Monday, February 2, 2009

If you must have a "worship band," please read this...

Here's a good word on the Out of Ur blog to remind us who is accompanying whom when we sing praises in worship, and a few implications of that fact.


chris huff said...

The arguments of John G. Stackhouse are valid to some extent but he fails to recognize several points.

First, he does not mention the "sound guy" anywhere in his diatribe. It is ultimately the sound guy who has control over the volume levels. If the sound is too loud (for a majority) or blares well above the congregations singing, then I agree it's a problem. Most sound tech's I know run in the 92-96 dB range. This is within the "PERMISSIBLE NOISE EXPOSURES" as deemed by OSHA. In fact, I know one who said when he runs the sound a little hotter, the congregation feels energized as can be observed by their actions and comments to him. Bottom line here, it's the sound guy, not the musicians who are usually to blame for volume problems.

Second, the phrase "consider that you might be marginalizing older people, most of whom probably do not like Guns N' Roses volumes at church" leads to the eventual understanding that only songs that appeal to an older crowd should be sung. For example, listen to a song on CD while driving in heavy traffic. Now listen to it via headphones. Suddenly you hear instruments you never noticed before. If all instruments are played at the same level, the music mix is no good. Listen to classical music such as a piccolo that plays "in the background." When everything is played at lower volumes, you are not respecting the arrangement of the song or the listener's ears. This is not to say that levels have to be head bangingly loud. Just that they might be louder than the 85 year old man might like. Now Stackhouse's argument does start to fall apart a bit because as we grow older, our ears are known to fail us. Therefore, the higher volume levels would not necessarily be noticed by an aging congregation. See this image on hearing loss in men. That part aside, I do thing we must recognize that if we cater to the older congregation, we will only be singing hymns until the point in which the older crowd is made up of those who grew up on AC/DC, Metallica, GnR, and 80's pop.

Third, the argument that "the speakers in most church PA systems" are not meant for such music is a poor example. If correct speakers were present, then it's not an issue. Such an argument should be used so churches have modern technology which can reproduce sound with a much higher quality.

The only argument which I believe he properly raises is this..."But a church service isn't a concert at which an audience sings along with the real performers." This I see as a valid point in light of the emergence of worship teams over the last few years, thanks in most part to the popularity of "Praise CD's." If I love a song, i crank up the volume. If I'm upset or angry (emotional), I'm more likely to strum harder on my guitar. You combine these and you get loud music on stage. It's the education of worship teams, worship leaders, and sound tech's about sound levels and sound quality that is crucial at this time.

The song "heart of worship" came out of a time when a worship team started thinking too much of themselves. That is a battle that everyone faces - the "it's-all-about-me" battle, or what I like to call "ego." This can be controlled and kept in check by the worship leader acting as a shepherd over the team, the team praying before a service, and by members having a right relationship with God.

Stackhouse should have written a different article: Memo to Church Sound Guys: Please Learn to Mix Sound Properly.

Michael Mercer said...


Good points, especially for the smaller church, like the one in which you serve. However, in my experience, with regard to many larger churches his points ring quite true. In those congregations, the minister of music usually oversees the sound levels as well as the presentation on stage. We visited a church that is very dear to us recently, and were (literally) "blown away" by the band. You couldn't hear yourself sing, much less the congregation around you. As I glanced around, in fact, I saw very few people in the "audience" singing. It simply was not "congregational" music, though I'm sure that was what was intended. I left church that morning feeling that I had been to a concert and a talk, not worship.

And remember, this from a guy who still goes to Dave Matthews concerts and enjoys them!

chris said...

I've been discussing this topic and article on my church audio web site - a modified the what I wrote for my audience. What I have seen over the last year of communicating with other sound guys is there is a vast range of talent for those who run audio. I know full-time guys who went to school for it. I know guys who have been doing it for years with no formal training - all trial-and-error. This is why I ended my article on my site with saying a lot of it is about education. Someone can run sound but that doesn't mean they really know what they are doing. There is a lot of science as well as art to it.
If you don't mind, email the names of the "loud churches" to me via my web site. I'd like to listen for myself. I'm curious what else they are doing wrong. I try writing topics on my site that aren't overly technical and are useful for most sound techs.
I know sound techs that visit other churches and carry a portable decibel meter... :)