The Path To Worship Mix Success

A great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs…

After mixing sound at worship services for more than three decades, and teaching dozens of others along the way, I’ve formulated these “10 steps to worship mix success” that have proven effective.

None of this is rocket surgery or brain science (or vice versa), but rather, a straightforward playbook that if followed will produce the results that you and other members of the tech team are seeking to deliver at every service.

And note that a lot of what I’ll be discussing is not about hands-on mixing. That’s because a great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs.

Here we go…

1) Be prepared.  Being prepared means “being all there,” ready to engage and do our best. Sound checks and rehearsals can be tedious, but they present us with the opportunity to get off to the right start.

For example, it’s a great time to make sure all tools and “stuff” are available and accessible, right down to the board tape to label the console. And if you know you’re going to get thirsty, have a bottle of water handy ahead of time. Continue reading “The Path To Worship Mix Success”

Going With What You Know When The Pressure’s On

Several years ago, I was invited to be a presenter at an audio industry trade show, and while there, I greatly enjoyed meeting some fellow presenters.

In fact, after the convention center hall closed, eight of us audio “geeks” went to enjoy dinner together, and it turned out to be a fun—and instructive—evening on many levels.

At one point, as we were seated around the table, someone in the group posed this hypothetical question: “If you got a call to do an event, had to be there in an hour, and weren’t told much of anything about the performers or performance, which microphones would you bring?”

This was quickly followed up with: “And oh, by the way, you’re limited to three models. Any manufacturer, but only three different models.” Continue reading “Going With What You Know When The Pressure’s On”

Worship Leaders On Important Traits Of Sound Operators

Mix skills and system knowledge can be undermined…

 

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.

Maybe it’s my own biases, but I thought these factors would at least rate a mention.

Here’s another one that hasn’t come up: knowing how to properly operate the equipment and system.

Perhaps the worship leaders I’ve surveyed are assuming that a sound person should already have these skills, and therefore haven’t mentioned them.

Further answers I’ve received in the survey—although they’re not at the top of the list—include the ability to mix well, keep volume under control, and function as “an extension of the worship team.”

Regardless, the number one answer I’ve received? Attentiveness. As in paying attention, or focus.

Number two? Attitude. As in always having a good one.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, because it seems—to me—that both attentiveness and attitude should be givens.

If you’re helping with ministry (providing sound in this case), bringing a good attitude should be a no-brainer, and because in some ways the sound operator can “silence” the word of God being preached, you’d better be paying attention!

Yet consider these anecdotes…

One worship leader told me the story of a volunteer sound operator who’s been serving for 18 years, and is a great guy, easy to work with. However, this fellow has a consistent flaw: a soloist can walk out of the choir, go to center stage, stand behind the mic for several seconds, and still, the mic isn’t turned up until the third or fourth word of the solo. That’s definitely an attentiveness problem…

Another leader told me that one of his sound operators is so gruff that the worship team dare not ask him for anything. The result is that on any given Sunday, there might be no vocals in the monitors, or a mic is not provided for a performer, and so on—and yet no one speaks up because they’re afraid of getting their heads bitten off. Talk about an attitude problem…

These two stories reveal even further problems. In the first case, the sound operator should be asked—kindly—if he might not better serve by volunteering his time elsewhere, In the second case, someone with such a nasty disposition should be asked—kindly—to modify his behavior, and if that doesn’t work, he should be asked—kindly—to step down.

Let me sum it up this way. If you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, and there’s no feedback or missed cues, you’d likely think (and would be right) that it’s a successful event, at least from a sound reinforcement point of view. But if you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, but there are occasional squeals of feedback and some dropped cues, you’d likely be at least somewhat disappointed.

The moral of the story: sound operators should be able to mix musically and operate their equipment/systems competently, but these worship leaders make a very persuasive point: it all can be negated by lack of proper attention and bringing the right attitude to the gig.

