Ask Rick Muchow- Sound Level
QUESTION: Sound Level?
How do you get to the right sound levels and how do you manage sound level problems?
-Chris, serving in Florida
Everyone gets sound complaints. We get complaints every week at Saddleback. I don’t think there has been one week in 17 years when I haven’t had complaints. It seems everyone has an opinion on sound level. Several times during the same service, I’ve had complaints that the sound level at the same time is both “too loud” and “too soft.”
Several years ago, our Senior Pastor, Rick Warren, said from the platform that he likes the music loud, and that it is going to be loud at Saddleback because our audience of baby boomers like to feel their music. Immediately the following week, we still had complaints about the sound, but now they took on a more “spiritual” tone.
Music is just such a very personal preference. It is purely subjective. That’s why there are so many styles of music! Even those God has gifted with musical talent have differing opinions. Think about that for a minute. God could have easily given the gift of music to be executed in only one way, but as we’ve seen throughout creation, God likes variety.
In the Bible, God uses different volume levels for different purposes. Illustrations like the ocean’s roar, thunder claps, and the shaking of the earth and others in the Psalms are filed with different expressions of worship at different volumes. Of course we have to keep in mind Paul’s admonition that without Love, our sound levels are worthless.
Here are a couple of guidelines to aid in the attempt to reach the right sound levels and manage sound level problems:
1) The right level is the one that pleases your target audience, if you are using the Purpose-Driven© model. Reach out to your audience. Avoid pleasing yourself. I haven’t heard from God directly on this, so the following are my words not God’s. The sound level that pleases God is the level that gets the attention of His children, both in the church family and the lost He’s trying to reach. My audience is dictated by my Senior Pastor because he carries the vision. My job is to support his philosophy of ministry.
2) Before turning up the PA system, ask the band to turn down.
3) Get a decibel meter. Saddleback runs between 97 and 101 on the weekend. Concert volume peaks at 105 db. A general rule of thumb is that constant exposure for 30 minutes at 100 db will cause damage, but every person can be different. Be sure to check with an audiologist about what sound level and length of exposure will cause damage.
4) Try venues. Venues are multiple services but with different music or affinity audiences. Have a loud room and soft room.
5) Check your worship center space to locate its hot spots and dead spots, so that when someone says the sound is too loud or soft, you can suggest an alternate place to sit.
6) Loud does not equal positive energy. Perception of volume is frequency dependent. A screechy guitar and a soft flute may be at the same volume but will be perceived as being loud vs. soft.
7) Service for general audiences with young and old all together require you to incorporate varied dynamic levels. Some bands play all songs at the same level. It will be immediately helpful for complaints if you do a louder song followed by a softer song.
8) Minimize your stage volume. The louder the stage volume, the more jumbled the house mix is, and a jumbled house mix causes people to perceive the sound as either too loud or too soft. Sometimes when a person says the sound is “too loud” what is really happening is this jumble caused by loud stage volume.
Even after doing your best to create the sound level appropriate for your audience, you will still get complaints. Shepherds, love your complainers. Validate the person! Their comment is real for them. Don’t take their comments personally. Be honest. Understand how they feel. If you receive a letter, quickly respond with empathy and explain the strategy. If you can make adjustments, make them. Not every complainer is wrong. Ask for God’s help to ministry to all people. Ask for clarity from your pastor; honest evaluation, and submit yourself to his authority.
Rick Muchow is the Pastor of Worship at Saddleback Church and for Rick Warren's Purpose-Driven network. He has been serving faithfully at Saddleback for 21 years and oversees the Worship Arts ministry which consists of the Creative Arts, Technical Arts and Worship Leadership Teams at Saddleback Church. Rick also serves as one of 7 Elders which serve the ministry at Saddleback. Rick has recorded 11 albums and has 84 songs registered with CCLI. Rick is the author of The Worship Answer Book published by Thomas Nelson and is a Contributing Editor for Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal. Rick’s worship recordings and resources including the Purpose-Driven© Life resources, are available at EncouragingMusic.com (http://www.encouragingmusic.com.)
Scott A. Shuford is the President of Creator Worship, part of Creator Leadership Network, and the CEO of FrontGate Media, the largest culture-engaged media group in the Christian market (http://www.FrontGateMedia.com.) He is a frequent speaker on marketing for musicians and worship at the NAMM Show and Christian Musician Summits, and is a regular columnist for Worship Musician! magazine.