One of the worst offenders in church is that high-pitched, tinny noise that feels like a microphone is just on the verge of feedback.
While feedback and poorly mixed sound can be frustrating for the listener, the thoughtful sound tech should be tuned in to more subtle nuances that can have an even greater impact on the listening congregation.
Bad sound can make a congregation and audience distracted, fidgety, nervous, anxious, on-edge, fatigued, and even angry.
Feedback is just one of many distractions that can upset the aural experience for a listener.
- Shrill EQ and unnaturally high-pitched tones
- Unintelligible or muffled sound from singers and presenters
- Constantly varied volume levels or excessive dynamics in an audio source
- Overall volume that is too loud for the room or audience
- Saturation and over-use of effects like reverb or poorly set compression that “pulses” with audio dynamics
- Out-of-balance mixing between instruments and vocals, instruments overpowering vocals, or lack of clarity among multiple instruments
- “Flatness” and lack of depth or space in a mix
- Sound that poorly represents what a listener hears vs. what they see (acoustic imaging and sensory continuity)
- Distorted, over-driven, or clipping audio
- Sound that cuts in and out
- Audio content that enters or leaves a mix unexpectedly, or a noticeable change in sound characteristics
While a fundamental sound source may be inconsistent, distracting, or even poor quality, the sound system should not add to these properties. In fact, a good audio engineer can even fix some of these problems, or at least make them more bearable for the listener. Here are some examples:
- Applying well-placed EQ can make a sound less shrill or muffled
- Adjusting instrument or vocal volume levels relative to their importance in the mix can bring clarity and context to the overall sound
- Adding compression to dynamic sources (like a pastor’s microphone) can even out the volume levels from that source
- Setting proper gain will eliminate clipping and distorted signals at the console inputs
- Using simple panning of sources between left and right loudspeakers can add depth and texture to a mix, reducing the “sterile” or “flat” effect that can happen when multiple sources are mixed together
- Adjusting EQ for different input channels can bring clarity to those sources while allowing them to fit appropriately into the broader mix
- Using fresh batteries in wireless microphones and keeping audio cables/connections in working order can keep audio signals from unexpectedly cutting in and out
- Making subtle adjustments to the live mix will smoothly transition the listening audience as the sound changes instead of abruptly alerting them that something has changed – whether good or bad
The listening audience may not be able to tell you why a mix is good or bad, but the way you mix will most definitely have an impact on how they feel about the sound coming through the loudspeakers.
Your attention to detail and tasteful application of the mixing techniques you practice can make all the difference between a bad mix or a great mix, and consequently, the listener's ability to focus on the content of the service instead of the sound system.
Portions of this post originally appeared on the Twelve:Thirty Media blog.