Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: January 2014 (Page 2 of 2)

CTA Review: DPA d:facto II Handheld Vocal Mic


Last year at Christmas, I had the opportunity to review the original d:facto, and I was most impressed. Shortly after that review, the d:facto II was released. Apparently, this is becoming a Christmas tradition because this year, I got to play with the updated version of one of my favorite vocal mic’s. 

The “C” Word

Like the original d:facto, the II is a super-cardioid condenser handheld vocal mic. Now I know what you’re saying; “Mike, I thought you swore off condenser mic’s on live stages?!?” Well, yes, I mostly did. This is one of the very few condenser mic’s I will use on a live stage, and that’s because the pattern is so well defined, so smooth as it goes off axis and about the only condenser vocal mic that doesn’t double as a drum kit mic. 

I’m not sure how those crazy Danes have done it, but they managed to come up with a mic that is wonderfully detailed, well defined, puts the vocal right out there in the mix with hardly any EQ and yet doesn’t pick up the whole stage. 

Flat Response for Both Frequency and Phase

As you can see from these two diagrams, the d:facto II is quite flat with just a little bump up at 12 KHz. As you go off axis, the response really drops off quite nicely. Looking at the polar patterns, you see something pretty amazing; the patterns are quite consistent from 250 Hz all the way to 16 KHz. 


Images courtesy of DPA

Images courtesy of DPA

In use, this translates to a very natural sounding vocal. Like I said, I did almost no EQ on Justin’s voice (our new worship leader), mainly because it didn’t need any. Unlike most cardioid mic’s, the d:facto II doesn’t have a big proximity bump in it, so it doesn’t require nearly as much roll off in the 200-300 Hz range. Justin’s voice sat in the mix quite nicely without me having to work hard to get it there. 

Great from the Singer’s Perspective, Too

We talked about it after we wrapped up our five Christmas Eve services and Justin was quite happy with the mic. He felt he was able to just put his voice out there without a lot of strain, and the mic took it and worked it’s magic. If ever a vocalist was going to feel some strain, it would be after five back-to-back services that included a lot of singing. And yet, he didn’t feel strained at all. In fact, he wants me to order one for him to use every week. 

This was something that I could tell easily as well, just listening to his voice in the mix. When I solo’d the channel, the stage spill was very minimal. It was just his voice, clear and smooth. I’ve been able to work with a wide variety of vocal mic’s over the years, and I can honestly say the d:facto II is my favorite. I love the PR-35, and we’ll continue to use them regularly because the cost/performance ratio is just good (and they really do sound great). But if the budget is there, the d:facto II is a fantastic choice. 

It’s not a budget mic to be sure; it will set you back close to $900. But if you can afford it, it will not likely disappoint. I’ve used the KSM9, and the KM105, and I’d take the d:facto II over either of those. Of course, the d:facto II is more expensive than either of those, but when you get to that range, price becomes less of an issue. 

The Bottom Line

Is it worth it? It depends on whether you can afford it. Many churches won’t be able to justify spending that much on a single mic. And I totally understand that. On the other hand, really good guitars will cost well into the thousands of dollars, and if the voice is an instrument (which it is), then it doesn’t seem that out of line to spend $900 to reinforce it. You’re probably not going to buy 6 of them, but one could be justified for the worship leader, even if it’s simply to help preserve his or her voice. 

It’s a little like spending $1,200 on a Shure PSM900 versus $600 on a less expensive wireless IEM. Sure, the cheaper one will get the job done, and probably not sound too bad. But the 900 will sound a lot better, and with a lower noise floor, be much less fatiguing to listen to for several hours a day. It all depends on what you value. 

But at the end of the day, the d:facto II is a great mic and I give it two thumbs up.

Gear Techs

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.

Because Artists Influence Everything

Image courtesy of  dannyfowler

Image courtesy of dannyfowler

The other night, Van and I had the honor of attending another Grove Gathering. Grove Gatherings are informal meetings of fellow artists from all over SoCal. We sat in the room with filmmakers, worship leaders, writers, painters and even a few other tech directors. I love going to these each month because as an artist—a technical artist, but an artist nonetheless—my soul needs encouragement from other artists. 

