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Appropriate Soundsystem/Volume-to-People Ratio?

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  • Appropriate Soundsystem/Volume-to-People Ratio?

    I know there's not a standard unit of measurement for soundsystem volume/power, but I was wondering how people figured out their settings.

    I was part of a retreat this weekend where there were a total of 75 people (after the band/tech/etc people it was more like 65) listening to a huge soundsystem. It was 6000 watts total. This is a very tech-savvy, performance-mindset kind of group. There were two mains on each side and a sub on each side. I was on stage and could never hear the people singing, unless we stopped everything but the acoustic guitar.

    Does anyone know of a fair and consistent way to gauge what to do with a soundsystem depending on the amount of people?

  • #2
    The closest thing to a 'gauge' that you could use is a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter. It measures actual decibels (dB) of sound at specific spots. Generally speaking, about 80 dB is a max comfortable volume.

    However, it only gives you part of the equation. Mix ix the other part. It's more of an art. I've heard 80 dB mixes that make my ears bleed where 100 dB sounds great. Personally, I think most people go overkill on sound systems in church. They have a small or medium sized room and throw these massive outdoor-style sound systems in there and it's like putting a corvette on a go-kart track.

    There really isn't a direct correlation between people and sound system power. People can factor into it (more people changes the sound because they 'absorb' some of it), but so do other things. Inside/outside, room acoustics (carpet or ceramic floor), seating (cloth/foam, wood, metal), all that matters.

    As far as your other remark about not hearing people sing- were you hearing the main mix coming back on stage, or is your monitor/stage volume really loud? If you want to hear people out front, maybe start by backing down the stage volume a bit.
    If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

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    • #3
      I agree with Mike on all his points. If it's not a concert or a large venue youth conference then most people make it way too loud. You can't worship when it's concert loud. Also ditto on the "mix is an art form". People need to know how to mix to not only direct the tech side of the service but also be a part of the worship team. The techs need to flow with the worship team as to help the congregation or audience enter into worship. Too loud and you will get people disinterested in participating in worship and too soft and people wont sing passionately because they don't want other people to hear them.

      We keep our services running at 90-92db on celebration songs (fast songs). But we also do not have extreme highs and extreme lows in our adult services. In our youth services, we bring up the mains and lows as well. So, who is your audience/congregation at the moment? That needs to be considered as well. Our motto here at New Covenant for the techs is "Serve the worship team so they can serve the people."

      Monitor mix is a huge deal when not being able to hear the congregation. 90% of all musicians wanna hear themselves and hear themselves loudly. Therefore your monitor mix will drown out the mains and/or the congregation. Get musicians to be satisfied with a lower monitor mix and eq monitors and mains correctly.

      There are other things to consider as well but I will stop here.

      Blessings,
      Jason

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      • #4
        I think there's a certain amount of expectation level-setting that needs to occur on both sides of this discussion. There's no doubt that a reasonable mix starts with the musicians having the discipline to control their volume levels. If the stage volume is out of whack there's a limit to what the sound tech can do to fix it out front. On the other hand if you choose to use a band you have to expect it's going to be very hard for the congregation to sing loud enough to be heard from on stage. We very often have songs that we encourage everyone to stand and sing. We can rarely hear them unless there's a specific part of the song where most, if not all of the instruments drop out. However, if you leave the stage and go into the audience you'll hear the singing quite well.

        The fact is, it's not nearly as important for you to hear the congregation singing from onstage as it is for the congregation to hear themselves singing with the music. That's what inspires and encourages them. Lower the stage mix too much and you'll wring every bit of energy out of the music which won't be good either.

        As far as the soundsystem, it's not a matter of how much wattage it has. It's a matter of how much of it you use. That's why volume faders start at zero.
        The Posse Band live performance tracks can be heard by CLICKING HERE

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        • #5
          To echo what many others have said, it's not so much about what you have as it is about how you're using it. The only real way to measure is to use a db meter, but even then you'll see differences based on the weighting used. For what it's worth, we mix the musical parts of our services at 85 db(a) slow.

          As for hearing the congregation - are you using wedges or IEM? Obviously IEMs block out a lot of ambient sound, but they also give you the option to mic the congregation and put them back in your mix. This allows you to hear the very real sound of the congregation singing despite the perceived isolation of IEMs.
          Eric Frisch
          www.ericfrisch.com

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          • #6
            Lots of good discussion here. It is another question that you will find there is not one answer to.

            Aside from HOW to meter levels, I think it warrants a discussion of philosophy with every regular gathering.

            We spend a lot of time discussing volume issues in 2008-2009. We haven't really revisited it since then largely due to the fact that we have an established standard. I'm presenting our discussion summary because I know others have found it helpful. It is by no means THE way and hopefully not presented with any arrogance.

            We run around 88-92dB A Slow at FOH, 80 feet from the stage front and main speaker hang, it tends to be 90-94dB A Slow there in the front. (Our seating area is a fan shape with about 900 seats normally.) It is louder in the front because of proximity to the subs and stage volume off of our drum kit. We have line arrays so the bulk of our sound level is even front to back and left to right. If we are playing canned music or it is a communicator on stage and no presence in the low end, sound is pretty even. Louder songs often hit 95-96 at FOH and during music focused events like a night of worship, we live around 96 at FOH and peak over 100 a few times. We have no floor monitors on stage normally and we feel this is a HUGE factor in presenting clarity in the mix without fighting stage volume.

