It's Too Loud

"It's too loud!" If you've spent any time at all behind a soundboard in a church, you've heard those words. Oddly, it's not uncommon to also hear, "It's too quiet," in the same service. This was a topic that Robert Scovill hit on in the session, "Thriving at Front of House."  What follows are some of my thoughts on the topic, some of Scovi's and some of his thoughts with my commentary. But first, here's something he said that I found absolutely fascinating.

"Mixing sound in church is one of the hardest jobs out there. Big-shot tour guys have it easy compared to church sound guys." How could this be? Isn't the professional touring world a tougher environment than the church, a place filled with grace and love? Uh, yeah. Again, if you've mixed in a church for more than a month, you know it's really easy for grace and love to go out the window with the PA is turned on. Everyone's a FOH engineer and self-professed expert. 

There's no other position that everyone feels they have as much right to speak into than FOH. Few would ever tell a children's worker how to handle a crying toddler, but just as few have a problem telling the sound guy that the guitar sounded terrible. At least in the touring world, they have system engineers, high tech equipment, a ton of experience and factory support, not to mention good musicians. But I digress.

The first thing Scovi said was this, "How you respond to that statement [It's too loud] is absolutely critical." It's critical for a number of reasons. First, it's important to know that you will never please everyone. Ever. Let's just get that out of the way now. You don't want to make an adjustment in your sound just because one person out of 500 or a 1,000 or 3,000 said it was too loud. We don't want the inmates running the asylum. 

Second, you need to believe in what you are doing. That means you need to know how loud it actually is, what the church's policy is toward loudness and how the room is responding. Just because an usher tells you it's too loud doesn't mean it actually is. On the other hand, if the Senior Pastor tells you it's too loud, you might want to look into it. 

Third, you need to figure out what the person is really saying. Here are some possible interpretations to the phrase, "Its too loud." (from Scovi)

  • "I would prefer a different style of music."
  • "I don't really like distorted guitar."
  • "I don't like the spectral balance of the PA system—especially where I'm seated."
  • "The balance is out of whack—ie. one or two things are too loud."

Depending on the circumstances it may be beneficial to delve into some followup questions to determine what the person is actually saying. If you're in the middle of the praise set, perhaps the best thing you can do is say, "Thank you so much for telling me, I'll look into it," then follow up later. 

This is where it really helps to have a policy in place regarding volume. Tomorrow we'll talk more about that; how to figure out what your volume levels should be, developing a policy and gaining the support of leadership.