The Drums Are Too Loud!

Ever hear that phrase? If you’re in a church that’s transitioning from traditional hymn-based worship to something more contemporary, that’s probably one phrase you’ll be hearing quite a bit. The first time you hear it, you usually hear it without the “the” at the beginning, and you usually hear it when someone (younger usually) suggests that your church start to incorporate drums into worship, and someone else (older usually) objects.

I’ve seen at least several churches address this complaint with electronic drum kits (also commonly known as V-Drums after the most popular line that Roland makes). I haven’t kept up with the latest, but when our church did the transition, it was quite expensive for a good set of V-Drums–several times the cost of a real set actually. Sadly, a real set would sound better too usually, especially the cymbals. In the interest of keeping the peace of course, the V-Drums are inevitably bought anyway, and off you go to a more contemporary style. There’s really not much room for the drum kit though, so you put the drums off the side. “Now it won’t get in the way when we don’t use it” you think smugly to yourself.

After a while the congregation usually acclamates and drums become a sort of normal thing. The majority are more than OK with it, and in fact expect drums. Then enough people realize that the V-Drums really don’t sound that great and “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could get a real set?” If you’re lucky, you get approval (and budget) to buy a set–which you do–and go your merry way.

Very quickly you realize that the drums are quite a bit louder than the V-Drums used to be. The monitor levels start creeping up and pretty soon the band is blasting away at a painfully loud level. “Can’t you play softer?” everyone asks the drummer. Some do to a certain extent, but really the drummer is just playing at a regular level, certainly not much if any harder than they were with the V-Drums. You notice that if you look carefully at all the bands at the big churches with drummers, they all have these plexiglass shields surrounding their drummers. “Makes sense,” you think. “We need a drum shield.”

Again, you go through the process to get approval and budget for a shield, which to your horror will cost a few hundred. Still, this helps keep the volume down, and so in the interest of the health of the band and the congregation, you make the purchase. Once you set it up, and step on stage next to the drummer and have him play, you feel better. It’s quieter. It doesn’t hurt to be on stage anymore. Although something gnaws away at you… “Shouldn’t it be quieter than this?” You walk off, pondering why this might be, and go out to the pews to sit and think a bit. The drummer is still drumming away excited, thinking that no longer will there be complaints about drum-loudness. As he goes at it, it becomes painfully obvious that the drums really aren’t that much quieter, especially out where the rest of the congregation sits. The sound is reflecting off the shield then off the back wall behind the drummer, and it’s particularly bad on one side because you put the drums off to the side “out of the way.”

There’s probably more to this saga, but I’m going to cut it short right here, because frankly that’s where our church is at right now. I don’t think I can give advice on what the right thing to do is exactly. What I can do though, is to point a few lessons learned:

  • I feel as if we did spend some money seemingly “unnecessarily” in hindsight (V-Drums…), but it was actually necessary just in order to bring our congregation to the right place where they were ready for a truly contemporary style
  • If you can do it (and the room that you meet in can handle it) get acoustic drums. At least, that’s my opinion. V-Drums and the like have improved a lot since we bought ours, the new cymbals are supposed to be significantly better, so things might be different now. I haven’t heard the newest ones. Still, they’re expensive… Check out this set that’s supposed to be quite good. Ouch. Anyway, not that there aren’t cheaper sets. Plus nowadays there’s a lot more selection than just V-Drums. Other manufacturers make similar electronic drum kits mostly at a lower price point.
  • Drum shields help, but don’t expect it to fix everything. It may scare you, but what drum shields are really useful for is when you need the drums even louder! That’s because they help stop bleed from the rest of the stage into your drum mics. If you just use a drum shield without any sound reinforcement, you’ll find that the highs (especially on the cymbals) lose a bit of definition. Not terribly so, but it takes a bit of the shimmer off.
  • In-ear monitors are your friends. Not only do they save your hearing if you’re on stage with a loud drummer (or any at all), they also cut down on stage noise so that you’re not fighting with the drummer to hear yourself, stop stage bleed, and reduce feedback, not to mention deafening the audience a little less.
  • More important than the sound is the people. Although I recommend getting an acoustic set if possible for the betterment of the sound in the long term, it’s important that you’re doing this to meet the needs of the people. The importance of contemporary worship is to bring a style of music that people can relate to without feeling the music is “stuffy” or that they don’t really connect with it. While people-pleasing everybody isn’t the way to go either, you have to keep in mind their needs and place that above your own desires/frustrations about the current style of worship.

