Great sound doesn’t have to be complicated sound. In fact, a simple setup and mix can increase the potential for better sound quality. Whether the need for simple sound is a necessity (like a new church plant) or a choice (like acoustic-style worship), it is important to understand what contributes to great sound with a simple setup.
1) Getting the Basics Right
There are only two pieces of equipment and a single variable that will make the biggest impact on every sound system.
If the incorrect loudspeaker or microphone is chosen, it won’t sound good. And if either of these is placed in the wrong spot, the sound quality will be compromised.
Granted, some of this has to do with room acoustics and things that may be difficult to control, but it also has to do with some very basic principals that every sound tech can experiment with.
All loudspeakers have a coverage pattern that needs to be considered when placing the speaker in the ideal spot. People sitting or standing outside of the coverage pattern will not hear things as well as people within the coverage pattern (this is especially true for high frequencies).
Churches using portable sound systems can experiment with placement, aiming and height adjustment to ensure that the main speakers are pointed in the right direction.
Check out Loudspeaker Location 101 for more tips.
Good microphone placement is crucial for capturing quality sound at the source. It’s amazing the difference a shift of one or two inches can make when aiming and positioning microphones.
Dynamic microphones for vocals should be placed close to the mouth, and condenser mics should be aimed to capture the best tones from the “sweet spot” of the instrument or source being reinforced.
But it is also important to not use too many microphones. This can cause several problems, including a muddy mix and an increased chance of feedback.
Sometimes the best sound can come from the simplest setup: a speaker, a microphone, and a source placed properly and mixed for the room.
2) Simple Mixing Tips
The solo vocalist singing “Silent Night” with a piano or guitar can sound profound in their simplicity – as long as a few simple mixing principals are applied.
A solo vocalist should be mixed in balance with the accompanying instrument(s). A vocal that is too loud or too quiet will be distracting and not fit into the mix.
EQ should be applied to the vocal track to help it stand out and be clearly understood without becoming piercing or shrill.
Vocals in a solo environment may need less EQ than those in a vocal group or worship team environment. (This, of course, depends on the microphone, vocalist, and the sound in the room).
Solo instruments should be miked and mixed to capture the best tone and range of the instrument. It is very important to experiment with mic placement and with different microphones.
Instruments in a band often benefit from tighter mic patterns (like cardioid and super cardioid) and closer miking distances, while solo instruments can benefit from wider mic patterns (like cardioid and sometimes omnidirectional) and medium-distance mic placement.
Solo instruments like the acoustic guitar may have high pass filters used with a full band, but these filters can often be set lower in a solo configuration to allow more low frequencies to come through the system. This can increase the perceived richness and warmth of the instrument.
For example, a guitar that may normally have a high pass filter setting of 160 Hz when playing with a band may benefit from a setting of 100 Hz when playing solo. This really depends on the instrument and the desired tone characteristics.
EQ should be applied to the instrument to help it blend appropriately with the vocal.
Reverb can be tastefully applied to the vocal and instrument tracks to add space and ambiance to the mix.
Check out this post for more tips about EQ for church sound.
3) Efficient Preparation & Execution
One of the best ways to get great sound with a simple (or complex) system is to do a good soundcheck. [LINK]
Thoughtful preparation and planning can be a great benefit, even with a simple setup on stage. Sometimes great sound is as simple as hitting the mute button at the right time.
Having fewer people on stage can be less complicated, but it also means that the congregation’s focus is more pointed. If the guitar is out of tune or the vocal is too shrill, they will notice it. There is no hiding bad sound in a basic mix.
Coordination with other church techs and leadership is also important.
The pastor or worship leader may have a particular vision for the overall tone and sound quality of a simple mix. A good reference track can help sound techs understand the quality level of the mix and practice any EQ or effects adjustments to achieve the desired result.
And it’s amazing how properly timed audio, lighting, and video effects can contribute to an impactful experience.
Working closely with other church tech production teams, even for a simple setup, can help everyone contribute to a cohesive and powerful service or event.
Again, great sound doesn’t have to be complex. It can be very simple and powerful. Just pay attention to the basics and try to capture the fundamental essence of the sound you want to reinforce.
And as Duke Ellington used to say, “If it sounds good, it is good.”