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.