Anyhow, just as a footnote, my church has actually been relatively good about this whole drum thing, and members of our congregation who actually prefer the hymns have been gracious in yielding to the preferences of the younger generation. I don’t want it to seem like I think negatively about how our church in particular has progressed. It has been an arduous but worthwhile road. Funnily enough, what brought me to write this post was that today my in-ears sealed a bit too well, and I couldn’t really hear the drums that well. The rhythm guitar was slightly too quiet in the monitors, and we don’t have the bass in our monitor mix, so it was just difficult to get into the feel of things. Usually every week we get complaints of “the drums are too loud!” but our drummer intentionally toned it down a bit today. A Good Thing. Threw me off though.

~ by audioreviewer on November 27, 2006.

10 Responses to “The Drums Are Too Loud!”

  1. Hey, great article. I found it just after I posted something similar on my web site!
    It is a reality in so many churches, the suffering drummers! 🙂

  2. Glad you liked it! Some of the links in your article were quite interesting. I’m sure our drummer would “love” hearing the one who suggests that we should probably be using electric drums, haha.

  3. Hey, I’m back and will be putting a video interview up on a booth setup for an acoustic kit in a church. Very interesting. I thought it may related to this article too.

  4. The video is now up should anyone wish to view it :

    Thanks! Matt

  5. New link!

  6. You are right, the drum shield just reflects sound. Have you considered sound absorbing baffles to reduce the volume?

  7. My church recently took the leap and bought a drum set, while they puchased an acoustic set , they also placed a shield around it. The problem our drummer is having is that with the shield he can’t hear anything (singers or other musicians), I dont know if it’s a typical problem that shields cause or if it’s the placement of the drum set center stage with the music bouncing off the walls. I had made the sujestion that we might remove the shield. Today was the first time it was actually played and the congregation absolutely loved it. But one problem he is having is that with the shield he can’t hear anything but his drums so it is causing conflict due to the singers not understanding that he is having to wing it , they want him to play louder but he can’t hear them. Is this a typical problem with shields and if so any solution on how to solve it? ( I made the sujestion to place a monitor behind the drums, but am unsure if it would help)

  8. The best thing i’ve found, in my experience as a drummer is clearsonic isopacks. The shield takes the in your face wall of sound and deflects it. I always felt bad for the back up singers lol. But of course you need to absorb all that sound. depending on the size of you church you may need the whole booth or just panels up front and maybe some baffles in the back. You do need head phones for the drummer to hear everything to know whats going on sometimes you wont hear anyone trying to talk to you from outside the isopac. This method you get a real kit but controled! and you can mic everything if you choose to get a defined kick and snare. its about $800.00 to $1000.00 a bit pricey but well worth the investment. But I recommend starting with the shield and some baffles then go from there and get more as needed.

  9. I just went to a church concert where each hymn started off with the drums, and the drums and band were louder, and thus competing with the choir voices.

    I think the best solution is to use the drums on SOME songs, not all. Then all can appreciate them, not feel overwhelmed by them. Build volume slowly, as the song builds, not expect to generally set the tone for the whole song with the drums, except for a few special songs. Human voices make personal connections and statements that fit very well in church. Loud instruments have a different identity, and can be enjoyed separately.

  10. I love what you guys are usually up too. This type of clever work and coverage! Keep up the fantastic works guys I’ve added you guys to my blogroll.

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