Typically cost considerations focus on the cost of products, and installation. Several prices from different “contractors” are gathered and a committee or a few courageous people are chosen to review the proposals. Often the final choice is based more on price than performance since there is no real way for the buyer to measure performance until the system is installed. That was until the ARTICULATION COVERAGE TEST © was invented!
Product familiarity also tends to influence the buyer’s decision to purchase a system whether or not the particular product brand is the best choice for their particular needs. This is because music store level products are more visible in the marketplace than professional products used by sound engineering professionals in major public venues like auditoriums, stadiums, arenas, larger church installations, business applications, etc. There’s always a comfort level when buying something you’ve heard of instead of something you’ve not.
Another “gotcha’” is the buyer is unaware that the majority of states do not require licensing of “sound contractors” other than a simple business license. There is no required schooling of any type to ensure some level of competence by the “contractor” to provide an adequate system solution. Because of this fact the chance of getting the right system is slim to none for first time buyers. Even after the church has been through several upgrades the lack of licensing still looms over every future buying decision. We have seen some churches go through 7 upgrades before getting a good system! Think of the wasted money! Think of how all of that money could have been used more effectively.
Throwing away thousands of dollars is only the tip of the iceberg. That is a very small assessment of the cost of owning a sound system. Most of us never consider the true cost in terms of your ministry.
Imagine the frustration experienced by a pastor preparing for hours to deliver a message only to have it ruined by a poor sound system. If you’ve never spoken to a crowd of people believe me when I say you can look in their faces and know whether or not you’re connecting. If the front rows are responding and the back 2/3 rds have blank stares on their face, the sound system is not working! That doesn’t mean they can't hear you. It means they can’t understand what you’re saying. It takes a lot of wind out of your sails because while you’re talking you realize that you are wasting most of the people’s time sitting there and your hours of work are in vain no matter how important the message is. The fact is you’re not communicating.
Choirs and music department heads work for weeks to present the best Christmas and Easter production they can. Drama teams work hours practicing dialogues. The men are building props. Moms are running all over town finding fabrics, making costumes, rushing through dinner to be at practice on time with their kids. The church is humming like a bee hive for a few weeks before the production is to begin. Anxiety builds as the big day approaches.
The sanctuary is full by 7:00 PM with everyone waiting to see and hear your presentation of the Christmas story. The audience is treated to various tones of squeals and feedback throughout the production because the sound operator can’t get the choir microphones hot enough to hear the voices of the choir at the back pews. There is a nice melodic roar from the choir but we can’t understand a word. We’re not communicating. And the music director knows it.
The drama starts. Untrained actors are abundant in most churches. Churches that have good actors that can project their voices are blessed. The rest need help with being heard. A lapel mic for each actor is used. However feedback once again is a problem. Even with a lapel mic the operator is having problems getting the mic hot enough to pick up the timid voices plus it sounds muddled when it does get loud enough to hear. The audience can’t follow the storyline, heads begin to nod off, and people look at their watches wondering how much longer before it ends. We’ve not communicating. And everyone knows it.
It’s time for the children’s special. Proud parents and grandparents ready themselves for a grand event. The costumes look great. Even little Johnny wiped the chocolate bar off his face before coming on stage. The music starts. The music ends. Never heard the kids. We’ve not communicating. The parents are thinking “ I went through a lot of trouble for this. I wished I could have heard them!” The grandparents just politely sit in quiet desperation. They wished they could have heard them too.
The soloist walks out. No problem being heard here! When she reaches the mid high notes it makes your skull resonate and your right eye flinch a little. We still can’t make out some of what she sang but we definitely hear it. We’re not communicating. The soloist and the sound operator think that finally something went right. The older folks are wondering why does it have to be so loud and is glad the noise stopped when she stops.
Audio recordings are being sold to help pay for the production. The recordings are unbalanced, distorted, and the people most excited about getting a recording can’t hear their kid at all on the CD / DVD. We’ve not communicating.
People are leaving patting everyone on the back for a fine job. Everyone’s glad it’s over so we can all breath a sigh of relief that once again we made it through the Christmas production.
After being invited as a guest to eat dinner with a new acquaintance would you dare tell them that the meal wasn’t very good or you didn’t like this or that? Of course not. You would try with all of your will power not offend your host. People want to be nice. They most likely won’t tell you that they couldn’t hear the kids. They won’t tell you that they didn’t understand a lot of the words of your sermon. Grandparents won’t tell you how disappointed they were that they couldn’t hear most of what was going on. Only one or two may complain and since they are the minority, the problems they mention are discarded as “well, only a couple of people had complaints but everybody else seemed like they enjoyed it” so we must not have too much of a problem. What about the embarrassment of the choir, drama team, and music director? They know how hard they worked and how it could have been a much more deep reaching ministry without constant sound system problems.
