Here are 24 tips I have put together to help you either get the best out of your current church sound system or update or plan for the future. You might not be able to afford an upgrade at the moment, but there are always things you can do to improve what you already have and enhance the worship experience for everyone.
1)Start with a plan
If you are going to build a decent system and have limited funds, you need to start with a plan. If I was starting out, I would look at the needs of the building and what you think you will be using the system for. Is it for amplifying the preaching, a choir, a worship band? This will determine to some extent what your plan will look like. Then think about the layout of the building, how many loudspeakers you will need and where to place them. What power amplifier will you need, how many speaker outputs. What size of mixer, number of channels, monitor outputs.
You will also need to think about stage monitors if you have a worship band and try and judge how many you might need. Read more about stage monitors. Collect as much information you can at this stage to come up with your plan. Then you will be in a better position to allocate money to each area and think about what specific gear to purchase within your budget. If you are ok with computers, put it all on a spreadsheet so you can see what you need and track your costings. Use the tools within the spreadsheet to add up your potential spend and compare to budget. This way, when you change some gear, you will be able to see if you have kept within budget or not.
2)Educate yourself about church audio
One of the best things you can do is if you are the chief tech person responsible for the church audio, is to educate yourself as much as possible about PA systems and live sound in general. Learn what you can from the top blogs, Youtube channels, magazine articles. If there is a church nearby with a larger or more experience audio team, why not partner up or hang out and see what you can learn from them. It’s also worth checking out local colleges that may have a course in live sound production you could enroll in.
If you work during the day, maybe there is somewhere nearby offering an evening class? Keep your ear to the ground for regional or national conferences that can be a great way to learn more – see WFX Conference and CSMT Conference if you are based in the US. If in Europe, the annual CRE in the UK run church audio seminars. Also, get to know the staff at your local music and audio hear stores. They often have a wealth of knowledge you can tap into when you need advice.
3)Allow for contingency
If you are working to a tight budget, it is tempting to plan to use every penny that’s available. However, my experience with designing systems is that 9 times out of 10, there’s something you will have forgotten about or a piece of hardware you weren’t expecting to buy. Sometimes from the time of design to actual purchase, prices may go up. Even on a small budget, I would advise setting aside about 10% of the budget for contingency. You need a bit of wriggle room to give you the freedom to buy that extra bit of gear or buy an upgraded model of a piece of equipment that perhaps wasn’t in your original planning. Even if you don’t spend all the money now, there may be small items you will need in the first year of operation of your new system.
4)Prioritise your needs
When you don’t have a bottomless pit of money to play with, you will need to prioritise. Which bits of your proposed sound system is absolutely necessary? Are some items, over-specced? I’m guessing as a tech person, you love gadgets and there can be a temptation with us techies, to go for high spec gear when something much simpler and cheaper will do. If you have a rolling maintenance budget, you could focus on your core system just now and perhaps use cheaper microphones for the time being and then buy better ones the following year. Go through your plan and try and gauge what your top priorities will be and what is lower down your priority list. This will make it easier to make difficult decisions.
5)Don’t scrimp on quality
When you are trying to save money, it can be tempting to see gear you find online or in a music store that might not be a known quality brand name, but it’s cheap. If you really want a good system that is going to enhance the worship and is going to last, then please don’t scrimp on quality. For your core audio system, your PA amp, speakers, mixer, cables, you want to go for the best quality you can afford. If you buy poor quality gear, you could spend many months dealing with problems down the line and trying to figure out how to solve them. Even worse, you could end up throwing in the towel with a poor PA system and going back to your church leadership to ask for more money to buy a new system all over again!
6)Focus on core sound system
I kind of indicated this above on priorities, but the core of your sound system is so important. If you lay a good foundation, then you will have the makings of a great sound system. If you are planning to use passive speakers, get a really high-quality power amp with low SNR, a bit more power than what you think you will need and enough speaker outputs for the size of your buildings. If using powered speakers, get the best you can for the money. Purchase a well-known quality brand mixer with enough channels for what you will need. I can recommend the Yamaha MG20XU and have written a post about it here – live mixer review
7)Do your own installation(only if you know what you are doing!)
Some churches get a company in to do their system design, installation and wiring, or some buy all the gear and pay for someone to wire it up for them. It’s certainly one way of saving a lot of money if you can do your installation in-house. As a rough comparison with some recent examples I have seen, there could be a difference in price of x5 when you compare a DIY install to hiring a company to do the whole thing for you. Also, if you can get volunteers to build a sound booth or desk for your mixing console, that can also save a lot of money.
8)Look for sound gear bundle deals
When you come to maker your actual purchases, look around for gear bundle deals and you can save some cash. These are quite common especially with smaller items, like microphones that come with mic stands, or wireless mics that come with a set of four microphones for example.
9)Consider alternative PA configurations for portability
When planning a sound system, you may have a particular configuration in mind, but due to budget restraints, you might have to redesign your system. If having a power amp and passive speakers is going to be too expensive, try and work out a configuration that uses active powered speakers or vice versa. One of these options could prove cheaper than the other. Or maybe in your original plan you were thinking about 4 loudspeakers, but it’s proving too expensive. What if you got two larger loudspeakers instead? Would that work in your building, where would you place them? Would it be cheaper to do it that way?
