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Hi, There!
I have a dilemna that maybe someone out there can point me in the right direction to research.
For years, I was on the road mixing sound in older theater-type venues for a variety of musical acts. I always seemed to be placed in the rear of the room, often times under the balcony. This was never a good placement, the bass was always skewed, and depending upon the slope of the floor, I may or may not have had a decent line-of-sight to the stage.
These days, I mix in a modern, large non-denominational Christian church on Saturday evenings. 2500-seats, "stadium seating" arrangement, and the FOH mix station is smack-dab in the middle of the room. Great line-of-sight, no mixing issues, I'm a spoiled kid behind a Midas H3000 (soon to be a digital Yamaha).
My concern is one of my Sunday morning church clients. Right now, they're in a school auditorium while they're building a "real" stand-alone facility. Last week, they revealed the architects' designs for the building.
I am very concerned because they want to place the sound mix position
in the REAR of the sanctuary, centered between the 2 main aisles; kind of like a projection room in a movie theater. There will be a row of classrooms/offices over the mix area in the beginning. This eventually be replaced by a balcony for an extra 300 people. My concern is that the ceiling height at the mix position will be a mere 10 feet. There is no way that they will allow the FOH to be placed in the congregation area. As an alternative, I would like it to be moved to the upstairs balcony area when it is built. I've spoken with a number of Methodist churches that have done that and their soundmixers seem to be OK with that.
But the architect says that he's designed a number of churches this size (starting with 400 seats), and that he knows best. This is after his first design, which had the FOH in a ROOM WITH A GLASS WINDOW!
I need to get some feedback from others out there who've dealt with this issue. The music minister and I are very concerned and we don't want to have to go back and "fix" this guy's mistakes! Any reference materials (I've been to PSW and Church Production) you can point me to will be greatly appreciated!


Cucco Thu, 01/17/2008 - 07:34

I wish I could give you good advice - the only thing I could advise is to talk with your client and stress how bad of an idea this is.

They pay the architect and if the architect doesn't meet their requirements, they don't have to pay him/her. If the architect suggests that he'll have to go back to the drawing board and this will cost extra, well, there's not much you can do other than explain to the church that he's full of sh*t and he needs to do the job right in the first place.

If you have a strong relationship with the church construction committee, this shouldn't be a problem. If you have a contract with them, it may be even easier.

This is often the problem when the committee goes off on their own, hires an architect and doesn't gather the requirements prior to telling the architect "have your way with us."

Often, if it's gotten to this stage, you may just be screwed.

BobRogers Thu, 01/17/2008 - 08:27

Well, I've certainly mixed from a similar positions many times, and I'm sure you've done it more than I. Of course it's not optimal, but in fact I think it has some advantages. One is that if some headbanger with less experience than you is mixing, they will be less inclined to pump up the bass. This is sort of a "mix for the worst seat in the house and the best will take care of itself" philosophy. Mostly it's just me putting a good spin on a bad situation.

On the other hand, I would have lost my trust in any architect who put a glass window on the front of a sound booth. At least you have the music minister in your corner. How does the acoustic design look?

moonbaby Thu, 01/17/2008 - 10:20

Well, it looks like your typical, traditional church inside: high ceilings, lots of windows, parallel walls, etc. I have been involved with new installs before, just not churches (a couple of planetariums and nightclubs). I am fortunate to have the ministry on my side and they want me to head up the commitee that will be planning this aspect of the project. I just wanted to have some ammo to research on. I guess I was taken aback by the first plans and the glass booth...Thanks.

anonymous Thu, 01/17/2008 - 12:37

It sounds as if the mix location is being decided before the speaker arrangement is designed. Is this the case?

The mix location should not be dictated by an aesthetic rule. But many times (many many times) this is the case. And you certainly wouldn't want to alter the sound design to accommodate the mix location. That is definitely the tail wagging the dog.

However, there are certain sound designs which would support an under-balcony rear mix location. Many renovations have mix at center of house under well as many Broadway sound installations.

It really depends on the sound design how bad of a situation you're getting into.

MadMax Thu, 01/17/2008 - 16:45

Hop over to acoustics and see if Rod can shed some light....

From personal experience... 2 things

1. Architects are NOT acoustical engineers.

2. I do a briefcase gig in a 500 seat renovated movie theater where I mix FOH in the balcony. I'd prefer to be ANYWHERE but under that balcony. In the balcony is 5000000 times better than under it.

Halifaxsoundguy Thu, 01/17/2008 - 16:59

Architects really don't like constructive criticism. When I worked at a Architectural firm I asked one of the partners if they ever consult professional artists to see if it "works" artistically with the rest of the designs.

I asked this because Architects deal with all sort of details like building construction, materials, codes, etc.. and artists spend their careers studying visual perception.

He didn't like that question. Which leads me to think this is almost never done.

Heres an example: This was one of their flagship buildings

This building has quite the design to it, however if you cover you hand over the crazy part of the building (bottom pic) you're left with an ordinary box building. I showed these photos to a Pro Artist thats the first thing he said. He said it was tacky. Sad thing is that this building is an Art Gallery.

