is dived in to two hemispheres and in generalities the left side is our logical side with the right side being our creative side.  Breaking this down a bit more, the left side thinking grasps details. Things like logic, sequence and analysis take place there. The right side takes care of our thinking related to the big picture it synthesis information, controls our emotions and gives us the big picture.

Pink outlines reasons for the rise of the right brain and its importance in the “conceptual age”. Part of what he argues is for the importance of design.

Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

Paola Antionelli design curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art in her TED talk, Treat Design As Artstates that her view of heaven as satisfied curiosity.  She has also been quoted regarding design, “good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something that the world did not know it was missing” I would add that good designers have the ability to synthesize current needs, issues and culture.

Good design will create something that never existed or it will have people interact and have a new behavior with it.  BMW’s Chris Bangle states: “we don’t make cars, we make moving works of art that express drivers love of quality”.  A car is not new, but Bangle sees design as providing a new way for people to interact and experience a car.  Design dives into our emotional response to an object or what is around us.

The Tabernacle was a good example of God’s design and laid out in detail in the book of exodus. It provides us with some insight into design:

1) The tabernacle was first and foremost a very functional facility.  
The tabernacle was designed to be used, each of the Tabernacle had materials used based on function and purpose. It also solved the problem of a holy God dwelling in the midst of a sinful people.

2) It displayed wealth and beauty.  
The Tabernacle was a work of art.

It was inspiring and directed people’s thoughts and emotions to connect with God.

3) The building of it involved all of the people.
Designed for use by all people. It was also build by the very skilled craftsman who would worship there.

4) It reveals the character of God. 
The excellence of the tabernacle, both in its materials and its workmanship, is a reflection of God.

5) While composed of various elements, it displays the unity of all, in design, function, and purpose.
The design was complete, it was a sum of parts that all came together to produce a hole that was greater than the sum.

Through the Tabernacle God reveals that design is not just about objects, art, function or beauty.  It is about all of them with an emphasis on the behavior that these elements produced.

In today’s contemporary church I see a lot of emphasis on stage design.

Stage design being band layout, sets, projection or video elements and lighting.  A large number of new churches that have been built in the last decade or are under construction are what I would call the black box sanctuary.

If you have been to a production at a black box theater you know exactly what I am referring to.

Black stage walls black ceiling black covering on the stage floor. Black box is great because you can create an infinite number of “looks” by using set pieces. A good set designer can take this “blank canvas” and turn it into whatever scene or look the designer desires.

For some churches stage design is visited every week and different elements are used to give a new or different look every Sunday.

Others do thematic stage design that is built around the current message series that is going on. Some do 4 sets a year, generally built around the four seasons in nature.

Not all churches are black boxes and thus have elements that already exist and need to either be covered or designed into the new look.  www.churchstagedesignideas.com is a great place to get ideas and to learn about design techniques.

Design not only applies to the stage in the sanctuary it applies to the entire facility.  From traffic flow in the parking lot, the signage that directs you into the building to the artwork on the walls.  Design applies to almost every element.

The late Steve Jobs said “Design is not just what is looks like and feels like, design is how it works” I believe that good design also grabs our emotions and drives our behavior in how we interact with it.

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building. After all, Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

 

The Art and Science of Audio

Just what is the real art and science of great audio? The author narrows the discussion down to a one-word solution.
One of my favorite sayings: “Audio is an art that everyone thinks is a science,  and audio is a science that everyone thinks is an art.”

There’s no doubt that delivering an accurate (not to mention good-sounding) mix without missed cues is the right blend of both art and science.

Knowing the science helps in setting up the mix and making sure that everything is routed properly and the right things plugged in to the right parts of the system.

Knowing the art
helps to creatively bring all of the various sounds from the instruments and singers together to deliver a pleasing sound without any distractions.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast…

I love the title of the book written by audio’s beloved patriarchs, Don and Carolyn Davis, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death.

If that title were true, I would not be here writing this, and the unfortunate thing is that I would be dead from self-inflicted wounds!  Over the years I’ve found that I can usually attribute the reason for the bad sound that I’ve mixed to one word: anticipation.

On the science side, anticipation means:

1) Being generally prepared, having the right tools, and being aware of what is going on at the event.
2) Check over the system to make sure everything is working.
3) Check all the inputs to make sure they are working and patched correctly.
4) Visually reviewing the board, making sure things are routed were they are supposed to be, the channel EQs are on and aren’t set too crazy, etc.
5) Having a backup emergency microphone on stage that everyone knows to go to if his/her particular mic fails.

And on the art side of things:

1) Thinking ahead, planning to boost the levels for solos.
2) Keeping my eyes on the stage to make sure mics are turned on ahead of people speaking.
3) Having my headphones handy so I can pfl channels to check anything, and quickly.

4) Being in tune with that is going on so I can react quickly to any changes that occur.
5) Having my cue sheet or order of service right next to me and then read ahead and mentally prepare for the next event on the sheet.
6) Listening to the worship songs ahead of time to hear what the original recordings sound like.
7) Knowing where the backup emergency mic is patched and being prepared to use it for any surprise events (unplanned testimony) or mic failures.

Obviously anticipation alone doesn’t guarantee a great mix – you still need to have the fundamentals down. But it does greatly increase the potential of having an error-free service or event.

So there you have it. The real art of audio, or, I mean the real science of audio, is… well, in both cases, it’s anticipation.