Taming the Beast: Top 5 Ways To Overcome Drum Volumes
As contemporary church services evolve, the worship experience is taking a more professional, concert-style look. Even traditional churches are spending money on better sound systems, more powerful, colorful lights, and larger video screens. However, there is no bigger mood killer than that awkward, see-through plexiglass room in the middle of the stage. The only alternative for most churches would be electric drums, and that is definitely not rock n roll.
WWJD? Jesus would not use electric drums.
Unrestricted, acoustic drums can be one of the most visually captivating pieces of décor on the platform, if setup properly. However, many of us struggle with the ability to have our drums out in the open because of the high volume they produce. Hence the need for the distracting plexiglass room most of us have on the platform.
In some smaller rooms, there may be no way around the need for a drum cage, yet in mnay situations there are ways to beat these issues so you to can have a more appealing, cohesive stage. First, there are a few questions that must be asked when a church runs into a situation where the drums are too loud:
1. What is the desired overall SPL (sound pressure level) of your service?
2. Where are the drums placed?
3. How are the drums tuned?
4. What type of sticks are the drummers using?
5. Are the drums mixed properly.
Before we go on, I want to point out that working toward a solution requires a positive working relationship between the drummer and sound guy. The truth is that the drummer hates being in “the box,” and would probably do anything to get out of it.
What is the desired SPL?
If you are planning on uncovering the drum set and letting the drummer become more visually and musically united into the worship service, first make sure your church is okay with averaging at least 95-97 dB (A-weighted). This is fairly loud, but it isn’t uncomfortable if your loudspeaker system is setup properly, and is designed to handle that level of SPL.
Where are the drums placed?
One big factor that can cause drums to be too loud is having the kit shoved up next to a wall or in a corner. The reason that this is an issue is because the snare and cymbals (especially) can reverberate off the wall and become very loud within the room. Getting the drums off the wall can be very helpful. However, if that is not an option then you can take acoustic foam and put it on the back wall to help diffuse some of the bounce. Make sure the foam is about two feet higher than the cymbals. For those of you with shorter ceilings, putting acoustic treatment above the drums can also make a huge difference.
How are the drums tuned?
A big help from the drummer comes in the form of getting him to tune to the drums (especially the snare) as low as possible. The lower the snare is tuned, the lower the volume and the better control you have in the house.
On a side note, the two main high-volume elements are normally a snare and cymbals. While you can tune your snare down, you can’t tune your cymbals down. However, you can get new cymbals. Most churches have very high-pitched, cheaper cymbals. They don’t realize that by spending a few more dollars they can get cymbals designed for their situation. Most cymbal companies make a series that produce less volume and are darker sounding. These will help with natural volume.
What sticks are your drummers playing with?
The lighter the sticks the softer the hit. Now the immediate statement a drummer may say is that they will break the sticks. There are two good responses to that: 1) If you try to play a little softer, they won’t break, and 2) The church will buy you a bunch of sets so you have spares. If you explain to the church business administrator (or whoever signs the checks) that supplying sticks for the drummers could keep the volume down, most will consider it money well spent.
Mix the drums properly.
One of the biggest mistakes that sound guys make is not mixing the drums loud enough. Drums actually sound louder than they really are when you can hear them naturally in the room, rather than from the speakers. If you make sure all sound heard is from the speakers then it will sound cleaner, more professional, and easier on the ears. The knee jerk reaction is to turn them down and let their natural acoustics to be heard, but if you will turn them up just a bit, then it will feel better to the people in the audience.
Once again, most drummers want to be “unleashed” from the “cage”. If you explain that to the drummer that he has the opportunity to retire the plexiglass prison, then odds are he will work with the you by tuning, playing a little softer, and choosing different sticks.
If you are working closely together with your drummer, and your church is okay with a little extra budget for cymbals and sticks, then these tips could you get rid of that eye-sore, plexiglas drum cage on your stage and help you create a more unified look and feel for your worship services.