Top 10 Mixing Console Mistakes Churches Make – #3

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Sound Meter for Church Sound Engineers

This article is part of a series called The Top 10 Mistakes Church Sound People Make With Mixing Consoles. We’re on number 3. Go here for part 1.

#3 – Mixing levels with a sound meter

Some of the coolest apps to come out of the App Store are the RTA and SPL Meter apps. These innovations put affordable audio measuring tools into everyone’s hands. Well, everyone that owns a smartphone anyway. There are some out there who are still resisting and we know who you are. You are being watched.

Unfortunately, It also puts these tools into the hands of people who have no clue what they are using and what they are capable of. Therefore, I have a love-hate relationship with these apps.

Galaxy Audio Check Mate CM-130 SPL Meter – $79

I know of a church where their ushers and elders walk around the sanctuary with the SPL App in order to monitor the sound person. If the sound level exceeds 90db, the sound person gets a write-up.

But what does 90db mean?  A-weight, C-weight, average, peak, fast response, slow response? I can take you to gospel churches where the ambient noise from the worshippers is over 95dB!! And no, I am not kidding.

The Correct Reference

What is the correct reference? Are the iPhones calibrated? Are they aiming the mic at their chest or at ear level, or seated? There are so many variables.

I know of another church that measures only on an A-weight scale. That’s a little misleading for the church authority since A-weight hi-passes around 400Hz, and is used for speech. Again, what is the reference?

Neither time nor space permits me to give a white paper on the proper use of an SPL Meter, but here is a word for all those trying to live with the constraints of a meter. The Spirit does not live in the meter.  Personally, I rarely use one.  I do not want to restrict the flow of the service with a meter. Before you accuse me of just liking to mix loud, most traditional services that have a pipe organ far surpass 90 dB!

Keeping the pipe organ illustration in mind, is it too loud because there are electric guitars or drums? Or is it too loud because it is hurting people?

dbx RTA-M Measurement Microphone Analyzer Mic for DriveRack – $125

Volume Vs. Shape

Typically, the volume of the service is NOT what hurts people’s ears, “it is the shape” of the mix. Meaning the “ice pick in ear syndrome.” In other words, that 2k-6k frequency range will take your head off. Good use of the meter is to keep you in check when your point of reference is constantly changing.

For example, I have a good friend who mixes in a 5,000-seat church. The room acoustics constantly change depending on temperature, amount of people in the seats, etc. He uses the meter as a reference for consistency. It is also good for reference if you mix in several different size venues or acoustical spaces each week.

A Word Of Caution

Beware of riding a motorcycle, riding in a convertible, or riding with windows or sunroof open. Also, avoid concerts where your ears ring for days afterward. All of these activities will alter your perception of ”loud” and damage your long-term hearing.

Mix with dynamics. You shouldn’t have a wall of loud from start to finish! That is boring. In the upcoming months, we will publish a series of articles about “loudness” in a service. From a pastor’s perspective to a worship leader’s point of view to a technician’s feelings on the subject. Buckle up. It’s going to be a wild ride because I think you will find the differences in opinions very insightful. S

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, happy mixing and I hope these articles are helping you to create an even better environment for worship!


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