It's back to the mailbag! We tackle subjects such as how do you lead up, coming up with realistic budgets, mixing when all the inputs don't make it to the board, and over-spec'ing speakers. Plus two exciting new audio consoles In The News!
As more and more churches put their entire services online, the need to have a quality broadcast audio mix of the service becomes more critical. When I say “broadcast,” I am referring to a mix that leaves the building, whether by actual broadest or internet delivery. It could also be the same mix you send to the lobby, cry rooms and overflow rooms.
Why Not Use the Main Mix?
While it’s technically possible to just take the LR mix from the board and send it to video, the result usually isn’t ideal. This is true for several reasons. The first—and biggest—issue is dynamic range. In a typical modern service, you’re likely to have 30+ dB of dynamic range in the room. That sounds great—in the room. But on a laptop or in a cry room, people will be reaching for the volume control. A lot.
The second issue is the contribution of ambient sounds. You may not have a lot of drums in your main mix because the drums are already pretty loud in the room. I hate seeing a video shot of the drummer when I don’t hear any drums. The same may be true for guitars. Smaller rooms are more prone to this problem, but it’s an issue for everyone at some level.
Finally, the main LR mix doesn’t have any ambience in it. Without some sense of what is going on in the room, the mix will feel dead. We’re not capturing sound in a studio; we’re in a live worship setting. Thus, we need to hear people worshiping.
There are several ways to arrive at a good broadcast mix. In this series, we’ll look at various ways to create a broadcast mix. I’ll describe my process, talk about some “secret sauce” I’ve been working with (hat tip to my friend Andrew Stone) and talk about how I want to improve my mixes. But first, let’s look at a few ways to get to the broadcast mix.
Use the FOH Mix
This is the easiest, and for the reasons mentioned above, the least effective ways to do it. You could matrix in some house mic's to give you some ambience, but even that leaves you with a lot of dynamic range. I’ve seen some guys just run it through a compressor, which will shrink the range, but the music will likely feel very squashed. There are leveling products out there, and they work OK, but I think there are better ways to go about this. We’re not going to spend much time here.
Use a Dedicated Broadcast Mix Console
Some would argue this is the best way to get it done. A separate console is set up in another room with access to either all the inputs from stage or stems of inputs. In the first case, a split—either analog or digital—will give you all the inputs the FOH console sees. An operator mixes these together with complete freedom with regards to processing, mixing and effects.
A similar approach would involved multi-tracking the entire worship band, then do a post production mix after the fact. That method gives you perhaps the ultimate flexibility, but it’s a lot of work, it slows down the process, and it’s easy for it to stop feeling “live.”
Sometimes, a church can’t afford a full split and large broadcast console, so they’ll use stems. The broadcast position might get a set of mono or stereo mixes; drums, guitars, keys, vocals, speaking mic’s, playback channels, etc. The broadcast mixer will combine these into a cohesive whole, most likely adding in some house and/or audience mic’s. This is a good way to go, though it does eat up groups or auxes on the FOH console.
The downside of this approach is you need another console, a room and an operator. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time staffing FOH. Staffing another mix position is going to be hard. For this reason, I opted for a third approach.
The Hybrid Board Mix
I just totally made up that name. I’m not sure what to call it, because it’s sort of a board mix, and sort of not. Basically, I’m taking my inputs and splitting them up into groups. The groups don’t go to the main LR bus, they feed into the matrix mix of the console. Inside the matrix, I combine them together at the proper level so when they come out, it feels right. We’ll talk more about that in a bit.
My arrangement of groups has evolved over the years. Right now I’m using 2 mono and 3 stereo groups. I also add several direct channels for walk in music and audience mic's (as I can route individual channels to my matrix).
The beauty of this approach is that I can level balance all the elements of the service to a correct perceived volume. I can also apply different processing at each stage of the mix. This gives me more control and keeps the processing more transparent.
So that’s our starting point. Next time, we’ll delve deeper into the groups-based approach I’m using.
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Today we’ll wrap up our series on intentionality. After covering board layout, video, and lighting, it’s time to move on to another enigma; projection. When I say projection, I’m referring to what hits the big screen. This could be song lyrics, backgrounds, environmental projection and even announcement slides. Judging by what we see in some churches each weekend, there is little if any thought given to how a service ties together visually. And that’s a shame, because great projection does make a difference.
They’re Not Just Backgrounds
What do the backgrounds you choose for your songs say? Have you considered that? Sometimes I think we choose the backgrounds because they are pretty not because they actually improve the look and feel of the song.
But what if we had a consistent visual theme for the weekend? What if each element that hit the screen tied into the last, and all those together told a part of the story? How much more powerful would our services be?
Too Many Choices
While the internet has brought us access to thousands of choices of backgrounds, I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing. By that I mean it is that it’s far to easy to throw a bunch of images up on the screen, just because you have them. If you looked at my background library, you would see such a random collection of images it would make your head spin. Several people over the course of many years have collected those images. But just because we have them doesn’t mean we need to use them.
