Mixing Good Friday 2014

On the left is my LD Thomas, and standing behind me is my ATD, Matt.

On the left is my LD Thomas, and standing behind me is my ATD, Matt.

I find my mixing style is an ever-evolving process. Like many FOH guys, I’m always trying new things and changing my approach. For Christmas, I took a calculated risk and re-used last year’s show file. That didn’t pay off the way I hoped it would. For Good Friday and Easter this year, I took a new approach, in more ways than one. 

Back to Baseline

My starting point for Good Friday (and Easter) was our normal baseline show file. I had to do a fair amount of re-structuring to get enough IEM mixes for Good Friday. In past years, I’ve brought in a larger Digico console for FOH and put our SD8 at monitors. This year, we did it all from the SD8. So in addition to the nine M-48’s on stage for the band, I mixed six IEMs from FOH for vocals. 

For Good Friday, I was mixing about 56 inputs between instruments, vocals and playback. I built a single stereo foldback aux to send all the local playback inputs back to the band and vocalists. A mono aux collected all the click sources (metronome, tracks and video click), and I had a mono group that I dynamically re-assigned lead vocalists into. That group made sure the band could clearly hear whoever was singing the lead vocal at the time. This group got a lot of use as four of the six vocalists led at least one song. 

Virtual Soundcheck

Since the service for Good Friday is very similar to the one we’ve been doing for the last few years (with a few song substitutions), I was well acquainted with the flow. In past years, I’ve made a point to record the rehearsal and spend a lot of time on virtual soundcheck, and have always ended up with a ton of snapshots. 

This year, I decided to try something different. I still spent time doing virtual soundcheck, but it was more getting individual channels sounding good, and then everything sounding good together. Rather than do a bunch of snapshots for each song as I’ve done in the past, I built a starting snapshot for each song or transition element. Most of those snapshots were moving vocals in and out of lead, changing effects parameters and setting up a starting point for the mix. 

This is how I approach most weekends, and it turned out quite well. The way I used to do it was more theatrical; hitting a bunch of cues on the board for cues during the service. This year was more like a live show. I don’t know that one way is better than the other, but I did enjoy mixing this year more than the past. On the other hand, I was less engaged with the service as I spent more energy focused on the mix. Pros and cons...

Perhaps the biggest change was a reduction in the complexity. The more snapshots you have, the more things can go wrong. Channels get assigned to a wrong mix or group, and it can be maddening to get it fixed. With fewer snapshots, I had fewer issues. 

The Live Mix

I took more risks during the services than I normally would, but everyone said it sounded great. Because I knew the music so well, I could really work with all the instrumentation. We had the opportunity to rehearse the program a full two times live before we did the first service, and I felt the band really had it locked in. 

As I said, I did more live than I normally do for this service. The arrangement of the music gave me ample opportunity to highlight different instruments and vocals at various points of the service. It was a lot of fun. The only song I did a bunch of snapshots on was our last one, Jesus Paid it All.

Aside from a few mid-song cues to adjust FX settings (Lead Me To The Cross), most were single snapshots. Except, Jesus Paid It All.

Aside from a few mid-song cues to adjust FX settings (Lead Me To The Cross), most were single snapshots. Except, Jesus Paid It All.

The Big Finish

I’ve written about this before, but the way I approach this song is to start off with the vocals feeling very distant and reverb-y. As the song builds through first few verses and choruses, I bring the vocals up while shortening the reverb time and level. By the end of the song, it’s pretty much all faders up all the way, except for the vocal effects. That’s the loudest point in the service with everyone on their feet singing “Oh praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!” It gives you chills. 

The end, the song disintegrates into a single vocal and piano singing the last phrase followed by a heartbeat that thumps a few beats then stops. We end in complete silence. 

I have to say, it was the best Good Friday I’ve been a part of during my time here. Not necessarily because of what I did, but because everything came together just right. Next time, we’ll talk lighting.

Gear Techs

Field Guide to Renovations: Develop a Ballpark Budget

Develop an Initial Budget

Audio-Video-Lighting systems are expensive. There is just no getting around it. Even small systems can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, while large systems for rooms seating 2,000-3,000+ can easily run into the millions. 

One of the biggest mistakes I see churches making when embarking on a remodel or building project is not setting realistic budgets. I think this is due to a general lack of understanding of what the technology costs, and how many little—and often expensive—pieces need to be added to make everything work. As a quick example, in our little project to install a new PA, add a video wall, some lobby TVs and move our tech booth, I have to order over $1,300 in cable connectors alone! 

So many churches go into a building project with what I call the Best Buy budget. Someone from the church (usually not the tech guy) wandered through Best Buy and saw some amplifiers, TVs and speakers and came up with a “budget.” Or perhaps they just pull a number out of the air. Most times, those are woefully inadequate to do a good job, and everyone will be frustrated by the results.

Count the Cost

Luke 14:28 reminds us, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” We might get bids from builders, electricians, architects for the “big” pieces of the job, but fail to take into account the AVL. Perhaps the architect will add a standard percentage of the job for AVL, which may or may not be enough (it’s probably not).

