Like the sound system itself, room acoustics become a big concern when the first service comes around. Most “good” rooms are designed that way from the beginning. A room can be “fixed” to a certain extent, after the fact, with acoustic paneling, bass traps, and decorative wall treatments. Knowing how much treatment is enough for your room usually requires you to hire a qualified acoustical consultant to help you with type and placement. The room acoustics absolutely affect the ability to have good sound in a room. Remember you can’t “E.Q.” the room unless you physically change the room acoustics. Carpet, fabric covered chairs, and of course, people, can also dramatically change the way the room and the system will sound.
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.
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It’s back to the mailbag! We tackle subjects such as how do you lead up, coming up with realistic budgets, mixing when all the inputs don’t make it to the board, and over-spec’ing speakers. Plus two exciting new audio consoles In The News!
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.
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I’ve never been one to race articles to print. I don’t tend to rush out and get my hands on the latest technology just to be the first one to review it. Instead, I tend to find great pieces of gear and write about them. And that’s where this review is coming from.
The 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display has been around for a while. According the MacTracker the first Retina Display MacBooks appeared in June 2012. That was about 3 months after I bought my 11” MacBook Air. While the Air was a faithful traveling computer for two years, I found myself squinting at the screen a little more than I liked. And while the i7 processor was solid—faster than my 2009 15” MPB in fact—the smallish 128 GB SSD and 4 Gigs of RAM was starting to feel limiting.
So I upgraded to what I now consider the ultimate traveling computer. I was able to pick up a top level 13” MBP w/ Retina with the help of a friend who works for Apple. It has a 512 GB PCI SSD, which is considerably faster than the SATA SSD in my Air. With 8 Gigs of RAM, I feel like I’ll be good for a while. The 2.6 GHz Haswell Core i5 processor is quite snappy. And then there is the screen.
The Retina Display is Amazing
I was pretty stunned when I first opened the lid on this computer. The screen is so sharp, so bright and so clear it was almost unreal. Next to the 13, the Air’s 11” non-Retina display looks coarse. In fact, even my 24” 1920×1080 studio display looks pretty ugly.
While I’ve clearly reached “old guy” status (I wear progressive lens glasses, after all), I think even younger eyes would appreciate the clarity this screen brings. I do a lot of typing, and the screen renders type beautifully. When set to the “Best for Retina” setting, there is enough screen real estate for me to do what I need to do, and plenty of resolution. If I switch to “More Space,” things get a little small, but are still crystal clear.
The Big Reason for the Change: Battery Life
While I loved the tiny form factor and light weight of the Air, the short battery life kept my long-form writing sessions to a minimum. I had to be strategic on an airplane to manage battery life, and sometimes I just ran out. While the MBP is a little thicker and heavier, the tradeoff is vastly longer battery life. In the three weeks I’ve owned it, I find I’m charging it every two or three days. I’m not using it all day, every day, but the claim of 8-9 hours of runtime seems accurate.
The Best Mobile Form Factor?
Design is all about compromise. You can save weight, but you’ll likely cut battery life. A less powerful processor will save battery life, but reduce performance. A small screen is easy to carry around, but it’s harder to see. I’ve owned a PowerBook G3 with a 14.1” screen, a MacBook 13”, two MacBook Pros with 15” screens, the 11” Air and now the MBP 13”. While the 15” screens are nice, the computer is big and pretty heavy to drag through an airport. The 11” was small and light, but hard to see.
The 13” is just right. There is enough power, screen size, portability and battery life to accomplish just about any task. At 3.46 pounds, it’s about half the weight of my first Pismo G3 PowerBook, but only a pound heavier than the 11” Air. While some are railing on Apple for soldering the SSD and memory to the motherboard, it does make for a very compact case.
I even think they nailed it on ports. Two Thunderbolt 2, two USB 3.0 and an HDMI port. And for doing photo or video work, the built-in SD card slot is a great addition. FireWire is going away, but for $30 you can get a Thunderbolt to FW adapter; same for Ethernet. Though I have yet to need either for this laptop.
Apple Build Quality
Some complain about Apple’s high prices for their computers. I find that when you look at comparable models, they’re not that much more. And Apple builds them well. This one feels like it was milled out of a solid block of aluminum—wait, it actually was. My Pismo was still running strong 7 years after I bought it (and sold it for 30% of what I paid for it). My work laptop is 4.5 years old and aside from a new SSD is also a workhorse. I’ve found Apple laptops are worth the extra cost, and a true pleasure to use. This one is no exception.
I’m not MacWorld, so I don’t give out mice as ratings, but this is a solid choice in laptops. The SSD is crazy-fast, I love the form-factor, the screen is gorgeous, and the all-day battery life is great. If you’re up for a new computer this year, give it a look.
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Today we’ll wrap up our series on intentionality. After covering board layout, video, and lighting, it’s time to move on to another enigma; projection. When I say projection, I’m referring to what hits the big screen. This could be song lyrics, backgrounds, environmental projection and even announcement slides. Judging by what we see in some churches each weekend, there is little if any thought given to how a service ties together visually. And that’s a shame, because great projection does make a difference.
They’re Not Just Backgrounds
What do the backgrounds you choose for your songs say? Have you considered that? Sometimes I think we choose the backgrounds because they are pretty not because they actually improve the look and feel of the song.
But what if we had a consistent visual theme for the weekend? What if each element that hit the screen tied into the last, and all those together told a part of the story? How much more powerful would our services be?
