I personally have come to prefer the use of amplification. Most cities and public places have restrictions or ordinances regarding amplified sound. I address this issue somewhat in the Street Preacher & The Police. Basically a violation of these codes are not going to be enforced depending on where you’re at and if you get a complaint. If a permit is required, the city or county will have a permit process to allow a person to use amplification. In most cases this is a bureaucratic nightmare. If you live in an area where you frequent a certain street or park it may be advantageous to apply for one. Even though we are talking about free speech the law allows the city or government agency to charge a reasonable administration fee for the permit. Average cost is $25-$50. If you go out several times a week you can see it could add up pretty quick. Because I travel a lot and preach 5-6 days a week I try to get around the permit system by going out in faith. I have been successful about 90% of the time – Praise the Lord! Larger venues for church groups and ministries like SOS Ministries in San Francisco a permit is the smarter way to go, and probably a must.
Because I street preach full time I have several different amplifiers. Currently I have four; a large 50-watt Traynor™ amp ─ a Roland™ KC110 Keyboard/PA Amp ─ a Vox™ 6 watt guitar amp ─ and a very small Orange™ amp. All of these are battery operated. All but the larger 50-watt use disposable batteries. (I usually use Duracell Coppertop™ or the Duracell Professional™ used in the medical industry) You could say I have an amp for every occasion. The large 50-watt Traynor™ amp is very loud and I only use that on occasion. When I obtain a permit to preach in Sacramento, California at the State Capitol I use the 50 watt Traynor™. This amp comes in handy for that venue. It is the only amp I have that its sound will reach from the Capitol stairs to the street. I use my smaller Orange amp when preaching while I am walking, such as on a parade route. I have it slinging off my side with a guitar strap. Some guys use an Aker™ which is meant for such things and is hands free. I personally don’t care for the Aker™. My Roland™ amplifier is not the loudest but it is the clearest sounding one I have. My all around multi purpose amp is the Vox™. It is small and portable but has a good sound and is plenty loud. I have owned the Vox™ the longest. If the Vox™ was good enough for the Beatles, it is good enough for me.
I have used my share of bullhorns early on in my preaching. I have used an expensive one and I have used one that was more like a toy. I suppose they are better than nothing. There are several reasons I no longer use a bullhorn. First of all they sound terrible most of the time. This is partially due to user error. They have a tendency to sound gravelly or garbled. Musicians would use the term, “too muddy”. Secondly they have a limited scope and cannot broadcast over a wide area. Most guys use them with a shoulder strap and have it under their arm area which is very cumbersome. Thirdly they have a stigma. They are used in protests, political rallies and such. I do not like to give the visual of a loud mouth protester when presenting the Gospel.
Once again I have several. I use either an industry standard Shure™ SM58, or the Blue™ Encore 100. I also own a Sennheiser™ 835, a German microphone. Do not make the mistake of getting a nice amplifier and a cheap microphone. You can get a good mic for around $100.00. One of the things I learned over the years is to use quality equipment. You want to sound the best you can, however remember that too expensive is not good. This can become damaged by user error, or damaged by some hostile walkerby. In rare occasions the equipment can also be stolen. I would not recommend a wireless microphone system. One reason is that the signal can be interfered with easily on the street. Wireless systems are better for indoor use. The other reason is to get a good one you may have to spend several hundred dollars and that would come under the realm of “too expensive for the streets”. Another aspect of microphones is how close you put your mouth to the mic. If you are ever told to “Eat a Mic” that would mean to move it closer to your mouth about 1-2 inches away. You can have a good amp and a nice microphone and still not sound good. This can be due to the fact that you are too far from the mic, or like several preachers I know; they preach into the mic with their powerful voice. Remember, let the amp do the work. If you are passionate and find yourself getting louder pull the mic away from your mouth. I would suggest educate yourself and then practice before going out. Most guys cannot deal with the power switch. They try to preach with the amp turned off and then ask what’s wrong? The next question is inevitably, “how do you turn it on?” Thus the reason to get familiar with your equipment. Different microphones have a different sound and feel. You want it to become part of you.