I need someone else to say, “You’re not crazy; what you do is important. And it’s God-ordained.” When we gather with other like-minded artists, we are refreshed. Most churches are somewhat neutral on the arts these days, and some are downright hostile toward art and artists. Which is why we need each other. Unfortunately, most of you can’t attend a Grove Gathering, so I want to send some encouragement your way via this post. 

Because Artists Influence Everything

The Grove just had new t-shirts made with that saying on the back. And I love it. Consider this; without artists, there would be no movies, no paintings, no Sistine Chapel, no music, no novels, no great restaurants, no great photographs, no amazing architecture. TV shows would be news and sporting events. Books would be instruction manuals and how-too’s. Life would be incredibly boring. And a lot less beautiful. 

Church without artists would consist of announcements and a 60 minute sermon. In an ugly building. A man far from God can come up with many rational arguments why Jesus isn’t really the Savior of the world. But art can sneak in the back door through his imagination while he’s not looking and change his heart.

The Church Needs Art Now More Than Ever

We live in an increasingly cynical world, and many people don’t even think about the Church as a place to go to explore spiritual things any longer. Some studies show the Church ranks down there with car dealerships as places people can trust. 

But what if we went back to creating amazing art again. What if instead of arguing that we are right and everyone else is wrong, we created moments that inspire, captivate and transform? What if the hour on Sunday was less about the imparting of another 32 points of theologically correct information but about an experience with our Creator? Art enables those things—art embodies those things. 

The Church Needs Artists Now More Than Ever

Most of the people that read these posts are tech guys and gals. Sound engineers, lighting designers, video directors and producers, graphics and presentation people. You may think of yourselves as a tech. But I want to challenge you to see what you do as art. You have the ability to inspire or distract, create wonder or annoy, draw someone toward God or push them away. 

While others on the church staff can debate the relative merits of an egalitarian or complementarian position on the roles of men and women in the church, or argue over dispensational theology, we have the opportunity to introduce people to a wonderfully creative and loving Father. Just look around at all He has created; God is an artist! His first act in our world wasn’t to write a 1,700 page commentary on the book of Judges, but to create the universe in all it’s beauty, and then step back and say, “Dang, that’s good!” 

Art moves people, and artists have the privilege of moving them toward God if we choose to. Think about that this week as you prepare for the weekend. How can you imagine, inspire and point people to our wonderfully creative artist God?

Gear Techs

Today’s post is brought to you by Pivitec. Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

CTA Review: 1964 Ears Dual Two-Driver Custom IEM

1964 Dual.jpg

A few months ago, I reviewed the 1964 Ears V6 Stage custom IEM. I was very impressed with that monitor, and continue to listen to them quite regularly. With six drivers per ear, the frequency response is broad; it goes very low and very high with no sense of fatigue at all. At $699 list, they are not inexpensive, but compared to other six-driver units from other manufacturers, it’s quite a bargain. 

Not everyone can afford $700 for IEMs, however, and 1964 has a range of products to suit most budgets. In addition to the V6 Stage, 1964 also sent me their Dual unit. I should note up front that as of this writing, the Dual has been replaced by the V2, which is an updated version. 

Like the V6 Stage, the Dual comes in a hard Pelican-style case with a cleaning tool and 3.5mm to TRS adapter. Also included (and I love this small touch) is a collar clip to keep the cord from pulling on your ears. Also like the V6 Stage, the stiff part of the cord that exits the monitor is too short to fully wrap over the ear. It’s not a deal breaker, but I wish it were longer. 

Fewer Drivers=Lower Cost

As the name implies, the Dual uses a single low driver and a single high driver in each ear. This keeps the cost and complexity down, and actually results in a pretty nice sound. In fact, if I didn’t have the V6 Stage to compare to, I would say the Duals sound very good. And they do; it’s just a matter of course when you add more drivers sound quality (and cost) goes up. 

