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.
Today's post is brought to you by Pacific Coast Entertainment. Pacific Coast Entertainment is the premier event production company servicing Southern California and the western states. PCE offers a complete line of Lighting, Audio, Video, and Staging equipment for rentals, sales and installs. Where old fashion customer service meets high tech solutions. PCE, your one stop tech resource.
I’ve never been one to race articles to print. I don’t tend to rush out and get my hands on the latest technology just to be the first one to review it. Instead, I tend to find great pieces of gear and write about them. And that’s where this review is coming from.
The 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display has been around for a while. According the MacTracker the first Retina Display MacBooks appeared in June 2012. That was about 3 months after I bought my 11” MacBook Air. While the Air was a faithful traveling computer for two years, I found myself squinting at the screen a little more than I liked. And while the i7 processor was solid—faster than my 2009 15” MPB in fact—the smallish 128 GB SSD and 4 Gigs of RAM was starting to feel limiting.
So I upgraded to what I now consider the ultimate traveling computer. I was able to pick up a top level 13” MBP w/ Retina with the help of a friend who works for Apple. It has a 512 GB PCI SSD, which is considerably faster than the SATA SSD in my Air. With 8 Gigs of RAM, I feel like I’ll be good for a while. The 2.6 GHz Haswell Core i5 processor is quite snappy. And then there is the screen.
The Retina Display is Amazing
I was pretty stunned when I first opened the lid on this computer. The screen is so sharp, so bright and so clear it was almost unreal. Next to the 13, the Air’s 11” non-Retina display looks coarse. In fact, even my 24” 1920x1080 studio display looks pretty ugly.
While I’ve clearly reached “old guy” status (I wear progressive lens glasses, after all), I think even younger eyes would appreciate the clarity this screen brings. I do a lot of typing, and the screen renders type beautifully. When set to the “Best for Retina” setting, there is enough screen real estate for me to do what I need to do, and plenty of resolution. If I switch to “More Space,” things get a little small, but are still crystal clear.
The Big Reason for the Change: Battery Life
While I loved the tiny form factor and light weight of the Air, the short battery life kept my long-form writing sessions to a minimum. I had to be strategic on an airplane to manage battery life, and sometimes I just ran out. While the MBP is a little thicker and heavier, the tradeoff is vastly longer battery life. In the three weeks I’ve owned it, I find I’m charging it every two or three days. I’m not using it all day, every day, but the claim of 8-9 hours of runtime seems accurate.
The Best Mobile Form Factor?
Design is all about compromise. You can save weight, but you’ll likely cut battery life. A less powerful processor will save battery life, but reduce performance. A small screen is easy to carry around, but it’s harder to see. I’ve owned a PowerBook G3 with a 14.1” screen, a MacBook 13”, two MacBook Pros with 15” screens, the 11” Air and now the MBP 13”. While the 15” screens are nice, the computer is big and pretty heavy to drag through an airport. The 11” was small and light, but hard to see.
The 13” is just right. There is enough power, screen size, portability and battery life to accomplish just about any task. At 3.46 pounds, it’s about half the weight of my first Pismo G3 PowerBook, but only a pound heavier than the 11” Air. While some are railing on Apple for soldering the SSD and memory to the motherboard, it does make for a very compact case.
I even think they nailed it on ports. Two Thunderbolt 2, two USB 3.0 and an HDMI port. And for doing photo or video work, the built-in SD card slot is a great addition. FireWire is going away, but for $30 you can get a Thunderbolt to FW adapter; same for Ethernet. Though I have yet to need either for this laptop.
Apple Build Quality
Some complain about Apple’s high prices for their computers. I find that when you look at comparable models, they’re not that much more. And Apple builds them well. This one feels like it was milled out of a solid block of aluminum—wait, it actually was. My Pismo was still running strong 7 years after I bought it (and sold it for 30% of what I paid for it). My work laptop is 4.5 years old and aside from a new SSD is also a workhorse. I’ve found Apple laptops are worth the extra cost, and a true pleasure to use. This one is no exception.
I’m not MacWorld, so I don’t give out mice as ratings, but this is a solid choice in laptops. The SSD is crazy-fast, I love the form-factor, the screen is gorgeous, and the all-day battery life is great. If you’re up for a new computer this year, give it a look.