It's Too Loud Pt. 2

OK, we're back to discussing the age old question of loudness in the church. Just how loud is too loud? First, consider this: Volume should be relative to:

  • Attendance
  • Quality
  • Acousitcs
  • Worst Seat in the House
  • Visual Expression
  • Instrumentation
  • Context

That list is courtesy of Chris Gille of Willow Creek. Some of those items are fairly obvious. A lightly attended mid-week service probably doesn't need to be as loud as a full-house Sunday morning. If the band is sub-par, turning them up won't help (go ahead, ask me how I know this!). The acoustics of your room play a role, too. How does your room react do different levels, and different loading (the number of people and where they sit). You need to consider how loud (or soft) it is in the worst seat in the house. What type of visuals are happening, and are they served better by loud or soft? Consider instrumentation; a solo acoustic guitar ballad probably doesn't need to be 104 dB. Finally the context. Is this a rockin' praise set or a funeral? It makes a difference.

Now that we've thought about what affects how loud it should be, we should have a means of coming up with some sort of empirical  measurement of how loud it is. The easiest way to do that is with a Sound Pressure Level (SPL) meter. You can pick one up at Radio Shack for about $50. I suggest you start by placing the meter at FOH and paying attention to it for a few services. What kind of readings are you getting? How loud does it get? What does a soft song look like? Do this for a few weekends and you'll have some data.

Next, you need to sit down with the church leadership and come up with some guidelines. Look at your data. If the consensus is that it was too loud for those weeks in question and you're seeing peaks of 100 + dB, then you need to back it down. If it feels like it could go up, take it up. It may take a month or two to come up with a policy, but once you do, you then have an answer to give people who ask about it. 

It's helpful to know what you should be measuring. The best setting for measuring music is C-weighted as it more closely approximates how we hear. However, there's very little research being done with C-weighting, so Chris recommends that you use A-weighted, slow. That will give you an average over the last second or so of the level. There is a wealth of data using A-weighting (for example, the maximum allowable daily exposure for 95 dBA is 4 hours—did you know that?) 

The point of all this is to get to a place where when someone says it's too loud, you can give an answer that will be supported by the leadership. And it will get to a place of consistency if you have multiple people mixing. Everyone knows the target ranges (for example, Willow runs their services between 85-95 dBA), and can mix appropriately. 

Once you work your way through this process, you will have the leadership on the same page and will know for sure if you are "too loud" or not. If you have someone chronically complaining about the level, you can eventually suggest that this might not be the church for them. Everyone has different tastes, and as we said earlier, we will never please everyone. Ever.