Too Many Choices
While the internet has brought us access to thousands of choices of backgrounds, I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing. By that I mean it is that it’s far to easy to throw a bunch of images up on the screen, just because you have them. If you looked at my background library, you would see such a random collection of images it would make your head spin. Several people over the course of many years have collected those images. But just because we have them doesn’t mean we need to use them.
Some people—my friend Stephen Proctor among them—have been experimenting with using just one visual for an entire series. Not a service, a series! Well, technically, they call them seasons now, but you get the point. That visual is carefully chosen to reflect a key concept of that series. Stephen wrote about that on his blog a while back. If you don’t follow his writings, you really should.
I’ve seen other churches use no backgrounds at all, just white words on a black background. Sometimes simpler is better. But that’s not the point; the point is to consider why you are doing what you’re doing.
We’re in a Visual Culture
Images really do matter. They tell a story and it’s up to us to make sure the story matches the story of the service. Even as I write this in my local Starbucks (one of 7 in a 5 minute radius of my house…), I am surrounded by visuals. The visuals in front of me are telling me a story of coffee—where it comes from, how it’s made and I see a glimpse into the lives of coffee farmers. That is all very much on purpose. Whether you like Starbucks coffee or not is beside the point. These visuals are telling me a story.
A picture of a field of sunflowers might be pretty, but what does it have to do with the song? As we are careful to choose our colors for lighting, we need to be careful to choose backgrounds that reflect the story the song is telling. And the backgrounds and lighting should match, or at least complement once another.
I mentioned the concept of learning last time, too. Visual styles and tastes are a moving target. We need to develop a language and visual style that matches the culture of our church, and adds to the service. If you don’t follow Stephen, you should. Camron Ware’s Visual Worshiper web site is another fantastic resource, especially for environmental projection. Triple Wide Media and Church Motion Graphics are terrific sources for visual material. Just be careful not to use everything they make every weekend.
Above all, just think about why you are doing what you do. Don’t just grab backgrounds out of the background bin because they are pretty. Each background (or lack thereof) should be a reflection of the moment. What are you trying to say with that song, and how does the background reinforce that message? The same goes for announcement graphics and sermon notes. Pastors, for the love of all that is holy and sacred, stop putting everything you’re saying on the screen. If people are reading, they’re not listening. Use visuals and words to reinforce your message, not be your message.
My hope for this entire series is to encourage you to simply think things through. I take the approach that everything we do is up for grabs all the time. If we can’t justify why we’re doing it, we should stop doing it or change it until it makes sense. “Because we’ve always done it that way,” is not a good enough reason. I don’t want to do things just because. I want what I do to be intentional, so that I can make the biggest impact I can while I can. Hopefully, you’re inspired to do likewise.
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We talk with Phil Cooke about the difference between biblically inspired art and biblically based art. What should the Christian’s response be to films like Noah, and how can we do a better job of utilizing technology and social media for advancing the Kingdom?
Today’s post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.
I could be wrong on this but I’m not sure there is another discipline that ends up being less intentional than lighting. And it’s not just in churches. I see all kinds of random lighting all over the place. But I think this is an area where some planning and thought can make a huge difference.
Earn the Cue
Perhaps one of the best pieces of lighting advice I’ve ever received came from my friend Daniel Connell at Church on the Move. Last year at Seeds, he was talking about his approach to lighting and he gave us his criteria for adding a lighting cue to a program. He said, “The moment needs to earn the cue. If there isn’t a benefit for a new cue, I don’t do it.”
I’ve repeated that phrase over and over to our lighting guys and use it myself when programming. The way this plays out for me is in simplicity. I don’t have a compulsion to do three cues per verse. Nor do I run animations all the time. When there is a build in the song, I’ll write a new cue. But if the feel of the song is consistent throughout, it will likely only get one or two. And sometimes the best lighting is super-simple—as shown in the photo above.
Learn Some Color Theory
One of the best things you can do as a lighting director (or technical director who programs lights) is learn color theory. Different colors make you feel different things. Do you know which ones conjure up which feelings?
I’m not going to go into a bunch of color theory here; you can Google it. But there is a really good reason we use red for our communion songs and yellows, turquoise and purples for many of our worship songs.
Match the Energy
This is a big one for me. It’s easy, especially for younger programmers, to crank up a bunch of effects engines just because they can. I’ve seen songs played at 68 BPM with lights moving wildly all over the place (that’s not good, by the way). The lighting should set the mood, and that mood should be complementary to the energy of the moment.
We’ve done slow, contemplative songs with a single lighting look, because that’s the song needs. Larger, uptempo songs will have brighter colors, more animation and more cues.
You should also take care to match the fade rates to the moment. Going from a dark, contemplative look for an offering song to full house and teaching lights in a 1 second fade is a sure-fire mood breaker. By the same token, using 30-second fades during a fast song feels rather weird.
Lighting styles and trends change pretty all the time. It’s important we keep on top of that, while remaining true to our individual church styles. If you need some help with getting a sense of what is appropriate and good, pick some other church services to watch online. I recommend Church on the Move as a great place to start as Daniel is a master. They can do things that many of us can’t pull off, but there are plenty of concepts and ideas that are transferable. Find some other churches that are similar to your style and see what they do.
Whatever style you develop, just make sure it makes sense for your church and the moment. All our lighting guys listen to the music while they program to make sure they are doing things that are in keeping with the feel of the song. Nothing is random, it all makes sense. But even that is not by accident. We were very intentional in teaching them to do it—and a lot of credit goes to my LD, Thomas Pendergrass.