This is not to say that the Dual doesn’t sound good. Compared to my reference budget IEM, the Westone UM1, there is no comparison; the Dual goes a good two octaves lower and has a much more refined high end. In fact, the low end is very solid on the Dual; this is a monitor that bass players and drummers on a budget are going to like. 

Compared to the far more expensive UE7s that I use often, the bass response of the Duals is also quite a bit better. Where the Dual gives up some ground is in the midrange. Vocals aren’t quite as defined and the transition from lows to mids is a little muddled. 

Great Value

Just as matching the right mic to the source is important, matching the right IEM to the player is also key. I’ve heard complaints from some of our drummers and bass players who have the more expensive tripple-driver UE7s because they don’t really get down to the lower 2-3 octaves very well. Interestingly, switching to a dual driver often helps. 

In that way, I think the Dual (and most likely the newly updated V2) is a great value proposition for drummers, bass players, percussionists, and probably guitar players as well. At under $400, it’s one of the least expensive custom IEMs out there. 

The vocal range of the Dual is also quite smooth; you would just have to be careful to roll off some low end in the mix so it doesn’t end up masking some of the details. 

Compared to the V6 Stage

It’s almost not fair to compare them because the driver count is 3x and the cost is 2x. However, to give you an idea of the range available, here goes. The sound stage of the V6 Stage is quite a bit more defined. The placement of individual instruments is more apparent, the highs are more extended, and the midrange is quite smooth and defined. I would say the Duals feel like the low end—especially the bottom octave or two—is deeper, but that may be perception. 

Overall, the V6 Stage is quite a bit more detailed, which is exactly what you would expect from a six-driver IEM. But in back to back tests, the Duals are by no means a bad choice. Again, when matched to the source well, I think they are a great choice, especially for the church that needs to buy many IEMs. 

Compared to the UE900

I’m a fan of the UE900; it’s possibly the best universal IEM I’ve heard. The UE900 is extremely smooth, very hi-fi sounding. The Dual is a little bit more aggressive and up close with the sound, probably because the ports are close to your eardrums. And the isolation is far superior with the custom molded Dual. If I could, I would almost always go custom. But if budget doesn’t hold up, the UE900 is the best universal I’ve found.

A Little Tweaking…

Just for fun, as I was writing this, I decided to apply a little EQ to the Duals to see if I could get them closer to the V6 Stage. Most of the time, when reviewing IEMs, I listen to them flat because I want to see what they really sound like. But it occurred to me that it was from about 2KHz up that I felt the Duals were struggling. So I put a little high shelf filter on there to boost that range by about 2 dB.

I was surprised at how much nicer they sounded. The definition is there, it just needs a little help. Now, the V6 Stage is still smoother and more refined. But if you’re on a budget and need a good IEM, the Duals (now the V2) would be a great choice—just have the sound guy add a couple dB from 2K on up and you’re good. 

For a $400 custom molded IEM, the 1964 Ears Dual, and presumably the V2, is a very solid choice.

Also, full disclosure, 1964 Ears provided these review units to me at no charge.


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Church Tech Weekly Episode 180: It’s Wednesday for Mike


This week we go back to the mailbag! We tackle questions such as how to handle it as a volunteer when the worship leader is also over tech but spends all his time with the band; how to balance excellence in production with budget, capabilities and people; prioritizing people over production and how to handle drums in a small room.


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What I Learned in Smaart Class


Spoiler alert; I’m not going to tell you everything I learned at the class. Even if I wanted to, there would be no way to condense 24 hours of intensive training down to 750 words. But I can share a few insights with you. Much of the class was focused on theory, with a large part on acoustic theory and why things behave the way they do. I knew some of the information already, but I loved the way Jamie (Anderson, our instructor) walked us through it. One thing that was reinforced over and over was a problem we run into in churches all the time.

You can only align a system that was designed to be aligned. He talked a lot about aligning subs, and how that’s a big topic today. Everyone wants their subs timed to the mains—which in itself is a good thing. However, if your subs are sitting on the ground and the mains are in the air, you can only align the subs with a single point in space. If you want them truly aligned over most of the audience area, you need to get them closer to the mains. Which brings up another good point.