Now, I understand the problem. Most pastors, and probably most tech guys, don’t spend their days looking at spec and price sheets for all manner of AVL gear. And most have no idea how much stuff it takes to make an entire system work. This is where having a relationship with an integrator comes in. 

It’s All About Relationships

Remember how I’m always talking about building relationships? Having an integrator or dealer that you work with regularly is invaluable when it comes to working up a budget. Because they spend their days designing, pricing and installing systems in churches, they can give you a rough idea of how much it will cost. 

Now, it’s important that I take a moment and remind you of something here. Integrators are in business to make a profit. If we expect to get good service, we need good integrators to stay in business. They are worth their time, and they should be paid for it. 

Don’t go to an integrator and ask them to design and cost out a system, the parcel out the buying of the gear to the cheapest vendor you can find online. In fact, the good integrators won’t even do a design until they’re under contract to do the job. And that’s a great business model. They may be able to give you a ballpark budget off the top of their heads for free, but if you want detailed analysis and design, expect to pay for it. 

Getting Into the Ballpark

As you start a project, it is important to have a ballpark idea of the cost for the AVL system. You can arrive at this a few different ways. The way I usually do it is to start by talking with my integrator and get rough numbers for big items—speaker systems, video walls, consoles, lighting rigs, etc. Then, I’ll spend a little time online getting pricing ideas for smaller items. I add in some padding for labor (which is usually a lot more than you think it is), cables, connectors, and glue (pieces that connect one big item to another). Finally, I’ll add 10-25% depending on the size of the job. 

That should get you in the ballpark. Start with that number to present to leadership. It’s always better to go in a little high because it will likely be cut down. If you go in too high, you’ll get shot down, but if you go in too low, you’ll get hung. To hedge my bets, I prefer to give a range. It’s easier to go a little over if your rough range is $150,000-175,000. You can probably get $185K if you need it. But if you say $130, you’ll never get $180 if you need it. 

Alternately, you can ask your integrator to give you a ballpark range. Just be sure to tell them all you are trying to do. Telling them you need a new PA and some projectors for the sanctuary is different one thing. Adding in full AVL in three smaller kids rooms, plus a lobby and overflow room is another. And be sure to tell leadership they can’t hold the integrator to the ballpark budget until a site visit has been completed and a full design worked up. This is just an idea here.

Hopefully that helps you get started. Next time, we’ll talk more about design.


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Field Guide to AVL Renovations: Develop System Objectives

We’re continuing on in our series of AVL renovation. I should point out that almost all of this applies to new builds as well—though I hear from more churches who are upgrading and remodeling than building. Last time we talked about design, or more accurately, where in the design process the AVL guys should be brought in (answer: early!). 

Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most oft forgotten aspects of an AVL system renovation: Defining the system objectives. Put another way, what do you want the system to do?

Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions

I hear from churches all the time asking for advice. I love to give advice, so I’m happy to oblige. However, sometimes, it’s really hard. I get questions like, “We want to upgrade our sound mixer to a digital mixer. Which one do you recommend?” Or, “Which projector do you recommend for a center screen?” Or even, “We have a 300 seat room, which speakers should we install?”

Those are all questions that are all but impossible to answer. The reason is, they are asking the wrong question. There are usually several options that I could recommend. But without knowing what they want the system to do, I can’t do anything but give you brands and products I like.

The Right Questions

Before you ask for specific equipment suggestions, ask yourself some questions first.

  • What benefit to we expect to see from this new technology? How does it advance the mission of our church?
  • How will this improve our services? Will this lead more people into worship or will it be distracting?
  • What do we want this new gear to do for us? How should it be better than what we have now?
  • Who will be running it? What is their skill level, and how quickly do they learn new things?
  • Are we getting into this because it’s cool? Or are there really good reasons for this new technology?
  • What specific capacities do we need? If it’s an audio console, think inputs, outputs, mix buses, FX, remote mixing, digital snakes, personal mixers, etc. For a projector it might be how bright do we need, screen size, resolution, inputs, ease of mounting and servicing, or even should we consider a video wall?
  • Do you have a budget? Is that budget realistic?

There are plenty more questions we could delve into, but most get pretty specific pretty quickly. That should get you started.

Develop Your Objectives

Armed with the answers to those questions, you should be able to come up with a pretty clear set of objectives for this technology purchase or upgrade. With that in mind, you can start looking at options. The field will narrow quickly when you have a good idea of what you want a piece of gear to do. 

You will often find several options that will suit your needs. At that point, it comes down to what brands the dealer you’re working with carries, or which ones may have better service options. Consider which one will work with your existing equipment and even which one you like more.

Most of the equipment I’ve purchased over the years has been chosen specifically because it meets my design objectives. Sometimes it comes down to two products and I choose based on the one I like better. Maybe it’s their software, the interface, or that I have a better relationship with the rep. Those aren’t top line criteria, but they do help you decide at the end.

Above all, know why you want to upgrade or purchase. When you know why, it makes it a lot easier to come up with the what. Next time, we’ll talk budgets.

Gear Techs