Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: CTA Classroom (Page 3 of 9)

Mike’s Mixing Axioms: #3–Less is More


Image courtesy of  theilr

Image courtesy of theilr

Well, we’re back talking about mixing again. In this series, I’m sharing with you some of the guiding principles by which I build my mixes. Like all things, these are not hard and fast rules, but more often than not, I’m doing these things each time I mix. It doesn’t matter what or where I’m mixing, this is where I start. We’ve already talked about keeping it simple, and getting the basics dialed in first. Today, we’re on to the next topic: 

Axiom #3: Less is More

You’ve heard this expression many times in the past, I’m sure. It may be hard to figure out how it applies to mixing, however. Here’s what I mean: I tend to do less to the mix, and it turns out sounding a lot better. By less I mean less EQ, less compression and less in the way obvious effects. 

If you follow any of the church sound groups on Facebook, you’ve seen the popular posts, “Guess this EQ.” Usually it’s a picture showing pretty much every band cut to -18 dB. You will probably never see that on any board I’m mixing on. In fact, if I’m boosting or cutting by more than 4 dB, it’s an odd day. And it usually means there was a problem I couldn’t solve with mic choice or placement (I don’t always get to choose the mic locker). 

You’ll also almost never see narrow cuts or boosts. I tend to use 2 octave or wider filters because I find them to be more musical—mainly because they do less damage to phase. My EQ is subtle and minimal. Less is more.

The same goes for compression. While I might use compression on most of my channels, I don’t use much of it most of the time. This is especially true for drums. My drum compression technique is to use just enough compression to smooth out minor variations in how hard the drummer hits each time. I don’t try to make every hit in the whole set the same—I want the player to be able to deliver dynamics. However, I try to smooth it out just a little so the occasional hard hit doesn’t stand out. 

Similarly, I use parallel compression on vocals so I don’t have to crush them so they stand out in the mix. If you look at my compressors, you’ll see they’re taking 2-3 dB off at most. I’m smoothing, not smashing. One of the biggest offenses I hear in mixing today is a lifeless mix that is neither hot nor cold, loud nor quiet, just blah. This is typically the result of too much compression. Just because you have compressors on each channel doesn’t mean you should turn them all on to max.

Finally, I keep the sound of my effects minimal by timing them to the song. I did an entire post on this a while back. With this technique, I can add in a lot more reverb without it sounding like the mix is swimming in it. This keeps the anti-reverb people happy, while still adding a nice sense of lush to the mix. 

How do you start with this? As I said in a previous post, start by flattening out the EQ, turn off the compressors and just mix. As you find you need to, do a little EQ here and there. Do the least amount of compression you can. Start with simple effects and work up. Let the music speak for itself, and it will almost alway sound better.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Mike’s Mixing Axioms: #2–Basics First


Image courtesy of  Didriks

Image courtesy of Didriks

Last time, we started our series of Mike’s Mixing Axioms. We talked about my concept of keeping it simple. Today’s axiom is similar, but different. As I said last time, these are things that I do—it doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do it. However, I’ve found that over 30 years, these seems to make a lot of sense and work pretty well. Were my situation different, I might have some different axioms. But since I mix in churches, this is what I do. 

Axiom 2: Basics First

You might think that this is the same thing as keep it simple, but it’s really not. What I mean by this is that when I come into a new mixing environment—new for me, that is—I work on the basics first before I start getting complicated. What are the basics? Making sure the inputs all work and are noise free. Getting my board is laid out how I’m used to it, or as close as possible, so I don’t have to keep hunting around for channels. Dialing up the gain structure properly so all my faders fall right around unity for a good mix, while still giving me solid levels. Working with the band to get them good monitor mixes as needed, and making sure they’re happy. 

It’s a little bit like cooking; salt and pepper are basic spices. But they’re not flashy, so some people go after all sorts of special spices without getting the simple salt and pepper right. Start there, and work up.

These are all basic elements, but too often, I see them overlooked in favor of the fancy stuff. I can tell you that if you jump past the basics and try to go straight to advanced techniques, you will not end up with a good mix. For my SALT mixing class, I started off mixing a track with nothing but high pass filters and EQ on only the kick and lead vocal. And you know what? It sounded pretty good! My gain structure was good, we made good choices on our mic’s, and the band played well. I had a little extra work to do as my “compressors” were my fingers. However, after the song was done, I asked the class if they could live with that, and most said they could. Now, by the time we got done, it sounded a whole lot better. But all those extras were just that, extras. 

Have you ever had a cupcake that had fantastic icing but the cake itself was rather dry and flavorless? That is missing the basics. I once heard a story of a FOH guy who was mixing his band at a festival. They had a few minutes to sound check between sets and he spent the entire 20 minute sound check working on the toms. The show producer told them it was time to go and he had to set up everything else during the set. That went well. 

My sound check is kind of like that. I have about 20 minutes to dial the whole band in and then we start rehearsal. Now granted, I get to start from a decent place each week, not a completely new board. And I do have a rehearsal to work up the mix. But still, I don’t have a lot of time to get fancy. So I make sure I crush the basics. 

Doing the basics well means moving quickly and continuously. But that’s easy when I’m not having to adjust 14 plug-ins on my rack toms. Over time, I’m refining my show file so that I can start adding in some of the fancy extras that make it sound just a little bit better. 

