We’re in a series on creating a great broadcast mix. Last time, we talked about a few different approaches to building a broadcast mix. You could use a dedicated broadcast console or you could take an augmented FOH mix. Or you could do what I’ve done, build a hybrid FOH mix that level balances the various parts of the service and adds in some ambience.
Design Goals of this Process
I rarely do anything “just because.” You read my series on intentionality, right? I like to have reasons for what I do. In this case, I had several. First, I wanted to come up with a broadcast mix that sounded good. Though I’m a technical director by day, I’m an audio guy at heart. So I wanted the mix to be solid; nothing embarrassing, even when I’m not mixing FOH.
Second, the process has to be pretty seamless. If I were the only one at FOH, I would approach this differently. But I’m not, so this has to be a “background” process. It needs to work regardless of who is at the console.
Third, I wanted to create an accurate representation of what is happening in the room. Our church isn’t known for it’s wildly expressive worship, but people do sing, and I want them to be part of the mix. Capturing the live energy is important to me.
Finally, I wanted to do as little post production on the mix as possible. It’s not because I’m lazy, I just really wanted to be able to do a quick video edit, maybe touch a few things up then hit render and head home. I figured if I did the hard work up front, I could achieve this goal. And I think I have.
It’s in the Grouping
How you choose to group your inputs will depend on your band, your service and your board. In my case, I have enough groups to do what I want, and large enough matrix to mix them. If I didn’t, I would alter my approach. So this is not prescriptive, but descriptive.
First up, I break the worship team into two groups, a stereo band and stereo vocals. I’ve found, for us, that an extra 1-2 dB on vocals helps in the broadcast mix. Plus, I can do a little compression on each group.
Next up is my speaking mic’s group. This includes the pastor, plus any interview or announcement mic’s. If I was low on groups, I might stop here, but this is pretty much my base set. Because I have the groups, I also created a playback group to cover videos and the occasional Skype interview.
A recent addition to my group count is what I call Worship Leader Speaking. One of the challenges with a FOH to broadcast mix happens when the worship leader talks during the worship set. It’s usually a lot quieter, which works in the room, but feels weird on video. So I created this group to give me a little boost when they talk. I use snapshots to put them in the group when it’s planned, and I also have a macro programmed to do it when it’s not. This is one reason I love my Digico…
Finally, I route a few channels directly to my matrix for inclusion in the broadcast mix. I have a stereo pair of audience mic’s in the house, so those get added in. We used to run our walk in/out music through the playback group, but it always ended up at a different level from actual playback. So I run that channel into the matrix now. The other advantage of using the channel is that when I fade the walk in music down over 8 seconds at the start of the service, that fade happens in the broadcast mix as well.
On the Level
As we mentioned before, it’s not uncommon to see a dynamic range in a service of 30+ dB SPL. Our talking mic's usually end up in the mid- to high-60’s, while music can be anywhere between the mid-80’s to mid 90’s (all dB SPL, A-weighted, 10-second average). This is where the matrix comes into play. But there is a caveat.
The initial temptation will be to balance out all the various groups so they meter the same. So let’s say you want to hit the recorder at -12 dB FS (full scale). You’ll be tempted to set the levels for the music first, then dial up the speaking mic group until it hits -12 dB FS. And if you do that, the pastor will likely feel too loud.
That’s because we don’t experience music and talking at the same volume in the real world. So you can’t make them the same on video. You can make them close, but speaking will have to be less. I usually shoot for the speaking to be somewhere between 6 and 12 dB lower than the music. That’s kind of a wide range, but I don’t want to get closer for fear you’ll take it as an absolute. You have to listen to it, and make adjustments accordingly. It has to feel right, not just meter right.
I don’t think that’s a word, but you need to be able to monitor your broadcast mix. I run the mix to one of the inputs on my Aphex AP-4 headphone amp, so I can quickly switch from the FOH mix to the broadcast mix during service.
We tend to monitor the mix during the service, and then we’ll make tweaks and adjustments to our baseline show file based on what we hear during the video edit process. It took me about 3 months of tweaking to get it dialed in to the point where I was happy, even using tracks to get a good starting point.
So that’s a little glimpse into what we’re doing. Next time, we’ll look at some of the “secret sauce” that has taken the mix from good to great.