Ringing out Feedback: Where to Put Your EQ
When we're talking about EQing feedback out of a system, I have to remind you that we try to take steps to move the physical things that are in place before we try to solve any problems with our equipment.
Oftentimes, it could simply come down to our equipment’s placement.
After we've moved things in the right place, or as much as we can, we use our EQ (our Equalizer) to get the best gain before feedback. All that means is how much we can turn up the signal before it starts to ring, or "feedback."
I created a short video that teaches how to eliminate feedback as fast as possible to avoid the awkward sound tech solo - where people in the church congregation turn around and look at you, wondering why you aren't fixing the issue.
That's never a fun place to be.
Here's a link to that video:
There's another video I made where I walk you through, in real-time, me ringing out some choir mics as well.
Most Common Places for Feedback
Now, the most common place you will get feedback is with monitor wedges, or the speakers on stage facing back at the performers (so they can hear themselves).
In the best-case scenario, we wouldn't have any monitor wedges. People would just use in-ear monitors to hear themselves.
But that's not always the case.
Sometimes, we have open monitor wedges facing back at the people holding onto the microphones because the singer or musician is both the sound source and the audience.
We have to break some of the rules and actually point the speaker (or monitor) at the person holding the microphone.
So we've got the speakers pointed at the microphone, and the speakers pretty close to the microphone.
Ouch. Not a good place to be.
To overcome this, we have to be aware of our polar pattern on the microphone and try to get the best signal-to-noise ratio for our microphone as well. That means we tell the performer to keep the mic as close to their sound source as possible. For singers, their sound source is their voice.
This would be an optimal place for a singer to hold their mic:
We want to maximize the microphone's signal so we don't have to turn it up as much to make it audible. It can be tricky to determine where to adjust the EQ to eliminate feedback when using monitor wedges, and the optimal placement will vary depending on the situation.
Have a separate monitor console? Great!
If you're in a situation where you have a separate monitor console that is feeding the monitor wedges on stage, and you have a consistent brand and type of monitor wedges on stage, you can use your microphone's channel EQ to notch out that feedback.
Here's why - when you eliminate feedback with a certain mic and monitor combination, and then you take that same microphone over to the other side of the stage to another monitor, you will get similar results. The same EQ in one spot can handle the sound in your other monitor wedges.
This also leaves the EQ for the monitor wedge sounding good. Doing this makes your mix pleasing for your church congregation and your singers/speakers on stage. Oh, and your instrumentalists, too.
Pro Tip: Thin out the monitor wedges.
Low mids usually come back from the front-of-house speakers onto the stage. You want to minimize the amount of stage bleed on those low-mid frequencies from the monitor, which is spilling out into the audience. Thinning out your monitor wedges can resolve this. Try and thin them out whenever possible.
But there's one thing you have to remember - we're serving artistic people and their needs with their monitor mix. How thin you can make that monitor wedge is not up to you. You have to roll with what works for them and do your best.
Another source of feedback is mics that are distant from their sound source.
There's another situation where we might find feedback - microphones that are far from their sound source. In this scenario, we have a lower signal-to-noise ratio. But we can't just move everybody closer.
Some microphones like choir, orchestra, or group mics - as well as headset microphones on your speaker or worship leader - can create situations where feedback can occur. If you're aiming for a Garth Brooks or Britney Spears kind of vibe, then these microphones are more likely to cause feedback through the main speakers.
We need to find a place between the microphone and the main output with some notches of EQ to keep these from ringing and feeding back. Channel EQ is a good place to start.
Channel EQ: a solution, but not the only one.
If your source sounds good through your microphone, there are not many tonal changes you have to make, and you're just getting rid of feedback - go ahead and use the channel EQ on the microphone to notch out any feedback.
If you need the channel equalized in a fixed tone on the source or run out of bands, you can add another layer of EQ by putting them into a group. In the group, you can use EQ to notch out even more frequency.
To run channels through a group, you have to unassign them from the main bus and assign them to a group. Afterward, simply run your group to your main bus. It's just adding an extra layer of processing between the channel and the main output.
Want to see how I set this up on my PreSonus Series 3 Console? Check out the video below, where I walk you through the process.
More on Mics
It's important to note that microphones like choir, orchestra, or group mics tend to create feedback with monitor wedges. These microphones are often omnidirectional and placed farther away from the sound source. You want to try to avoid putting these into monitor wedges at all costs.
Well, maybe not all costs. But if you can get away with it, do it.
How I handled a difficult situation with a choir
One time, I was doing an event with a choir, and they struggled to hear themselves on the choir risers inside a gymnasium. Instead of trying to get their mics into the monitors (which I knew was a fool's errand), I went and found some dividers from Sunday school that were on some casters. I wheeled them in and turned them into a sort of makeshift choir deflector.
This way, the sound coming from behind the choir bounced back so they could hear themselves sing. And best of all - I didn't have to try to get those pesky microphones in their monitor wedge.
Would I recommend you do this to solve your choir team monitor issues?
Probably not (unless you had no other choice, like I did).
But I had to get creative since the situation demanded it.
Another pro tip: Don't be scared to try something out of the box.
We're creatives, after all.
The event ended up going great. God is so good, and He blesses us with creative ideas. Usually when we really need it.
Hopefully, this cleared up any confusion on best practices for how you should use EQ to get rid of feedback. Remember you can use your microphone's channel EQ to ring out feedback in certain situations. However, creating a group and having access to extra layers of EQ is very useful and, at times, needed.
if you want to go deeper into how the entire sound system works, from sound sources to speakers and everything in between, I'd encourage you to check out my Attaway Audio Academy for Church Sound Techs, Worship Leaders, and Tech Directors.
In the Academy you'll find my Amateur to Pro course - where I take you through the entire sound system. We go through all the details you need to be aware of when setting things up, troubleshooting and just trying things the best you can.
It'd be great if you got out of a pinch quickly and the sound system wasn't a mystery anymore. You can check it out through the link above or by clicking here.
As always, remember; it's all about the low end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves church humming the kick drum.
Stay safe out there, Sound Ninjas!
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