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» Handling the “It’s too loud” complaint | Proclaim Blog

Handling the “It’s too loud” complaint

Handling the "It's too loud" complaint

At some point, every pastor will face criticism about music volume. A few preemptive steps will go a long way to prepare you for the inevitable noise complaint.

Use a dB meter to collect data

Noise complaints are usually subjective, made on feeling or impression. It’s important to measure the sound in the auditorium for both frequency and overall volume so you can respond with a scientific measurement.

The metric used to measure volume is called a decibel (dB). Some common benchmarks are:

  • 0 dB: rustling leaves
  • 60 dB: conversation
  • 85 dB: city traffic
  • 100 dB: stock earphones at maximum volume
  • 120 dB: a clap of thunder

You can buy a meter to wire directly into your soundboard, but I prefer to use a free Android app called Noise Meter. (iOS users, what’s your favorite equivalent?)

If you haven’t been measuring your service volume levels, avoid making decisions based on just one week. Collect some data—learn what your normal has been before you start making changes.

Take note of acoustic changes based on the state of the room. Sound checks and rehearsals happen when the room is empty, which means the volume will run 10–15 dB louder than it will during the service, when the pews are full of people breaking up the sound.

Set a baseline & maintain it

After you’ve collected a few weeks of data, set a baseline. Decide what you want your normal to be. Communicate this to your audio technician and anyone who might be leading worship. It needs to be a range, and it needs to be flexible to make room for dynamics. Leave yourself enough room to emphasize a powerful lift without blowing eardrums—enough room to give a little more bass to Easter Sunday’s big resurrection song.

So what should your level be? That’s an excellent question, and the answer will vary wildly from facility to facility depending on size, acoustics, and similar factors. Rooms that echo a lot are going to feel louder, even when the volume measurements are milder.

Respond thoughtfully with kind questions

When you inevitably hear “It was just too loud for me,” how do you respond? I recommend gathering more information before making any statements. Ask questions like:

Did you feel it was louder than usual? You need to know if this is a one-off concern or a more systemic complaint. You might not like the answer, but you need the information.

Which song made you uncomfortable? Was it the volume overall, or just the guitar in the opener to “God’s Not Dead”? You could be dealing with a frequency (pitch) concern, not a volume concern. Electric guitar often runs at frequencies that can be uncomfortable for older folks. Asking for more specific information can help you understand what triggered the discomfort. It also communicates to the concerned party that you’re competent and thinking about them.

Where were you sitting? It’s going to be louder next to the speakers. Period. Nothing you can do about it. Explain that sound dissipate throughout the room, and you need to make it audible for everyone. Suggest a different seat and you might reach a resolution without touching the levels.

Work your way gradually to, “I’m sorry to hear that. We’ll double-check the levels for next week.” Since you measure the levels and have set a baseline, you can say this without an ounce of hypocrisy.

We’d like to hear from you on this. What’s your baseline dB? Have you adjusted the music volume because of complaints? Tell us in comments—let’s share solutions!

***

Study with Logos. Present with Proclaim. These two tools together can save you hundreds of hours, freeing you up to focus on the important work of the ministry (and getting the mix right). See how Proclaim and Logos work together at Logos.com/Proclaim.

Comments

  1. Scott Tooley says:

    We have a small worship center (35'x50') with an acoustically designed ceiling and 7-channel surround sound system. I measured the sound levels through the (empty) center with the app at the volumn levels already used from Sunday (we use recorded worship videos and not a band). The whole room measured between 79.5-80.4db. We have a number of attenders who have come from other local churches (with bands) who left those churches because the music was "way too loud." Being a smaller space it is probably easier for us to control the sound.

    • Anthony Grubb says:

      That's gracious of you to say–and it is quite possible the places they left haven't been measuring.

  2. Matt Howard says:

    we run closer to 90db every week. Larger sanctuary. The volume can definitely get too loud, but I've found it's less about volume and more about the mix. 60db can kill people if it's not mixed properly (poor EQ, etc.).

    • Robert Smith says:

      Totally about the mix. As an engineer, I cringe at some mixes, no matter the db level. I have been in 100db+ environments that were as comfortable as a 85db mix

  3. We have a dB meter and we generally gun our sound peaking at around 82dB. I'd really like to try and get our sound people to get it up to 85dB because to me it sounds as if it allows for more dynamic.

    In our room (seats just under 200) 85dB seems like its loud enough to feel loud and dynamic but not too loud to hurt or communicate with your neighbor. Sure we get some complaints from time to time, but its generally from the same 4 or 5 people that actually have different preferences besides the overall volume (it seems). With as subjective as a thing like music, we'll likely always have a few people who think its loud. But most everyone else will love it, while some will still wish its louder.

