Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: February 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

Your Mileage May Vary

I get asked the same question—albeit in many variations—all the time; “How do you do ______?” I’m always happy to answer the question, because many times the information is useful. But I often included our favorite phrase from the EPA, “Your mileage may vary.” Because I know a lot of other techs at large churches, I know they get the same kinds of questions, and often give the same disclaimer. 

Perhaps the best-known disclaimer ever.

Perhaps the best-known disclaimer ever.

It’s natural, I guess, to ask those at larger churches how to do things. Presumably, because we have more full-time techs on staff, we have more time to work out our processes, we have more time to choose gear, and by virtue of the fact that we spend most of our time doing this stuff, we would have some good ideas on how to do things. This is all good.

What is important to keep in mind however, is that we often work our processes, choose equipment and decide how to do things based on our churches unique situation. Because while we all do basically the same thing, we each do it a little differently due to staff, budget, ministry philosophy and leadership style. 

Just because we don’t have guitar amps on stage doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to eliminate them. We do it because we can, and our guitarists led that charge. If they really wanted amps, we would have found another way to deal with it. That’s just one example.

How we hang out lights, how we do projection, IMAG or stage wiring is all based on what we do each weekend. To be sure, I’ve borrowed ideas from other techs, and have adapted quite a few more. But everything gets filtered through the lens of “what do we do, and how can we do it better.” 

For the first few years of my technical ministry, I looked to larger churches as the ones who have it all figured out. And to be sure, many do. But just because they do something a certain way doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. The best advice I can give is to ask around, learn what others are doing and take what you can adapt to your situation. Sometimes the things we do at a big church are unnecessarily complex with no obvious benefits for a smaller church. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that various techniques can be employed to varying degrees depending on the situation. The way I use parallel compression works in my room; but it may make a mess of your sound. It may work for me because of my equipment, my musicians or my acoustics, but that doesn’t mean it automatically works for you. That’s why I don’t normally put all my settings online—it’s not because I’m protecting some proprietary secret, it’s because they don’t matter; it’s simply what works for me.

Learn all you can from others, pick up what works for you, but always remember, your mileage may vary!

Today’s post is brought to you by DiGiCo. DiGiCo audio mixing consoles deliver solutions that provide extreme flexibility, are easy to use and have an expandable infrastructure, while still providing the best possible audio quality. Visit their website to learn more.

The Oft-Forgotton Cue Wedge

I know a lot of churches that mix monitors from FOH. For most of my church career, that’s been the case. To be sure, having a dedicated monitor position, console and engineer is a lot easier, but it’s not practical for most of us. And while we’d all love to have all our musicians and vocalists on in-ears, wedges still are a fact of life for many churches. 

As you can see, our cue wedge is very happy to be living up in FOH.

As you can see, our cue wedge is very happy to be living up in FOH.

For most of the churches I’ve mixed in, the biggest challenge for mixing monitors is that as an engineer, I can’t hear what I’m mixing. Sometimes you can solo up an aux and put headphones on, but that doesn’t really give you a sense for what’s going on at the wedge on stage. You take a guess at how much “a little more guitar” is and hope you don’t over- or under-shoot. 

When I arrived at Coast Hills, we had a dedicated monitor position. One of the tasks I was charged with was eliminating it (mainly for budgetary reasons). While I was OK with this, I learned a valuable lesson in mixing monitors while working up there a few weekends; we had a cue wedge at monitors that was set to mirror whatever mix was soloed. This worked brilliantly; when someone asked for more kick, we could actually hear it, and we could tell when we moved it up enough to make a difference. 

After we eliminated monitor world, I moved that cue wedge up to FOH. Our mixing console has two solo busses, which is quite handy. Solo 1 is set up to cue individual channels into our headphones. Solo 2 is set up to drive the cue wedge. When we put any of our aux mixes in sends on fader mode (by pressing solo), what the artists hear on stage comes out in our cue wedge as well. 

This has proven to be a great thing, especially since we’re in the balcony 90 feet away from the stage. I honestly have no idea what’s going on in their wedge, but cuing it up at FOH is wonderful. If they start to get out of control, and start asking for changes that don’t make sense, I can listen to their mix and hear what’s wrong. 

