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How poor-quality church sound will ruin your live stream.

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.

Get the church sound RIGHT.

Don’t believe me?

Star Wars

George Lucas stated when making Star Wars:

“The sound and music are 50% of the entertainment in a movie”.

That’s a good enough argument for me.


My epic audio fail in church sound – the set-up.

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.

SKYSTORM PRODUCTIONS

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…


Epic church sound fail continued – my poor communication.

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.

Learn from my mistakes


You get to learn from my mistakes in church sound.

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.


The solution for your live stream church sound.

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.

The perfect set up for your church sound


What is the perfect church sound for live streaming set-up?

  • I want a separate dedicated feed of every stage input into a broadcast audio desk independent of the front-of-house church sound mixer.
  • The broadcast audio desk must be OUT of the church sanctuary. So that any effects, compression, limiting, EQ, etc., that add nuance and “colour” to the broadcast sound are explicitly done for my live stream needs (and not impacted by the venue sound). Also, with their mix station OUT of the main room, they can better judge how the people at home will hear their audio mix.
  • I want audience response mics in the church sound mix for the live stream. These allow the viewer at home to experience the range of emotions and responses from the in-person audience. These mic channels should mix in and out of the church sound and NOT be on constantly. I prefer the church sound to be “wet” and ambient.
  • I want a mix that allows for dynamics. When things go quiet (a holy hush), I like the church sound mix to mirror this. Also, when things go crazy loud, the mix needs to accommodate the emotion of that BUT without adding any distortion. I need a focused broadcast engineer on his game the whole time. I want someone running this live streaming church sound mix who is passionate about what they do and realises the importance of their role in helping the digital congregation to engage with what is happening. You can read more about building a great media team in this article: Do you want an excellent church media team? Start here!
  • I want the BEST microphone possible for the preacher. One that is appropriate for the venue (so if feedback is an issue, not a lapel mic) and one that the speaker is comfortable with. A handheld is better if they are uncomfortable with a headset. Whatever works from a holistic perspective, not only from an audio perspective. There is no point in having superb audio quality if the person wearing the mic is uncomfortable and thus unable to function in their role the way they need to.
  • I want my livestream church sound engineer to watch the video feed and mix it according to what they see. This means I need to get them a monitor – ideally, a multi-view so they can be ahead of the game (they’ll see all my cameras and my preview). This way, their mix will work for my visual story.
  • I want them to be part of the team, not an “island”. I don’t want them to create the “best” sound. I want them to create the “best sound for video”. This is essential for great church sound for a live stream.
  • I want them to mix "looking up," following the action, staying aware of all the mics in use, knowing which ones to bring up at any moment, and being attentive to cues. If the lead guitarist begins a solo, I expect them to ensure he is prominently featured in the mix while I simultaneously ensure a dedicated camera captures the solo. This is another reason for them to watch the video output. Still, they (or a spotter – read more on that in a moment) need to be on a comms circuit with the director or producer (whoever is calling the show) and a stage manager who is relaying real-time changes that happen from the event side. Church sound done well works in conjunction with all the other areas. An entry-level role that can be particularly useful in this context is a "spotter" standing by the engineer. The spotter's responsibility is to identify and communicate the mics in use. This ensures the person handling the mix is informed about the active microphones. This position can be on comms for both the front-of-house church sound mixer and live stream mixer. Read more about the importance of entry-level roles in this blog: Do you want an excellent church media team? Start here!
  • I expect them to be attentive and responsive to my requests while also being prepared to explain and help me understand why some of my requests may not be feasible. They are the experts in church sound, and I want to maximise their expertise.
  • I want them to not only focus on the ideal microphones for each situation but also recognise the distinction between video and audio requirements. Sometimes, compromises must be considered if the best microphone visually detracts from the video. Exploring alternative options becomes essential.
  • Finally, I want them to monitor the FINAL broadcast output. The church sound as experienced by the viewer at home (an “off-air” feed), and then adjust their mix accordingly rather than just listening to the output of their system.
    Three components for good church sound on your live stream


    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.


    These are the steps any church can take.

    1. Add audience mics – this probably is the biggest game changer for church sound for live streaming. From my earlier story, you can tell what a big miss this was for me. It will also be for you.
    2. This is basic, but encourage your musicians and worship teams to practice, practice and practice. Their “performance” will significantly affect the quality of the church sound your online audience hears.
    3. Most sound desks can now offer solutions for mixing more than one output. If affording a second church sound mixer is challenging, consider investing in one for your front of house that enables the creation of a separate mix for your live stream. While mastering this technique requires considerable skill, it can provide a viable solution, especially for those operating with limited budgets or volunteers.
    4. Work out in YOUR situation if that should be a pre-fade or post-fade mix. I won’t dive into details here, but it is a crucial question.
    5. Have your church sound engineers listen to your live stream critically and see how they can improve continuously.
    6. Invest in the best mics you can for your church sound system. Getting it “right” at the point of capture is essential.
    7. Use tools (if you have access to them) like virtual soundcheck. They will help you improve the skills of your team.
    8. Invest in getting quality training and input for your team. Church sound will be a recurring focus in the Church Production Academy due to its critical importance. We are planning several Masterclasses that delve into various aspects of church sound. So, sign up for that today.
    9. Finally, I am a great believer in regularly getting together with your team and doing a critique of your content. When you do this, you should (as the leader) facilitate discussion BUT not be the one to point out the issues or the fixes. Have your team do this. That way, they will own the issues and develop the solutions they want to implement. In the long term, that will make your job much easier.

    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."

    Some contentious thoughts on church sound


    My contentious thoughts.

    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.


    Conclusion:

    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.


    Questions to ponder:

    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.

    Sign up by clicking below:

    Sign up for the Church Production Academy


    Further reading.

    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:

    Church AV: A definitive guide to using Audio-Visual effectively.

    Audio Visual for Churches: What to Focus on for Success.

    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.

    Categories: : audio, Broadcasting, church media ministry, Foundation, live streaming, production, quality, set up, Skills, Strategy, Team, Technology

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