I base my work on frequency identification. When I walk into a worship house, I begin by listening to the room. What are the frequency characteristics when no amplified sound is present? What materials were used in the construction of the building? How many windows and doors are there? What are the seats or pews made of? Are the ceilings high or low?
Next, what does the room sound like when audio is introduced? What frequencies are accentuated or diminished? What frequencies are reflected in the room? I realize that you can find a dozen different frequency analyzing devices, programs for your laptop or apps for your iPhone and Android but before I break out the equipment, I can tell the general pluses and minuses of any room with just my God-given ears. My abilities are not unique. It comes from listening and learning to identify audio frequencies.
Let’s move from the worship room to the worship stage. What if you are experiencing feedback in a floor wedge monitor? You can use your ears to identify what frequencies are feeding back or you can pull out your laptop and reference microphone. Both will work but only one will make you look like a competent sound tech. I know of lot of churches use in-ears for all stage monitoring but it is still very important to be able to quickly pick out the annoying frequencies from a mix and remove them. Or be able to add missing frequencies to a mix. That said, you can see that I put a lot of value into ear training.
Most of you know when things sound good at your house of worship but do you why it sounds good? Why is the worship band so clear and intelligible and the pastor’s sermon is so clean and articulate? If you don’t know the answers to these questions then stay tuned.
Training your ears is (IMHO) the most important thing you can do as an audio technician. It is as simple as this; the better you can hear and identify frequencies, the better chance you will have at controlling and correcting the sound in your house of worship.
Let’s start at the beginning, all sound travels in waves. These sound waves are described as cycles per second or hertz. Hertz are measured in numbers. The lower the number, the lower the hertz and the lower the sound. The higher the hertz the higher the sound frequency. The perfect human ear hears from 20Hz to 20kHz (20,000Hz). That said I don’t know anyone with perfect ears. Certainly not seasoned sound technicians like myself.
We all have to think of hertz as the language of audio. Not only do all us techs need to learn this language but every musician in the worship band along with the singers will be well-served by learning to speak hertz fluently. Let me give you an example of what I am taking about.
Let’s say your guitar player’s monitor begins feeding back. You can hear something from the front of house mixing console but you can’t quite identify it. The guitar player says he thinks the feedback is between 1kHz and 1.5kHz. So you pull down the 1.25kHz slider on your 31 band graphic EQ that controls the equalization of the monitors. The end result is that you have communicated through the language of audio, the feedback is removed and everyone is happy.
The most difficult part of the aforementioned scenario is identifying the frequency. However getting in the ballpark is a good start. If you can differentiate between 1kHz and 2kHz and you can communicate that with your tech, they should be able to alleviate the problem.
You may be asking where you can learn to hear these different hertz. I suggest you go to YouTube and type in 1kHz. All kinds of test tones will come up. Listen to these tones over and over. Then try to identify them in the music you hear and mix.
There are also some good ear training tools. One of our favorites is QuizTones. It is literally what the name says–a series of quizzes. You can listen to test tones or pink noise with certain frequencies boosted or actual instruments. There is a video demo here.
Along with listening to various frequencies it is a good idea to memorize all the positions on a 31 band graphic EQ. Here they are if you don’t know; 20Hz, 25, 31.5, 40, 50, 63, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 315, 400, 500, 630, 800, 1kHz, 1.25k, 1.6k, 2k, 2.5k, 3.15k, 4k, 5k, 6.3k, 8k, 10k, 12.5k, 16k, 20k.
Now that you have the full list of positions, think of them as the letters of the alphabet. Once you have these positions memorized you will need to know how each position sounds. In actuality the first octave between 40Hz and 80Hz is where most audio systems begin and they tend to end at about 15k. My hearing (and most people’s) ends at about 16k so I am not too concerned with what happens after that.
I know that all you technicians will be excited about improving your hearing abilities and learning to speak hertz but the trick is getting everyone on the same page. The only advice I have is to meet with the musicians and singers and communicate how important it is for everyone to be able to speak the language of sound. Of course you can pray (with the worship team) and let God have a hand in the learning process. It can’t hurt.
Now that you and the worship team know what you must do and learn in order to communicate, you are going to need to effectively prepare yourself for most of the musicians and singers who will not do their homework. I am not attempting to slander the musical force in your worship house. As a matter of fact, I am a musician myself and I sing on the worship team at my church. However, it has just been my experience that audio technician/mixers are more passionate about sound than the players and singers.
Whatever the case is in your worship house, you will still commit yourself to diligently working on honing your hearing skills. Those skills can be honed in church or out of church. We all experience lots of sound and music every day. I have a teapot that blows at exactly 1kHz when it boils. I know this because of my ears and I also have a hand held real time audio spectrum analyzer. A spectrum analyzer is a nice tool to have. Although stand-alone units are kind of expensive, you can find a variety of apps for your iPhone, Droid or tablets that are quite reasonably priced.
These tools along with your ever more discerning ears will help you in areas other than working with the worship band. You will be able to readily identify and more easily correct audio anomalies in your house of worship.
Let’s say you have a low end annoyance in your sanctuary. Your ears tell you the problem lies somewhere between 100 and 160Hz. So you adjust the house EQ and the bass players’ amp and the problem disappears. You not only get to experience that great sense of accomplishment from a job well done but you are now the audio hero of your church. It all boils down to those beautifully trained ears of yours. – Jamie Rio