Mixing audio in a House Of Worship typically requires keeping a tight rein on the decibel level, also known as the Sound Pressure Level (SPL), volume or just plain loudness of a service. But how loud is loud?
Here are some examples of the decibel (dB) levels in common sounds. People generally speak to in the 50-60 dB range. City traffic noise is from 85 to 90 dB. The average church service is from 95 to 100 dB. Rock concerts reach from 110 to 115 dB. Pain for most people begins at 125dB and your ear drums will burst at 140 to 145 dB (ouch).
It’s important to remember that SPL doubles every time your audio signal (whether speech, music, or singing) is increased by 6dB. For example, if you mix your Sunday service at 95dB, it will sound twice as loud at 101dB. So, when you take all this into account, you are probably mixing your weekly services in a rather narrow decibel band. If 95dB is the optimum SPL for you church, you most likely mix each service between 94 and 96dB.
Or maybe you have no idea what the average decibel level of your weekly church service is or how to control it. Well, if this is your case, please read on.
The very first thing you will have to do is identify the average decibels you are mixing at. This will require you to get your hands on a dB meter. There are dozens of dB meter apps available for your smart phone (many free). If you want to go old school you can purchase a stand-alone hand held dB meter of your own. I have both.
Once you have your dB meter, take reading samples during a service from various locations in your HOW. Obviously, you don’t want to be a distraction during the service but maybe while the worship band is playing you can sample the dB levels at the front row, middle aisle, left and right side of the room, mixing area and balcony (if you have one).
If you just can’t cruise around your church during a service, get in there when nobody is around and put on some music through the system. Then walk around with your dB meter and check out the room.
After you have dB numbers for different locations, average out the number and see what you’ve got. Keep in mind that an empty room sounds different and is generally louder than a full room. The average human body will absorb (and reflect) a lot of sound. The bigger the body the more absorption. Along with the size of the individuals in your congregation, there is the issue of where they are sitting every week.
It is a fact that nearly everyone in you congregation will sit in the same seat (if they can) each week. Do your homework and check out where your people sit every week. Chances are the older members of your congregation will be sitting in the front rows. This means they may possibly be hearing the service from the loudest possible area.
Once you have collected dB data from all over your worship space, it is time to use your ears. Once again (if possible) walk around your sanctuary during a service and listen to the sound system. If you can only get in when the room is empty then put on some music and check out the entire space. Keep in mind—numbers aside—your job is to create an uplifting worship audio experience for your listeners. It is pretty easy to hear if the band is too loud or if the message from the preacher in intelligible. You are simply putting yourself in the place of another member of the congregation. You need to get a real sense of how your sound system sounds. The only difference is that you have (or will soon have) more educated ears.
This gives you the ability to not only judge SPL and overall dB levels but you can tell which frequencies are not pronounced enough in the mix or are over accentuated. If your ears are not already “tuned up” so to speak, you will need some additional frequency training. I am not going to get into that now but I will be offering some ear training tips in the coming year.
Back to the worship room: Once you have adjusted the overall decibels to a suitable level, take a close look at where your front of house (main) speakers are pointed. Let’s say your main speakers are pointed at the front row and your older people regularly sit there. Also your average decibel level during a service is 98dB. That may just be too much for the front row people. To remedy the situation you need to aim those speakers just above the heads of the occupants of the front row. This minor adjustment will allow the front row (or rows) to hear the service clearly without the sensation of being blasted by the sound. If your front of house speakers are easily adjusted and aimed, you can experiment with re-directing the audio to different locations in you worship room. There are a number of other things to take into consideration, such as frequency wave-lengths and interior construction materials of you church. It is another rather deep subject that I will be addressing in the near future. For now if the worship music or sermon is to loud in you church just slowly pull down the main fader. This move is extremely easy and it will at least make your loud a little less loud.