3 Tips For Troubleshooting Church Audio Problems

This week my Worship Pastor called me and asked me to meet him at our church to help him get a few things ready for this coming Sunday.  One of the things that he asked me to look at while I was there was the wireless microphone that we use for pastor during the sermon.  It’s a clip on lavalier microphone and it wasn’t sounding very good recently.  So he wanted me to look at and see if there was some issue with our channel strip settings or with the mic. Maybe the EQ or compression settings were wrong, or maybe the mic had gotten broken.  After taking the time to look it and troubleshoot the problem I eventually fixed it. So, I decided it might be a good idea to share some tips that will hopefully help you be successful when you have to troubleshoot audio problems for your congregation.

1. Keep it simple.  

My father used to tell me this all the time when I was working on my car as a teenager.  Honestly, it drives me crazy, because it sort of implies that if what you are doing isn’t working, then you must be overthinking it.  However, I have also found that nearly as often as it drives me crazy, it’s also true.  In the case of our microphone at our church the issue simply ended up being that it had been placed on the speaker about mid chest.  It was far too low.  To get the desired level out of it, the gain had to be cranked and feedback would occur.  The first thing I actually tried was to use reductive EQ to get rid of some frequencies that were causing the feedback.  That technique did help a bit, but it also left the mic sounding very hollow.  After fiddling with EQ, compression, and gain for a few minutes it occurred to me the mic might be too low.  I simply move it up, and attached it to my worship pastor’s shirt collar, and viola! The mic now sounded full and natural.  Keep it simple!

2. Don’t Over-process your source

I confess that over-processing my source has been a major fault of mine more times than I could count or want to remember.  If you put a microphone on your snare drum and it doesn’t sound right, it might need some EQ and compression. However, if you are still endlessly EQ’ing and compressing that snare drum and no matter what you do it still sounds bad, then it could be your source.  Over the years I have found that a little goes a long way when it comes to adding processing.  In 2016, most techs and most churches have an affordable and powerful digital mixer at their disposal.  Sometimes I think that a digital mixer can seem like a swiss army knife of problem solving tools.  While modern technology and digital mixers have definitely made church mixing more fun, make sure that you aren’t overlooking a simple solution like tuning your snare drum.  Especially when something as simple as an out of tune snare cannot really be fixed with EQ, compression, and reverb. Don’t over-process your instruments and vocalists in an attempt to fix a simple problem.

3. Minimize points of failure. 

Fixing or replacing broken or nearly broken stuff seems like a simple idea that no one should overlook, but the truth is that I have seen it many times and even done it myself.  When something isn’t working properly at your church the last thing that you want to have to do is take everything apart to find the point of failure.  Examples of this would be:

  • cables that are nearly falling apart that you have to hold a certain way to get them to work
  • knobs missing from control panels on amplifiers or mixers
  • In/Out jacks that are loose or broken or pushed inside a stage pocket or piece of equipment
  • poor cabling or cable management around gear, or under stages, etc.

Putting things together in a rush, or not fixing things properly or working around broken things can all be hinderances to troubleshooting a problem.  The last thing that you want to have to deal with when you are trying to fix your pastors mic, is taking them time to figure out which one of 5 possible issues could be causing the problem that you’re trying to fix.  Eliminate points of failure by fixing or replacing things when they break. Don’t put that off until later and it can save you time when you have to troubleshoot other issues.

I hope that this article helps you troubleshoot issues that may arise in your church audio system.  These are just a few ideas that I think can save you some time in the future.  Working in live audio you will run into a problem that you have to troubleshoot and solve eventually.  When that time comes, hopefully these tips will be useful to you.