So you want a new speaker system?

16 August 2016

So you are shopping for some new speakers for your church.  Are you sure you want to do that? Have you really thought about it? I know, you are frustrated with the lack of clarity, the inability to hear the bass guitar notes, and your kick drum sounds like a fish slapping against the side of a cardboard Sonotube (not sure what that is? ask your set designers). Let’s not forget that every week those two people sitting in the third from the back pew have been complaining for years. Everyone else has just adapted. They are use to the sound as it is and they don’t think an upgrade is going to solve any issues.  They may be right…

I’m not advocating for you to keep your existing sound system if indeed there is system problems.  As a matter of fact, a new system can project your team forward.  But let’s not forget what needs to happen after the install.

You see, I’ve seen this happen over and over again.  The team is excited about the new PA system.  It sounds amazing, it’s balanced, you can hear EVERYTHING!! And this is where we tend to get into trouble. Adjusting to a new PA system exposes your weaknesses.  Let’s cover a couple of those areas:

Make sure it’s right on stage

You will hear flaws in gear and instruments.  Before your new system, you never noticed the drum heads that have been on there since the capstone in the church was installed with that awesome time capsule hidden behind it. You also didn’t notice how out of tune they were. Trust me, you are gonna have to put some new skins on the drums. Maybe you haven’t been micing them right. This may take some time and more investment into making this right. You might need someone experienced with drums to come in and help you.

There was always slight buzz in the last PA, but not it sound like a swarm of bees. Well, it is the same buzz only now in HD! Is everything wired right?  I recently found a bass guitar plugged into a DI box, which is correct of course, but the output to the PA system was coming out of the thru port. They had used a 1/4′ to XLR adapter to plug this DI into the system.  They never noticed how over driven and distorted the bass was until the new PA was installed. This is basic audio 101, however, for this team they never noticed until they heard it in all it’s glory!

Musicians.  I won’t camp here to long.  I don’t want to upset all those bearded worship leaders.  Its up to them to shepard the musicians.  First, I’m going to assume that your monitor system is up to par and that everyone can hear themselves.  But if a singer is not on key and have not refined or practiced their instrument aka ‘voice’, you will hear them loud and clear.  And the whole audience will wonder what is wrong with our new PA.   No amount of reverb will be able to cover up these sins anymore.  The same is true for all the stringed instruments, make sure they tune.

The audio team

How skilled are you? Malcolm Gladwell claims that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at any given craft or skill.  This equates to approximately 2,400 hours per year, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day.  So it will take you about 4-5 years to become an expert at sound mixing if you are studying it full time.  What does that mean? My point is that you need to work on your skill, just like the musician practices their instrument.  If you are not very good at EQing and are still developing your ear, then this is going to be noticeable on the new rig. The up side is that the new rig is going to make it easier for you to learn!  The leadership may need to bring in an expert to get your team up to par quicker.  I was recently contracted to personally train the lead engineer for  a period of 4 Sundays.  The leadership saw value in investing into the team to grow their skills and they are already reaping the benefits.

written by: Michael Nieboer, CTS

Bio: Michael has served 10 years as head of audio engineering at a large church in Michigan. He has been involved in music his whole life playing various instruments. He graduated with a recording engineering degree in 2002.  He now serves a sales consultant and system designer for Parkway and is a certified technology specialist.