Squeaks, howls, hiss, and noise destroy the worship experience. Not to mention the constant tension everyone feels wondering when the next squeal is coming or whether or not anyone will be able to hear the next drama line so critical to the story. Have you ever watched TV with the sound turned off or too low to hear clearly what’s happening? Someone in your sanctuary could be experiencing this every worship service.
How much is it worth to ensure that everyone hears your ministry? How much is it worth to communicate to everyone seated in your sanctuary? How much is it worth to reach those people that need your ministry the most? How much is it worth for those that have the gifts of ministry in word and song to be able to perform their best? Is it worth $50 a seat? $100? Or maybe $200 per person? If you could reach into a person’s heart and move them with your ministry that would change their life forever how much would you be willing to pay?
A sound system is often thought of as a “fixture” like a piece of furniture or something the youth fusses about wanting. I agree that there are instances where we get caught up getting the thing than doing the work. But, in today’s ministry sound plays a major role. There’s not one ministry that is not by the performance or lack thereof a sound system except perhaps for the smallest of sanctuaries. Even then they want to at least record the services and provide hearing assistance systems.
Think carefully about how the performance of a sound system directly impacts your efforts in ministry. Think not only in terms of the purchase price but in the long term cost of owning a system. Will this system provide clean clear sound at every seat? You can be sure! Read the topic “How to tell if your new sound system will reach the audience” on our web site.
Think about how the music director, choir, soloists, musicians, praise and worship team, pastor, guest speakers, lay persons that speak, drama team, and other members of your particular ministries will be affected by a good and bad system choice. Will they be comfortable and confident singing or will they be on edge? The congregation will feel the emotion or lack of it during a choir special. Will they enjoy the music worship or feel the tension in the choir left by the last squeal from the sound system? Will the congregation be moved by the words of the song or hear a melodic roar from the choir loft? If you already know the words of the song that’s one thing. But if you are a visitor waiting to be inspired that’s another. You must be able to hear clearly to the words of the choir at the back seating in the church.
Can you look at your congregation and tell who suffers hearing loss? No. Will they tell you? Some maybe, most no. It’s hard enough to get hard of hearing people past the vanity of wearing a small earphone so they can hear let alone having them admit they have a problem! People squint for years before breaking down and buying a pair of eyeglasses. It’s hard to admit to ourselves that we are getting older. The right sound system can solve most minor hearing problems. The wrong one makes things worse.
Good musicians, music directors, and sound operators are hard to find and even harder to keep.
Musicians have certain artistic standards that perhaps most can’t understand. You can’t play well if you don’t sound good. I know. I’m a musician. A sound system must be able to accurately reproduce the full tonal range of all instruments involved in your ministry. A flute player won’t be thrilled about playing if she sounds like a whistle through your sound system.
Sound system operators are under a tremendous amount of pressure to tweak the right knob at the right time to make your ministry come to life particularly the music and drama programs. They don’t like working a system on the edge of feedback. It’s like trying to steer a car with a pair of pliers clamped onto the steering column instead of using a steering wheel. It can be done but it’s real work. System ops don’t like to be embarrassed any more than those standing on the platform by feedback howls and squeals. They are also blamed many times for problems that are inherent in the sound system design, problems they unknowingly have no control over. But they are there doing their best to make you sound good, sound warts and all.
Music and choir directors bear the brunt of complaints from all sides. My blessings to all of you out there struggling to put together a music department. I’ve worked with hundreds of you and admire your persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable technical problems!
The music directors I know have to be able to fix a 4 year old’s costume, program a Power Point presentation, know the latest translation software, keep up with digital keyboards, write scripts, work with all sorts of instruments, be an ambassador of world peace to every choir member, and all sorts of other tasks to keep the music department together. It’s an awesome responsibility. The last thing they need is worrying about how the sound system is going to make the choir sound. The sound system should just work period! The choir sings, they sound great, everyone seated can easily hear the words, the music is balanced, and the recording sounds like a CD. Thrill a music director. Get a good sound system.
Like I’ve been saying for years. Your sound system is your most valuable tool of ministry. Get it right. You don’t have to buy the most expensive brand on the market. But you must get good enough to make sure your ministries are effective and keep talented people.
The purchase price of a
sound system is a very small investment
copyright 2013 Cathedral Sound