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Church Sound System Tips

"Why Churches Buy Three Sounds Systems"

Copyright 2007
By Harry Gillum

435 Meadowbrook Mall
Bridgeport, WV 26330

Harry Gillum, Rocky Gallo, and William Knight are acoustic consultants based in West Virginia, where they specialize in the design and installation of small and large sound reinforcement systems for, churches, stadiums, arenas, nightclubs, D.J.'s, and any facility where sound reinforcement is required. We have done extensive design work, and reinforcement for indoor and outdoor applications as well. We have received certification from NSCA (National Sound Contractors Association) NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) from 1991-2007 and have worked in professional audio since 1970. We are full-time consultants with over 1000 installations. The client list includes numerous churches, clubs, and performance facilities. We have earned over 26 certifications in system design and engineering and attend training seminars each year. 

Why Churches Buy So Many Sound Systems, and How You Can Buy Only One, requires research.

It is our goal to design and install your FINAL sound system. That's because most churches are concerned about purchasing sound systems that they do it three or four times before they finally end up with one that meets their needs! In order to discover the final needs, we have an extensive interview completed with the venue before we ever quote a design or price. Questions and answers result in a great sound system. Anything less is considered substandard. We ask that you do the research only one time, disclose your needs, and request that the sound contractor provide the products and services that will meet your individual needs. This equates to become your final sound system. Should price be your only consideration, then we are not the company for you, however, if performance is number one, then you should consider our services. 

Often the first system is purchased when the church is constructed, often a member offers his services since he knows something about sound, played in a band, has been a D.J. in the past and thus he becomes the professional or the best advisor the church has to work with. The church depends on him to design a system to meet the needs of the church or venue. This individual only wants to save the church money, which in the long run cost thousands of dollars due to lack of knowledge. This person prints up a list of the equipment he has the best knowledge of and sends it along as a specification for bid, yet he has NO knowledge of the total needs of the venue. Often he leaves the facility in a year or two and the system never meets the needs and the church starts over again. At this point, most members are saying, why change the sound system, we just bought a new one last year? Well, the truth is the first one never worked and now we are going to start this process over again. The venue or church never knew that sound professionals existed to provide such services. And seldom do they know where to seek such advice. In simple terms, anyone or business that has a business license for $ 15.00 can be in the sound business. There are no requirements that the business owner is trained in total sound design and installation. Just a simple business license permits them to sell you equipment. 

Why are the first systems replaced?

Some of the most common problems are feedback (howling), poor speech intelligibility, muddy music caused by too much reverberation, the system can't be heard on the platform, dead spots, hot spots, and just plain unpleasant sound quality. Now the church researches system number two. There are several variations on system number two. Often, members of the praise and worship team make exploratory visits to their friendly musical instrument store, where everyone either is, or has been, or knows someone who is or has been a roadie for a band. All of these folks know how to put together a sound system, however, they lack system design training. They do not understand that each venue requires a different level of service and performance. Most just want to make a sale of the goods on hand.

The second system starts with someone in the congregation who is knowledgeable in sound and because he's a friend or a friend of a friend, he's asked to design the next system. The church depends on this individual because he has been exposed to live music in the past. Now the second time around, the designer (member) is chosen because he's someone's friend or a member who wants to help, but only because he has some level of knowledge with sound. System number two is purchased and installed, and rarely works any better than the first. Now twice as much money has been spent, and attendance is sagging because of the poor sound. The pastor, choir, children’s church still has poor communication with the congregation. The praise and worship team sounds more like noise than inspiration. Desperate measures are called for. If they're lucky, the church comes to the realization at this point that they'd better find someone who really knows what they're doing, a proven expert with a track record. This is when Showtime Music becomes a part of the church. Someone insists on bringing in a professional to meet with the pastor, leaders of the praise and worship team, as well as the technical teams, and will study the worship space, and measure its acoustics. Someone who will have to be paid to design the system because they don't work on commission, or markup from the sale of the system. Like our company, we would prefer you purchase your systems from someone else if you cannot let our company design YOUR SYSTEM around your individual needs.
It Does Not To Be So Complicated? After all, isn't all we're talking about nothing more than a simple PA system? Why can't the church just buy a mixer and some loudspeakers at a local electronics shop (or a music store) and hang them on the wall?

That's what they did in the smaller church they just moved out of, and it worked fine! There are several major reasons. First, as the size of the worship space gets larger, the demands placed on the sound system grow exponentially. In a small space, the choir and praise band are much less likely to need amplification to carry to the congregation, and there is rarely enough reverberation to make it hard to understand the spoken word. The larger space, the more reverberation there will be to muddle both the spoken word and the praise band. Echoes from rear walls, balcony faces, sidewalls, and ceilings can make things even worse. It takes a very skillful sound system design to overcome these problems. It can be done and done well, but it isn't easy. The sound must be very carefully controlled, focused only on listeners with as little as possible spilling onto walls and ceilings. This takes the right type of loudspeakers in the right place and very carefully aiming. Loudspeakers designed for bar bands or for touring sound are rarely the right choice here. Often, the church ends up with a system designed by the local converted band member that knows what to offer. WRONG!! Have it designed correctly the first time and save thousands of dollars in the future. Let a sound professional with a proven track record become part of your sound system design.

