Setting up a sound system can be messy work. There are twenty different types of cables running in fifty directions, and so often the one guy that wired it altogether ten years ago doesn’t come to church anymore. Or maybe your church is mobile and has to set up and break down every single Sunday. Either way, setting up a sound system can be tricky business. Here are my top ten tips to setting up a sound system:

How to Make Your Church Sound System Rock – 10 Tips when Setting up the Worship Sound System

10. Keep it clean.

I’ve had nightmares after seeing some stages where all the mic cables are piled up next to the snake in no particular order. This may sound super simple, but keeping the stage clean will help not only extend the life of your gear but your sanity as well. Too often a cable goes bad somewhere in the middle of a rats nest and instead of untangling what feels like a million miles of cords, some novice sound guy just gets a new one and adds it to the jungle. If you haven’t taken your stage completely apart in the past six months, it’s time. Block out a day, start in the morning, take everything apart, and put it all back together again;  neatly.


9. Start with power.

Whenever you start wiring up a stage, start with running power to all your musician locations. In today’s world, just about every musician will appreciate having a power outlet close by. Its always easier to grab a power strip and plug it into a pre-run cord than to walk along every wall in the building looking for a free plug five minutes to go time.


8. Signal.

Traditionally running power and signal cords next to each other hasn’t been the best idea. Personally, I’ve not had a problem with this on most stages. Keep in mind, your mic cable is shielded and the amount of power running through the power cord is minimal. This is a different story when it comes to feeder cable for lighting or generators, stay away from high voltage at all costs. That being said, feel free to keep all cable runs in a tight group.

7. Drums.

In most churches drums are the loudest acoustic instrument on stage. Every effort should be made to isolate and control this instrument. Get as much plexi-shielding as possible and be sure to cap it with absorptive material. Remember, amplified drums will sound better than acoustic drums.


6. Stage Scaping.

Think of your stage as your front lawn; make it as beautiful as possible. Tape down wires whenever they cross a traffic path, place rugs over large cable runs, and avoid brightly colored cables. Not only will this help you to keep things organized, your musicians appreciate the clean ascetics. Remember, nobody like seeing wires anymore.


5. Use the right cable.

The beauty of audio is that we can use just about anything with two conductors to send a signal. This is also one of the greatest dilemmas in audio. Its always better to find the right cable, than just the one that works. I know you can use extension cords as speaker cables, but it’s really not the best idea. The fewer connections mean the fewer opportunities for something to go wrong.


4. Prewire.

For those of you who break down and set up every week, it’s crucial to prewire as much as possible. Color code as much as possible. If you have an amp rack for stage right and stage life, mount in some speaker jacks to the side of the case and hardwire the jacks to the amps. That way you don’t even have to take off the rear lid of your case to power the speakers. You can even find snake breakouts so you can keep the soundboard wired and just connect the snake when you’re ready. This will save time and keep you from worrying about setting it up wrong.


3. Speaker placement.

Every speaker has a dispersion angle. The more expensive speakers have really narrow dispersion angles, which tend to throw sound like a beam. When you point a speaker directly forward facing the house often times 45 degrees of that sound is pointed directly at a wall, which wastes about 50% of the sound energy. Take a piece of paper with the corner as centered in the speaker’s cone as possible to give you a visual of where your sound is traveling. Often times I criss-cross my speakers so that the speaker on the right is pointed to the back left corner and the speaker on the left is pointed at the back right corner. I use this as a starting point then adjust accordingly.


2. Monitors.

Self-monitoring in-ear systems are the way to go. In today’s world, it’s easy and cheap to get a workable self-monitoring system. If your church is still using wedges as monitors, there are still a few things you can do to control the sound. First, get the monitor as close to the musician as possible; put it on a chair, mount it to a stand, anything. Second, use more than one monitor. Two wedges are actually better than one because you won’t have to push as hard through one monitor as you can with two. Third, get up on stage during practice and listen to the wedge as the musicians are playing. Often times they just don’t know how to communicate what they want. Put yourself as close to their shoes as possible and adjust accordingly.


1. Gain Structure.

Once your sound system is wired up and fully functional, don’t feel the need to keep the amps cranked all the way open. In fact, it’s a common misconception that amps perform best turned up all the way. Well…they don’t. If your system has a hiss to it as soon as you turn it on, chances are your amps are turned up too loud. The best thing you can do for your sound system is to find how loud you generally want your sound system on a Sunday morning (around 90dB or so) and adjust your amps to push that when your board is running at unity on the master. If you find that you have to consistently run your service at -10 on the master fader than you absolutely need to turn the amps down so that the board can run closer to unity. This will decrease that amount of hiss coming through the speakers and increase the overall clarity of your mix.

So there you have it, what are some of your tips for setting up a sound system?

About The Author

Tommy Scully is a technology consultant for churches nationwide working with audio, video, live streaming, and data systems. Having graduated from the Institute of Audio Research with a 4.0 GPA, his passion for audio led him to develop his own Church Audio Training Program. Tommy is available to speak, optimize, or consult with your church

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