A Word To The Wise When Thinking DIY

I’ve seen and heard some really scary things done with a “do it yourself” AV systems approach

Often when I’m working with churches (particularly smaller congregations), the issue of installing things themselves comes up. It usually revolves around the church purchasing the equipment (hopefully from me – on occasions churches have taken a design I’ve done and then gone online and purchased all of the equipment to install, and then to top it off they call me and ask for advice when it doesn’t work) and then pulling the cables, hanging the loudspeakers and hooking it all up themselves.

I’m all for having volunteers working alongside a qualified contractor. By doing a project in this fashion, the volunteers not only learn a lot about the system, they also get some real “skin in the game” and thus some ownership.

However, based on a lot of years of experience, I’m not a fan of a church doing an installation without the assistance of a professional. Under this scenario I’ve seen and heard some really scary things.

Recently I was at a venue where the ownership had obviously decided to try and save some money on the design and installation of a sound system. It has two loudspeakers that must have been purchased from the local music store – they were a portable design with handles for lugging them around.

To install these loudspeakers, someone came up with the great (not!) idea of throwing a tow strap over a beam and tying each end of the strap to the handles (see the photo above).

In a way, it’s somewhat amusing, but it’s also disturbing and more than a little frightening, because these speakers are hanging 20 feet above an area that people travel heavily, thus creating a huge safety issue. A qualified contractor would never install anything in a fashion that would resemble these hanging weights ready to fall.

Further, the coverage is awful. The loudspeakers are almost 80 feet apart, and as I walked through the coverage, I also determined that they must have a 40-degree horizontal coverage pattern (as I traveled into coverage, then out of coverage, then back into coverage…).

And the sound coming out of these loudspeakers resembles a total “frown face” EQ setting – harsh midrange and not much else.

So, how can you make a DIY successful rather than something resembling this example?

1) Don’t do any part of an installation that you’re not 100 percent confident that you can do correctly. This seems rather obvious, but a lot of folks do not seem to be able to correctly determine if they are competent enough or not.

2) Pay for and use the advice and instruction from a professional. Don’t just try to pilfer information – be up front with them and ask them to provide you with a price to consult you on the project. Note not all contractors will be willing to help with advice only because they’re not used to doing business this way.

And perhaps more importantly, they may be (rightfully) concerned about the liability issues involved by dispensing advice on how to hand loudspeakers. My suggestion is that any part of an installation that could potentially lead to a safety issue should be left for a professional to do.

3) Select a qualified professional that will act as a partner. Choose a contractor that will work with you in dividing the tasks and responsibilities for the project. For example, the volunteers at a church could pull in all of the cable, with the contractor doing testing and termination.

Saving money and having some ownership in the installation of the system is a good thing, just make sure that you can competently (and safely) perform all of the tasks that you set out to do.

 

Getting A Handle On Church System Maintenance, Upgrades & Lifecycles

Get people on board, start the discussion early and have a plan.

Do you replace production/system equipment based on it being worn out or for new features and functionality?

When we get a new system or new piece of gear, often the last thing on our minds is repairs or the life cycle of the system.

In my view, churches are getting better at understanding professional A/V systems. I find that in general the market is more aware of the cost versus the expectation of the system, along with the willingness to spend the dollars to get it right (or at least as right as they can afford). I’m grateful for the improvement.

However an area where I see little or no improvement is in operation, maintenance and lifecycle replacement expectations.

It’s not uncommon for a church to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a great sound system and then never think about who is going to operate it, and just as importantly, who is going to be responsible for maintaining it. In fact, too often I see churches balk when one of the sound techs asks for a few hundred dollars to attend a tech training conference.

Another factor is the short(er) lifecycle of today’s equipment I don’t mean that stuff fails sooner; it’s more that technology keeps surpassing itself.

The church that I serve has been in a new sanctuary for only seven years. When the technical systems were designed and installed, digital consoles were in the early (and generally pricey) stage. HD video was being discussed but not widely adopted. Line arrays for permanent installations had just recently come into fashion.

