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34 Common Sound, Lighting, and Video Mistakes
You Can’t Afford to Make in New Construction!

Building a new facility? Here are a few tips that will save you thousands and thousands of dollars and heartache gleaned from years of experience working on new construction sites. They are in no particular order.

1. Make sure the sound booth or room is placed where the operator can hear EXACTLY the same sound the audience is hearing. DO NOT glass in the room. You cannot mix sound in an enclosed room effectively, even if you have a large open window. The best place is on the floor in the seating area or in the balcony assuming that the sound in the balcony sounds exactly the same as it does on the main floor. No, you can’t use remote speaker monitors in the sound booth or headphones. It’s NOT the same thing.

The sound operator is your “automatic” thermostat for sound. He or she is going to adjust the sound the way they hear it, AT the place they hear it. If you put them in a place where the sound is not what the audience is hearing you will never get a good sound mix because they are adjusting the sound where they are hearing it. This is crucially important! Don’t mess this up thinking about how it’s going to look or security problems. If you are serious about getting the best possible sound, do what it takes to do it right.

2. Do not place the sound booth near noise generating air returns or other mechanical equipment. The noise will mask the sound heard by the sound techs and make it difficult to mix. Again, this is important and not to be taken lightly.

3. The wall behind the sound mixing position should be covered with acoustical absorption material to stop reflections. They won’t even be aware of it, but the sound techs will mix sound incorrectly because the sound bouncing off of the wall behind them, will “color” what they are hearing. They will misjudge the mid range frequencies in the mix.

4. The rear wall or the wall you see looking from the pulpit should be covered in acoustical absorption material. Rear wall reflections have been so severe in some places, it has caused the choir to miss a beat! They hear themselves a millisecond later from the bounce off of the rear wall causing time problems. Treating the rear wall will dramatically improve the sound quality of the room.

5. Choose the correct wall finishes for the best sound. It’s best to consult someone like myself to determine what the room is going to sound like before you build it. It can save thousands of dollars by not having to fix acoustic problems after the room is built. If you want to hear a great sounding multipurpose building, let me know. We used a special wall block in this installation for acoustical reasons. The sound is incredible!

6. Choose a heating and air designer that knows how to design a system, not just put flex pipes together. Heating and air ducts can be very noisy in a quiet space. A lot of heating and air people don’t know the first thing about proper duct design and are clueless about designing for proper airflow to reduce noise. There are many acoustic damping and noise isolation products to eliminate noisy air handlers. There’s nothing more annoying than getting engrossed in a good presentation only to hear an air handler come on, competing with the person talking.

7. If you are planning projection screens, think about problems with too much light on the screen by lighting fixtures nearby, windows, etc. You must control the light hitting projection screens and keep it to an absolute minimum. Put nearby lighting fixtures on dimmers so you can shut those off during a presentation. Position the screen in an alcove to block light from windows.

8. Bury conduit in the floor before the cement is poured. Put in plenty of pipes now leading to where you even think you might need a wire in the future. Pipe now is cheap as opposed to having to break the concrete floor later and install it or run exposed pipes because there is no way to conceal it.

9. Make sure the sound system equipment is not in the same electrical breaker panel as any light dimming equipment, otherwise you most likely will get a buzz in the sound system that’s hard to remove.

10. Put a telephone and network jack at any place there is sound equipment. Most of our systems are split and has equipment in the sound booth and in some other electrical room in the building. Have telephones lines at both locations. It makes it easier to troubleshoot problems. A lot of problems can be solved with a telephone call when someone can stand there and tell me what I need to know. Cell phones aren’t reliable enough in some locations. I’ve already been through that a few times. Many audio devices use in house networks for control so installing a network connection is also smart.

11. One way to solve some of the security problems with sound, is to place a keyed power switch in the sound booth. You have to be one of the operators with a key to get any power in the booth. This stops those folks that want to play the system and tinker around.

12. Consider a whole building lightning suppression system. There are systems that attach directly to the power meter base or primary power panels to minimize lightning damage from a strike anywhere on the system. Electronic equipment is very sensitive to power surges and lightning. The cost of whole system protection is worth it when you have a major strike. The insurance companies will love you for it.

13. DO NOT build a solid concrete stage! Invariably you will want to install more microphone jacks, power outlets, or do some special effect for a production at some time in the future. It is impossible to do anything with a concrete stage. NOBODY in the entertainment business ever builds a concrete stage that can’t be modified at some point in the future.

14. Avoid curved walls behind or above the stage area. Curves focus sound. That is not a good thing on the stage. A curved ceiling over the stage, if not done correctly, can cause insurmountable sound problems with microphones at certain resonant frequencies.

15. Plan your sound, lighting, and video systems NOW BEFORE you pour the concrete. Don’t wait until after the building is finished and try to fit it in. I like to design the speakers particularly to fit the décor before the building is built, not try to make them look right afterwards.

