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Author Topic: Anyone ever leave a church because you had to wear ear plugs?  (Read 4769 times)
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
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« on: October 14, 2009, 04:26:46 PM »

We started attending a new church some months back that we really enjoyed, but the longer we attended the less we liked it.  No, it wasn’t that we disagreed with what was being said in the pulpit. Or that we didn’t like the music or the style of worship. 

Basically, it was the sound! They had a fairly decent system – a pair of active Mackie speakers hanging on the wall to the side of the stage with a flush-mounted, front-firing sub underneath (dual 15’s I think) – a set-up like this for both the left and right sides.  Well, for some reason they always ran the bass as the loudest instrument in the mix.  Sure, I like bass, but this was ridiculous!  I mean, the only reason the vocals weren’t being drowned out was that they’re in a higher frequency range.  On top of that the bass just sounded bad.  It wasn’t properly equalized and had a droning, “one-note” quality, like response was “hay-stacked” at 60-70 Hz.  As noted, they had subs to the far left and right, but often it sounded like all the bass was coming from the left side only.

And it wasn’t just the subs with problems, but the mains as well. The first few weeks we attended, there was no sound at all coming from the right-side speakers, only the left side.  They did get that fixed, but the mains also had EQ issues.  The vocals had a nasty spike in response in the 3-4 kHz range that just grated on the ears like – well, maybe not like fingernails on a chalkboard, but it was pretty bad.  The poor sound quality might have been tolerable, except that they liked to run the system at really high volume levels.  That was what made it near-painful.  The last few weeks we attended my wife and I were actually bringing ear plugs, no kidding!  Eventually we decided it was more than we could take, so we’re back to church shopping.

I’ve never left a church before because of something superficial like this, so somehow I can’t help feeling a bit guilty about it.  Still, I don’t think it’s without precedent.  The church we left some months back after 15 years (which is why we were church shopping to begin with) had suffered a slow decline in attendance for the past 6-7 years or more.  We were discussing the situation with some friends a while back, who had gone there even longer than we had, and they said they actually knew of people who had left because of the bad sound.  That was certainly a surprise to hear, since our friends aren’t even audio-types like I am.

I had actually wondered all those years if I was the only one who noticed.  The church leaders never took sound or lighting seriously and “cheaped out” on everything.  Our stage lighting was pitiful, nothing evenly lit.  Hot and dark spots everywhere.  Bulbs for the PAR cans and other stage lights would burn out and not get replaced for months or even years on end.   For sound things were just as bad.  Just to give you an idea, for stage monitors we got whatever had been lying around in the back rooms for 20 years – primarily some old Bose 801’s (I think that’s the number – the ones with eight 5” speakers).  They looked really classy on stage with boards or books shoved underneath to prop them up at the correct angle.  There weren’t enough of those to go around, so we also had a couple of really cheap monitors, the light duty, gray carpet-covered kind that weighed all of 10 lbs., with 10” woofs and blow piezo tweeters.  Our poor secondary keyboard player, bless his heart, was stuck with some ancient low-end Radio Shack PA speaker, also with a blown tweeter (that one may have weighed up to 13 lbs.).

Of course that was just from the musician’s perspective, but things didn’t fare much better for the audience.  A 60-cycle hum they never would spend the money to fix, never locating the mix position at a place where the soundman could hear well, catastrophic equipment failures during P&W, and using amateur mixers who did an absolute horrible job (screaming hi-hats, vocals buried in the mix, etc. etc.) instead of paying a pro who could come in and do a consistently good job week after week, are a few things that bear mentioning.

There were plenty of other distractions as well – people in the sound booth fiddling with the lighting (both stage and audience) during P&W, the computer that did the on-screen lyrics crashing during services, a disastrous attempt at live video (jerky pans from cheap consumer-grade tripods, shadowy faces due to the poor lighting, blue shirts that consumer-grade cameras render as green on the screen, etc. etc. ). 

Many of the problems came directly from the stage, such as using pathetic drummers whose only qualifications were that they could hold sticks, when our regular one wasn’t available.  One of the music ministers, on the occasions when he was the main leader, had a penchant for coming up with complicated arrangements and transitions between songs that would have reasonably required at least 2-3 rehearsals for volunteer musicians of our caliber to get down, rather than our usual 50-minute session right before the service.  No matter how many times it ended up being a train wreck, he always came back with more of the same.