All that said, my church has a great-sounding left-center-right main loudspeaker system, a premium 56-channel analog console, and a 12 x 16 rear-projection system that works well. Even so, we’ve started discussions on replacing some of our equipment. (Well, actually “repurposing” is more accurate, because the current stuff will be utilized elsewhere in the church.)

Part of the push to replace is based on age. The console is starting to have some minor issues (although nothing yet that can’t easily be repaired). But in reality, the big push is based on changes in both technology and expectations. We’ve started hosting concerts in the space, and the main system has a hard time getting over 100 dBA.

So with technology moving so quickly, what should you expect when purchasing a new system?

One.) Don’t expect it to perform at its best without having qualified and trained personnel operating it.

Two.) Do expect it deteriorate without regular maintenance. I suggest having systems checked annually by a professional contractor, even if there are not any apparent problems.

Three.) Don’t expect it to last forever. Be realistic about the life expectancy of the equipment, and more importantly, recognize that the technology in most cases will become obsolete before it fails. I’ve read that the average life expectancy of an A/V system is as little as three to five years (especially when you’re talking about video projectors).

Four.)
Do expect to need to educate the leadership at your church as to how and why the technology needs to be updated. Actually, this is an activity that needs to happen on a consistent basis – no one likes to be surprised with a big ticket purchase that was not anticipated.

How can you go about it?

1) Upgrade as you go, a piece or two at a time. This can be a great way to keep a system current. As new, beneficial technology becomes available, cycle out the older stuff.

For example, the system is working fine and sounds good, but the mixing console is coming up on 10 years old. So it could be replaced with a newer model, and at the same time, you can be planning similar transitions for loudspeakers, amplifiers and so on.

The main problem I see with this approach is that if the leader of the technical area is not the same person for a number of years, the upgrade process can suffer from lack of consistency.

2) Take the “big leap” and do an overhaul every 7 to 10 years. I’m currently working with a large church on a significant upgrade that has taken almost five years to come to fruition. Over that time span, the design has changed and the cost estimate has increased, but what has stayed consistent is the accumulation of money to do the project.

The key thing in making a significant upgrade happen is to have a vision, backed by a concrete plan to have the money available to do it. By outlining the project at the outset and then accruing a bite-sized chunk of the cost, year after year, the church has been able to do steadily accomplish its vision without having to do the typical fund raising, committee meetings and deacon approval.

To me, both ways work – it’s just very important that the discussion gets started early and that people are onboard in their commitment to technical system excellence.

Insuring Consistency From Service To Service

The benefit of keeping everything in its place and in working order

Talking with worship technicians and worship leaders, I often hear the complaint that from week to week, the quality of Sunday morning services varies.

Some of this stems from training, such as when there’s a problem and the tech doesn’t know how to fix it. Some of it is skill; for example, some sound engineers just have a better ear and command of the equipment than others.

The skill level of musicians may also vary, usually due to lack of experience and thus confidence. When they know a song, no problem, but when they’re unsure, they hold back and can become tentative.

But in my experience, there’s another primary contributor to the problem of inconsistency: equipment status and organization.

Example: It’s five minutes before the start of the service, and the sound engineer is sweating bullets, being told to set up for an additional four musicians that the worship leader hadn’t mentioned until just now. No time for sound check, no time for even a simple line check for these new players.

The mics and direct boxes are quickly located, plugged in, and positioned, and then the engineer high-tails it to the sound booth in time for the start of the service.

Rough estimates are made requiring the input gain and monitor levels, a quick prayer murmured, and the channels are unmuted for the opening song.

Then, and of course, “it” happens: that infamous bzzzzzzzz that makes everyone’s hair stand on end!

This particular time, the problem is the additional bass player’s direct box. Time for a split decision: mute the channel or quickly get to the stage to check find the cause, likely the line cord on the bass, or the direct box is faulty (or set wrong), or the direct box cable is bad, or…?!?