Too often, people want to solve problems with measurement/tuning that can’t be fixed with measurement or tuning. There is a four-step process to going from no system to a useable system. It starts with venue evaluation & modification; goes on to system design and equipment choice; followed by equipment verification and installation; and finally, system optimization and tuning/voicing. 

You simply cannot fix a bunch of problems that were created in the first three phases using Smaart and some DSP. It’s possible to mitigate some of them, and we can certainly help a poorly designed and installed system sound better, but it’s never going to be ideal. And speaking of design…

You need to design your system. As we talked about on this week’s show, we keep hearing form tech guys at churches about to embark on building projects, but the leadership doesn’t want to spend any money on a professional design, or buy any new equipment. They’d rather “figure it out later,” reusing equipment that may already be in use in a portable or smaller venue. 

Jamie pointed out that getting a system to sound pretty good when playing music isn’t that hard. Even poorly implemented systems can be tweaked to sound decent for the band, especially when the band is in the room. But intelligibility, that’s hard. That takes design. And here is where the aforementioned leadership is missing the boat. 

Most pastors think the tech guy wants to get a good PA so the music will be “awesome!!” However, the real reason we want a good design is so people can hear the message. For most services, we spend 75% of our time on spoken word. Getting even intelligibility throughout the seating area takes a good design that uses the right gear that is installed properly. Why would pastors not be interested in that?

Put another way. What if we said to the pastor, “Since you only want me to recycle this inadequate equipment in a room for which it was never designed, I can pretty much guarantee that 75% of the congregation should likely hear 50% of what you say every week. You OK with that?” That’s what we’re talking about here. 

I think we really need to be focusing on intelligibility when we have these conversations. I know that is what sold our leadership on the need for a new PA (and hopefully we’ll actually get it installed this year). 

There was so much more to the class; we talked a lot about frequency, phase, impulse response, time constants, and a dozen other concepts that helped me understand the implications of what I do every week. In some cases, it was a great reinforcement. In other cases, my approach will be changed. I came home tired and ready to not think about sound for a few hours. However, it was a great three days, and I highly recommend anyone who can get to a class to go. It’s not cheap, but when I consider the amount of knowledge I gained in three days, it was a bargain.

Gear Techs

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 179: Big Pants, Little Pockets


This week it’s all about system design and optimization, building projects and churches that build buildings with no thought to AVL whatsoever. It’s about to get real!


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Getting SMAARTer


I’m pretty excited. This week, I get to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams. OK, maybe not lifelong dream, but something that I’ve wanted to for a good 4-5 years now. I get to go to SMAART class. For those not aware, SMAART is a acoustical measurement and analysis software package. It’s pretty much the industry standard for testing audio products and aligning PA systems. And while it’s not that hard to fire up and take a measurement, really understanding what you’re looking at takes a little longer to understand. 

I’ll be taking the 2-day Operator Fundamentals class followed by the 1-day Application Practicum. Having read the introductory material, I’m thinking this should be a fun few days. But that’s not what I really want to talk about today. I want to talk about our responsibility as technical leaders to continue to get better at what we do.

Our education is up to us. No one will teach you this business unless you go look for ways to learn. There isn’t even a clear college/training path for becoming a better audio engineer, video director, or lighting guy. We have to take responsibility for our own continuing education. 

I have talked with many, many people, both inside the church and out, who get stuck at a certain point in their career. They have a set base of knowledge, and while that knowledge may be good, it can also become outdated or undesirable as the market changes. These folks have a choice to make; update their knowledge base or find a new way to make a living. I have always preferred updating my knowledge base. 

Be a lifelong learner. It’s probably no surprise that one of my Strength Finder Top 5’s is Learner. I am always learning new things. But I think even if you’re not naturally bent that way, you still need to keep learning. Read books, go to classes, go to conferences, talk to other tech guys, go to concerts, read blogs, listen to podcasts, but by all means do something! I know a few people who have even paid other more knowledgeable people to come spend a day with them sharing their skills. One on one training is perhaps the best (and probably the most expensive). But, what a benefit!

