HomeSundaysAudiovisualHow to Fix the Pastor's Mic

How to Fix the Pastor’s Mic

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The best church sound systems in the world can suffer from one simple problem:

Bad audio from the pastor’s microphone.

What a travesty! If there is anything a church sound system is designed to do, it is to provide clear and accurate transmission of the spoken word. All other needs and priorities take a back seat to this one critical requirement.

We’ve probably all experienced this problem at some point.

What does it sound like?

First we need to discuss the simple yet important sound qualities we’re looking for when it comes to clear delivery of the spoken word.

Sound from the pastor or presenter’s microphone should be:

  • Clear
  • Intelligible
  • Crisp, but not too bright
  • Solid, but not too boomy
  • Rich, but not too thick or muddy
  • And of course, there shouldn’t be any feedback!

Does your pastor sound like that?

If not, I’ve got some good news! You can start getting the sound you want with a few basic tips.

Let’s talk about feedback first. This is almost always a location or proximity issue. And sometimes it is an issue of microphone choice.

The best way to prevent feedback is to place the microphone close to the source (the pastor’s mouth), and behind any loudspeakers.

When it comes to the pastor’s mic, a common problem in many churches is the clip-on lavaliere microphone. It is often placed too low on the body or too far away from the pastor’s mouth (optimum location is 6-8” away from the chin). Not only can this cause feedback, it will also cause a weak, thin vocal sound through the system.

Microphone Suggestions:

If feedback is a constant worry, no matter how you position the microphone, you may need to look into a more directional lavalier microphone (cardioid instead of omni-directional). Or you may want to consider using a low-profile headset or earworn microphone like the Countryman E6, or Point Source Audio CR-8S,  or DPI d:fine series.

Tone and other frequency characteristics are affected by proximity, but they are also affected by the particular microphone being used and the acoustic properties of the room. If you’ve already experimented with mic position and mic type, then it might be time to move on to some basic EQ.

EQ Tips for the Pastor’s Mic:

  • Engage the low-cut (or high-pass) filter, rolling off frequencies below 100Hz
  • Boost 200Hz – 300Hz for more depth
  • Cut 400Hz – 600Hz to reduce any muddiness
  • Cut 800Hz – 2kHz to reduce nasal or honky tones
  • Boost 1kHz – 4kHz for added clarity and intelligibility
  • Cut 4kHz – 6kHz if there is too much presence or if the sound is too thin
  • Use the sweepable mid-EQ or parametric EQ to find the tonal sweet spot by boosting or cutting by 3-6dB then sweeping the frequency bands to hear the difference in tonal quality
  • Above all – Practice and Listen! Don’t worry about what your channel EQ looks like. Go with what sounds best.

There are no rock-solid rules for EQ-ing. After all, every voice and mic combination will yield different results. Test out the quick tips here, but make sure you experiment and try different EQ settings.

Dynamic changes in speaking volume can also be a factor in overall sound quality. As we speak, we often change the volume of our voices, especially if we want to MAKE A POINT! While this can be engaging, it may also be disruptive if our sound system doesn’t have a certain amount of dynamic control in the way of a compressor.

Quick Tips for Compression:

  • Use a channel insert or effects bus for a vocal compressor on the pastor’s mic
  • Set the “attack” setting to fast
  • Set the “release” setting to medium/slow
  • Set the “ratio” setting between 1:2 and 1:6 depending on how strong you want the compressor to squash the signal peaks
  • Adjust the “threshold” level so that the compressor kicks in as the dynamic speaking volume becomes too loud

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules for resolving all of the sonic issues you may have with the pastor’s mic. Experiment. Try different techniques. And listen.

Does it sound clear and natural?

You may find it helpful to have someone read aloud while you get familiar with various mic placement, EQ, and compression settings. Keep at it, and you’ll find the sweet spot.

Here’s to your great sound!

 

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James Wasem
James Wasemhttp://greatchurchsound.com
James Wasem is the author of "Great Church Sound - a Guide for the Volunteer." James has been designing, installing, and operating sound systems for 20+ years and he has a passion for helping church sound team volunteers deliver great sound. Connect with James at his informative site, Great Church Sound.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Hello! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having problems finding one?

    Thanks a lot!