With so many potential trouble spots, and so much else going on during the service, the choice is likely going to be to mute the channel and be comforted by the fact that at least some of the sound coming from the bass rig is still being heard in the house, so the player’s efforts aren’t completely wasted.

Was this entire situation preventable? Of course! And, as usual, it’s the simple things that matter most.

There are at least five things that could and should have been done prior to this “sweat and bzzzzzz” fest:

1) Basic maintenance. All cables and cords need to be checked on a monthly basis. In addition, these should be treated properly (wrapped correctly) and organized (hung in a single, logical location). I recommend a peg board, where cables are sorted by type and length. This way, they can be easily found, even in pressure situation, and will work correctly.

There should be at least two spare cables for each variety of cables (and connectors) being used.

2) Organization. Staying with audio, it’s vital to know exactly how many inputs, and what type, will be required for each and every service. And all of these must be set up and tested ahead of time.

3) Communication. Techs should regularly interface with the worship leader and never be shy about asking if anything new or unusual is coming up. Do this early, and as often as necessary. It beats being surprised, and, it also beats having things go wrong on Sunday.

Still, last-minute stuff can and will happen. Working sound at my church recently, I noticed on the worship order that a missions report had been scheduled, and it would be delivered by someone we weren’t outfitted with a headset/lavalier mic. This was 10 minutes before the service.

So I walked up to the stage and quickly arranged for one of the vocalists, at the appropriate time, to hand off her vocal mic to the person delivering the report, and then to collect it when he was done. Nothing genius, but a last-minute solution that worked smoothly and well. When the time came, I was ready to quickly adjust that particular mic channel to adjust for the new person’s particular voice and mic handling.

4) Plan ahead, and always have a “plan B.” Normally the above scenario would not have been an issue because we always keep a spare “just in case” handheld mic on a stand on the stage (discretely out of the way). But at this particular point in the service, it was already going to be used by someone else on the worship team.

5) Have a party! (You didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Once every few months or so,  the entire tech team should get together to go through all of the equipment, making sure it’s all there, working properly, and organized. It really helps to make this a fun, festive event, with pizza and cold drinks and some time for everyone to “just hang.”

Keep these five things in mind, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in consistency from service to service.

 

How Loud is Too Loud?

Your congregation’s perception of what is “too loud” during your services can be heavily influenced by quality of mix, sound system, acoustics and musical dynamics.

Sitting in the tech booth during a service on a recent Sunday, I had an “a-ha” moment. Not a big one, but still a good lesson.

We had traded worship bands for the day with our sister church. Our band was playing at their place, and vice versa.

One of our front of house people, Justin, traveled with the band to do the mixing. Just as our service began, I received a text from Justin that simply said, “Running a service at 85 dBA. A new record!” I glanced over at the Smaart app running on my iPad, and our levels were hovering around 88 dBA.

This was during a mellow song; moments later we were doing 90 to 95 dBA. Just then, Justin texted me again: “Update. I was able to get it to 80 dBA. It seems to have pleased the masses.”

This “conversation” (via text) got me thinking about the “how loud is too loud” conversation that’s a constant among church tech folks.

I realized this:

1) Since we’ve installed a new loudspeaker system and acoustical treatment, we’ve been running a bit louder yet haven’t received a single complaint (or for that matter, even a “suggestion” to turn it down).

2) Dynamics really do play into perceived level.

We all know that if the sound is pleasing, we tolerate more level. Think of your morning alarm clock at 90 dBA versus your favorite song on the car radio at 90 dBA—it’s a BIG difference in how you react to those sounds.

Watching as our meter hit 97 dBA, I thought “wow, it just doesn’t seem that loud.” Clearly, it was a combination of a good mix, excellent system, and the acoustical tightness of the room. (Lends credence to getting the the best system you can and mixing it loud!)