Your church may not support you. Do it anyway! Before you go saying, “Well, Mike, that’s easy for you to say because you work at a big church and you have budget to go to classes and conferences,” let me clue you in. My church isn’t that big, and we get $0 for classes and conferences. I take vacation and pay for them myself. And I do it because it’s that important; to me, anyway.

Most of us work in churches where we don’t get support for ongoing education. That’s OK—it’s just the way it is. Many churches don’t get what we do and why it’s important anyway; they think we’re there to turn microphones on and off. Again, OK. Low expectations don’t excuse us from our responsibility to the Kingdom and to ourselves for getting better at what we do. 

A church service that runs smoothly, sounds and looks good and is free from distractions frees people up to interact with God. That’s our job. The better we are at it, the more people can focus on what is important, and spend less time distracted by feedback, poor intelligibility, late song words, distracting lighting and bad video.

Get better at what you need to get better at. Not everyone needs to take SMAART class. But take some class. Go to a conference. Talk to another tech guy. Do something. Grow. Learn. Get better.

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but perhaps we can say 2014 will be the start of a season of technical knowledge growth. Let’s all work to get better at our jobs. It’s good for us, it’s good for our churches and it’s good for the Kingdom.


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Automating with Calendar in Mountain Lion and Mavericks

Most of you know that I’m big into automating things. I’ve written before about triggering recording from calendar events—it’s something I’ve been doing for a few years. However, I recently hit a snag with that process. I picked up a new-ish MacPro for video capture. After installing Mountain Lion on it, I used Migration Assistant to move the user profile over from the old machine. So far so good. At least until Sunday.

Changes to what you can launch from Calendar events started in 10.8.

It turns out that due to security concerns, you can no longer launch AppleScripts directly from a calendar event. Starting with Mountain Lion, and continuing in Mavericks, you have to handle this a little differently. Thankfully, it’s not that hard. Instead of calling an AppleScript directly, we use Automator to fire it for us.


Step 1: Create a Calendar Alarm in Automator

Even if you want to run an AppleScript, you have to use Automator. Thankfully, it’s easy to compile an AppleScript to work in an Automator Action. Launch Automator, select, “New” and click on the Calendar Alarm icon to start that workflow type.

Step 2: Run AppleScript

From the list of actions, choose “Run AppleScript.” Drag it into your workflow. Your script will vary, but here is the one I use to trigger capture with Blackmagic’s Media Express.

tell application "Blackmagic Media Express"
end tell

tell application "System Events"
keystroke "r" using {command down}
end tell

Step 3: Save the Action, Edit the Calendar Event

Once the Automator action is saved, it will create an event in Calendar. It creates a new calendar called Automator, and places an event for the time you created your action. I edited mine to trigger recording at 8:59 AM and 10:59 AM every Sunday (two events, just Option-Drag to duplicate it). 

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 8.25.09 PM.jpg

That’s it! It’s really quite easy. I recommend testing this a few times prior to Sunday. I had to play around with it a little bit to get it working, but once I did, it goes fine. There also seems to be a little lag between the time the clock strikes 8:59 and when the script fires, so give it a minute before concluding it’s not working. You’ll never miss the start of the service again!

Gear Techs

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.

Taking a Risk With Christmas

My view for a great day of virtual soundcheck prep for Christmas Eve.

My view for a great day of virtual soundcheck prep for Christmas Eve.

One of the things I love about what we do is there is always an opportunity to try something, to learn and grow. Sometimes, learning and growing takes a risk—we have to try it to see if it works—though it may fail. I’ve spent the last 25+ years taking calculated risks in my job, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve gotten reasonably good at it. I have a pretty big mental database of things that did and didn’t work. With that as a track record, I took a risk this Christmas. I mentioned it last time in the article about mixing Christmas Eve. What did I do?