    • It's all about the mix. I'm a firm believer that it takes a few more DB's to make some instruments come alive: electronic drums, tube amps (in the amp of course).

    • Linda Jean Phillips says:

      I wish it wasn't as loud either. A lot of people feel the same way and don't say anything.

  4. Anonymous says:

    One church in town that I've visited advertises where you can pick up earplugs. Bad sign. The sound is painful, but, more importantly, the loudness isolates me. I'm so overwhelmed that I cannot worship. The church I attend is loud but dynamic-a big difference.

    • Ray Deck III says:

      Many people, especially younger people, believe the isolation is a benefit not a drawback. They like to be able to sing at the top of their lungs and not hear their own voice. Believe it or not.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ray Deck III It always amazes me how different people are. Maybe in heaven music will be fast and slow, loud and soft, traditional and contemporary all at the same time. Won't we be surprised. In the presence of Christ we'll look back and wonder what was so important about the style of worship we liked. For now my vote goes for whatever communicates the gospel to people who need Jesus. As to loudness we just need not to damage people's hearing–in heaven I don't guess it will matter.

    • Our church is one that likes it loud. We offer earplugs with our logo. Most of our people really prefer being able to worship with abandon knowing no one else will hear them. Much has to do with the mix also… a good mix at 100db will sound great, but a bad mix at 75 will be painful!

  5. Colin Rowley says:

    I've been monitoring our sound checks lately and we are consistently around 100 db.

    According to the things I've read, consistent levels above 85 db supposedly cause hearing loss. That concerns me as the last thing I want for our congregation is actually do damage to their hearing.

    Also, it concerns me when churches are handing out earplugs – that's potentially acknowledging to the body that their levels are high enough to cause damage to hearing. But, then again, maybe we should be handing out earplugs as well if we are above 85 db regularly?

    • Ray Deck III says:

      It's worth considering. Earplugs at the door would send a message with which I'm not sure I'd be comfortable. I think it demands a conversation, though.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have been dealing with the complaint of it being too loud by one person in my church for some time. After really looking into this, I have found that OHSA standards are higher than most people think. The one that complains to me says his employer requires hear protection when they are in environments above 85 db. However, OSHA has the standard at 90db for 8 hours or more. The higher the level, the less time you can be exposed before having to use hearing protection.

      The OSHA Standard follows:
      1910.95(b)(1)

      When employees are subjected to sound exceeding those listed in Table G-16, feasible administrative or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels within the levels of Table G-16, personal protective equipment shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels within the levels of the table.

      1910.95(b)(2)

      If the variations in noise level involve maxima at intervals of 1 second or less, it is to be considered continuous.

      TABLE G-16 – PERMISSIBLE NOISE EXPOSURES (1)

      ___________________________________________________

      Duration per day, hours | Sound level dBA slow response

      _______________________|_____________________________

      8…………………………| 90

      6…………………………| 92

      4…………………………| 95

      3…………………………| 97

      2…………………………| 100

      1 1/2 ……………………| 102

      1…………………………| 105

      1/2 ………………………| 110

      1/4 or less………………| 115

      ____________________________|________________________

      Footnote(1) When the daily noise exposure is composed of two or

      more periods of noise exposure of different levels, their combined

      effect should be considered, rather than the individual effect of

      each. If the sum of the following fractions: C(1)/T(1) + C(2)/T(2)

      C(n)/T(n) exceeds unity, then, the mixed exposure should be

      considered to exceed the limit value. Cn indicates the total time of

      exposure at a specified noise level, and Tn indicates the total time

      of exposure permitted at that level. Exposure to impulsive or impact

      noise should not exceed 140 dB peak sound pressure level.

      We just recently installed new speakers. The SPL is still the same, but the fatiguing of the ears is not happening now.I didn't have one complaint after Sunday's service.

    • We run 100-105 on average, but as w-harris says, it's not just the db and spl, but the length of time. 105 less than 20 minutes is within safe limits, and the culture of our church is one that was likely at a rock show saturday night anyhow. For those who are sensitive, we offer ear plugs branded with @soundchurch on them. :)

  6. Your focus should be not how to handle complaints…, but to fix the problem. thoughtful people know there's a reason musicians wear ear plugs: they too know excessive Db's are harmful. SO DON'T DO IT!