Some people—my friend Stephen Proctor among them—have been experimenting with using just one visual for an entire series. Not a service, a series! Well, technically, they call them seasons now, but you get the point. That visual is carefully chosen to reflect a key concept of that series. Stephen wrote about that on his blog a while back. If you don’t follow his writings, you really should.
I’ve seen other churches use no backgrounds at all, just white words on a black background. Sometimes simpler is better. But that’s not the point; the point is to consider why you are doing what you’re doing.
We’re in a Visual Culture
Images really do matter. They tell a story and it’s up to us to make sure the story matches the story of the service. Even as I write this in my local Starbucks (one of 7 in a 5 minute radius of my house…), I am surrounded by visuals. The visuals in front of me are telling me a story of coffee—where it comes from, how it’s made and I see a glimpse into the lives of coffee farmers. That is all very much on purpose. Whether you like Starbucks coffee or not is beside the point. These visuals are telling me a story.
A picture of a field of sunflowers might be pretty, but what does it have to do with the song? As we are careful to choose our colors for lighting, we need to be careful to choose backgrounds that reflect the story the song is telling. And the backgrounds and lighting should match, or at least complement once another.
I mentioned the concept of learning last time, too. Visual styles and tastes are a moving target. We need to develop a language and visual style that matches the culture of our church, and adds to the service. If you don’t follow Stephen, you should. Camron Ware’s Visual Worshiper web site is another fantastic resource, especially for environmental projection. Triple Wide Media and Church Motion Graphics are terrific sources for visual material. Just be careful not to use everything they make every weekend.
Above all, just think about why you are doing what you do. Don’t just grab backgrounds out of the background bin because they are pretty. Each background (or lack thereof) should be a reflection of the moment. What are you trying to say with that song, and how does the background reinforce that message? The same goes for announcement graphics and sermon notes. Pastors, for the love of all that is holy and sacred, stop putting everything you’re saying on the screen. If people are reading, they’re not listening. Use visuals and words to reinforce your message, not be your message.
My hope for this entire series is to encourage you to simply think things through. I take the approach that everything we do is up for grabs all the time. If we can’t justify why we’re doing it, we should stop doing it or change it until it makes sense. “Because we’ve always done it that way,” is not a good enough reason. I don’t want to do things just because. I want what I do to be intentional, so that I can make the biggest impact I can while I can. Hopefully, you’re inspired to do likewise.
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Today, we're continuing our series on intentionality. We’ve already talked about board layout, video directing and the whole concept of being intentional. Today, I’d like to hit the area that would benefit the most from intentionality.
I could be wrong on this but I’m not sure there is another discipline that ends up being less intentional than lighting. And it’s not just in churches. I see all kinds of random lighting all over the place. But I think this is an area where some planning and thought can make a huge difference.
Earn the Cue
Perhaps one of the best pieces of lighting advice I’ve ever received came from my friend Daniel Connell at Church on the Move. Last year at Seeds, he was talking about his approach to lighting and he gave us his criteria for adding a lighting cue to a program. He said, “The moment needs to earn the cue. If there isn’t a benefit for a new cue, I don’t do it.”
I’ve repeated that phrase over and over to our lighting guys and use it myself when programming. The way this plays out for me is in simplicity. I don’t have a compulsion to do three cues per verse. Nor do I run animations all the time. When there is a build in the song, I’ll write a new cue. But if the feel of the song is consistent throughout, it will likely only get one or two. And sometimes the best lighting is super-simple—as shown in the photo above.
Learn Some Color Theory
One of the best things you can do as a lighting director (or technical director who programs lights) is learn color theory. Different colors make you feel different things. Do you know which ones conjure up which feelings?
I’m not going to go into a bunch of color theory here; you can Google it. But there is a really good reason we use red for our communion songs and yellows, turquoise and purples for many of our worship songs.
Match the Energy
This is a big one for me. It’s easy, especially for younger programmers, to crank up a bunch of effects engines just because they can. I’ve seen songs played at 68 BPM with lights moving wildly all over the place (that’s not good, by the way). The lighting should set the mood, and that mood should be complementary to the energy of the moment.
We’ve done slow, contemplative songs with a single lighting look, because that’s the song needs. Larger, uptempo songs will have brighter colors, more animation and more cues.
You should also take care to match the fade rates to the moment. Going from a dark, contemplative look for an offering song to full house and teaching lights in a 1 second fade is a sure-fire mood breaker. By the same token, using 30-second fades during a fast song feels rather weird.
Lighting styles and trends change pretty all the time. It’s important we keep on top of that, while remaining true to our individual church styles. If you need some help with getting a sense of what is appropriate and good, pick some other church services to watch online. I recommend Church on the Move as a great place to start as Daniel is a master. They can do things that many of us can’t pull off, but there are plenty of concepts and ideas that are transferable. Find some other churches that are similar to your style and see what they do.
Whatever style you develop, just make sure it makes sense for your church and the moment. All our lighting guys listen to the music while they program to make sure they are doing things that are in keeping with the feel of the song. Nothing is random, it all makes sense. But even that is not by accident. We were very intentional in teaching them to do it—and a lot of credit goes to my LD, Thomas Pendergrass.
Next time, we’ll wrap up the series with a look at graphics.