I reused last year’s show file as my starting point for this year. Normally, I’m a proponent of starting over each time, but as I started to build the show file for this year, I discovered that the service was going to be nearly identical to last year. Most of the instrumentation was going to be the same, as was the program. We cut a song, but otherwise, the same. We had roughly the same number of vocalists (with ears mixed from FOH), and most of the musicians were playing again this year. I already had the mixes pretty well dialed in, and we’d play them the same. On the surface, it looks like a good idea.

Of course, there is always the downside. Or at least the potential downside. All the downside centered around what was changing. Last year we had one keyboard player playing piano, keys and B3 (a total of 7 inputs). This year, we would have two players—one on piano and one on keys. We wouldn’t use the B3, but I would recycle those inputs for guitars as we were adding three of them. 

We also added 2 new vocals, a new worship leader with a totally different guitar rig, and I’ve made substantial changes to my broadcast and other ancillary room mixes. I’ve even changed the way I process my L&R bus. Those last few things were a simple matter of saving presets and loading them into the new/old show file. But some of the recycling bit me.

The best thing about digital consoles is recall-ability. It can also kill you. I decided to not only keep my patch, EQ and gain settings from last year, but also the snapshot list. I figured, I spent a lot of time honing that last year, why not utilize it again. In theory, it’s a good idea. However, in practice it caused some headaches. 

In retrospect, I should have mass edited all the snapshots to include very limited—fader only, really—recall. I didn’t because I was doing things like sharing channels and mic’s between different readers, swapping guitars and things like that. All my starting points were good, but I missed a few things that got me in trouble. 

What you don’t know can hurt you. I didn’t pay attention to the fact that my All Off snapshot (the first one in all my lists) was set to recall monitor mixes. I did this intentionally last year because I was making some changes to them during the program, and I wanted to be sure we re-set at the beginning of each service. Problem was, it was recalling last year’s monitor mixes, not this year’s as I forgot to update it. 

Perhaps that’s the biggest problem with trying something like this. The SD8 has incredible power and I can do amazing things with it. But after 12 months, I forgot some of what I was doing. And it came back to bite me. After getting the vocal monitors dialed in, I fired All Off at the end of the night and wiped them all out. Only I didn’t discover it until a few days later at dress when all the vocalists were complaining about not being able to hear. 

By that point, I didn’t know where I had a clean snapshot of a good mix for them (as I wasn’t recalling changes to the monitors this year; except for the one place I didn’t know I was). So they muddled along, trying to the best they could, but it wasn’t good. 

Mistakes like that make for a long day. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I lay in bed thinking through what went wrong. Once I figured it out, I knew what I had to do to fix it. I got up super-early, and headed in three hours before call time. Using tracks from rehearsal, I re-built all the monitor mixes, fixing all my recall so they would “stick.” The vocalists were super-happy with the changes and were able to have a great day. But I was ready to fall over by the end of service four (of five). 

My experiment was about 50% successful overall, which isn’t good enough. Much of my attempt worked really well. We got through soundcheck super-fast because so much was the same as last year. Many of my mixes required only a little tweaking for updated instrumentation, and my transitional elements worked great. However, I had routing, aux send and the aforementioned monitor recall issues that cased more problems. 

So while I saved a little time up front, it cost me in the end. Knowing this now, I won’t do this again. Even if the service is identical, I’ll still start over. I’ve learned so much this past year that I approach things very differently than I did 12 months ago. DiGiCo updated the software, giving us new capabilities that change the way I work, and it was hard incorporating those changes into last year’s file. 

Still, I’m glad I tried it. At the end of Christmas Eve day, everyone was happy, the services sounded great and God’s Spirit moved. We shared the Gospel with 3,600 people, and that’s not a bad day. I’ve learned from it, and I have another entry in my database of what works and what doesn’t. Never be afraid to try stuff; even if it doesn’t work, you learn from it.


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Mixing Christmas Eve 2013

Click to enlarge. Note the minimalist EQ. 