One of the keys to making this work is calibrating the volume of the cue wedge to the volume of the wedges on stage. This is fairly easy if all the wedges are the same (which is the ideal situation anyway). We calibrated ours by playing back some pink noise through a stage wedge, then measuring the level with an SPL meter. It doesn’t matter if it’s totally accurate or not; you just need a value. Then, go up to FOH and cue up that mix in the cue wedge. Adjust the amp driving the wedge to produce the same volume. 

It’s critical that you keep the volume calibrated, so it’s not a bad idea to mark the master solo level and the amp levels in case they get moved. How you connect and bus everything is going to be dependent on your console, and it may take some experimentation to get it working optimally. Reading the manual or even calling tech support may help here. I won’t even try to explain it here as there are many ways consoles support this.

If you can get this up and running, you will find mixing monitors from FOH a much easier task. We placed our wedge in a location that allows it to be pulled out during sound check so we can hear it easily, then pushed back under the desk when we’re done. Typically we’re not making many adjustments once the actual rehearsal gets going, so we move it out of the way.

While not completely ideal, mixing monitors from FOH is what most of us in churches have to do. Having a cue wedge makes it a lot easier—give it a shot and see what you think!

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Start with Yes

"It's No Problem!"   Image courtesy of  quinn.anya

“It’s No Problem!” 

Image courtesy of quinn.anya

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a minute. We technical guys (and girls) can be a somewhat negative lot. Someone on the pastoral, programming or creative team will come up with an idea and look to us to see how it can be done. Too often, we start with, “No,” and end up at a grudging, “Yes.”

That tends to give us the reputation as “dream killers,” and I’m not sure this is what we really want to convey. Now to be sure, sometimes these ideas from creative are a bit crazy and occasionally impossible (the computer screens from Minority Report don’t actually exist…). 

But when we start with, “No,” we don’t do ourselves (or our profession) any favors. Instead, what if we started with, “Well, yes, we can do that, though it might have to look a little different.” Or maybe it doesn’t have to look different, maybe we just have to re-arrange our schedule for the week. Or maybe we can do it, but it’s going to cost XX dollars, is that OK?

As I talked about in my Studio 60 post a few weeks ago, I love Cal’s attitude. He always said, “It’s no problem.” Sometimes it was a problem, and a big problem at that. But by starting with, “Yes” and working from there, we open a dialog rather than shutting it down. 

As technical artists, we really should welcome the idea to do the impossible; it’s what we’re good at. Personally, I get really energized when we pull off something that didn’t seem possible at the start. Sometimes it looks different, or the idea has to be altered significantly, but if we can deliver on the concept, we not only derive great satisfaction, we also build a lot of credibility with leadership.

And with great credibility comes great latitude. If we normally start off with, “Yes,” on those occasions when we say, “No,” they know we’re not being difficult or lazy, we actually can’t do it. I once had one of my bass players tell me that he appreciates the way we always try to accommodate their needs. And on the rare occasions that we do say no, it’s because it really can’t be done. That’s why he never argues or pushes the point when we say no; he knows we would if we could.

Of course there are limits, and I’m not going to try to define every possible scenario for you. You’re smart enough to know when to hold your ground and not commit to the impossible. But sometimes, we say “no” often enough that it becomes the default. So let’s change that. 

Today’s post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

CTA Classroom: Using Auxes, Groups, VCAs & Matrixes Pt. 4

We’re finally wrapping up our tour of the alternate ways we can mix a signal. Last time, we dealt with the aux and group layers, today we’ll key in on VCAs and the matrix mix.

Using VCAs

VCAs, as we mentioned before, are basically remote controls for your faders. You can assign a collection of faders to a VCA and then control the level of all of those faders using a single VCA. I use VCAs for giving me a way to control the overall mix of the band on a few faders. In our setup, we have drums, guitars, keys, perc or winds (depending on the week), BGVs and wedges. A couple of notes.