NOW, the role of sound has become dedicated to praise and worship. Music is used to inspire, to lift the spirit, and to bring the unchurched into the fold. Choirs which used to sing with only an organ or piano are now accompanied in many churches by a rhythm section with guitar, bass, drums, and other instruments needed from the praise team. For churches that incorporate a contemporary style of worship, the sound system must make the choir much louder to balance with drums and electronic instruments, and the various musicians must be able to hear each other well to play together. Again, careful control of sound is critical if this is to be accomplished without feedback. The acoustic design of the worship space is fundamentally important for both of these concerns. Often there is so much reverberation in a church that the praise band has turned to mush before the sound system is even turned on. Everyone on the stage wants to be heard and plays too loud. Careful sound system design and enough money CAN provide good speech intelligibility in almost any space. But there is NOTHING that can be done with a sound system to improve the sound of the praise band unless the sound system contractor can train the praise team to understand the correct way to play and be disciplined for the service. If the praise team cannot understand the principals of dynamics, then the contractor has failed in his training program for the church. Our goal requires training on-site at least twice. If the venue is not prepared to bring the musicians together to learn, there is NO reason to spend the money on a new sound system. 

What A Consultant Must Offer

An acoustic consultant is an expert who you hire to design your church's acoustics and your sound system. Some consultants specialize in acoustics, while others specialize in sound system design. Many of the larger firms have people who do both. A sound consultant's job is to interview your church and make a decision for your design based on your needs alone. Showtime Music studies acoustics, physics, and engineering the total application for your venue alone. The sound system consultant needs a solid understanding of acoustics, and electronics, as well as ongoing education, to keep up with advances. Your engineer will help choose the room finishes for the ceiling, walls, and floors in order to provide the room with good acoustics, which are best for your congregation's style of worship. Which (if any) floors should be carpeted? Should there be pew cushions? Where should the choir, the praise band, and the organ be located? The acoustic consultant will also work with your architect to make sure the church has a quiet HVAC system; elevator motors, door latches, and the like are some of the key concerns. Organ companies and music stores are notoriously bad at providing advice on the design of acoustics and sound systems. A true consultant is independent of stores, contractors, and manufacturers. We do not make our make living on the profit or commission from sales of equipment and the labor to install it. We design our equipment around your room, and if we require changes in the HVAC system or interior design, we will suggest these changes well in advance. Put simply, you need experts, with impartial advice. You need to be confident that we are technically correct, and are advising you in your best interests. 

Doing It Right the First Time

Your team must first understand the locate a sound contractor to design and install your last sound system. It is the goal of Showtime Music to d provide a designed system for your church's goals and worship service. We have only one goal, do it right the first time. If the price is the main issue for the church, we would prefer to not be involved. We design a sound system around your needs, and the price for the service is to provide you with the tools to meet your goals. If you or your church wants a budget system, we do not want to be a part of your wish list, we will be happy to design your future system to meet your goals. We understand that often the goals may take 1-5 years and we will design a system and installation to meet your goals. We ask that you not purchase a system based on price...we say wait and do it right for the last time. 

Why Churches Buy Three Sound Systems

Some suggestions for all venues and churches to consider: This is a list a several items to consider when bringing the sound system in the house: Work with the architect to get the acoustics right for the intended uses, and to prevent noise from both inside (HVAC systems, air flow pressure, motor noise, transformers, door latches, footsteps in the hall, etc.) and outside the building highway traffic, farm equipment, air crafts, and other such outside noise that may present itself during service. 

Some suggestions to consider during your construction process: Work with the electrical engineer for the project to get a conduit for sound system wiring. We ask you to use PVC conduit and no metal for sound system wiring. Clean technical power and grounding so that everyday operation of the system is not troubled by hums and buzzes. Work with the mechanical engineer for the project to make sure that HVAC systems are quiet and that the air noise is less than 70db. This is the normal level we speak. If the HVAC system produces 15DB of noise, we must increase the overall volume by 15DB to compensate. This all comes with a price tag.

Work with the architect to find good ways to conceal loudspeakers, either by building them into ceilings and walls or by turning them into architectural elements which don't look like loudspeakers or are acceptable in the venue. Keep in mind that speakers are not invisible and they are required to produce sound for the service. The sound system you choose may not be pretty but you want one that does the job. This is what we provide based on our discussion with your sound committee. Showtime Music will only suggest and provide the correct equipment to satisfy your service needs.


