Questions, Suggestions & Tips: from friends and readers

Q: Every time we think we have acoustic feedback licked, it seems to rear its ugly head again when we least expect it. We’ve even employed a "feedback eliminator" device among our equipment. Any suggestions?

Suggestion: Take heart. All your previous problem-solving steps are not in vain. Before you pull any more hair out, consider the following. Do you have a team that gathers briefly for note-sharing immediately after your day’s worship services (or at least lingers for a few minutes while tools are being tidied up)? If not, that can be a great starting point for process improvement. Actors in live theater almost always discuss notes immediately after a performance - while the director’s and stage manager’s observations are fresh. This will work in church, too! Oftentimes, everybody’s in such a hurry to get on with the rest of the day, that the details of problems are forgotten by the time a Monday or Tuesday staff meeting takes place.

It will especially help to note the conditions that appear to lead to your problem: which speakers and mics cause the loop? Is it related to one particular preacher? Does it involve a wireless lavalier mic? Does it appear to loop via monitor speakers or mains? Spending a little effort isolating the items of equipment involved can give you a basis to simulate the problem (i.e., cause it to happen - like a "forced-failure" test of a jet engine) when no one else is in the church. If you can simulate the problem, you can take steps to control or prevent the conditions that cause it.

Since lavaliers are almost always omni-directional (picking up signal equally from all directions in three dimensions), they tend to be the most frequent feedback culprit mic type. If a user walks into a "hot zone" (minimum distance between mic and primary dispersion region of overhead or monitor speaker) at random, feedback can be the unpleasant result. Educating the mic user (usually preacher or actor) about these zones will help them to avoid these sonic "booby traps."

Tip: A related issue is lavalier placement on the preacher’s robe, dress or suit coat. The farther it is from the speaker’s mouth, the higher the gain must be to obtain adequate signal. Unfortunately, the higher the gain, the greater the risk of feedback. Ideally, the mic should be centered, and no more than about five inches below the chin.

Q: Our music team has been doing some really good work lately, and we’re thinking of recording our own CD project as an outreach and fund-raising effort. It’s become so affordable to do this. But picking songs is a concern of ours. We don’t write original material, so how do we deal with the legal and proper issues of recording already published songs?

Suggestion: This is a good question that many teams or individuals who record their own projects need to reckon with. Fortunately the answer is pretty straightforward. If you’re recording somebody else’s song on cassette, CD, video, or other recorded medium, you need to obtain a "mechanical use license" from the publisher of the song. If it’s an unpublished song, you should get a written statement of permission from the songwriter. If it’s a published composition, you need to call or write the publisher. They will need to know all the songs on the project, how many copies will be manufactured, what the project title is, etc. They will usually require that you pay the "standard statutory mechanical royalty" for each copy of each song used that they have published. Congress sets this amount by legislation, and as of January, 2000, it is 7.5 cents. So, if you wanted to record "He Touched Me," administered by Gaither Copyright Management, and you planned to press 1,000 CD’s, you would owe Gaither Publishing $75 within 30 days after manufacturing your project. You’d have to do similar homework for each published song you recorded. A ten-song project in this example would therefore cost $750 for all licenses.

Tip: There’s a good reason that Congress protects songwriters with this legislation - most of them would starve if they had to rely on such meager income. Publishing revenue is usually split 50/50 between the publisher and the writer. If a song was written by a composer and lyricist team, then their share is split, etc. So the numbers are pretty small unless the song sells a million copies. Have mercy on the writers of songs, and don’t cut a corner of copyright law. First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, if caught and prosecuted, the penalties are severe, and vastly disproportionate to the cost of playing by the rules. (Thanks to Mr. Doug Irving of Gaither Copyright Management for sharing some particulars on this subject. He can be reached at 765-724-8433 if you have further questions on the matter.)