            We had a lot of discussion and did some research to establish our levels:
            1. We had an audiologist confirm that we were well within safe ranges even at concert level. This is huge in responding to "you're damaging my ears" complaints. He told us that at the levels we were running (and pretty much all churches) we were in no danger of damaging hearing BUT we could certainly highlight previously done damage in someone's ears.

            2. We determined that with a live drum kit driving modern worship in our sanctuary at about 85dB or below, everything disappeared, sounded very bad, and made it feel awkward. People quit singing. We tried this for ONE service on a Sunday and our pastor came back during the announcements after 2 songs and told us to turn it up.

            3. We learned that with a well tuned room, well EQ'd inputs, and a balanced mix... the vast majority of complaints were based on personal preference when you really got them talking about it. (It helps to have an audiologist's professional opinion when entering a heated discussion.) Most people that complained really wanted more/all hymns or little to no electric guitars or drums. That was the honest average complaint.

            We actually had our pastor address this from stage. It was something to the effect of:
            "We've been thinking a lot about musical worship. Considering the songs we sing, the instrumentation we use, and the volume we present at we feel like we've arrived at something that represents us well and honors God above all else. IF over the past couple weeks and months you've been unhappy with something we've been doing, repeatedly, you need to know that this is, on average, who we are. We don't expect every person who walks through our doors to be in the same place with Christ or in the same mood, or even to know Christ personally, and that all factors in. We craft each service and song selection intentionally and will never guarantee a certain mixture of old and new or loud and soft. But if weeks go by and you are unhappy with song selection and or volume, you have to ask yourself if this is the right place for you."
            It was pretty awesome to feel free on the worship end and the production end of things. Our complaints basically disappeared, and we don't know of anyone that left the church after that Sunday. What it did was establish a standard and an answer for people who had complaints or questions. Sometimes we break from the norm and may say "yeah, you're right, I think the band and the sound guy got excited during Christ is Risen and it got a little loud. Sorry about that." Or something like "Sorry ma'am, you're right, there were no hymns this week... but we did do 2 last week. We felt like this was what God had for SSCC this morning."

            So based on the original poster's comments... it depends.

            Could you not hear the people singing because your stage volume was too loud?
            Were the people not singing because they didn't know the songs?
            Were the people not singing because the mix was terrible and they couldn't hear you singing on stage? (I think clear vocals are the foundation of congregational singing.)
            Were they singing more on that song with just acoustic because it was the most familiar?
            Were they not singing because the mix was bad or an eq on the system was bad and something was offensive to their ears? A shrill vocal or electric guitar will ruin worship, or any performance with a quickness.
            Last edited by dtpuga; 03-06-2014, 12:21 PM.
            Travis Paulding,
            Production & Technology Director, St. Simons Community Church
            www.sscommunitychurch.com
            twitter.com/tpaulding

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            • #7
              Thanks for the input, Travis

              FWIW, I think it's very commendable that your pastor showed leadership in this situation and addressed it with clarity and conciseness. Some people need to understand that the church isn't always going to cater to their preference. THat's not what they are there for.

              We learned that with a well tuned room, well EQ'd inputs, and a balanced mix... the vast majority of complaints were based on personal preference...
              You hit the nail on the head. The room setup (and some are harder to work with than others), EQ (not just slapping compression on everything) and a balanced mix (using the subs right, especially) is the heart of it. Unfortunately, too few are trained in what a good EQ actually means. Even less, a balanced mix.

              Not to digress too far, but my wife has a hereditary hearing loss condition, and it's caused me to learn how people with hearing conditions hear so much differently than those with normal hearing. My wife's hearing loss is specific to basically the high-mid range. A good comparison may be color blindness, where a the same color scheme in a room would look completely different to someone with color blindness. Her audiologist explained that what that means during music, for example, her ears are trying to compensate by being more sensitive to other frequencies. For example, a heavy low and low-mid mix really stands out to her, especially subharmonic frequencies. Because of her hearing issues the effects of those low frequencies are enhanced by the absence of the high mids, etc. So what that means to her is a sub-heavy mix of bass and/or drums is intensified by her condition to the point of migraine headaches within minutes. It's not always the frequencies but a lot of the harmonics caused by poor EQ (lack of gates and compressors leading to bleed-over and drum ring, etc) stand out to her like a sore thumb.

              All that to say there are time where people with hearing loss or other issues may have a legit complaint but it's because they hear something different than we do.

              On another note relating to EQ, I attended a Noise/Vibration/Harshness seminar one time and they did a pretty dramatic test. The topic of the seminar was relating to automotive design requirements for cabin noise. One common measure was dB level, and the seminar highlighted because a sound didn't go over 60 dB didn't mean it wasn't undesirable. In their demo, they played some white noise at 60 dB that was noise, but not uncomfortable. Then they played this clip at 60 dB that just about made our ears bleed- a lot of high pitched harmonics (almost like a feedback loop) that was ear-splitting and undesirable, but still in the 60 dB target range. It was a bit dramatic, but highlighted how frequency control was just as vital as overall SPL when it comes to avoiding undesirable noise. So that was a pretty big takeaway for me how much frequency and bad harmonics influences a perception of 'noise'.

              One example I think of right away is guitars that use extreme compression on the high side. There is a very real and often unrecognized risk that over-compressing can bring otherwise inaudible high frequency harmonics in an audible range and contribute to the 'shrill' factor. The overall volume spikes may be less, but now these frequencies and bad harmonics are creating noise and a different type of issue.

              Anyway, know it wasn't quite on topic, but with the mention of proper EQ, I can attest to how important that is.
              If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.

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