Some like to put the bass into the drum VCA, and there’s good reason to do so. I don’t because I have enough faders to do most of my mixing on channel faders. It’s a preference thing and you can try it both ways to see what works best. I also use a VCA for my wedges because I can. By assigning the aux masters that I use for monitors to a VCA, I can keep those aux masters on another layer out of my way and turn all four monitors on and off with a single fader.


This is just one of the many ways to lay out your VCAs. Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics

I’ve also created a single band VCA in the past that controlled all instrument and vocal inputs. I didn’t use it for mixing, but for taking the entire band out in one button press (on that desk, a VCA mute muted all the channels, including monitors). I still had my individual VCAs as well, and I did some mixing on them. 

Any time you want to control a group of inputs as a whole, a VCA is a great way to go. Drums are a perfect example because once you get the various drum mic’s dialed in and sounding like a kit, you typically want to raise and lower the level of the drums, not the toms and hat (well sometimes you do…). The VCA will maintain the relative mix balance between the channels but give you “master” volume control over all of them. 

Background vocals are similar. Get your blend set up correctly, then mix them with a single fader. Once you see what you can do with them, possibilities abound. 

Using the Matrix

For a novice sound engineer, a matrix mix can be really confusing. I remember years ago encountering my first matrix mix. It was at a large church, and they mixed on a large analog console. In that case, they used the matrix to balance out the relative levels between the main speakers and the downfills. When the tech guy showed me that system, I asked, “OK, but how do the signals get into the matrix.” His reply was, “You just turn these knobs up.” 

I knew that. What I didn’t know was the source of those knobs. Apparently he didn’t either because he never did answer me. I finally resorted to the manual and learned it wasn’t that mysterious. 

As I mentioned in the descriptive post on the matrix, modern digital consoles have blurred the definition of a matrix. On many consoles, they can be used like auxes, in that you can send any or all channels to a matrix mix. Other consoles only let you send the groups there, perhaps with some limited number of channels.

The columns are the inputs into the matrix, the rows are the individual matrix mixes. I use this to level-balance the band and speaking mic’s, build lobby and video mixes, and drive the FOH Buttkicker.

So what do we use them for? Well, in our church, I use them for sending mixes to various outboard locations; video, CD, 2-track board mix, lobby, cry room, things like that. I use my aforementioned grouping system to balance out the levels, then use eight of my twelve matrix mixes for driving those destinations.

Sometimes, you just need a spare mix for something, but don’t want to burn an aux or a group. I use a matrix for driving my butt kicker up at FOH. It’s driven by a single input—my sub aux—but by passing it through a matrix, I can set the delay for FOH and have an easy, single-fader control for level in the booth.

I also use a matrix mix for my FFT analyzer. By putting both L&R into a mono matrix, it combines them and makes it easy to compare the output of the desk to the measurement mic. This allows me to pad the level down so it matches up properly in my audio interface.

Uses for a matrix are really limited only by your imagination. Just don’t overcomplicate the system just so you can use all your matrix mixes. Remember, the goal is not to use 100% of the capabilities of the board just because you can. We use these tools to make life easier and get done what we need to.

And that’s the goal of this whole series; to give you ideas on how to use the tools you have to the greatest good. Now go read your manual and come up with some better routing ideas…

As we wrap up, I want to link to ABP-Dynasonics. Not only do they make great analog consoles, they also have some of the nicest drawings of those consoles on the web. I’m thankful they are available as they make great reference pictures. I reviewed a ProDesk 4 a while back; it’s a great mid-priced analog console.

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 135: 28 Is Getting Rough


This week we delve into creating an atmosphere for worship in the modern church. Ancient cathedrals generate awe and wonder when you walk into them; how to do we create a similar sense in today’s buildings? 


Today’s post is brought to you by Bose Professional. Sound solutions from Bose Professional Systems Division provide places of worship with full, natural music and clear, intelligible speech. The custom designed systems blend easily into your designs. Hear the reviews of the new RoomMatch speakers and PowerMatch amplifiers.

CTA Classroom: Using Auxes, Groups, VCAs & Matrixes Pt. 3

After our little theory discussion on how Auxes and Groups work, let’s get into some practical application. I’m not going to try to be exhaustive here; there are many, many different ways to use all four types of controls. But hopefully, this will give you some basic ideas as to what you can do with these things. 

