The Soundbooth: Museums, Movements & Mr. Lilly

Recently our Middle School Pastor RJ McCauley sent me a link to a video called “Church Planter”. This video reminded me of a story that I tell about a man named Myron Lilly.

In my mid-twenties, my wife and I attended a Baptist church in a small town near where we still live today. This church was almost one hundred years old at that time and had dwindled down to an elderly congregation of around one hundred and fifty or so. The denomination had installed a young Pastor and many of the long time parishioners didn’t really like him. Oddly though, this church also became a refuge for a small band of Christian musicians and since I mixed for some of these bands, my wife and I became a part as well. One summer, we decided to start a Sunday night service called “Nite Life” for our generation. It would be for people who didn’t like church and for those of us who wanted to do modern music in church. We even advertised on local rock stations. The first night was packed with a younger crowd, many of whom were smoking on the front steps before they came in. We had hit our target and we were all pretty excited. Down on the front row walked Myron Lilly.


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.

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