But the “a-ha” moment occurred when the band played a familiar song in a very different way. It usually starts out loud with a big guitar riff and big drums. However, this band began it with acoustic guitar only. I glanced at the meter and it read 72 dBA, and the sound was good and the level “felt” appropriate.

Then without warning came a huge downbeat, with everyone hitting it hard and then taking off. But the meter read just 86 dBA. What?! It had to be wrong, because it sure sounded like 92 to 95 dB.

The answer is obvious, however. The contrast was so great that the perceived change in volume was greater than the actual change. Kind of like when you walk out of a dark space directly into sunlight—once your eyes adjust, it’s not usually painfully bright.

The band used this type of dynamic very effectively throughout the service, bringing it way down for the quiet parts and then jumping on louder passages. They were quite skilled at it, and the new system was able to reproduce it very well.

When things got quiet, it still sounded full and rich, and when things got louder, the system responded accurately and without compressing or distorting. I watched the front of house mixer, Trevor, keep his right hand on the control group that we call program (basically everything but vocals). He wasn’t shy about riding the control group to also help accentuate the band’s change in dynamics.

So the lesson is clear: give dynamics more credence to add power and emotion to the mix.

I realize these observations aren’t earth shattering, but it’s a valuable reminder to mix to the appropriate level for the sound system. Don’t push it if the system can’t handle it. Also make sure that the system has enough headroom so that it can respond to these types of changes in level.

It’s also vital for us to bear in mind how we can best help accentuate the dynamics that a band is already producing on stage, to take advantage of that while resisting the temptation to overmix and overprocess.

Loud where it should be, soft where it should be—use the dynamics to make it all the more powerful.

 

Church Construction: Should You Build Your Field of Dreams?

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”

It is easy and desirous for some to grab on to the simple thought, “all that is needed for church growth is a new or bigger building.”  This thinking is in stark contrast to the reality that a building does not equal building the church.

It’s also easy to get caught in the trap that a new building or building project will solve problems, help unify the congregation, increase giving, or attract new people.

Let’s debunk some of that wrong thinking surrounding church facility construction


There are some really good questions to ask yourself and your congregation before you embark on a building campaign.


1. Do you have a large debt on your current facility?

If you are already deep in debt it would not be wise to saddle additional debt and thus strain on your ministry.  This may seem like common sense, but it is amazing how uncommon common sense is. The added debt payments will only take away from investing into areas that can help the ministry grow.

2. Do you expect a new building to make a “statement” in your community?

This really smacks of egotism. If you think that having the coolest or newest building in town is going to help your church grow, you are unfortunately in line for a serious let down.  I have seen wonderful growing churches meeting in the humblest of places.  I have also seen soaring beautiful churches with 90% of the seats empty on a Sunday.

3. Do you need to increase membership to pay for the increased debt of a new facility?
This is really putting your faith into the “if you build it they will come philosophy.”  What happens if they don’t come? Do you default on the loan?  To me putting your faith in increased membership to pay for a building project is putting your faith in the wrong place.

4. Do you expect a new building to cause your congregation to be more evangelical and outreach driven?

Yes, a new building is a great talking point and it can be a start in getting people to ask others to visit your church. However, without a culture of evangelism this will be very short lived.  Once the building has been open for a little while your congregation will fall back in the old habits and will not continue to invite people.

5. Do you need a building to allow your whole church to meet at one time?

This is a great question that is not asked enough.  A church I am familiar with was about to embark on a multi-million-dollar expansion to the children’s area because of crowded conditions.  At the same time, they happened to send out a survey to the congregation. One of the questions on the survey was “what service time do you prefer?”

The church found out on the survey that parents with children were about evenly split on wanting an earlier service versus a later one.  At that point the decision became why don’t we offer two service times and thus split the children’s attendance and negate the need to build.  As a side note.  Two years later they ended up building because both services had grown so much that they now needed the space to accommodate the number of children in both services.

6. Do you expect a new building will entice your congregation to give more generously?

You might get a spike in additional giving towards a building project.  However, if you had another area like missions that was highlighted, you could also get the same spike in giving.

