Church Sound Sucks!

Of all the venues in the world where the magnificent art of live sound is practiced, churches have to be the worst. Well, that and your local garage band and their definition of sound (read: noise).

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Matt, you got started in this industry BECAUSE of church sound! This is the very reason you have a business, it’s your life. You’re being sacrilegious!” I know, I know… bear with me for a min, you’ll see where I’m going.

CHURCH SOUND SUCKS!

There. I said it. It’s out there. I can’t take it back. And you know what, I don’t want to. You know why… Cause it’s true. Church sound sucks. It really does. And trust me, I am well able to speak on this subject. I’ve been in tons of churches, big and small, all across North America. Let me tell you why.

Church sound sucks because it’s got to be the biggest place where live sound or professional audio is used but not by trained personnel. Herein lies the problem. The House of Worship market is huge, like really, really big! Our city of 380,000 people has over 400 churches. There are hundreds of thousands of churches all over North America. Now there are a bunch of churches that have great sound. But that’s not what I’m talking about right now.

Here is the main issue: Most churches don’t have a trained person running their audio. They have a volunteer. Now don’t misunderstand, I LOVE VOLUNTEERS! I love MY volunteers! Our church media people are all volunteers and they’re pretty stinking good at what they do! Even though my volunteers are great and I’ve worked very hard to train them, there are many churches where this is not the case. Most churches come by this honestly.  Most churches do not have the ability to employ a staff member who is a true Professional Audio person.  It’s strictly a budget issue. It takes a lot of cash to employ an A/V Pro just to run a Sunday morning service. So where do most churches find their sound guy? The normal ‘media person/sound guy’ is the guy who knows how to program his VCR. The normal ‘media person/sound guy’ usually doesn’t have an ear (every ProAV guy knows what I’m talking about).  Not only that, but he usually has very little training in how to run a console, how to run a mix, how to equalize, how a compressor works, I could go on… But he struggles along, does his job and does his best. And for that, he’s awesome!

Now the second issue that causes church sound to suck… is the bad system design that prevails in most churches. Again, this isn’t usually the church’s fault in principle. Most churches don’t have the budget to install a proper system. Most churches don’t have the budget to keep up their systems, to upgrade them properly, and to maintain them properly. Now I know that this is a tough topic, church is church and money is money and I understand that. But it is what it is and unfortunately it is something where money dictates what most churches install and there never seems to be enough money. In addition, most churches don’t get any help from the integrators that work with them. I go into more churches where an integrator did a terrible job specifying and installing a system. Sometimes the churches know it, some times they don’t. Many times, they swear by their integrator but when I walk in…. I cringe!

When you add these two things together: People that don’t know what they’re doing, along with a lack-luster audio system — You get church sound that sucks! It is what it is. I see this all the time. You’re sitting in a church during music and it’s painful to your ears. It’s actually hard to be in the room, let alone, worship. During the sermon, you’ve got buzzes and pops and ground loops galore. The worst part, the guy behind the console doesn’t know how to fix it… or even worse… doesn’t realize something is wrong.

Now I realize this sounds awfully judgmental, and it is. The reason I say it, is because someone has too. Most people don’t want to bring it up, they know its bad, but they don’t want to acknowledge it! What I want to see is us, as integrators, work harder to properly serve the House of Worship market. We need to find creative solutions that will get a better final product into these churches.  I also want to encourage integrators to do what ever you can to train your churches volunteers. You’d be amazed at how willing most volunteers are to learn something from us. If you’re an integrator attending a church, step up and help. You’d be a great resource to your church.  Pay it forward!

Now, to the church volunteer… I love you, man! Seriously, you rock! Thanks for doing what you do.  Sunday doesn’t happen unless we do what we do every service. Don’t take anything I said as a slight towards you. It’s not! If you’re willing to learn, we’re willing to teach! If there is any way I can help, just drop me a line.  I’m willing to help anyway I can!

5 Comments

  • Good words, Matt. You are so right. The issues come down to ill-prepared techs and a sub-par system. It is up to us in the industry to help at least the churches we have connections with as a start. Then, continue to preach the message of a proper system and well trained staff/volunteers.

    • Yes, too often I see churches get products that I would never even consider spec’ing for their situation. So many bad companies selling churches crap. And crap on two different levels: 1. Sometimes the actually equipment is garbage stuff!
      2. Sometimes the equipment is awesome, but way overkill for what the church needs, but it meant more profit for the integrator.

      It’s something that bother me immensely. I’ve seen a sub 100 member church be sold on a $18k digital board going through $300 speakers. Bad integrator = bad system

  • Excellent post Matt! The number one mission of the church is to carry forth the gospel. The most important tool we utilize to minister to our congregations is the audio system. Yet it never ceases to amaze me that this area is usually the one in which churches invest the least, not only in technology but also people. Romans 10:17 sums it up very nicely “faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” (NASB)

    • I agree completely. It not only frustrates me but also disappoints me greatly when I see, or rather, hear terrible sound in most churches. Unfortunately most of the problems could be fixed fairly easily and yet are never addressed.

  • YES!
    I Googled “why does church sound suck” today after Sunday morning service, and this popped up right on top! I could not agree more with the above.
    I was a volunteer sound engineer at a church for about ten years during which time I was instructed and trained by a professional sound engineer who subsequently moved on to a much, much larger church in Nashville. I said that to let you know I was deemed to have an “ear” and the skill to mix live sound.
    I have recently started going to the church I grew up in after many years away. They have great equipment at both ends of the system…but the sound truly sucks! They simply don’t listen to their mix with fresh, if any, ears. The pastor is the main sound guy, so you know they’re already behind the 8 ball. Loud and boomy is the preferred mix. Vocals…? You must mean bass guitar and a kick that sounds like it should be in the River City Marching Band…Vocals? we don’t need no stinking vocals!
    I am in the beginnings of getting myself integrated into the church family, with the hope that I can again be a volunteer sound guy, and “lend an ear”.
    Thanks for letting me vent.

    Sincerely,

    Tracy Harris

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