Golden Rules for Sound Systems in Houses of Worship

I recently reiterated what should be genetically embedded concepts for sound system design and deployment in the world of AV facilities and locations. (See: Golden Rules of Sound Implementation and Design.) Although those rules apply to the Houses of Worship segment of our industry as well, some particular and unique add-ons are crucial to success in this more specialized segment of our trade.

Why these seemingly straightforward principles need to be restated periodically is beyond my understanding. But because it’s so vital to get this right, I’ll happily take the time and space to do so — even if logic dictates I shouldn’t have to remind all of you of these essential practices.

Perhaps it’s short-term memory issues or lack of pass-on/down of basic ideas from generation to generation or the lack of communication between older professionals and the up-and-coming workforce. There could be a plethora of reasons, and I can’t pin down exactly why, but I do know that the problem keeps coming back like a buzzing mosquito to annoy everyone regularly.

So, for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind, let’s look at the core issues for any HOW sound system.

The Rule From the Mountaintop — And Other Rules to Follow

  1. On every job we do, we hand out 4×5 cards with this statement on them at the very first group meeting on the project: “Delivering intelligible, clear and undistorted speech to the whole congregation is the ONLY thing that matters. Everything else is a science or research project.” We do this to ensure that every stakeholder, both the obvious ones and the often invisible, shy or hidden ones, all understand what we are trying to do. It also opens up a discussion on what else has to be accomplished and allows prioritization of those additional goals and desires into a workable plan and process flow document.
  2. Ensure, to the maximum degree feasible, complete buy-in and agreement amongst ALL stakeholders in the project (this mainly includes all donors and financial supporters) on the key goals and requirements.
  3. Establish a leadership team within the core HOW project group whose responsibility is to manage the project and any/all DIY aspects from the HOW perspective.
  4. Make sure to develop an interface between the HOW project leadership and management teams and any/all outside service providers, experts, specialty contractors and, most importantly, develop a written conflict/problem-resolution procedure which is an “absolute” — that is, it is followed 100% of the time.
  5. Agree — within the HOW and leadership team — on a fixed and guaranteed problem resolution process with a neutral third party if an impasse develops. Create a written agreement between all parties that the decisions of this process are final and not debatable.
  6. Create and obtain written agreement on a project end goal and result. By doing this early, you ensure that everyone is working toward the same result — what the HOW really wants. A verbal version of this idea is not a viable solution — people say one thing and mean another. But getting a written document in place, there can be no significant debate after the fact or during the project process.
  7. If any of the minefield technologies or services is required (that is electrical service upgrades or related services, mechanical or rigging services, plumbing heating or HVAC), demand written agreement on the hiring of licensed, bonded, insured and vetted commercially capable suppliers for (all of) these services. Failure to do so can be a significant problem at best and fatal at worst. This is no place for “good enough.” You must meet and exceed all local, county and state requirements in these areas to meet inspection and safety requirements. NO cheating allowed!
  8. And finally, develop and use a benchmark check-off timeline document that allows tracking and certification of proper completion of each step in the project in the correct order and with complete confirmation by at least two parties that the required work and hardware are complete, installed and working.

The end of this process is a complete checkout and verification of all systems and functions to prove they are working as specified and desired. We strongly recommend that, at the end of this checkout process, all users be given a walkthrough to ensure they got what they thought they were buying and to set up and confirm the familiarization training on the new systems for all involved.

If you follow these rules, your chances for a positive and satisfactory outcome go up dramatically.