The real danger here is again putting faith into “if you will build it they will come, or in this case give”

Some final thoughts, owning a building does not make you a church, or even a better one.  What makes a church are the people in whatever setting God has placed them.  Also, don’t fall into the trap thinking that if you would build that problems will go away.  If anything the added financial and organizational stress is only going to exacerbate problems that already exist.

So before embarking on building your field of dreams, make sure that you are grounded in truth and are truly following God’s will for your congregation and not just man’s dreams.

 

Practice for Sound Techs: 3 Best Multitrack Recorders for Church

How does your audio person rehearse? Can a sound tech practice their craft? The answer is yes, and here are several of the best options in today’s digital multi-track recorders.

How does your sound tech practice?

Your vocalists practice, your guitar player practices, your drummer well… he may practice, but how does your sound guy or lady, practice?

Assuming that you have a 5-piece band – there are at least 15 hours of practice that the entire band has put in.  This is assuming a 2-hour band rehearsal and that each musician practiced 1 hour on their own during the week.

I believe that is an extremely conservative estimate. Those 15+ hours can be wasted by a bad mix during the worship service.

So how does your sound guy practice?

Some would argue that in the above scenario, the sound guy did get in 2 hourw of practice with the band.

But really was it practice?

Sure, the sound guy was able to mess with the faders, play with some eq, maybe dial in a little compression.

More than likely, this was mixed with taking care of the band’s needs.  It was also pretty fragmented.  He could have been in the middle of trying to set the gate on the kick drum and the band stops.

A friend of mine jokingly refers to the stop button.  You are right in the middle of dialing in something and the band stops and leaves your hanging.  So, what is the solution?

Enter Virtual sound check.

Record, Practice, Perfect your mix.

Today most digital boards have a multitrack digital out.  The most common form is USB.

With inexpensive, or free software, you can record 32 or more tracks of live audio to a computer.  Waves Tracks Live, for example, offers a free version that is fully functional (you can pay $99 and get phone support and priority updates).

Once you have recorded the band, then you can flip the inputs on your console to digital in and playback the multi-track recording.

It is just like the band is there live.

Now you can take your time, mute everything but the kick drum, and really hear the changes that your compression settings are making on that input.

You can also replay a section as many times as you would like and listen to how it sounds as you change your settings.  You can do this with all of the channels.

You can turn everything back on and play with your overall mix.

No more having the musicians wait around or play individually as you tweak the sound.

There are also devices on the market that are stand alone, purpose-built.  They do not need a computer to operate and you do not have to mess with any software. The advantage of a stand-alone device is that you have little to no set up and no computer to lug around.

There are many multitrack recorders that can do a virtual sound check.

The following are three of the best fit units for the worship market:

  • JoeCo has Blackbox
  • Cymatic has Utrack 32
  • NemoSyn has Ndrive

JoeCo blackbox comes in 3 flavors, Analog, Madi and Dante. 
You hook up a hard drive to the usb on the blackbox and you can record full uncompressed wav files. Physically a single rack mount unit, the Black box is geared towards the professional user and requires an interface if you only have usb out on your console.

Being rack mounted It is the most “pro version” and is great if you are on tour and want to capture audio from the show.  Your recording length in limited by the hard drive size that you connect to it.  Cost for the Madi version $3995,00 plus hard drive http://www.joeco.co.uk/BBR_models.html

The Utrack 32 by Cymatic is a purpose built card that fits in to the popular Behringer X32 digital mixing console. 
Once inserted in to the board you simply hook up a usb hard drive, download the app, connect the Ethernet port on the card to a wireless network and then you the app to control the recording and playback of your files. Cost $499.00 plus hard drive http://cymaticaudio.com/products/recorders-players/utrack-x32

Nemosyn has the Ndrive a portable usb recorded that can connect to any mixer that has a usb multitrack out. 
(Behringer, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Allen and heath and others have mixers with usb connectivity for multi-track).  There is a large record button, a large play button and a touch screen to control playback and recording.  The unit records to an onboard SD- card.  Nemosyn ships the Ndrive with a 64 gig SD card.  Cost $599.00 (includes everything needed) www.nemosyn.com

Virtual sound check is the by far the best tool a sound guy can have to hone his craft.  One of the really beautiful things is that now the sound guy and worship leader can sit together and work on the mix together.