These are the kind of questions you can ask when designing a system and your projected spend is going way over your budget. Sometimes you need to think outside the box a little bit. I know of one church plant using a school gym hall that had to set up and tear down their sound system every Sunday, which was taking a long time. I helped them look at replacing their existing system, but this time round designed their new system around x2 Bose L1 compact portable powered speakers and a small mixer. It works great for them and takes a lot less time to set up and tear down.
10)Get what you need now, but plan for the future
Churches change and audio needs change. What works for you today, might not work for you in the future. So I would advise that you try and think ahead for what you might need if certain things were to happen. For example, at the moment you have a small worship band, but there are plans to involve more people and add more instruments. If that happened would your sound system be up to the job? If not, how could you buy something that is adequate for just now, but could be used in the future with a bigger band? The main piece of gear that could be impacted is your mixing console. Does it have enough channels to cope? Does it have enough monitor outputs, if you need more floor space for your expanding worship band?
11)Save money by making up your own audio cables
You won’t save a huge amount of money with this tip, but you could save some in the long run and it is a very good skill for a sound tech to have anyway. If buying cables, I advise buying the highest quality, which can be expensive. However, if you were to buy a large reel of quality audio cable and a box of XLR and 1/4 jack connectors, male/female, you would be able to make up your own cables – click here to read more about XLR connectors. The only other things you would need are an electronics engineer’s soldering iron and solder station, some reels of solder, a toolkit with pliers, snips, screwdrivers and a small mini-vice and you are all set.
With some practice, you could be making up cables just as good as any you could buy in a store, and you will be able to make them to the exact length you want. Also, you will be able to repair any faulty cables you have without having to big them.
12)Get some quality used/ second-hand audio gear
This is one tip that has actually saved me quite a bit of money. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for every piece of gear, but for some things, it’s great. Item’s that have a higher likelihood of breaking down like a mixing console, I would think twice about buying second hand. But things like microphones or even floor monitors, you might be able to source cheaply. I once bought a really good quality 31 band stereo equaliser unit for $75 on eBay. It’s also worth checking out local music stores, as they sometimes have PA equipment that has been sitting for a while and they need the shelf space. Remember to do due diligence though, buy quality even if it’s second-hand! If you look hard enough its amazing what you might find.
13)Borrow equipment from another church until you can afford to upgrade
If there are any large churches nearby that have a great sound system and a sizable tech crew, it is highly likely they have spare gear lying around. Ask if you could borrow for a while until you can afford to buy. Churches that have plenty of money are swapping gear out on a regular basis, upgrading mixers, power amp, floor monitors, eq. Ask around and see what you can get. Some groups of churches or denominations often have Facebook groups for sharing news and ideas across a city or state. Why not put something out there and say exactly what you are looking for? Someone might be able to help.
14)Ask for a bigger budget
I left this one to last, as it is kind of a last resort if you have exhausted all the suggestions above. I often find churches greatly underestimate just how much a new sound system is going to cost. It could be that the bottom line is your budget is just way too small and you were never going to build a decent church audio system on that budget no matter how hard you try. If you are going to ask for more money, you need to be armed with detailed information as to why you need a bigger budget.
You need to justify every dollar and make sure that this time round you have adequate resources to do the job. Before bringing this to a church leadership meeting, it might be best to run it past the pastor and treasurer to let them know your thoughts and reasons and get them on board first.
15)Train your tech team
As well as educating yourself as much as you can, you also need to train your tech team. If there is a church tech conference nearby, why not go along as group? If your church leadership sees this as an important ministry within the church it may be worth having a conversation about building ongoing training into the budget. Offer on the job training in all aspects of working on the church sound team. Organise training on understanding all the various pieces of equipment and what they are for. Provide training in how to listen carefully to the preacher/musicians and adjust sound accordingly. Train them up in knowing what to do when everything goes wrong and you aren’t there! If you have someone in your team that is more experienced and knowledgeable, consider training them up as a deputy.
16)Tune your church PA system
This is something that I find a lot of people skip, either because they don’t know how to do it or have never even heard of it before. Tuning a PA system, is basically using system EQ to tune the system to it’s surroundings. There are many objects within a church building that can affect the overall sound for good or ill. Walls, pews, ceilings even people acts as objects for sound waves to bounce off, and can play havoc with the mix and cause untold feedback problems and unwanted frequencies. If you are having problems with feedback, echoes etc, then this one tip could make a huge difference. Check out my post on How to Tune a PA System for a more in-depth guide.
17)Know your mixing desk/soundboard
The mixer is probably the most complex bit of equipment you have and also the least well understood. I have a bad habit when I get a new gadget of ripping open the box and turning the thing on without reading the instructions. However, when it comes to something as complex as a mixing desk, it really is well worth your time reading through the manual in great detail. Even better is to read the manual and try things out while you are actually sitting at the mixing desk. Play around with all the controls so that you know them back to front. There’s a reason that two different sound engineers can get different results from the same equipment.
