August 2, 2018 4:35 PM

An open letter regarding audio volume levels

August 2, 2018 4:35 PM
August 2, 2018 4:35 PM

Dear Family:

“Our Goal?”
Our goal is to find the BEST volume. There are many parameters that factor into what is the ‘best’ volume, and they change from day to day and even service-to-service. This level also changes with the level of engagement of the congregation. For example - organ music, while cool, doesn't work at 100dB. And modern rock worship (rock drums, distorted guitars, chest thumping bass) doesn't work at 85dB.

We don’t try to make it too loud; we’re not going for as loud as we can get away with. We are engineering and manipulating the sound of the room to appropriately and effectively support and express what is happening on stage and the screen. The need to effectively communicate the gospel and the desire to be culturally relevant is what drives us to be confident with our sound.

Is It Safe?
Our team commits to keeping Faith Christian Community a safe place concerning noise exposure. Measurements are taken and logged in all rooms running levels of 85dB or more (as per OSHA noise exposure regulations).

   Volume is expressed in SPL (Sound Pressure Level) in a log20 scale of Pascals (Unit of pressure). It is logarithmic to best express the range and resolution of measurable audible pressure levels, and more resembles how the ear perceives sound.

   There have been several articles and opinions about the dangers of noise exposure that feature the number 85dB. Often missing information is how it is measured, and the fact that 85dB is an averaged exposure equivalent ‘dosage’ limit for an 8-hour day, 5 days a week. Louder sounds are safe for shorter periods of time. A 1-hour service could be 105dB(A)-slow of uninterrupted music (or noise), and still be in compliance with OSHA guidelines. Even though it is considered ‘safe’ enough for all occupations in the United States, we would never run at these allowed levels, because it doesn’t serve our church to be as loud as, well, as is allowed.

   Sound Pressure Level (SPL) dB(A)-slow and Level ‘exposure’ equivalents (in Leq) are logged in the main auditorium to reflect the real dosage, and as an ongoing study, developing a comprehensive historical report that keeps us on the leading edge of noise exposure safety compliance among live music venues around the world. These logs are obtained with various test equipment including TREND, Check Mate, and others.

We operate below all known safe noise exposure standards, including OSHA (5dB exchange), EE ISO (European 3dB exchange at the strict newly reduced ’06 levels), Canadian and British governing laws, as well as ACGIH.

- See our “Audio Volume Policy” for the actual SPL values we adhere to.

“Are we too loud?"
The answer, in all humility, is a confirmed, confident, and qualified ‘no.’ We are operating well below noise exposure regulations. This allows us to find the BEST volume to support each service, not the loudest volume.

As the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards state, the average person can experience hearing loss when subjected to a continuous 85 decibels for eight hours. This is the equivalent of standing next to an idling bulldozer or your kitchen blender. At 95 decibels you can experience hearing loss after four continuous hours. If you mow the lawn with a gas mower, you have about 40 minutes before you can expect hearing loss from the 107 decibels that it produces. A 1-hour worship service could be 105dB(A Weighted) - of uninterrupted music, and still be in compliance with OSHA guidelines.

Even though it is considered ‘safe’ enough for all occupations in the United States, we would never run a worship service at these allowed levels. On Average (measured as an LeQ over time) FCC’s Worship Team is mixed at a dynamic range between 88dB(A) and 96dB(A) with very short (a few milliseconds) unsustained peaks at 100dBa.

Why do we mix it loud at all?
While we don’t believe that music at church must always be loud, there is scriptural support for the idea that it often should be. Here is why:

“Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”

Psalm 33:3, emphasis mine

“Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”

Psalm 150:3–6, emphasis mine

“David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.”

1 Chron. 15:16, emphasis mine

Now, while we might have added a few instruments to the list, the general idea remains the same. We have a big God, and to praise him appropriately, we might just need to make a big sound.

We have a lot of freedom to worship God in a variety of ways through music, and we see this expressed in scripture, from an impromptu tambourine jam on the shore of the Red Sea (Ex. 15:19–21), to a huge dance party in the streets of Jerusalem (1 Chron. 15:16–28), and a couple of saints singing midnight hymns in prison (Acts 16:25). When we get to heaven, the multitudes of angels and all the redeemed will raise their voice and cry out together to praise the Lamb who was slain. This will not be a quiet sound (Rev. 19:1–3).

The main reason that the music can often be loud at our church on Sundays is because we are gathered together to celebrate and proclaim our salvation through the work of Jesus. When people want to celebrate, they throw a party. And when people throw a party, they play loud music and dance. And because, as Christians, we have much to celebrate, most Sundays at FCC you can experience a celebration!

“But it’s still too loud for me!”
If the volume is too loud for you, or this doesn’t satisfy your concerns, or if you simply disagree, please know that your church leadership have considered YOUR safety for anywhere in the room. If you prefer, there is a wide variety of quieter seating options available, including the back rows and far side which are out of the main speaker array’s “line-of-sight”, yet still have excellent site lines to the stage.

I sincerely hope this has helped communicate our spirit in this, that we have met your expectations and concerns of safety and protection with real measurements and exhaustive professional attention.

Joe Robideaux

** This letter is an adaptation of works by leading technical directors and worship arts professionals whose information has been widely referenced, and used among the church production community to assist in the development of many church technical ministries. References include, but may not be limited to: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, (OSHA), “Audio Volume Policy” - Chris Gille of Willow Creek Community Church; “Open Letter Regarding Audio” - Grady Sap, Hamilton Community Church; “Could You Turn It Down Please” - Dustin Kensrue and Andy Girton, Mars Hill Church. “Stage Primer” - I.A.T.S.E. “Audio Volume Policy” - Stewart White, Calvary Chapel of Cook County; “Stewards of Audio Volume” -;; “Audio Volume Policy” -"


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