How to keep congregrations connected with audio
Audio can keep your congregation connected.
According to AVInteractive:
“The past year has brought challenges to every group and organisation around the world, from keeping employees connected and students engaged, to ensuring essential workers can do their jobs each day. Religious leaders are not exempt and have been tasked with nurturing community spirit while providing support, stability and some normality to their congregations. For AV professionals working with houses of worship, it’s vital to understand changing needs and how to address them fully.
“Our sense of hearing is such an important part of our lives — it’s how we connect with our surroundings, it aids in our understanding of those around us and enables us to lose ourselves in music and be moved by the spoken word. At Bose, we tend to view sound as the most important sense, no matter where you are.
“Houses of worship are fortunate to have significant support from volunteers, and with it, comes a wide range of technology comfort levels. Understanding what those levels are is the first step in determining how to best use current audio technology and whether it’s necessary to invest in additional equipment under new circumstances.
“With the current pandemic, the main consideration now is the balance of the in-person experience versus streaming for remote participants.
“Historically, the focus has typically been first on providing in-person participants with the best possible experience. This meant designing the space and its systems to maximise the connection between worship leaders and participants, ensuring every seat has an impactful sonic experience. But this priority has been reversed in a very short amount of time.
“Now, houses of worship are having to optimise streaming to ensure the remote community is receiving the best experience possible. This means minimising the impact of the sanctuary PA and stage monitoring systems on the remote audio, requiring improved mixing discipline and control to keep volume levels down, with unused microphones muted and sound system coverage limited to only seating areas where members are actually present.
“It also means enabling more control and flexibility of the streaming mix itself; whereas a front-of-house ‘board mix’ may have been acceptable in the past, now a dedicated streaming mix and perhaps even a dedicated engineer are necessary. In other words, what formerly provided an optimal in-person experience becomes less important and even counterproductive when the priority is shifted to the remote experience.
“And while some members may return to in-person worship after the pandemic, I personally think that the emphasis on facilitating exceptional remote experiences will continue, given that many churches have invested in the technology required to make it happen. In addition to existing members, this avenue provides an opportunity to grow the congregation too, connecting with members in a new, highly accessible way.
Connecting with success
“With the increased adoption of streaming services comes an increased comfort level with a previously unfamiliar technology. Now, even the more senior members of a church are familiar with the implications of creating, streaming and posting content and even live interaction during worship. But regardless of a person’s familiarity, audio plays a key role in these activities. People are more tolerant of an underwhelming video experience or an image that freezes if audio is still available. Conversely, it wouldn’t matter how amazing the video was if the audio was poor. The opportunity to engage and connect with fellow congregants is lost.
“However, internet connections in churches can sometimes be patchy or unreliable – in some cases, they may have even previously relied on an internet hotspot via a volunteer’s phone. In order to recreate the most seamless experience possible for remote congregants, churches may need to upgrade bandwidth services in addition to audio and video equipment in order to ensure good quality for viewers to ensure they don’t miss out on key parts of services.
“Technology teams also have an increased amount of responsibilities when supporting both in-person and streamed services. They need consistent reliability and audio quality regardless of whether the service is in an indoor space with a good installed system or in an entirely new space (indoors or out). This is easier to achieve when using the same manufacturer (or set of manufacturers) throughout these varying worship scenarios because of consistency in the operation of these products.
“Particularly where church volunteers may not have the technological expertise, consistency will help ease the transition between installed systems and portable equipment. When working with the same manufacturer, a portable PA system on stands should provide a similar voicing characteristic as a large installed system, requiring less time re-EQing the FOH mixer’s input channel strips or reconfiguring monitor mixes, as examples. This can be a major timesaver for technical teams when moving worship services from one venue to another and helps with the flexibility of a team’s knowledge.
Addressing acoustic challenges
“Rooms that are used with far fewer occupants can lead to a host of audio and acoustic issues. For example, installed sound systems are likely to have been designed for significant SPL and low-frequency impact. But this can degrade the experience of the streaming audience by muddying the sound. Previously, this may have been less of an issue because more people were in the sanctuary to absorb this energy, and because fewer were dependent on the remote stream to participate. Now, with more people participating remotely, the empty room can become audible and ‘cave-like’ in the live stream’s audio.
“In addition, stage monitors can actually contribute to that poor experience, as they put even more energy into the room, exacerbating the muddy characteristic and perhaps even causing feedback as volunteer staff struggle to provide worship leaders with clear sound in the reverberant environment.
“Therefore as an audio engineer, the key questions to consider here are: Can I reduce how much of the sanctuary space the sound system covers? Can I reduce the number of acoustic audio sources? Can I increase mixing flexibility for the streaming audio without over-complicating the system? Equipment like in-ear monitors can help reduce the amount of stage volume and create a more cohesive experience for audiences – this was the case before streaming, but now is even more crucial due to the increased dependence on that streaming.
“And with the shift to streaming, integrators must also be cognisant of the different audio needs that result. In particular, mic arrangements must be adjusted (likely increased) across different set-ups in order to optimise results. For example, if a speaker is moving across a stage between two different microphones, they may between the pickup patterns of existing microphones, meaning remote participants may struggle to hear what is said. Previously, this may have been tolerable for an in-person audience because some acoustic energy was audible. For a remote audience, there is only silence. So instead, consider adjusting the way speakers are ‘mic-ed up’ in order to ensure they are heard clearly regardless of movement.
Connecting with communities
“As churches integrate a variety of worship experiences to meet the needs of their parishioners, the expectation is that the audio must be clear and consistent, no matter where they regather. No matter if services are in-person and socially distanced at church, at an outdoor space, or joined from afar by people who are simply hesitant and want to join from home, making services available in a variety of formats will ensure houses of worship can focus on what really matters most: connecting with parishioners under extraordinary circumstances.”