16. Do not rely on lay people to know what they are doing when it comes to light, sound, and video. While they mean well and think they might know something, this area demands expertise or you will get it wrong. It can cost big money to fix problems that would have easily been avoided if a trained eye were overseeing your project. Bring in someone like myself to oversee the layout of your sound, lighting, and video from the start. I can see and point out problems that are easily missed that lay people will never see coming.

Don’t rely on band members, musicians, music stores, or the local electronic store. They all mean well, but don’t acoustically design sound for a living. That includes architects and building contractors too. They don’t have a clue about such issues as sound, lighting, and video.

REMEMBER – you are building an auditorium. A place for people to hear, experience, and see your message. That demands the correct designs in sound, lighting, and video that is custom fitted to your style of worship, future plans, and building layout.

17. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES enter a contract with a builder that is not bonded! I got burnt badly by this. The contractor went bankrupt during the building process leaving several of us subs loosing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

18. Take the time to plan your sound, lighting, and video carefully. Remember that your sanctuary is a meeting place for folks to hear, see, and ultimately receive your message.

19. Here’s something that doesn’t have anything to do with sound. I’ve listened to church staff complain about people putting chewing gum, paper, trash, etc. into the pew back hymn holders. The first thing I ask “Well, where’s your trash can?”. There never is one. Consider having some nice trash receptacles near sanctuary doors.

20. Put plenty of power receptacles around the stage area. One or two won’t get it in today’s tech world. You might need power for music groups, computers, and who knows what. Don’t put them all on one circuit either. Don’t forget network connections too.

21. Use the proper lighting on the pulpit area. Often lights are positioned too high on the ceiling causing dark shadows under the eyes of the talker at the pulpit or what we call “Raccoon Eyes”. Move the pulpit lights farther back in the room at lower angles. This will make a huge difference when you make a video.

22. About video. If you are considering video recording, make sure you have the correct lighting. Standard room lighting is not good enough. You need special lighting. The lighting must be even across the entire stage and must maintain a proper color temperature.

23. If you’re adding a new building next to your sanctuary install a conduit for communications cable between the buildings while they are digging in the dirt and before the asphalt goes down. You’ll be thankful for it later.

24. Pick your sound techs carefully. Not just anybody has what it takes to operate the system. Look for someone with a musical ear that knows what good music is supposed to sound like.

25. Consider making the sound techs job a paid position. This creates a much higher expectation of job responsibilities.

26. When designing your sanctuary, work with the sound engineer and architect to create architectural features that hide speaker systems.

27. If you plan for a lighting truss or front of house lighting, that too can be incorporated into the ceiling during the design phase. Doing it later never works out well. Even if you can’t afford to buy the equipment now, at least build the features into the ceiling to mount the fixtures when the time comes.

28. Always consider that any equipment must be serviced from time to time. Plan your equipment for easy access. Don’t put equipment against walls that can’t be serviced from the rear or so high in the air, it requires a lift to get to it. This includes any equipment whether it is sound, video, computer server farms, copying machines, etc.

29. Security is a major issue these days. Consider remote controlled electric door locks that can be controlled from any telephone touch pad. The visitor presses a button on the outside that signals the phones throughout the building or selected phones. The staff can talk to the visitor and from any phone and unlock the door. It will save a ton of steps running to unlock doors. Of course, security cameras are important too. For day care and similar situations use a time lapse recorder that records all cameras at once. If you have to you can go back and review who was where when.

30. Use LCD or plasma display panels in the lobby or hallways with rotating messages about your church ministries

31. Install computer hookups at the pulpit for Power Point presentations using your projection system. I typically will install connections in the sound booth and pulpit so you can use a computer at both or either end.

32. Use digital dimmers with zoned lighting. Press a button for a wedding look, another setting would provide just enough light to clean by – no need to have every light on, another setting could be for special prayer services, etc. Digital dimming offers so many conveniences and cost saving features, in my mind it’s a required feature.

33. Make SURE that the lighting is wired side to side NOT front to back. This is a HUGE problem I often see. If you have a video screen behind the choir lets say and you want to dim the lighting just in front of the screen, you want the lighting wired so that the entire row of lights from left to right are all on the same circuit. You want to dim the lights a row at a time across the church. You DO NOT want the lights wired so that you are dimming a strip of lights down the center of the church! This MUST be wired correctly from the beginning, as it will cost big money to change it later.

34. DON’T use scanning fire detectors over the stage area. These are laser beams that fire over distance to a reflector and bounce back to the sending unit. If smoke, dust, or a fog machine used in a theater effect for that matter, blocks the beam, the fire alarm goes off. While these are nifty detectors that can scan a large area for smoke, that is not what you want to use over a stage. Eventually, you will want to install more theater lighting, trusses, stage curtains, or who knows what overhead and that beam of light from the smoke detector is going to be in the way. Use a zoned fire detection system over the stage and plan this out, think it through.

If you would like some help with your new project and need experienced eyes and ears, call or email. I can act as consultant or design/build and make sure you get it right.