Don’t Ignore the Importance of Audio When Focused on Upgrades for Video

microphone church close up

Over the last year, churches nationwide have seen how vital quality video and streaming are in spreading the message.

For churches that weren’t streaming before last March, the sudden rush to begin left behind various technical issues.

Following weeks of lockdowns and reduced capacity for in-person services, many churches now look to further improve their streaming experience. Upon recognizing the need to upgrade, those churches have turned to or are seeking integration firm partners.

When thinking of improving the stream, video often tends to get a heavy dose of attention. Nonetheless, the value of audio actually plays a larger role, as noted by Mark Hanna, owner of FxN Productions, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Marcus Hammond, church resource director for Stark Raving Solutions, located in Lenexa, Kansas.

To emphasize audio’s importance relating to a stream, Hammond said, “Think of when you are watching TV or a livestream. If the video goes out and the audio remains, the viewer will often remain until the video returns.” If the reverse occurs, though, and “the audio goes out, then they don’t have the comprehension. It’s a bad deal, and people turn it off.”

Hanna emphasized how crucial quality audio is integral in achieving quality video or streaming. “Everybody knows the need to up your video game. But if you don’t up your audio game as well … that doesn’t really matter. Better cameras with the same, poor mix doesn’t make better videos.”

Looking to Upgrade the Experience

The impetus behind making improvements related to the stream often aren’t made in a vacuum. Too often, church administration and tech staff endure hearing the constant beat of the drum relating to issues from congregation members. About how one member struggles to watch the stream without being booted off. Or how another contends with such persistently poor audio, they never end up watching a livestreamed service in full.

“If you expect someone to listen to a 30-minute session, it must be good enough to keep them engaged,” explained Hammond. For many churches, with their current streaming setup, they contend with a noticeable difference between various segments of each service. “Lots of churches are in the situation, where they suffer during the music time, and then the message or sermon is a lot more forgiving for audio,” he added.

How noticeable is the difference?

“There is a standard to be hit. Is the full spectrum being covered?,” asked Hammond. The pastor might sound natural during his sermon, for example, but a service goes beyond the spoken word. Hammond contended asking one Shure SM57 microphone to capture the full musicality of a piano “isn’t fair on the piano. It takes more to try to make two channels of quality, for the listener at home.”

Turning to Integrators In Seeking Audio Improvements

In figuring how a church can improve a stream, turning to an integrator for answers should be in the mix.

“As an objective third party, an integrator can speak to the situation as a subject matter expert,” noted Hanna.

The relationship between church and integrator is such that the “integrator becomes a partner, and an integrator shares the goals with the church,” Hammond explained. “It’s not just selling something that does the job, but using the tools toward the common goal.”

Taking the Time to Test and Practice

Among the best ways to understand what will work for a livestreamed service is test, test, test.

Begin by testing for yourself the ways that your congregation will most likely watch a service. That includes watching the stream from a laptop. Or your cellphone. Or through inexpensive earbuds.

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Once you’ve taken the time to test a livestream repeatedly, you can wrap your head around what to improve. Doing so will provide a better understanding of the context behind a complaint about the stream.

And then there is watching the stream from one’s TV or home theater setup.

“I think it’s hardest to mix the band for a livestream, because there’s so many variables at play,” said Hanna.

What makes mixing the livestream so challenging in such instances? Knowing how easy it is to compare the production of another show, with a few flicks of the remote.

“If I’m watching (the stream) on TV at home, versus U2 in concert, I can flip between those two things. I can grade a church on the scale that is completely unrealistic,” noted Hanna. “The church is being mixed live, but the U2 concert, they spent weeks mastering that out. It’s really not fair to compare the two. And the budgets are completely different.”

To produce a quality stream, testing is part of the equation. But so too is practice. “The first time the sermon message goes on live video, shouldn’t be the first time (it’s been run through),” noted Hammond. While some churches might have a pastor “give his sermon notes 15 minutes before starting time” to staff, Hammond said, he’s seen others smooth out parts of the service with as many as five run throughs.

How to Improve A Church’s Audio

Thankfully, the ability to refine a church’s sound tied to streaming has taken great strides in recent years. A church tech staff can often look to the internet to find a variety of tools, in simplifying such efforts.

“There are a bazillion YouTube videos on how to produce audio for videos. Most of them are in the right ballpark (to upgrade a church’s sound),” noted Hanna. Other options, explained Hanna, are stock websites offering Foley sound effects or other “effects, without making them from scratch.”

Beyond the tools now available online, Hammond pointed to how “we’ve seen the quality of audio improve. That’s because you can now do multichannel buses and reprocess lots of channels.”

Another method toward improving a church’s sound tied to a stream, is have it be handled outside the worship space.

From front of house, a copy of the audio mix can be sent to an acoustically isolated room. A staff member can then exclusively work on the mix to create the desired sound, different from the FOH mix.

Finding Success In Midst of Budgets

Before diving into potential upgrades, the budget typically is at the center of what can and cannot be done.

Or as Hanna said, “If budgets weren’t an issue, and people weren’t a factor, most churches would do (such projects as an acoustically isolated room.)”

The problem, though, as Hammond explained, is churches often “let budgets define their goals. Instead of their goals helping to define their budget.”

Even for those churches that opt to put the task of mixing multiple tracks on the person running front of house, it can still prove successful. “You are at the mercy of the quality of what the volunteer can give you,” said Hammond. Even in those situations, he noted having heard professional front-of-house mixes so well done, “they can be used for broadcast.”

Another possibility would be for the front of house to be tasked mixing two tracks, Hammond explained. Citing Church on the Move in Tulsa, Oklahoma, “They sweeten it up, but don’t have to remix it for broadcast. They also don’t have a separate room to remix everything,” he added.