Like many of you, our Christmas Eve services were a big deal, production-wise. In our 65 minute service, we did eight songs—only three of which were “sing alongs”— and four underscores. We had eleven musicians and six vocalists on stage with a total of seventeen stereo monitor mixes—eleven M-48s and six wireless IEMs mixed from FOH. I also had a broadcast mix, an overflow room mix, the lobby mix and the outdoor speakers mix. Those were all matrix outputs made up of groups and a few inputs, so I wasn’t hands on with them, but they had to be factored in. I used 55 of my 56 inputs on the stage rack and nearly all my outputs. It was a big day.

Virtual Soundcheck Makes It Possible

Thankfully, we had a band rehearsal on Thursday prior to Christmas Eve. The vocalists were there as well, and I was able to get clean multitrack recordings of each song we were doing. Armed with those tracks, I spent about 7 hours Friday getting mixes dialed in. 

For that virtual mixing session, I focus on a few things. First, I work on any EQ adjustments for all my inputs. Many of the musicians were regulars, so I have pretty good starting presets and those required just a little tweaking to help them sit in the mix. Others were brand new and needed more attention. I focus a lot on getting my mic’ing right, so I don’t do a ton of EQ, but there were a few instruments that needed some work.

Next, I’ll focus on vocals. Again, with good mic choices, I don’t do a ton, but with six vocalists plus vocal tracks, I did have to do some cutting of problem bands to avoid things building up. After the vocal EQs are set, I start spreading them out over the stereo field. Our current system is stereo, and while I don’t normally do much panning, when I have this many vocals, I will. I make sure I put one vocal for each part on each side (eg. I split my altos left and right, my sopranos left and right, etc.) so no matter where you’re sitting, you’ll hear the parts. This also helps the broadcast mix quite a lot. Finally, I work on blends. I like the background vocals to sound rich, balanced and spread out around the lead.

Each block is color-coded. Pink means tracks are coming from the drummer’s Mac; Green means tracks are coming from ProPresenter. Blue is a reading. Click to enlarge.

Building Snapshots for Songs

For a normal weekend, I do one snapshot per song. It’s a starting mix point, one that simply recalls the starting fader positions for the song along with my effects settings. It’s pretty low key. But for a big event, especially one that I’m going to mix 6-7 times (including rehearsals), I build more snapshots. Some songs get 2-3, others will have 7-8; it all depends on the song, what I want to do and how much I’m going to change each time. 

I start by listening to the tracks a few times with the faders at starting mix position. I usually have the sheet music in front of me, and I’ll make notes as I try things out. Most of the time, I’m making changes at verse/chorus/bridge breaks, and most of the time, I’m moving a bunch of faders at once. I name the snapshot based on the bar number and highlight the sheet music with a cue mark. By the time we get to the first service, I’ve mixed the songs enough that I know when to hit Next. This year, I also used the Notes feature of my snapshots panel. I found that really handy to remind me where I was.

The notes panel floats on the Master Screen and tracks with each snapshot.

The notes panel floats on the Master Screen and tracks with each snapshot.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once I build a set of snapshots for a song, I’ll run through it 2-3 times with the tracks to make sure I’m happy with the way it lays out. I typically do smaller fader moves between snapshots—we’re still mixing after all—and I want to make sure those moves track with my snapshots. After a song is done, I’ll move on to the next one.

After I mix two or three songs, I’ll take a break. I will get some water, walk around, check twitter, read email, or just go sit in my office in quiet for a few minutes. It’s important to step back every so often so you don’t lose perspective. 

Once all the songs are done, I go through the whole service again, making sure everything sounds consistent. After I’m happy with that, I save the show file in 3 places (including Dropbox, which then populates to about a dozen other computers) and go home. 

Taking a Risk

This year I took a calculated risk when I set up my show file. I knew it was a risk, but I felt like the possible pro’s outweighed the possible con’s. Having done this, I won’t do it again. But I’m glad I tried it. What did I do? Tune in Friday to find out.

Also, we have the service posted on Vimeo. I’m reasonably happy with the way it turned out, though I think it really starts sounding decent on song three.

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