The Non-Negotiables – Part 1

These last several months as an independent engineer have given me the opportunity to visit a lot of churches and see a lot of different ways people are doing things. I’ve seen some great stuff along with some things that could be improved.

I believe audio in churches can and should be great, so I want to start a new series today focused on things that are my non-negotiables when I’m trying to get great audio. Every situation has its own unique needs and approaches, but these are going to be the core things I find necessary for just about any audio situation to reach its full potential for greatness. Without these elements it can be very difficult to achieve something great. So let’s get started.

Non-Negotiable #1 – Proper Loudspeaker System

I’m starting with the basics. When I’m mixing, I need a full-frequency range loudspeaker system that will achieve loudspeaker coverage so the entire listening area can hear along with enough headroom to reach the SPL level my client desires to achieve the experience they want. In other words, every seat should sound reasonably close to the others in level and tonality.

I’ve been happy to find most of the churches I’ve visited lately have loudspeaker systems that can by and large achieve the coverage they need and SPL levels they want. This is a switch from what I was seeing only five years ago, so I’ve been incredibly encouraged to see how the Big-C Church is getting better at this. However, I also know not every church is nailing this so I’m listing it here.

The thing about getting a proper loudspeaker system is it’s actually pretty easy to achieve with the help of a system designer. The dimensions of a listening area are typically easy to figure out, and the specs for most loudspeakers are relatively easy to find these days. With those in hand and a basic understanding of system design, a lot of engineers could probably make a decent go at putting a system together. However, I think a skilled system designer can take things much farther. The trick, though, is finding the right designer because unfortunately they are not all equal in experience and talent.

Notice I’m not including loudspeaker quality here. The problem with quality is it can be pretty subjective, and it’s not easily quantifiable. Mission and vision are often different from one church to the next, and that often becomes a determining factor in this arena.

One of the biggest components I see in disgruntled production staff is a misunderstanding of mission and vision and how to apply it to an investment in equipment. While the production staff often wants the best and highest quality available, the leadership has often placed a different value on it based on their mission and vision.

For example, North Point’s goal was to create a church unchurched people like to attend and outside of the church there is a certain level of quality that can be found in professional productions. So the question was, “When people go to live performances, movies, sporting events, etc., what are they able to experience?” That mission and vision drove the investments made in equipment so a quality level meeting and exceeding those experience could potentially be reached.

Now, you might be asking why go beyond the level of quality that’s out there? That’s a very good question.

When I was at North Point, we never saw other churches as competition. We never wanted to take away from another ministry. We saw ourselves as competing for non-church people’s time, and that competition was against things like concerts, sporting events, movies, etc. When you’re competing with something, the reality is you have to meet and often exceed the competition if you want to win.

While many churches may want a North Point level of quality, ultimately, what it takes to reach that may not line up with their unique mission and vision, and I think that’s a good thing. Quality is ultimately a decision everyone has to make on their own.

However, proper system coverage remains, in my book, a non-negotiable. I can’t mix for people who can’t hear, and for people to hear they need to have speakers that cover their seat.


David Stagl

One Response to “The Non-Negotiables – Part 1

  • Great starting post! And don’t forget the good clean AC to power the rig!