  7. Kayfnp says:

    I am a pastor’s wife, so have heard lots of complaints about all things music and sound related in 30 years. We are passionate about music and it’s role in the church, and I would say we probably are fairly loud, but not dangerous. However, I have to comment on the folks who have posted that they love the music so loud they need earplugs. When one of my children was 13, he attended a Christian rock concert at OUR church, with a guest group. He suffered immediate, complete loss of hearing in one ear. We were told initially, the loss would be permanent. Through God’s grace and many, many prayers, he regained about 60% hearing in that ear and has full hearing in the other ear. But this is an area I am now passionate about. I have always been glad this happened to my child and not a visitor. What if a new teenager had been there that night and gone home completely deaf to a family that was not churched? He was predisposed to this by way of being born prematurely, but we did not know that before this incident, and all hearing tests had been normal until this point. Please don’t run the risk of causing deafness in the one place that should be a sanctuary.

  8. Nate Bantle says:

    Robert, your comment has no firm details. There would be no way to solve the issue with people that respond like yourself because it all comes down to your preference. I think you are missing the point of this posting…if we all argued for our preference we wouldn't get anywhere because we all have them.

  9. We use "SPL Meter" for iOS and though I can't remember the DBs, we keep it louder than loud. Since it's Africa, everyone likes it that way (including our 67 year old Canadian lead pastor!) and the only serious complaint we've ever had was from another expat who said our volume level was "illegal."

    I think in general, believers who are concerned enough to complain about their personal comfort levels should take a short-term missions trip to a developing country and get a change of perspective.

  10. Mark Corson says:

    " Praise the lord with timbrel and dancing"

  11. Suzanne Brown Zampella says:

    As someone with persistent sinus trouble (as well as some hearing loss) I can also say that it can be physically painful when the bass is too loud. There are many reasons other than "I don't like it that way" that people complain. Of course, some just don't like it that way :)

  12. Roy Miller says:

    Nate Bantle Too bad you didn't bother to read Robert's post. After all what does preference have to do with musicians wearing ear plugs?

  13. It is interesting that no one has mentioned the quality of the sound gear a good quality system will allow the sound to travel clearly and with a full range a lower power levels and accomplish a much more pleasing setup. Time and money spent in getting a clean setup both sound equipment and environment can go a long way to a more pleasing setup for most.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If your sound tech is a pro he will use a DB meter, take measurements around the room, position & adjust speaker levels properly for equal DB all around the room. I usually run the contemporary service between 90-98 db. Keep in mind the "Psychology of Sound". I had a lady come to me complaining that it was painfully loud on Youth Day when the kids were ringing hand bells with NO mics on! She came to church knowing it was going to be too loud because it was youth Sunday. Ever had a musician ask you to make a change in the stage mix, and they say "That's much better" before you changed anything?
    Rick Meyers Friendswood UMC

  15. David Begley says:

    It's too loud when people can't hear themselves sing. It becomes a worship band performance show. The people may as well stay home and listen to the radio.

  16. Comments on too loud get annoying to be honest. It's not that we don't care as worship leaders. Most would agree hurting peoples eardrums is not a good thing and not our goal. But if your older and it needs to be at 70db or lower , or take out much of the bass, which really helps a balanced mix by the way, we are not going make it convenient for you when 80db is plenty good for the other 999ppl. We don't push past 85db and that's because or auditorium is poor acoustically; hard surfaces everywhere lend to more noise. So comments like ear plug one makes no sense . We wear earplugs because we are standing 2 feet from drums and amps. The congregation should have drums in the crowd because that is overkill lol. The sound system should allow you to control sound not just manage it. This way it can be kept from being too loud although that itself is mostly preferential especially when under 90db. – Joseph

  17. Chad Costanzo says:

    The right cymbals on the drums is a big thing too. Darker cymbals make a huge difference. But as you said room acoustics is a huge issue most churches overlook. Without proper acoustics it does not matter if it's a 25k or 100k sound system. The room is going to be the issue

  18. Great point! Man.. Such a good point. We as worship leaders should believe the best in others and vis a versa

  19. Tim says:

    Basic question:

    Does louder=better? We are not here to entertain.

  20. Tim Davies says:

    It seems sad to me that so much emphasis seems to be placed on the “performance” and “entertaining” people. When, in my humble opinion, we should be drawing people in to worship God, not to show how cool our band is. God speaks to us in a “still, small voice” for a reason. Blasting your audience may make you feel better, but does it really promote worship?
    Sure the younger kids are used to loud music, but this is worship, not a concert. Have we somehow forgotten that?
    I wonder.
    Just my thoughts, Be blessed Brothers.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] And if the constant complaint is that the music at your church is too loud, here’s what the tech team needs to do. [...]

  2. [...] the room is an important part of maintaining a good sound. This post by Ray Deck at the Proclaim Blog has some great advice on how to manage these levels. Ray [...]

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