I get a lot of questions about how loud we run our services at Willow Creek. I always find it difficult to give a standard answer. Much of that comes from the fact that I think in terms of grey, as opposed to black and white. Each situation is different, so I tend to give the answer, “It depends”.
Audio volume is so subjective and dependent on so many factors. Saying that there is a perfect volume level, or a maximum not to exceed, is ridiculous to me. What isn’t ridiculous to me is the reality that not many people are willing to do the difficult work to figure out what is the right volume for your church.
Know what you are trying to do.
At every church, in every environment, it is important to know what you are trying to accomplish. It is important to know this before you get going so that we all know what a successful volume actually is. Are you trying to make it like a rock concert? A campfire sing-along? What is your service trying to accomplish?
When I was first starting out as a volunteer audio engineer, I used to get really upset by the long line of people at the sound booth after a service to complain about it being too loud. I remember talking to the music pastor about it, and he told me not to worry about it. He said that if he thought it was too loud or the senior pastor thought it was too loud, then we’d have a conversation. As far as he was concerned, it was exactly the volume it should be.
Because we had talked about it and we knew what we were trying to accomplish, I was able to be OK with the line each week, and I knew that I just needed to send them to my boss if they thought it was too loud.
The other thing this taught me was that it wasn’t necessarily my responsibility to carry the burden of how loud it should or shouldn’t be. As the audio engineer, it was my job to interpret what the leadership of my church had decided was the proper volume based on the goals of the service.
This responsibility thing cuts both ways. In one aspect it was nice that someone else could deal with the complainers in the congregation. In another way, I need to mix based on the desired outcome that the leadership had determined…not necessarily on my own personal taste.
If you are a leader and a decision-maker when it comes to how loud it should be, give your audio team the direction they need to succeed when it comes to volume.
If you are an audio engineer, ask your leadership to clarify what your church is trying to do with the audio mix, so that you have a better idea of where the mix should live. Once they have helped define the desired volume, mix to that standard and not your own.
There is way more to this topic, so we’ll continue this in another post…