Work with the architect and the congregation on both the shape and layout of the worship space, so that, for example; choirs are in a location where they can be miked without feedback, and so that the relationship between the choir, praise band, organ, and congregation allows the choir to be heard without being overpowered by the praise band or the organ. If the choir requires mics in front of the organ speakers and or pipes, you must understand, this will not work. This will require a strong understanding of what you can expect and how the system will work.

Design a sound system that provides both good intelligibility for the spoken word, clean dynamic sound for the musical elements of praise and worship, and is well balanced throughout the congregation. Not just a loud system. A great designed system is not loud, it is clear and heard in all seating areas.

Design system elements which provide good sound to those on the platform. There are many options today including in-ear monitors, wired, and wireless. We also have systems that offer onstage monitors for the first 16 channels of the mixing board to reduce the overall stage volume. This helps to reduce the overall volume level at the first few pews as well as the slap back from the stage that creates noise instead of music. 

Review architectural, electrical and mechanical drawings before they go out to bid to make sure that things worked out at the design stage actually show up satisfactorily on the drawings. Require the contractor to provide additional information as to how the system will work. You may have to purchase these prints and you should expect a charge of 8-10% of the total bid contract if you require prints. The contractor should provide the wiring prints, equipment list, as well as the operation of the system. Do not insult the contractor by asking for the prints for free. If the contractor has completed the correct design prints, they have spent 50-200 hours on design work and they should be paid for the service. We offer a total design print at a cost of 20% of the total bid. Should your venue want to bid the design, we suggest that each designer/contractor meet with you and discuss your individual needs to avoid such conflict. Each contractor will design the system to work differently. Showtime Music offers consulting and design services for additional fees. 

The congregation must work through budget issues. Sound systems nearly always cost more than the congregation expects or is prepared to pay. Some parts of the system can usually be deferred and purchased later, but it's usually necessary to dedicate more money to the sound system that was originally planned. These are sometimes hard decisions, and it's important to be working with someone you trust in working through them. The most important part of the sound and video system is for the members to be able to hear and see the service. Often, since these areas seem to have little value, the church wants to cut the budget, say we do not need this, and yet they have little or no knowledge of the required services needed. This is when the sound committee must step up to the plate and say...This is what we need. 

Document the system thoroughly with drawings, specification, make and model, specific equipment list so that it can be competitively purchased from a good local contractor. If you ask for this information, you must be prepared to pay for the prints. The average cost is about 8-20% of the total bid. This is no different than calling a designer and asking them to design your church. There is always a fee involved for such services. 

Help you find a good contractor to install the system, and help you either bid or negotiate the purchase with that contractor. The best possible position is to have a contractor that you fill good about there design to meet your goals and start a plan to complete your project. Most all sound and video contractors will have a bid within 6-10% of each other. Do not be afraid to accept the more expensive bid if you feel you will receive additional training and support. If you must hire training and support after the installation expects to pay up to $ 120.00 per hour if you must contact additional help from your local contractor. Price is not always the best deal. Service after the sale should be considered number one. 

Coordinate with the contractor during the installation process to make sure things are done right, and work through the conflicts with other building elements which inevitably develop in any major construction project. No project is ever completed without flaws, however, if you make the changes during the installation process and discuss the changes with the contractor, you will have a less than flawless installation. 

Once the system is installed and tested, only then can you discuss the points of the installation and how the system works. 

Finding a Good Consultant

How does a church find a good consultant? Strange as it may seem, there is no good list of consultants qualified to design sound and video systems for churches. Ask for references and a list of other churches completed by the contractor. Do not be afraid to ask for your sound committee to make arrangements to go to other churches that the contractor has installed quality systems in so you may hear their systems as well. Most of the better consultants are centered in a handful of the larger cities and work nationally. It's much more important for you to have a local sound contractor than to have an out of town consultant. The consultant will need to travel to your church only a few times to provide the services you need, but you'll want the contractor to be there for you long after the job is done to provide support and to help you expand the system as you grow. Buying a sound system can be a daunting task for any church, but be encouraged. If you'll follow the advice offered here, you really CAN get it right the first time! Showtime Music has many years of design and interview experience to help provide an improved worship service for your church. It only takes time to understand your program. No two churches have the same need and we work to provide the requirements for each church. An on-site consultation can provide for the many needs of your church. Good Stewardship is PRICELESS!!! 


Showtime Music provides services and we consult to locations within 600 miles from our home base location. (One day drive) to provide a full service to the final installation location.
We are happy to provide design plans for your venue for a charge. We offer plans that provide for complete engineering to meet your goals if your location is beyond 600 miles from our home base. We offer design services and competitive bid structure for any venue. Review our design and installation venue site to better understand our services. An on-site consultation is available at a charge if beyond 600 miles from our home base. Send us your digital photos of your venue and will review at no charge. We will render a recommendation and installation at little or no charge based on your requirements. We pride our design work and we know what to provide for you. Let us provide our God give talents and trained skills to help with your worship service.

Email one of our consultants for additional information.


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