This doesn't help you situation, but it goes to show how architects think.

Thomas W. Bethel Fri, 01/18/2008 - 05:25

My best friend is an acoustical engineer. He just did a church where the building committee ran amok. They decided that they did not want the sound person in the church at all so they put him in a separate room in the narthex (lobby) of the church. He is only connected to the church by tie lines, video lines and has a small mono speaker in the room to monitor on. It is an untenable situation but the person in charge of the renovations/building committee made decisions based purely on aesthetics and did not care about practical matters or the needs of the sound people or for that matter anyone else. The committee also decided, without telling my friend, to move the whole front area of the church forward by about 20 feet which meant that the cluster speakers were now behind the minister's pulpit and they did not want to pay to relocate the speakers so now it is feedback city. The choir microphones are also behind the choir and again they did not want to pay for the relocation so the microphones are useless. I understand that the church committee that made all these terrible decisions was dissolved and that a new one was created. The minister now heads the committee and it has people who are actually doing the work sitting on the committee. Too bad they did this AFTER they let the other committee make a bunch of knuckle headed decisions. Oh well live and learn. They are about to redo the entire sound system which will cost them a bundle and it may not be aesthetically pleasing but it will work.

moonbaby Fri, 01/18/2008 - 06:35

I hear you, Tom. I watched a local church build a "sound booth" with video ties to "watch" the service. It was designed by the local NBC TV station's audio engineer! After he left, they tore it all down and started over...
I see so many of the newer churches placing the sound and lighting people in the balcony these days. From a line-of-sight viewpoint (pun intended), it makes total sense. Most of my sound cues are muting/unmuting various lav mics as people walk up /down from the podiums, so I have to have a clear shot at seeing everything going on. Not to mention wanting to hear a decent representation of the music mix for the contemporary praise team. I realize that the mix position is not ideal under a proscimium or balcony. I just have to figure out how to explain this in laymens' terms to the powers-to-be.
I had to laugh the other night. As they were showing us the "artists' renditions" of the building, the attendees were much more concerned with the roof covering the drive-up entryway that the elderly folks will be using!
Of course, it's their money.

BobRogers Fri, 01/18/2008 - 07:01

moonbaby - I just thought to recommend that you buy the [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]Yamaha Guide To Sound Systems for Worship[/]="…"]Yamaha Guide To Sound Systems for Worship[/] I bought one for our church library. I've found it useful for explaining our need to people on committees. I don't recall if there is anything about the mix position, but it is generally a good book and can be read by clergy, et. al.

I think it is good to remind people that sound (both music and spoken word) has been a big part of the aesthetic experience of church for hundreds of years, and that there have been times (e.g. pipe organ days) when it was a considerably bigger part of the budget. I'm all for good aesthetics. But sound has to part of the equation, and if the architect isn't creative enough to incorporate it, you need a new architect.

One last thing since you mentioned lavs. Moving from lavs to the countryman I6 ear set mics was the single biggest audio improvement I've ever made by swapping a single piece of equipment. Can't beat the laws of physics.

Cucco Fri, 01/18/2008 - 07:10

I just have to share this -

I was doing a recording in a church the other evening and it blew me away.

The church could maybe seat 650 people with its balcony included.

The speaker arrays -

5 Arrays -
Left, left-center, middle, right center, right. Each array had 2 large JBLs and a Subwoofer. All arrays flown in (and it looked like a junction at a power plant with all the wires and cables!)

The lights -

A full compliment of theatrical cans - by my estimation, roughly 60 cans.

The amps -

2 6 foot tall rack filled with Crown amps (more than 20)

The mics -

6 Neumann 184s covering the 20-30 person choir, 2 184s covering the bell choir, Audix SCX 25s mounted in the Yamaha C7 grand piano, 2 u87s covering the brass section, Earthworks podium mics on all podiums and no less than 2 dozen wireless lav systems.
4 Sennheiser MKH Shotguns at the lip of the balcony.

Miscellaneous -

2 sets of V-drums
plastic shells for projection of the brass
so so much more...

The sound booth -

Yamaha M7CL in a square 3 foot tall box at the back of the room under the balcony...the absolute worst sounding place in the entire hall!

Again, this is a small baptist church...
It just goes to show that there are a LOT of dumb people out there and it seems that most of them design churches.

Sorry for the brief tangent...
We now resume your regularly scheduled program

moonbaby Fri, 01/18/2008 - 08:58

BobRogers wrote: Give me that equipment and I'll run sound in the basement!

I'll second that one!
And, Bob, I DO have that Yamaha book. I'll have to peruse it again to see what it says about acoustic designs.
Also, I am looking very closely at not only the Countryman, but the Crown, headworn "micro-micro mics". We currently have Sennheiser wireless systems, and I am very unhappy with that manufacturer. The systems work OK in our environment, but getting replacement parts like mic elements, clips, etc. has been very grueling. Their website does not support service parts, only INSTALLED systems..WTH? I'm glad that the Countryman units are working well for you. I need to budget for those babies now.