A New Sound System Won’t Make Your Musicians Better


I love new gear, don’t get me wrong. Diving into a new piece of equipment is inspiring, both creatively and technically. Whether it’s a new instrument, a new light fixture, or simply some new hardware, new gear opens new possibilities.

Herein lies a common trap. While new gear may create renewed creativity and encourage you to spend more time honing your craft, it won’t inherently make you better at what you do.

I know of far too many churches who made the decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade their sound system out of frustration. For years, no matter what they tried, the band and music doesn’t meet the standard of excellence that you aspire to. Sometime, somewhere, someone told an elder that the sound system currently in place is outdated or doesn’t sound as good as newer available options.

You can see where this is going.

The money gets spent, the new system goes in, and it sounds great! The pre-service music has power and clarity, the preacher has never sounded crisper, and the speakers cover the room evenly.

The problem? The band still sounds bad. They might even sound worse. The clarity and power of the new sound system didn’t fix the problem it set out to solve. Instead, it amplified it. (I’m not sorry about that pun).

This wasn’t an equipment problem; it was a people problem.

The issue is that the band has a classical pianist, a metal guitarist, a marching band drummer, and a bass player who’s really an acoustic guitarist that says bass is “just a guitar with 4 strings”. And the worship leader has them playing the new dance pop hit from Hillsong Young & Free.

Now, I’m not raging against volunteer musicians. One of my favorite things about the local church is that it’s a platform for people of a range of skill levels and preferred styles to come together to create something beautiful and worshipful (this goes beyond music to everything we do together).

There is, however, such thing as objectively bad music. Your pastors know it, your elders know it, and your congregation knows it – even if they don’t have the language to express it, or helpful knowledge to fix it. This is why sound system upgrades are often approved on the promise that the band will sound better. The people making decisions just know it’s hard to listen to and are willing to listen to any number of solutions.

This isn’t a blog trying to convince you to stick with your old sound system. You know your system best, and an upgrade may be exactly what you need. But if the primary sound issues you have is with the band, there are several other root issues to address before spending tens of thousands of dollars on new gear.

We know that churches are far from “one size fits all”, so an “average” professionally installed sound system can cost anywhere between $20,000 and $500,000. That is a HUGE amount of money to spend on something that’s used for a few hours a week, so let’s look at a few other, more immediate and cost-effective ways to improve your music sound.

Lessons, Lessons, Lessons!

If you’re serious about striving for excellence in your music ministry, your volunteers should be putting some work into getting better individually, and you can help!

If your musicians are motivated and self-starters, there are countless online lesson resources available, many are created by people who live and play in the worship space, so the content is geared toward what you’re already doing.

One resource I love is theworshipinitiative.com. Many of you may be familiar with their music, but you may not know that they have a huge library of online training for everyone on your team, from instrumentalists to worship leaders to tech and production volunteers.

One of the things I love most about Worship Initiative is that there are individual training tracks for each of your team members and their craft, but there are also group training tracks as well as “heart” training tracks to keep your team focused on why we lead worship. From a pricing perspective, as I write this blog, a yearly subscription for 20 team members costs $1000. If you can find a $50,000 sound system upgrade in the budget, you should be able to prioritize $1000 per year to show your team you’re invested in their development.

If you have some team members who aren’t as motivated to take online classes and self-pace themselves, you could consider offering to pay for some regular or semi-regular private lessons with a local instructor. Depending on your area, these typically cost $25-$50 for a 30-minute lesson. Offering to pay for a handful of lessons for some of your players could be a game changer!

Workshops and Seminars

Another great way to develop your team is to host a workshop or seminar for your people. If electric guitar tone is something you struggle with, try reaching out to a guitar player who has killer tone and seeing if they’d be willing to come in and work with your guitar players to build out tone that works for the music you play.

Hire a professional AVL company to come in and do a quick audit of your audio engineers’ skills and give tips and tricks for improving the sound in the room.

Invite your team to attend a conference locally or out of town. This can go a long way in creating culture, as well as improving musicianship.

There are countless ways to engage with your team and help inspire them to elevate their abilities, and if you’re struggling to make the music in your services sound good, I would start there before spending major money on a new sound system.

Happy practicing!

Josh Tarp, Author

About the Author

Josh Tarp is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, and worship leader from Minneapolis with over 15 years of experience in church & worship leadership. Josh serves as the Director of Marketing at Motion Worship, helping to write various blog posts, managing social media, designing graphics, and handling customer service.

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