Explore the impact subpar church sound has on your live stream. And discover how to improve this critical area of your church production.
As a person driven by visuals, I am passionate about creating top-notch video content for churches. However, I am also aware that the most crucial aspect of any church livestream is the quality of your church sound. It is the top priority to focus on if you want to produce high-quality live-streaming content.
Don’t believe me?
That’s a good enough argument for me.
Several years ago, I produced and directed a live prayer event from a church near Central Park in New York City. The event took place on September 11th to commemorate the events of that day, which happened a few years earlier. It was a solemn and significant occasion. National prayer leaders came from all over the United States to participate in the evening. My responsibility was to broadcast the event to a global audience.
I utilised the services of an American company called Skystorm for the video capture. We had collaborated several times before, and I was confident in their exceptional work. I enjoy working with them because of their expertise and ease of working with them. They remain one of my preferred companies for anything in the US. If you ever require a production company in the US, I highly recommend checking them out.
I also prefer working with companies I am familiar with on the audio side. Sound plays a crucial role in ensuring a successful broadcast. However, I decided to engage a local vendor to handle the church sound system due to budgetary concerns. They provided a stereo feed to the Skystorm video truck for broadcasting purposes.
That was a mistake…
Due to a somewhat chaotic set-up on the day, we fell way behind schedule and could not do a full rehearsal before the event. Had we managed to do so, I would have identified the issues with the church sound system, which I am about to explain. I talk more about the experience in this blog: Keep Calm and Carry On.
Soon after we went LIVE, I became aware that although I could hear all the “stage” activity, bands, speakers, etc., and the audio quality was good, I couldn’t hear any audience.
I jumped on the comms with the guy running the church sound, and he told me he wasn’t aware I wanted audience mics, so he hadn’t added any to his church sound system.
OK, this is fundamentally my fault for not having spelt out all my requirements when we discussed the production. I fully own that. But anyone used to mixing church sound for TV would know that audience response mics are essential – right?
Well, it appears not.
As a result, I want to outline the key elements that every church sound system should have to ensure the best possible live stream quality, at least from a sound perspective. I have worked with some of the best church sound engineers in the Christian media industry, and they have consistently exceeded my expectations.
However, after my experience in New York, I have learned that I need to have detailed conversations about my requirements with any new sound engineer or team I work with. It's essential not to be afraid of these conversations as we are all on the same team, and it will help build a sense of teamwork and ensure our viewers get the best end product.
So, we are going to have that conversation now.
One small, quick caveat on church sound systems.
I understand every church has different resources, budgets and complexities. So, what I am about to share may be beyond the capabilities of your current church sound system. First, I will present the best-case options. Then, I will offer suggestions for improving any church sound system.
I can relate to your situation. When I started producing TV broadcasts, I began with a simple stereo feed from the church sound mixer. I had no dedicated person for broadcast sound. I then progressed to where I achieved "group" outputs from the audio desk. Now, I have a dedicated broadcast sound team with a separate broadcast mix.
I have worked with all extremes.
In this article, I am sharing my perspective on what excellent church sound should be like. I aim to provide a roadmap to help you achieve excellent church sound for your live streams.
As a producer and director, I envision what I want my church sound team to deliver.
As I previously mentioned, my ideal plan for church sound in a live stream environment may not be feasible for every church and church sound system.
However, almost anyone can take a few simple steps to improve the quality of church sound captured for live streaming.
The audio quality of your live stream is crucial and can significantly impact your progress toward achieving your live streaming goals. If you want to learn more about improving your live stream's quality, check out this article: "The top 3 things to do to improve your live stream quality."
However, I want to share a couple of controversial thoughts with you finally.
Firstly, it can be tempting to take a shortcut by using professional mix engineers' templates to hopefully make your worship team sound like another church. While these templates may be helpful, they won't fix poor performance, lack of practice, or second-rate musicianship. Instead, focus on improving these areas first. They will make the most significant difference to how your church sounds on any broadcast.
Now, here is my final controversial statement.
I don’t want my church sound team to be so focused on getting the perfect sound that they give me a mix that “eliminates” God.
A good friend and the BEST sound engineer I have ever worked with coined a phrase when he was reviewing a mix done by a specialist studio engineer rather than a LIVE broadcast engineer, and it has stuck with me. Paraphrased, he said, “They’ve mixed God out of it”.
What he meant by that was that the mix was so perfect, so sterile, so close to a studio album that it completely lost the experience of what happened at the event. That is NOT what a great church should sound like.
I don’t want that on my livestream. I like the people at home to experience what the people in the building experience.
In the pursuit of creating visually stunning video content for churches, it's easy to overlook the paramount importance of high-quality church sound in live streaming.
My personal experience underscores the critical role sound plays in the success of online broadcasts of worship services. My candid account of an audio “fail” during a significant prayer event in New York hopefully highlights the necessity of thorough communication and collaboration when crafting an optimal church sound system for live broadcasts.
To help you move forward, I have provided comprehensive recommendations for achieving excellent church sound. I’ve given some detailed thoughts on the ideal setup, including the importance of audience response mics and the role of an attentive, collaborative and quality sound engineer. But I have also recognised that the perfect scenario may not be feasible for every church. So, I’ve given practical steps any church can take to enhance their live stream audio quality.
These insights will hopefully provide you with a way forward to see you achieve optimised church sound for your live stream.
Have you encountered challenges with church sound in your live streams, and if so, how did you address them?
What specific steps does your church take to ensure a balanced and dynamic audio mix for online worship services?
In your experience, how have audience response mics contributed to the overall engagement of the virtual congregation? What strategies do you employ to integrate them effectively?
Please share in the comments below, and let’s grow together. Also, make sure you join our Church Production Academy, where you will get training from experienced professionals in all aspects of church production.
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I have deliberately focused here on what needs to be looked at for a great church sound on your livestream. If you're interested in learning more about how you can improve or expand your overall church AV solution, I highly recommend checking out these two articles:
I also delve into the perils of wireless church AV systems in this article; it’s worth reading and considering: Should my church audio visual system be wired or wireless?
Live Streaming is an important aspect of Digital Ministry, but it's only for some, and the audio quality is something to consider when deciding if it is for you. Read The pros and cons of pre-recording your church "LIVE" Stream.