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Complaints about church sound? Here's how to handle it.

Kade Young
Kade Young
Chief Audio Guru
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Mr. Opinionated is approaching the sound booth…again.

Do you pretend like you can't see him and walk away? Or, listen to his hundredth complaint about how loud it is and pretend like you are going to do something about it?

The truth is, there will always be opinionated people (maybe you used to be one of them). They want to be heard because they believe their way is the best way. Considering they will always be around, I want to give you a few pointers on how to deal with complaints when they come in.

Shelve it until you hear the same complaint from multiple people.

When it comes to any part of an organization, all complaints should be shelved until you hear it from at least three different people. Otherwise, you are going to waste loads of time trying to accommodate everyone.

I have witnessed a non-profit organization implement loads of new procedures simply to accommodate one or two people. The result: wasted staff time, overly complicated procedures and unending frustration. Then, the new procedure becomes ‘the way we’ve always done it’ and is impossible to change…all because of one person’s complaint.

Don’t let this happen to you. Instead, listen to the complaint, write it down, be friendly and wait for someone else to express the same complaint before wasting time searching for a solution.

"It’s too loud!"

The most common complaint is, “It’s too loud!” For most, this is simply a result of them never being around subwoofers. So, the low frequencies they are not used to hearing startle them. Others may simply have sensitive hearing, so be sure to have earplugs available.

There is also a good chance that it is too loud, but the answer is generally not turning down the main fader.

You see, when someone perceives sound is too loud, it is not the overall sound - it is a certain frequency range. So, you need to analyze the frequency spectrum to see what is sticking out and apply EQ as needed.

Learn how to analyze frequencies with your iPhone

“The drums are too loud!"

Another common complaint is about the drums or guitars being too loud. This is generally a result of someone not being used to drums or guitars being a part of worship. For those people, they will just have to get used to it. But, maybe the drums really are too loud.

Are you using acoustic drums in a small to mid-sized room?

If so, you need to have some type of shield and sound absorption around the drums. Otherwise, the natural sound coming from the drums will be overwhelming.

You don’t need complete isolation, as some would believe. And you may not even need a drum shield.

The first thing you need to do is communicate with the drummer if they are playing too loud. I know, this is a hard thing to get across to a drummer that loves to beat the heck out of the drums, but keep at it.

Find ways to help them realize that the drums actually sound better when control is used.

Then, if the drums are still too loud, check out this post:

How to Make Drums Quieter

“I can’t hear the vocals!"

If someone is complaining about not hearing the vocals, it is probably legitimate. I have been in many services myself where the vocals get buried deep in the mix. And, if you can’t hear the lead vocal, it is quite hard to sing along.

I get it, it is tough to learn how to keep vocals on the top of the mix. Some sing soft, some sing loud, while others do both within the same song. Good news is, there are a few simple things you can do to fix these problems.

Learn how to properly mix vocals

What are other common complaints?

What other complaints do you hear about church sound? Share in the comments below and I will do my best to help you find a solution.

12 Comments

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12 comments on “Complaints about church sound? Here's how to handle it.”

  1. Hi Kade,
    My issue is how many songs In a library list to draw from knowing there are a number which are not learnt fully or correctly and from over 40 years old plus the odd hymn, also how many in a set during service given the church is not yet a full on worshiping church

    1. Hey Peter - thanks for the comment. I recommend you narrow down your library to 20-30 'active' songs. Then, introduce a new song about once per month while retiring one of the older songs, keeping your library around the 20-30 mark. When you have more 'active' songs than that, the band is not able to keep up.

      When it comes to how many songs per service, check out this post for my thoughts: The Benefits of a Shorter Set List

  2. I served 40plus years doing sound. Built my own equipment early on. Played in a group in the 70's traveling 5 states. Another group from 05-11. So I know both sides of the fence.

    Listen to the speaker up close (no mike) and make them sound like they are close.

    Had people from large churches who had systems multiple times more costly come and hear our sound system comment about the high quality sound they were hearing. Comes down to the operator.

    Once had a guy complain about something frequently. It pretty much stopped when I asked him to come up and help me run the sound. I'm 73 now and have been retired from sound for four years. Still play guitar once a week.

    Enjoy reading the column.

  3. Hi Kade,

    The way it is handled at our church is two-fold. Once upon a time, long before I arrived, a CD was played with a dB meter to determine the maximum volume allowed during a service. When I first started doing sound there, the stage volume was that loud based upon measuring C fast on the dB meter. But using a combination of taking great pains to tune the sound system for every seat in the room, using compression in a variety of places, going to IEMs and switching to digital drums, and measuring A slow, we now run several dB below that threshold on average. How we handle complaints now is that we keep a log of the levels for each song, and as long as we are in that parameter, the Pastor takes notes and asks questions, but will defend the sound team. All complaints (and compliments) are fielded via comment cards so there is a written record for the staff to address.

    1. Wow! I am impressed that you guys keep a log of levels. Definitely a great way to dismantle loudness arguments - you have data to back it up!

  4. I became very familiar with the laws of my local OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) and I complied. [NOTE] You can be sued for hearing damage!. So I adjusted our volume levels based off their standards. Also, I have earplugs available for anyone. We are never over 105 dBs for 15 min and our preashing level is never over 98. Our service is perfect, legaly.
    The problem I'm having is with wireless mic signals. We have a reader that uses mic9 the last mic in our praise team. There's always a questions about why his mic was not on when he starts reading. We have instructed him to keep it on his lap until ready. But we still have a slight delay when he starts. Its like the mic goes to sleep like a computer until you shake the mouse. He is not far from the antena, about 11'.
    How can I avoid this problem, and should I get a lapel mic for him? I cant move him.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hey Ken - I have never heard of a problem like this with wireless mics. What wireless transmitter/receiver are you using?

    2. 98db preaching! Wow. I'm typically in low 70's for preaching.

      We run mid to high 90's peaks for worship. Very rarely hit 100.

  5. Hi Kade -

    What is your recommendation for a good level to set dbs to? I know the room plays into this heavily, but what are your general thoughts?

  6. For me it's not the sound. It's the mix. We spent $85000 last year on a new sound system. 24000 watts worth. It's basically a concert array. We do 2 services on Sunday with the first being a traditional service complete with organ and/or grand piano and choir. That one is easy. The second is a contemporary one with a praise band instead of a choir and organ. That's where we have issues. I've had complaints about the lead guitar not being loud enough (I've been a guitarist since 1965 and I can tell) to recently the backup singers can't be heard well enough because the lead singer is louder. That complaint came from a mean person who also said the lead singer's voice wasn't worth listening to. So what do I do? Nothing. I mix the lead vocals out front and keep the backups in the back unless they take the lead. The band's mix I rarely touch unless the lead guitarist takes a solo. These complaints come from people who would never grab a mic and join the band or choir and just feel more comfortable complaining so I just keep smiling, say yes sir, yes maam, pretend to turn something down in front of them and continue on with my work. It's not the best solution but it works for me.

    1. Yeah, if you encounter someone who is critical, that's really all you can do.

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