Using Auxes

The most common use of an Aux send is for a monitor mix. The rule of thumb for this is to use a pre-fade mix (that is, the house fader will have no effect on the aux mix) for monitors so that any mixing changes you make in the house will not effect the monitors. On most desks, aux mixes are mono, but sometimes you can combine two auxes to form a stereo mix. Stereo is ideal when using ears, though occasionally we’ll see stereo wedges. Different consoles make stereo auxes differently, so consult your manual.

On this console, the first 4 auxes can be paired in stereo with a button press. Notice the pre button to set a pair (1&2, 3&4, etc.) as pre- or post-fade. Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

Think of each row of aux controls as another row of faders, but instead of moving up and and down, they rotate. By adjusting the levels of each of your channels in an aux mix, you build that mix for a monitor. At least that’s one use.

The second most common use of an Aux is for effects. Let’s say you want to put some reverb on your vocals. Now, you could buy a reverb unit for each vocal, and insert it on each channel. But that gets expensive and complicated, and it’s tough to control when the reverb is on or off, and how much reverb you have. The smarter way is to use an aux mix. FX Auxes are typically post-fade because if we turn the channel down in the house, we also want less of that signal going to the effect unit.

In this case, you’d take your vocals, and send them all to a post-fade aux. The output of that aux goes to your reverb unit. The output of the reverb then comes back in on a return or another input channel. You can now control not only the level of reverb that gets added to the mix (by the return channel), but you can also control how much of each vocal goes into the reverb. You may want to vary that depending on the voice. 

You can also use an aux mix to create another mix for broadcast, a cry room or lobby or a board mix. In this case, you’d probably want to use a post-fade mix so it will track your mix. But you can add in more of the pastor’s mic and less of the band channels so it balances out better. While you can do this, I think there’s a better way, which leads me to…

Using Groups

If you only have groups and no VCAs on your console, you can use groups to control larger chunks of your inputs via a few faders. For example, you could set up a band group, a vocal group, a playback group and a speaking mic’s group. So as you’re mixing, if you want to boost the vocals a little bit, you simply push that group up and all the vocals go up. Handy, right? There’s more!

You could also use the groups to turn the entire band off with one switch. Most times, groups will have a mute on them, so with a single button press, you mute the band. But there’s a catch; this will not typically mute the aux sends, so your monitors will still be hot. So you’ll still have to deal with that. 

In this case, we’ve used 4 of our Groups to split the band up into manageable chunks. Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

Another way to use groups is to break up your band into parts; drums and bass on 1, guitars on 2, keys on 3, vocals on 4, etc. Now you have a little more fine-grained control over the mix. To use either of these methods, you would simply assign the individual channels to the group you want, but not the L&R group. Next, assign the group masters to the L&R mix. This is kind of a poor man’s VCA approach. But wait, there’s more!

I use groups for a few things. The first is for parallel compression. I send my drum mic’s (all 8 of them) to two groups, a normal drum group and a drum spank group. I do this to keep the processing paths the same length so everything stays in time. The normal group is unprocessed, but the drum spank group has a compressor on it. I compress the entire drum kit, then mix varying amounts of spank into my mix as the song requires. 

I occasionally do the same thing for vocals if we have a big event and multiple people will be doing lead parts. I’ll use snapshots to send them to the vocal smash group and mix that in. That way I don’t have to double-patch every potential lead vocalist. 

In the Aux section, I was talking about creating a broadcast or lobby feed. Here is another great use for groups. I have four groups set up and every input goes to one of them; band, vocals, speaking mic’s, playback. Those groups are combined in various levels in my matrix (which we’ll get to next time) for various outboard mixes. I have a lobby/cry room mix, a video mix, a board record mix, and a CD record mix. I’m not really using these groups to mix per se, because the relative levels of each input happens on the faders. But the groups are used for level-balancing. Because music is 20-30 dB louder than speech I add some more speech into my outbound mixes to keep the relative levels closer. I then have to compress those feeds less, which keeps everything sounding better. Clever, huh?