I could iterate other plenty of other issues but will refrain, as I fear I am already trying the limits of the readers’ patience.  (Okay, I do have to mention the time they hooked up a BSR 10-band equalizer to the system.  That’s right, a home stereo equalizer.  Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty when that thing ran out of headroom... )  But getting back to our friends who told us they knew people who had left because of the sound (and I suspect probably the other issues as well) – they said the comments they had heard went something like, “As many years as they’ve been doing this, why can’t they get it right?”

So – while I do feel somewhat guilty leaving our new church for what I would consider rather superficial reasons, on the other hand I feel that going to church shouldn’t be a painful (literally) experience.  Or in the case of our old church, full of never-ending distractions.  Should it?

So – what say you folks?  Anyone ever feel compelled to leave an otherwise good church for reasons like this?

Regards,
Wayne A. Pflughaupt
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1954bassman
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« Reply #1 on: October 14, 2009, 08:04:22 PM »

Hey Wayne,

Good to see you back on the forum. I remember your insightful and helpful posts in the past.

What a long post, no way I can address all of that. I do feel sound problems like you speak of start at the top, with the Pastor or WL. Whoever is in charge.

I will say a prayer for you in your search for a new church. Too bad you are not in western NC, I would invite you over. If you are ever in the Hickory, NC area, drop me a email!

Mark
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Bass with Grace
danders
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Posts: 84



« Reply #2 on: October 15, 2009, 06:53:22 PM »

I attend a church that over the past 10 years has declined in membership in a slow but steady pace.  People had reasons for leaving that I suspect varied and music may have played a role but I've not heard that it was a primary reason.  The thought of leaving had crossed my mind before but I was plugged in and couldn't justify walking away from my responsibilities so we stayed put.  The things I saw as issues were really minor in comparison to what you're describing. 

I had a couple of specific thoughts when I read your note.  The first concerns your new church and the volume levels that are being run in the room.  I attended a worship conference this past summer and the instrument and vocal volumes were run a lot higher than what was needed to simply hear things clearly.  It was quite distracting to me.  Having attended these things before I was armed with ear plugs for both myself and my wife but we didn't use those until the end of seminar concert.  I've pounded my ears with concerts, cars and motorcycles in my youth but started being protective of my hearing in my early 20's (you only lose it once!).  I understand that volunteers will often be getting a sink or swim variety of on the job training, and God is working on my attitude towards our own sound people that don't always do things as I think they should be done, but I don't understand near painful sound levels that are more than just a distraction.  I can't believe that you are the only one bothered by it and I think the pastor might appreciate a short note explaining how difficult those levels made it to sit in the room.

The other thought I had was more of a general one - it occurs to me that musicians and technical people can quite easily become a distraction and actually impair the worship we're trying to lead.  There's nothing wrong with technical excellence, and it seems to me that offering our best to God should involve a process of striving to improve.  That said, everyone has different levels of skill, whether at playing an instrument or running sound, and it seems prudent to extend grace to those that by our estimation are falling short of perfection (even competency).  I mentioned earlier that God has been working on my attitude around our sound guys and my specific frustration has been in what I perceive to be a lack of progress in learning (i.e. the same problems occurring repeatedly).  My attitude has gotten better, but I suspect He's not finished with me yet. 

Dave
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CRBMoA
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Posts: 157



« Reply #3 on: October 16, 2009, 09:37:25 AM »

Wayne,

I also agree that it is great to have you back. Your insight and experience are obvious. And I am always learning something new from your posts. Thank You very much for your recent response to my XLR question!

A church would be blessed to have a man of your experience and intellect in attendance.

Which begs the obvious (to me) question: Is there a place for you to help improve things? As far as I can tell, everything I fancy myself good at, you seem to know better (and certainley more technically). And I am heavily involved in the worship/sound reinforcement activities in my local church. Couldn't you be the agent of LOVING change?

Chris
« Last Edit: October 19, 2009, 09:38:52 AM by CRBMoA » Logged

2 Cor 10:5
Eddy
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Posts: 143



« Reply #4 on: October 16, 2009, 12:06:37 PM »

I can honestly say that I have never left a church becasue of some issue in the church.
It's always been a matter of distance/logistics.
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