It is well worth the investment; with practice you can perfect your mix!

 

 

Sound System Upgrade From Good Enough To Great

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

I’d like to share two experiences, unrelated on the surface, that really got me thinking.

The first happened at a church that was talking with me about upgrading their sound system.

If you’ve ever been through the process of updating a system, be it sound, lighting or video, you know it’s a chore—or actually, a set of chores.
There’s the pursuit of determining what’s needed, soliciting proposals, selecting a proposal, getting the church/committee to sign off on it, overseeing the install of the new components, and then figuring out how to operate them.

I could talk at length about any one of the steps, but based on my recent experience, let’s start with a question (actually two): Why upgrade, and what are the expectations?

My meeting was with the head sound tech (volunteer) and the worship leader. We were primarily focused on switching to a new digital console and main loudspeakers. The existing stuff is almost twenty-years-old, still works fine and sounds pretty good (twenty years ago it would have been considered a near-premium system), but it is showing increasing signs of age.

As we talked the sound tech made a statement that I hear way too often. Paraphrasing it, he said, “We’re not looking for something excellent, or top of the line, but more middle of the road.”

Every time I encounter statements along these lines, I want to reply, “Sorry, I’m not the guy for you. Please see one of my competitors because they have the whole ‘doesn’t suck too bad’ thing nailed down.”

Of course, what I really say is “Well, let’s see what we can come up with” and then I start questioning them about their goals and needs, working to steer them to the best solution for the budget they have available. And if they don’t have a budget, I gently push them to establish a reasonable one.

My question: Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road?

My own experiences, both as a church member and as an A/V pro, have shown me that most/all churches striving for excellence are growing, while the ones doing the “mediocrity thing” are stagnant or shrinking.

The specific church I’m discussing here did its upgrade 20 years ago in an excellent fashion. They invested in the best they could afford at the time. (I remember it because I was involved with the project.) The minister of music (as we referred to them in those days) solicited a couple of proposals. It was a growing church, the place was pretty full, and he laid out the system needs while stressing that he wanted top quality. “I want these speakers to be hanging here 20 years from now,” he said, prophetically.

My proposal sought to meet his challenge. My competitor tried to go the middle of the road route. Of course, the minister of music did not want to settle for that.

A couple of years after we did the install, he said to me. “I never thought we’d get to use your company because you’re known as the provider of ‘Cadillac’ systems, but it turned out that you were less the 15 percent more than your competitor—and we knew with you that we would get something that would serve us well and stand the test of time.”

With that context and memory in mind, I move to my second more recent experience, where I was working front of house at a seminar at a mid-sized church. It was a very simple event, a headset mic and a handheld mic. Doing EQ on a mid-level console (only one band of sweepable EQ), I listened closely to how the system sounded. It was “just OK,” and there really wasn’t anything else I could do to make it better.

During the event, a church member who serves on the sound team stopped in to pick something up, and in passing he said, “Keep your hand on the fader—every once in a while the system just doubles in volume for no real reason, and if you don’t catch it the feedback is painful.”

Nice!

So now as I paid much more attention to the board, keeping my finger on the fader, I also began mentally adding up the cost of the system.

My conclusion was that for maybe 10 percent or so more investment, the church could have purchased far better equipment. Sound quality would be higher, and more than likely, they wouldn’t be having issues just five years after the installation.

It really does seem that with most things in life, it’s that extra 10 percent that takes things from good to great.

Something we all need to keep in mind when we’re thinking about system upgrades, because it can very much pay off in the long run.