  2. Need an entire article on ways to train the pastor not to shout for the whole service, even though they hve a decent mic and sound system. How on earthh do I accompliish this? We bought some new sound equipment, and I let them know iit would allow them to save their voice, and that day they shouted more. Another member expressed concern over their voice, and that they were stopping to cough several times during the sermon, and the next week, the pastor was louder! I tried mentioning that I had “made some adjustments to the sound system” and that it was more sensitive, and that Sunday I got my ears blown out. I pretty much turned theiir mic off and let them bellow at the top of their lungs. I know that sounds riidiculous, but I am not exaggerating, as hard as that is to believe. I am at my wits end.

    • Oh my! Thanks for sharing. I used to do media training with CEOs and it sounds similarly challenging. Help might come best from 1) prayer 2) loving church members who might offer council (Matthew 18) and 3) a consultant or coach to help better train your pastor in public speaking (good luck). Hang in there.

    • Sounds like you have quite a challenge, Dave. I can understand your exasperation! I remember running sound for an auctioneer once. His “response” sounded much like your pastor’s may be: get louder! There were two things that made the situation better (besides patience). #1 Give the Pastor some of his own mic in the monitors. #2 Work with your compressor settings to get the dynamics dialed in so there aren’t abrupt bursts through the sound system when he/she starts ramping up the volume. Granted, giving the pastor some monitor level may be a little tricky depending on the mic you use (because of feedback concerns), but it is worth experimenting with. This will help increase his/her perceived overall “amplified” volume level. On the compressor side of things, you may want to try a 3:1 or even 4:1 compression ratio and lower the threshold setting until you hear it squash the louder levels. Then you can raise the compressor gain or channel fader to provide a greater overall volume level without the worry of ear-piercing outbursts. I can feel your pain! Be patient and persistent. You’ll have a break-thru. And hey, some folks may just prefer to shout. If that’s the case, get your compressor and limiter dialed in so you at least save your loudspeakers. 🙂

      • Yes, that is very much my pastor’s response. I know as well as you guys that if people can’t hear, the problem is not solved with “making it louder”. Room echo and lack of clarrity are the problem. Unfortunately for me, the pastor has been there longer than me, so the subtle message is that things worked fine before my ideas arose.
        Anyway, there was a baptism last Sunday. I was going to start out with “Hey, I learned something at this sound seminar I was just at, that may help today. Since you’re going to be walking around more and holding an infant during her baptism today while a bigger than normal crowd still needs to hear, how about we use a cordless mic on you today?” I never got finished since the pastor cut me off three words into my second sentence with “I *don’t* need that, and I’m *not* using it!”.
        So after my welcome videos, announcement loops, and a music video, I when the pastor started the welcome, I just slid the main fader down to minus infinity. There was no headroom to do anything. During the sermon, her voice cracked twice from shouting so much, and you can guess how the baptism went.
        The monitor idea is a good one, and one that I tried. The first time I put the pastor’s mic through them, she told me to never do that again. (She can’t grasp the concept of monitors anyway: “I can already hear myself! Our church doesn’t need that.”)

        I think I wiill just resort to a prayer-only approach to this. This fight is bigger than me, and not worth it any more, IMHO.

        • Hmmmm. Sounds like an uphill battle, Dave. Grace and prayer may well be the only course. Continue to look for those gentle teachable moments. You never know when the catalyst for progress will present itself.

          • It is. But I am a junior member in the church, so that’s partly why. (Not many groups want a new guy coming in with loads of ideas – that’s human nature)
            Also, thanks for all the details on compressor settings! (I forgot to say that) Very informative for me.
            I’m leaving this issue in the Lord’s hands. Prayer, patience, and looking for those “gentle, teachable moments” are my plan here. I’ve found I can change/modernize a lot when it comes to the congregation, and more often than not, they welcome it. I just can’t make any changes that affect the pastor. I guess the lesson here is that that is not my job. That’s for Jesus. Jesus changes hearts and minds, not Dave.

  3. This is great info. Would also love to see an expansion post about how to convince your Pastor to throw away the Radio Shack build it yourself lapel mic and start over.

    • That’s a great topic, Jeremy! And it’s an important one for everyone in tech ministry. Communicating with non-tech leadership can sometimes be a challenge. One of the most effective ways I’ve been able to convince a pastor of the need for an upgrade is to simply do an A/B comparison (where he/she is the one actually listening to the difference). A basic recording can also help with this. I’ll get to work on a followup post!

      • Awesome. Thankfully I am not currently in that situation, but I am sure there are many who deal with substandard equipment on a regular basis. Thanks for your info.

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