The difference is that one of them usually just knows their desk better. If you look hard enough, sometimes you can find a tutorial on Youtube that someone had created just for your model of mixer or at least one that is like it in functionality. These can be really helpful, and maybe worth sharing with your whole tech team. Sometimes, manufacturer’s have some helpful tutorials that you can access for free, such as these great videos made available by Soundcraft on the website. https://www.soundcraft.com/en/videos
18)Do a pre-worship sound check
This seems like an obvious one, but sometimes can get skipped. Maybe you have already been down to check everything during the week, but there is never any guarantee that something has been touched or moved, either in the sound booth or on the stage area or pulpit. Do the check when the building is quiet and then again as it fills up with people. It does mean being there before everyone else, but it is worthwhile being able to do your check in the peace and quiet. The addition of more bodies in the building will change the overall sound. Make up a checklist, or have a look at the one I have provided. Once you have opened the page, scroll to bottom for downloadable PDF checklist -> Church sound check guide
19)Attend worship team rehearsals
You might not need to do this every week, but on occasion, it might be helpful for you or one of your team to attend worship band or choir rehearsals. This gives you a chance to play about with the sound without the pressure of Sunday morning. You have the freedom to try different thing as the band or choir rehearse. If there are different instruments coming in at different times, it gives you an opportunity to be better prepared when they come to do it live on the Sunday. Also, get to know the musicians and singers. At the end of the day, you are part of a larger team with them. Work with them, listen to their comments and suggestions. The end goal is to lead the congregation to worship God, so work together for that common goal.
20)Get a copy of the running order
Again this seems like common sense, but it is so important that everyone of your Sunday team has a copy of the running order. Everyone needs to know whats happening and when. You might have some songs that are piano only, others with choir or singers, and others with full band, so you need to know when to switch different people in. It might be a good idea to have your own version of this, with additional notes for your tech team. e.g. if you need a small boost on lead guitar during a solo, you put that down on your running order. Or during the sermon, you don’t want vocal mics on that could pick up unwanted noises like rustling or footsteps. Put all of these things down on your tech running order.
21)Use quality cables
In my own experience cables are the #1 reason for problems with PA systems. If you want to get the best out of your current system and as much as you can eliminate potential problems, I would advise you to use quality cables. It is tempting to try and save money on this, but it could save you many headaches in the future. Trying to find the source of crackles and hum in a PA system is no easy task, and the last thing you want is for it to happen in the middle of Sunday worship.
If you start with a high quality multicore snake, then you are halfway there to eliminating potential problems. Quality multi-cores are expensive but I think are always worth forking out extra cash for. Second, buy decent loudspeaker cables. These cables need to carry the audio signals over a long distance and can be susceptible to interference of you use low-quality cables that are poorly made. Third, use quality 1/4″ jack cables. Don’t get drawn into buying these from your local discount store, but get the best you can possibly buy for the money. That includes short cables being used for guitar pedals and DI boxes.
Some musicians will want to use their own cables, but that does add some uncertainty into your system. It’s a good idea to have a chat with any musicians that want to use their own cables. Maybe offer to test their cables for them and if they are no good, advise that they use the church’s cables. Fourth, use high quality microphone cables. These cables are the one that get unplugged and moved around more than any others, so it is vitally important that these are well made and robust enough for heavy use.
In something as complex as a PA system where things get unplugged and moved around, and it is paramount that you know what goes where, labeling stuff is a bit of a no-brainer. If you designed or built the system, you probably know where everything is supposed to go, but the rest of your tech team might not. Also on a Sunday morning, when you don’t have a lot of time and you discover that you have no sound on one channel, having things labeled just makes fault finding so much easier. Masking tape is ok for labelling mixer channels and other things, but it does get kind of grubby after a while.
A better solution may be to invest in a small label making machine, that you have on hand whenever you need it. And when old labels fall off or are no longer readable, you can just make new ones really quickly. One I have used before is the Brady Label Maker which I highly recommend. I have listed it on my huge 101 Ideas for Church Sound Systems post.
23)Be prepared for emergencies
With anything as complex as a church audio system, things can go wrong. So it’s always advisable to be prepared for any eventuality. Write down a list of things that have gone wrong in the past and think of things that could potentially go wrong. How well are you prepared for them? Have a box for emergencies with spare batteries, 1/4″ jack cables, XLR cables, phono cables, 1/8″ jack cables and adapters, DC power supplies for guitar pedals, DI boxes, microphones, wireless mics, mic stands, Smart media cards, USB sticks. You just never know when you will need any of that stuff. You might never need them, but better to be ready.
Lastly, and possibly most important of all is to pray. Music and tech ministry is a way of serving God within the church. It shouldn’t just be seen as job, but as an important part of the overall ministry of the church. And as a member of the ministry team, you have an important role to play in helping people to worship God and hear God’s word being preached. You work may enable others to hear on podcast and respond to the message. So don’t undervalue what you do, and see it as a ministry in its own right.
Therefore, pray and ask God to help you and your team to do the best that you can. Pray for a few minutes with your team when you meet together. If the worship musicians pray before sound check on a Sunday, go and join them for a few minutes.
Hope these tips have been helpful. If you liked this post, please share on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Thanks.