In part one of this post, I talked about making sure you know what you are trying to do in your services and how volume fits into that. This is a leadership question, more than a dB question. As a church, what is your goal for the service? How loud it gets will be a part of that answer.
In this post, we are going to take a look at a different aspect of the “perfect volume”: the appropriate volume at the appropriate time.
In your service and in mine, there are moments that need to be loud, and there are moments that need to be quiet. Here are a few examples from my current experience:
Beginning of the service
When people first walk in, we tend to want to grab them with a high-energy song; something that people can really engage with. The trick with this is high energy tends to mean high volume. It is difficult to take people from the volume levels of lobby noise, right to 95dB without a clutch. So, even though the band might be killing a high-energy song on the stage, we try to ease into it, so that we don’t blow people’s heads off. By the end of the first song, we are usually up to a volume that matches the energy of what’s happening on stage.
Years ago, we hosted the band Delirious? at Willow Creek. One of the things I really marveled at was how loud it was at times, but then how quiet is was at times. They were really good at building a set with great dynamic range, having a quieter song at just the right moment. It gave everyone’s ears a nice rest.
If you are mixing audio at your church, it is really important to let these quiet moments get quiet. If the level of the kick drum is the same on a quieter song as on an upbeat song, you aren’t doing the moment justice. In our auditorium, it is really difficult to make the space feel intimate, but bringing the volume down for a quieter song actually helps to draw people into the intimacy of the moment.
Many times the people on stage need help to strip down arrangements to make them more simple for these types of songs. As the person out in the room trying to create something small and intimate, you can assist the band by suggesting potential ways to make things simpler and less busy.
In the case of the quiet moment, just giving ourselves a maximum, not to exceed dB level, doesn’t really address the need for us to make quiet moments, as quiet as they need to be.
I was once asked to mix FOH at a Willow Conference in Germany. This is a story in itself, but one thing I remembered is that the closing speaker had people whipped up into a frenzy, trying to get them as loud as possible. Someone in the booth grabbed the Radio Shack dB meter we had brought from the states and turned it on. The crowd was at 103db, A weight, slow.
From there, the worship team was going to lead us in one last song. This was one of the few times that I couldn’t get the PA loud enough. We struggled to get the band and vocals heard above the volume of the audience. When it was all said and done, I think we hit 110dB.
I would never say that we should be shooting for our loud moments in the service to be at 110dB, but the point is that for us to match the moment of what is happening in our service, sometimes we need it to get loud.
In this example, having a maximum ceiling on our dB levels doesn’t take into account a situation that requires that it be louder.
Mixing is an art form.
The “perfect volume” is something that changes with each nuance of the music and the changes happening throughout the service. To put all the responsibility for “how loud it is” on a dB meter is too simplistic and the wrong way to go about determining the audio levels in your services.