You can do more with groups, but we’ll stop there for now. Next time, we’ll wrap this up with some uses for VCAs and the Matrix.

Today’s post is brought to you by GearTechs. Technology for Worship is what they do. Audio, video and lighting; if it’s part of your worship service, and it has to do with technology, GearTechs can probably help. Great products, great advice, GearTechs.

CTA Classroom: Defining Auxes, Groups, VCAs & Matrixes Pt. 2

Last time, we looked at how Aux sends and Groups work. Today, we’ll tackle VCAs and most confusing off all, The Matrix (don’t worry—Keanu Reeves will not be making an appearance).


When I first mixed on a console with VCAs I thought, “This is awesome! I never have to use groups again!” I was right. And I was wrong. The truth is VCAs and Groups, while they can be used to the same effect, are really two different animals, and both have their applications. Again, we’ll save the applications for later. Let’s figure out what a VCA is.

Image courtesy of  APB Dynasonics .

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

VCA is an abbreviation for Voltage Controlled Amplifier. Without getting super-technical, think of a VCA as a remote control for your fader. That might not seem very useful at first, considering you already have the fader right there. Where it gets fun is that you can assign multiple channels to a VCA, and you can assign a channel to multiple VCAs. More on that later.

Here’s how a VCA works (at least functionally—look it up if you want to know how they work electrically): Let’s say you have your lead vocal—channel 1—assigned to VCA 1. And let’s say you have channel 1 sitting at Unity level (sometimes known as 0). The fader is not adding or subtracting gain from the signal. If VCA 1 is also at Unity, there is no gain change. But turn VCA 1 down to -10, and the signal on channel 1 drops 10 dB, even though the fader hasn’t moved. Move the fader for channel 1 down to -10, and the signal is now down to -20 dB. If you leave the fader at -10, and put the VCA back to 0, the signal is at -10 dB. Push the VCA up to +10, and the signal is back to 0 dB. 

Later we’ll talk about why this is useful, but for now, that’s how they work. Digital consoles sometimes call these faders DCAs (for Digitally Controlled Amplifiers), or even Control Groups. No matter, they basically do the same thing. The important thing to remember is that VCAs aren’t better than groups; they’re different. I use both—to very different effects—every week. Given the choice, I would always have a healthy supply of both Groups and VCAs on my consoles (which is one reason I really like mixing on DiGiCo consoles…).

Matrix Mixes

The modern matrix mix can be a confusing beast. Back in the days of analog consoles, the matrix operated much like aux mixes do, but instead of being fed by individual channels, they were fed by groups. Thus, to create a matrix mix, you would assign your channels to groups, then build a matrix mix from your groups (including the L&R mix). Some mixers gave you a few matrix mixes, others gave you a lot. Matrix mixes are defined by how many inputs and outputs they have; to wit, a 16×12 matrix has 12 individual mixes being fed by 16 sources. On an analog desk, this would probably mean the console has 14 auxes plus L&R, and you can create 12 mixes of those groups.

Image courtesy of  APB Dynasonics .

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

Today with the advent of digital consoles, there is no real reason why individual channels can’t also be fed into the matrix mixes. Some companies treat their Matrixes like Auxes (Yamaha & Roland for example). You can assign any or all channels to a matrix mix and use it just like another aux. The difference is, you can also assign auxes or the L&R mix to the matrix, so it’s really a hybrid. 

Other digital consoles let you assign groups to the matrix, plus a limited number of input channels. Still others let you pick a fixed number (say 16) of whatever inputs you want—input channels, auxes, groups, L&R—and mix them into 12 or so mixes. 

Matrix mixes can seem confusing, but hopefully once we get to the practical applications, it will start to make more sense. For now, know that they are incredibly useful for feeding ancillary rooms or destinations (recording for example), or even running your main PA depending on the complexity of your PA system.

So that sums up how each of these four mixing systems work. Next time, we’ll start unpacking how to use each of them. 

