REALLY MEAN: When Worship is “Too Loud.”
Do you want to know what the worst prayer request I’ve ever seen was? Get ready.
“Please pray that the worship band will be turned down.”
That was a regular “prayer request” at one of my previous churches. Someone wrote that into our bulletin’s prayer request section, tore it off, and dropped it in the plate about every 3 weeks for a while. It was always anonymous too, which usually earned it a special folder in file 13. As much as it made me angry, criticism usually comes out of a place of truth that we just don’t want to address. Listening to our critics can be valuable feedback, so in this case, we decided to listen.
Even though our people are not able to identify the problem’s cause, they know they don’t like something. So “it’s too loud” can mean a LOT of things. Sometimes they are being high-maintenance, but sometimes “it’s not you, it’s me” is correct.
This all assumes that your sound guy has a decibel meter to gauge the volume in the room and it is hitting at a safe level. I like 90-95db in a medium-sized room, but you have to test things out in your space. What do you do if your decibel meter says it’s safe but are still (barely) hearing complaints and children are sticking their fingers in their ears? Here are some possible meanings of this very common complaint and what we did to adjust for it.
The room makes it seem louder than it is.
Many churches have invested in acoustical tiling and drum isolation booths. If you have flat, hard, bare walls, then the high frequencies of your band are going to bounce around the room more than they should.
This makes high frequencies like vocals, cymbals, and some acoustic guitars seem painful. It really is worth the money ($3k-$6k, depending on the size of your room or you can make it yourself) to put up tiling to absorb those frequencies instead of projecting them around the room.
Isolating a live drum kit is helpful too. We found this kit for around $1800 and it has improved the volume tremendously (it’s gone up since I wrote this blog, but still, really helpful)! This is why your sound guy tells you that your readings on the decibel meter are in the safe range, but people still have fingers in their ears.
Your sound guy needs to mix the band better.
Another problem could be that your sound guy is inexperienced, careless, or just stubborn. Maybe he’s used to running sound at the local dive bar on Saturdays and his hearing is shot for Sunday morning? If that’s the case, then just may not be able to tell something is off. There could be just one instrument or voice that is too hot in the mix (too loud).
There could also be an equalization problem and not an actual volume problem. If the highs of the EQ are pumped up or the bottom of the kick is too strong, it can become uncomfortable for people in the crowd. My dad has a heart condition and thumping bass drum make it skip a beat. It could potentially hurt him.
Location, location, location. If your sound guy isn’t in a good spot to hear what’s coming through the speakers live, then he may not know it’s mixed badly. He should find the “sweet spot” of the room and walk to it during rehearsal to get the mix just right.
Your stage is too loud.
This is a bit technical, but you know those speakers that sit on the stage and face the musicians and not the crowd? Those monitors are pumping out a lot of decibels too. Those may hit a flat back wall and bounce all over the room too.
You can add acoustic tiling to the back walls as well or do what many do now and go with in-ear monitors. The Aviom system is an easy way to do a wired version, but many prefer the wireless, even though it costs quite a bit. Perhaps a combination of the two is what your church needs to pursue.
Also, don’t forget about all the other amps on stage! The guitar amp, the bass amp, that giant piano, and the unholy drum kits of death are still to be dealt with. Buy shields for the guitar amps, drums, and pianos and plug bass directly into the system with no amp to minimize stage volume. In my opinion, analog amps and acoustic instruments sound better, but create more of a volume problem. If you can’t afford shields, put amps backstage and mic them from there.
The tempo is too fast.
Believe it or not, tempo can translate to volume. It may not be the actual volume that is causing the discomfort, but the stress level that the upbeat music is causing. There was a time when I took worship songs and turned them into punk rock songs. We basically just played standard tunes, but with a full band at the speed of light. The kids LOVED it in the 90s. The adults are still recovering.
My seat is five feet in front of the speaker and I refuse to move because that’s my seat and somewhere along the way I started to believe that I owned it and this church exists to suite my every desire.
Ear plugs. Pass them out at the door.
Worship music is deeply personal for everyone.
You’re not going to please everyone, so at the end of the day, you have to do what you believe will help you reach the goals that God has put in front of you. Unfortunately, sometimes that means that certain people will not be part of that journey with you, but doing your best to accommodate everyone in the room isn’t a bad goal if you can accomplish it.
What did I miss? I’m sure there are a thousand more ways to understand what people mean when they say the worship is “too loud.” Let me know in the comments below!