Don't Skip These 3 Steps in a New Building

There are some conversations that I have over and over. Of late, conversations about building a new building have been popping back up. Of course, hundreds of things need to be considered when building a new building, but there are few themes that seem to get missed more often that not. Skipping these things ensures two things: First, you and your congregation will not be happy with the performance of the sound, lighting and/or video in the room. Second, there will remain a healthy market for companies that specialize in fixing churches that were designed and built poorly. 

With that said, here are three things you cannot skimp on when entering a building project.

Fix the Acoustics Before You Build

First, the overall acoustic signature of the room has to be correct. This is where most churches take short cuts. They let the architect design the building; which is fine except most architects really don’t understand how acoustics work. Now that I work with architects, I understand why. They don’t look at buildings the same way we do as production folks. A few are getting better at it, but they're the ones who design churches for a living and have AVL guys on staff. 

The problem is most architects want the room to look nice and be easy to build. They never consider standing waves, comb filtering, reverberation time, reflections, and other nasty acoustical anomalies that will make it hard to get decent sound. Some argue that it can be fixed with electronics. It can't. There is no magic black box that will suddenly cancel out the bounce off the back wall that makes it really hard for everyone in the room to hear what the pastor is saying. 

So I strongly suggest all churches have an acoustician look at the plans before they are finalized. Most of the time, it only takes a few tweaks here and there to make a huge difference in how intelligible the room will be, and most of the time the cost to build is the same or only marginally higher. Very few churches get this part right, and it's why there's a huge market for acoustical study and retrofit of existing buildings. Given the acoustic treatment budgets in some of our remodel projects, I can guarantee you it’s a lot more expensive to fix it later. 

Don’t Skimp on Infrastructure

The second thing to consider is infrastructure. Again, most churches don't think of this. Audio, video, and lighting take a lot of wiring. If you leave it to the electrician to do it, you will be fighting the building forever. Especially if you are on a concrete slab. You need an easy way to get cabling from the tech booth to the stage; to speakers, to video projectors and to the dimmers. That means conduit. Conduit is cheap and easy to put in as the shell is going up. Afterward, not so much. Once you determine your needs for right now, lay out the conduits you need and make double-dog sure they get put in. Then add a few more empties just in case. And go big on the empties. Nothing is quite as frustrating as trying to figure out how to get a VGA cable down a 3/4" conduit (unless you enjoy making up Mini-15 connectors...). Having a couple of empty 2" conduits will make your life (or someone who comes after you) a lot easier in a year or three.

Get Your Systems Integrator Involved Early

The final thing (well, I could think of a dozen more, but these are the biggies) is to get your A/V/L systems integrator involved in the project now. Again, most churches wait until the building is up and drywall is being taped before considering who they'll use for the A/V. Bad idea. As with the acoustician, the earlier you get the A/V guys involved, the easier, cheaper and better the final product will be. They will be able to tell you what kind of wire to have pulled while the building is open. They can work with the acoustician to get the speaker fly points set correctly. They will be on the watch to make sure a duct run doesn't end up where you need to put a screen or projector. 

Choose your vendors carefully of course; make sure they have a proven track record of getting church design & install correct. Don't skimp on the design and planning phase. Cut out equipment if you have to. You can always re-purpose your existing mixer and upgrade to digital later. It's a lot harder to acoustically retrofit a poorly designed building. It's better to start with just a few lights and add as you go than to be fighting too low of a trim height because the building wasn't designed properly.

There is a lot to do when starting a building project. Sadly, the systems that churches rely on every single week to create powerful and engaging worship experiences are often afterthoughts at best. Don’t make that mistake. Your congregation will thank you later.

Roland

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Today's post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4" TRS outputs and one 1/8" (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com

It May Not Be Too Loud

Photo courtesy of Eliazar Parra Cardenas

Photo courtesy of Eliazar Parra Cardenas

It’s been a while since we’ve discussed everyone’s favorite live sound topic in the church; volume! Almost nothing will get people fired up more than trying to figure out how loud to run a service. If you ask 10 people in the congregation, you’re liable to get 11 answers. When I was a TD regularly mixing, I would get complaints from some people that it was too loud and from others that it wasn’t loud enough. And that was for the same service. The reality is, it will be almost impossible to please everyone in the congregation when it comes to volume. However, there are some things that we need to know before we even enter into the conversation. 

It May Be a Style Thing

A service mixed at 85 dBA SPL 10 second average may be too loud for someone if they don’t like Hillsong-style worship music. But that same person may have no problem with a pipe organ cranking away at 105 dBA SPL 10 second average. Some people see guitars on stage and say, “It’s too loud!” even if the guitars aren’t playing. Before you get into a heated argument about actual level, make sure you’re really talking about volume. 

It May Be a Mix Balance Thing

I’m an old guy now, but I still like music reasonably loud for worship. However, I’m not digging the current trend to make the kick and bass the lead vocal. I’ve heard several mixes—if they can be called mixes—where pretty much all I could hear (and feel) was the kick and bass. No vocals, no guitar, no keys, no anything else. And the low end was flappy and all over the place anyway. But for some reason, that’s how the guy mixed it. In all of those cases, the mix was too loud for me. It was just plain unpleasant to listen to. I really wouldn’t have mattered if it was 100 dB or 85 dB. 

I’ve also heard a few rooms where the system was tuned with so much energy in the 1-4 KHz range that it felt like an ice pick to the forehead. Again, it doesn’t really matter what level we’re talking about at that point, it’s too loud. This is where an RTA can be really helpful to see what’s going on in the room. If you see a big hump in the middle of the frequency range, you need to fix that because you’re going to get complaints. 

At that point, you have to figure out if it’s your mix or system tuning. But either way, you need to fix it.

It May Be a Acoustic Instrument Thing

Live drums are generally pretty loud. When churches put a full drum kit on a stage in a small room with all hard surfaces, the drums are going to be loud. In fact, they will probably louder than you want without even putting them in the PA. And you can’t turn them down at that point. I’m not going to go into how to solve that problem here (we’ve talked about that already—search for it), but those cymbals can be a chief source of complaints. Similarly, if you have guitar amps or bass amps on stage, they can often overpower the PA if the musicians aren’t disciplined. 

In this case, it actually is too loud. If you have to run the level of the mix higher than you ordinarily would just to make it work with the drums or guitars on stage, you have some work to do. Floor wedges can present a similar challenge. When I arrived at Coast Hills, when I turned off the main PA and measured just the stage wash, we were at about 86-88 dBA at FOH 90 feet away. At that time, our volume limit was 88 dB at FOH. I was pretty much done, so I went home. 

No, I didn’t go home, but you can see the challenge. It took a lot of energy, time and no small amount of money to fix that issue. But we did. 

The point of this article is to get you thinking about volume in a different way. It’s a much more nuanced problem than just what the Radio Shack SPL meter says. Or worse, the uncalibrated SPL app that everyone has on their phone. And by the way, the next time someone walks up, phone in hand telling you how loud it is, just ask them when the last time they calibrated their phone to an industry standard reference calibration. Then show them the calibration page and ask them where their calibration source is. That usually settles them down. 

Before you go getting into an argument about how loud it is, make sure you identify the real problem. What’s your favorite volume-related issue?

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

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Today's post is brought to you by myMix. myMix is an intuitive, easy-to-use personal monitor mixing and multi-track recording system that puts each user in control of their own mix! myMix features two line-level balanced 1/4" TRS outputs and one 1/8" (3.5mm) headphone output, the ability to store up to 20 named profiles on each station, 4-band fully parametric stereo output EQ recording of up to 18 tracks plus stereo on an SD card. Learn more at myMixaudio.com