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CTA Classroom: Defining Auxes, Groups, VCAs & Matrixes Pt. 1

For the novice sound engineer, it can be pretty intimidating to walk up to a large analog board or digital console and try to figure out the routing of audio signals. It wouldn’t be so bad if the only place the sound had to go was to the main speakers in the room. Occasionally that’s the case, but most of the time, we’re also sending different mixes to monitors for musicians; to lobby and cry room speakers; and to various recordings. Moreover, we have several options for how we can group and control our signals. In this series, we’ll start to define what Auxes, Groups, VCAs and Matrix mixes are, and later, we’ll talk about when you’d use each of them.

Auxiliary Mixes

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics.

Often simply abbreviated as Auxes, an auxiliary mix is pretty much what it sounds like; another, alternate mix using the same set of input signals that you are working with in the house mix. Each aux mix will have an individual level control on each channel, as well as a master aux mix level. In this way, aux mixes are very much like the faders; turning up the aux level for channel 1adds more of whatever is in channel 1 to that aux mix. 

As an example, let’s say you are using Aux 1 for your worship leader’s monitor, and that their vocal mic is in channel 1. If she wants more of her voice in her monitor, you turn up the Aux 1 send in Channel 1, thus raising the level of her voice in her monitor. What makes Aux mixes so cool is that they don’t effect the house mix at all, and you can just as easily lower or eliminate that signal from Aux 2. Thus, each Aux mix is another complete mixing layer for your input signals, albeit without individual EQ adjustments for each of those sends.

Most sound mixers that we use for live sound will have at least 4, and often 6 auxes. Of course, larger consoles gain more auxes, and it’s not uncommon to see digital consoles with 16, 24 or more aux mixes (many times, in stereo). Aux sends (the points you send from each channel) can either be pre-fader or post-fader. That simply means that the fader (which controls your house mix) will either have no effect on the aux send (pre-fader) or it will have an effect (post-fader). 

In other words, if Aux 1 is pre-fader, you can turn the channel 1 fader down all the way to off, and still have signal coming from the monitor connected to Aux 1. If it’s post-fader, turning down the fader on channel 1 will also turn down the signal in Aux1. Some consoles allow you to switch each Aux to be either pre- or post-fader (and some provide additional options); other consoles allow you to switch them in pairs; while others will give you 4-6 pre-fader Auxes, and 2-4 post-fader Auxes. Or sometimes the first few are fixed at pre-fader, while the last few are switchable. Remember the manual that came with your desk? Now’s a good time to check it out if you’re not sure what your console does. 


Groups have somewhat fallen out of favor of late as digital consoles have become more popular. It’s a shame, really, as groups are incredibly useful. Sometimes called sub-groups, a group is simply a way to collect a bunch of channels together and do something with them. Strictly speaking, the main L&R mix is a group (as is a Mono or Center mix if your console has those). A sub-group then, is a way to collect some channels for processing on the way to the main group (or not, depending on your needs). 

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics

Image courtesy of APB Dynasonics

To use a group, you simply assign the channel to the group you want to use. Some consoles will give you say, 4 groups, with three switches on each channel to use for assigning; Group 1-2, Group 3-4 and L&R. Assigning a channel to Group 1-2 will send that channel’s output to the summing mixers known as Groups 1 & 2. In these consoles, group assignments follow the pan knob. So if you want to assign a channel to just Group 1, you would pan hard left. Panning hard right puts that channel in Group 2 only. 

We’ll talk about why you would want to do that in the next post. But for now, just know that you can usually assign the sub-groups to the main mix as well. Thus, you may have a collection of channels (let’s say the drums) all going to Groups 1-2, then have Groups 1-2 going to the Main L&R mix. Would you also assign the individual drum channels to the main L&R mix? Maybe, maybe not; it depends on what you’re doing. 

The applications post will reveal more. Next time, we’ll move on to VCAs…

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Church Tech Weekly Episode 134: It’s White with Red Buttons!


Our guest this week is Jason Castlellente from National Community Church in DC. As a church that meets in coffee shops and movie theaters, they have some significant technical challenges each week. And we again are reminded it’s all about relationships.


Today’s post is brought to you by the Roland R-1000. The R-1000 is a multi-channel recorder/player ideal for the V-Mixing System or any MADI equipped console or environment. Ideal for virtual sound checks, multi-channel recording, and playback.

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