One last thing. Now that you have a nice amp and a good microphone don’t skimp on the cord. You’ll need a standard XLR microphone cord. If you use a guitar amp like my Vox™ you may only have a quarter inch input. This is because the guitar amp is for practice on the guitar and not geared to use voice. If this is the case, you will need a XLR to ¼ inch cord. A better way is to use an adapter to get the most out of the mic. The one I use is Hosa™ XLR female Lo-Z to ¼ inch TS male HI-Z microphone input impedance transformer. (Found at Guitar Center) By using this transformer you will get the rich sound the mic should have plus a little more volume. Get a hold of me if you have any questions.
When I first started street preaching, I use to think like so many; the louder the better. If possible I wanted to be heard several blocks away. I had a musician friend and sound guy tell me that, “It’s not how loud you are, but how clear you sound”. I had to have my thinking retrained in this area. We have the most important message on the planet make sure it comes out crystal clear. A garbled or distorted message is no message at all. When you are behind the mic (and amp) you are not the best judge as to how you sound, not only in clarity, but in volume. If others are with you have them check at different distances how the sound is. You may also pay attention to this when others are preaching. It’s nice to have someone familiar with sound equipment out there but not always possible. I preach a lot of the time by myself so I don’t have someone else there to tell me how it sounds. In these cases I use my best judgement. This is where experience pays off. Another thing I have done is ask a stranger how it sounds. One time I had several people walk by and tell me the amp was not loud enough. It turned out the batteries were very low and I didn’t notice. Try to set up on a corner where when the traffic stops it is not blocking the amp. This will cause a blowback of sound to you. Also people across the way cannot hear you. When this cannot be helped and a bus or light rail train block you, then just wait until it passes.
Open Air – Without Amp
I would say that most of the preachers out there do not use amplification, but preach what is called, “Open Air”. As previously mentioned I prefer an amp for the following reasons; I can control my voice better with an amp. I tend to use a conversational tone when preaching & teaching. I also can preach a lot longer with an amp. I have preached open air on a number of occasions. Usually this is when, for whatever reason, an amp is not allowed, or it is better suited not to use one, such as on a small quiet street. Again this has been a learning curve for me.
One of the things one must realize is that you have to preach from your diaphragm (like a singer) not from your throat. This is quite an art to master. To lift one’s voice without screaming and sounding quite angry or mad (mad as in crazy) is something that comes through experience. If you are hoarse after preaching you have been using your throat. (ask Tony Miano about popping a vocal cord). Because I do not have a naturally loud voice; I have learned when I preach open air to reach the people that are right in front of me and not two blocks down the street. I have found this to be very effective and I can last a long time doing it this way. I have also handed out tracts while preaching this way as well. Colleges are a venue that has more open-air preaching since there are limitations on the use of amplification.
The advantage of open air is that you are always, “hands free” and can use a Bible, tablet, or notes without a hassle. You also do not have to lug equipment around with you. Electronics and being able to amplify your voice is something that has only been around a short while. I get a share of comments that Jesus and Paul didn’t use amplification therefore I am cheating or something. There is a dynamic to open air that is not present with an amp. When going open air you make your words count and it is harder to go down a rabbit trail. You preach with the strength that God supplies – then your done. So whatever you decide: to use an amplifier or go just open-air with your voice, remember to sound clear! Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use an amp!
The Next Voice You Hear
It has been established that the people in a crowd do not hear the first 15-20 seconds of an announcement. It takes time for the sound to register with them and they are thrown off as to what is going on. In order to counter this I would suggest you have a short introduction or transition. The other option is to just repeat the first few phrases. My introduction is something like this: “Hello everyone, or good afternoon people of San Francisco. I am out here today to bring an important message concerning eternal life. I want to share with you what is called the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” By this time people have gotten over the initial shock to their system that somebody is using a PA system and can start to ascertain what is being said. I have found that using an introduction is beneficial I have also learned to keep it short. Do not leave people wondering for too long what you and your message is all about. If you linger too long on telling them who you are and other unimportant information they may be saying to themselves, “Cut through the chase”. We want to avoid anything that would appear to be deceptive like “buttering the people up” like a salesman wanting to make a sale. Both Peter & Paul used introductions to their sermons in the book of Acts.