Inexpensive Ways to Improve Your Church’s Sound System
Sometimes small improvements add up to a big improvement and eliminate the need for a big spend.
It may be time to start looking at how our systems – specifically audio – can be improved this year. Certainly big-ticket items like new PA’s (power amplifiers), new consoles or new speaker arrays are nice, but often times we have to make incremental improvements. These small improvements add up to a big improvement and sometimes negate the need for a big spend, and the ‘break’ between Christmas and Easter can be a good time to work on these projects. NOTE: Easter is early this year, so be aware when scheduling big projects!
Below is a non-exhaustive list of five things you can do this year—without breaking the bank—that will improve your sound.
Test And Repair Bad Speaker Components: Blown or torn drivers can certainly impact the sound in a room, and not in a good way. It may take the better part of a day to diagnose the faulty drivers, and then another half day to replace them, but once done, you can actually get full-range sound again at a fraction of the cost.
If you are uncomfortable doing this or are unsure, contact a local dealer. This is a fairly simple process for them, and will likely lead to either a thumbs up or a list of new components to replace (and by components, I mean drivers, not an entirely new PA). Replacing the HF drivers in a system can have a great impact on the sound, and it’s not that expensive.
A test like this can have other benefits. Something such as an incorrect processor installation can be discovered and corrected, leaded to a PA that sounds brand new.
Get Your System Tuned: Once your speakers are all producing full-range sound again, it’s a good time to have the system tuned. A lot of people refer to this as EQ’ing the room, but it’s really not. You don’t EQ a room, you EQ a PA to work well in the room. If you feel competent with using a measurement system, you can do this yourself. If not, or if time is an issue, this shouldn’t be a huge expense with a lot of benefit.
Often times, people who don’t really know what they are doing will try to “improve” on the sound of a PA by adjusting the system’s EQ. “Smiley faces”, “fish” and other strange patterns on graphic EQs will rarely, if ever, sound good. Having someone come in to take measurements, set delays and EQ will often make a less than ideal PA sound decent again.
Once the PA is properly aligned and tuned, lock the processor or EQ either in software or by using vented security covers on the rack. At the very least, the settings should be documented. Just put them somewhere safe—and where at least one other person knows where they are.
Upgrade the Mic Package: Microphones are mechanical, and like all things mechanical, they can wear out. They are also dropped and abused in other ways over time. If you are using really old, beat up mic’s every week, changing them out is a cost-effective way to improve sound. Sometimes, it’s a matter of matching a mic to the source; a better fit for a vocal is a great example. Other times, you may be using a mic on a source because you had it available, not because it was the best choice. Finding the right kick drum mic for your drum kit, PA, room and sound can make a big difference.
Outfitting your stage with all-new mic’s might be cost prohibitive (although, it may not be as much as you think), but perhaps you can start down the road. A few new vocal mic’s that will help your singers sound better can make a tremendous difference. Then move on to drum mic’s, and finally other instruments. Get recommendations from people you trust and try them first if possible.
Optimize System Gain Structure: Gain structure is one of those things that we don’t talk about enough in audio. Consoles can be way overdriven with amps turned way down, and others with the amps all the way up and the faders all running at -40. Optimizing your gain structure is critical to fully exploiting your system and getting the best mix in your room.
There is no shame in bringing in someone who knows how to do this! It’s another area where big improvements can be made by making some small changes for a moderate cost.
Practice What You Mix: We typically expect that the worship leader, vocalists and musicians are practicing their parts throughout the week. But when does the sound guy or girl get to practice? Practice is the only real way to get better, so how do we do that? Unless you have a band that really enjoys playing for hours on end, the best answer is virtual soundcheck.
There are many systems available now that make it fairly easy to record each input on the board and play it back in place as if the band were still there. With a virtual soundcheck system, you can mix a song over and over, trying out new things, adjusting EQ, compression, FX and other techniques until you get it just right. And the only person you need in the room is you.
Or, try this one; after recording the rehearsal, invite the worship leader to sit in with you and work on the mixes. Find out what he want to hear, and work toward getting there. Sometimes, it will be clear that the problem is not a mix issue, but an arrangement one. Everyone wins when the band gets better, and this is a great way to help facilitate this. A Virtual sound check might be the most expensive item on this list, but it’s still less than a new PA and will often have greater benefits. In the end, making notes during reheasal, recording, and listening to playback is a way to help volunteers get better in tuning their craft.