"Is the Music Always that Bad in Churches?"
This week a family member sent me an article about why online church attendance is starting to go down. The author, Thom Rainer, addressed many factors, but my favorite was a story he related below.
“I was recently getting my hairs cut and was able to begin a conversation about church with my stylist. She was unchurched but told me she tried to view a couple of streaming worship services. Her question was telling: ‘Is the music always that bad in churches?’ It took me a while to understand clearly her consternation, but I finally got it. She was referring to the audio mix of voices and instruments. Unless a church knows what it’s doing, the music can really sound bad via the internet.”
You can read the full article here: 7 Reasons Your Online Worship Attendance is Declining
Since this is part of my job, I thought I’d give you my top 3 reasons for cringe-inducing online church services.
1. Free-for-all-bands. Before we start blaming the techs, we need to be honest about the band. Often a worship team is a roster of rotating players. They have varying skills, experience, and musical tastes. Most are volunteers and are simply playing the best they know how.
When it comes to the instruments that can play chords (acoustic guitars, electric guitars, keys) many players do what sounded good at home. That means they play everything. The piano player is chunking down where the bass player’s notes are. The acoustic guitarist is strumming like he’s the only one on stage. The electric guitar is either playing distorted power chords like he did in his high school band, or he’s noodling.
What inexperienced players don’t realize is that a full sound comes from a sense of space. A professional arranger will design parts to be spread out in different registers and different times. Most churches don’t have professional arrangers, so they must do it themselves.
Good players have a trained ear to listen for what is needed, the versatility to adjust, and the musicianship to be tasteful. But when everyone just plays what they want without thinking of the whole sound, it’s a mess.
2. Untrained Techs. Most people don’t understand what is going on in the sound booth. It’s just a mass of wires, sliders, and flashing lights. In the rush to begin live streaming during lockdowns, many churches have bought new gear without investing in more training for their production team. That’s a shame because the sound engineer has the last word on that sound of the worship team.
Good engineers need a musician’s ear and a technician’s brain. Developing that combination takes practice, but often the sound system isn’t fished out of storage or fired up until Sunday morning. Happily, more and more online and in-person teaching is available, but unless churches make it a priority, quality won’t improve.
3. Bone-dry live streams. When you sing in a church sanctuary, you get a lot of things for free: the sound of the drums bouncing off the walls, the voices of the congregation, and the natural reverb of the space. By contrast, the headphone output on the soundboard is a jarring and unnatural experience. It sounds awful. If your techs don’t know how to adjust for this, it will kill your live stream. Here are a few fixes:
Embrace effects: When we put microphones close to sound sources, it cuts out the sense of space and things sound “dry”. We have to give that space back plus extra for the live stream. We have to create a space artificially so that it sounds natural again.
Mic the room: One way to get back some of that “free space” is to put microphones up to capture the sound of the room. This gives back the reverb and crowd noise we took away. Beware, you will have some timing issues to deal with, so do your research before you do this, and DON’T put this through the house speakers.
No instrument left behind: Let’s say you have acoustic drums on stage. Even with a good drum shield some of the drum sound will leak into the room. That's fine. But it means the sound tech will only turn up the drums to achieve a good blend of the acoustic sound plus the speakers. That means your live stream could sound less exciting becuase it doesn't have the full drum sound the house experiences. Make sure to give at least a little bit of everything to the board. Otherwise something you hear in the house will never get to the live stream.
There you have it- some of my thoughts about subpar live streams and how to improve them.
I didn't have time to talk about lead singers and background singers. But they deserve their own blog post.
Every church has its own set of challenges, whether it’s onstage or behind the soundboard. What you may need is a worship team consultant. A consultant can look at your entire worship service and identify problems with the band, singers, or sound crew. Then they can help you find strategies to improve.
As a worship leader, engineer, and instructor I can assist you with those first steps. Email me at: email@example.com to schedule a free consultation.
I will look at your live stream, listen to your goals and frustrations, and get you started. I also offer Zoom and in-person workshops to train your band, singers, and tech team.
God bless as you improve,