Getting the basics right means you’ll get the mix to 80-85% very quickly. And to be honest, that’s good enough for most folks. Sure, we can hear the difference between 80 and 100%. But most people can’t. Get to 80% and nail it. Then tweak your way up to 90-95%. But don’t shoot for that last 10-15% before locking down the first 80.

DPA Microphones

Mike’s Mixing Axioms: #1–Keep It Simple


Image courtesy of  One Way Stock

Image courtesy of One Way Stock

As I write this, it’s a few weeks after my SALT mixing class. And I mixed at church this weekend. That means, I’m thinking about mixing. Based on the feedback from the class and the thoughts rambling around in my head, I thought I would write up a series that I’m calling my Mixing Axioms. The dictionary on my Mac defines Axiom as “a statement or proposition that is regarded as being established or accepted.” I like that. After almost 30 years of mixing, these are things that—for me anyway—are established and accepted. This is what I do. Check back here throughout the month and you will know what I know.

Axiom 1: Keep It Simple

If you’ve ready any of my posts on parallel compression, frequency splitting reverbs or automating Reaper, you might thing my mixes are anything but simple. But the reality is, aside from a few little tricks, I try to keep the mix as simple as possible. For the most part, the music that I find myself mixing does not require tons of special effects. I don’t do hip-hop or techno, so I’m not creating effects for effect’s sake. 

Whenever I mix at a new venue, one of the first things I do is start flattening out EQ’s and removing plug-ins from the signal path. As much as possible, I like to minimize the number of things I’m doing to the signal. Someday, I’ll break out a mixer and do a video of what happens to phase as we pile on all kinds of EQ and plug-ins on a channel. As phase is time, the more phase distortion we add, the more time distortion we add. As all the inputs start to get out of time with each other, the sound field becomes blurry. I know blurry is a visual term, but it’s the best way to describe it. All of those slight time mis-alignments add up to a mushy sound field. 

Now it’s true that some consoles do a better job than others of keeping everything in time. But they can only do so much. And honestly, almost every time I go in and bypass all the plug-ins, people tell me it sounds better. The less damage I do to the signal during the mixing process, the better it sounds when it comes out of the speakers. 

This goes against the popular mixing process of putting a ton of plug-ins on everything. I’m almost always asked to put a Waves Soundgrid server on every mixing console I sell. This is not a dig on Waves; they make fine stuff. But beware putting plug-ins on just because you can. Personally, I don’t use them unless I have to, and then, I don’t use more than I need to.

I also don’t make huge changes to the channels during the song. After I demonstrated a mix during my class—a mix done with nothing except high pass filters and EQ on only the kick and lead vocal—I asked what people sitting near me noticed. One guy said, “You didn’t move the faders more than a few millimeters.” He was right. For the most part, I let the band mix themselves and only did some minor highlights. If the gain structure is set up correctly, the base mix is dialed in and you’ve done a good job with mic selection, you shouldn’t need to do too much. 

Now, this is true with most good bands. I have mixed some where I’m working really hard to keep the band from completely falling apart. And I know that’s where some of you live. Later on, we’ll talk about some things you can do that will help you with that. But assuming the band is reasonably good, we should be able to—for the most part—dial them up and let it go. 

This week, consider what you’re doing in your mix. What can you simplify? What can you take out? Trim it back until you have only what is absolutely necessary. Then see what happens. 

Next time we’ll be back with another Mixing Axiom

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Timing Reverb To The Music


My tempo calculator of choice,  Audiofile Calc.

My tempo calculator of choice, Audiofile Calc.

I wrote a post about this concept a while back, but as there seems to be some renewed interest, so here we are. Also, I got to experience not doing this over the weekend and it made such a difference, I thought I would write a new post. Here’s the concept: I was listening to a Pensado’s Place podcast some years back and Dave was talking about setting his vocal delay to 1/16th or 1/32nd note relative to the tempo of the music. He said that usually works out to somewhere around 100-102 msec. I tried it, and sure enough, it sounded good. Then it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with reverb times. 

So I whipped out my handy-dandy BPM to millisecond calculator (I use Audiofile Calc for iOS), and tried it one weekend. The results were good. So I kept doing it. Here we are about four years later. 

The basic idea behind this is simple. All sounds decay naturally over time. Modern worship music is fairly percussive, meaning there is an initial impulse, a decay and then in some metered time later, another impulse. Time—for music—is broken up into measures and notes. Those notes are played over a constant time signature that keeps everything on beat. 

Have you ever heard a band where one musician can’t quite keep the beat? They’re either a little ahead or a little behind, or maybe they wander back and forth. When they’re out of time, it becomes apparently quite quickly. 

Assuming the entire band is playing in time, all the music has a common impulse and decay. It’s all in time. Now, if you take your vocal reverb and set it randomly to 2.2 seconds because that’s what the guy who trained you said you should always use, your vocal reverb tail may or may not decay in time with the rest of the music. Chances are, it’s not in time. And when it’s not in time, it stands out like the musician out of time. 

Now, what if you set your vocal reverb to decay in a whole note’s worth of time? Give it a try. What you’ll hear is not the reverb. The vocal will just sound more rich and lush. In contrast, if you pick a random, non-musical decay time, you’ll hear reverb. Some people want you to hear their carefully crafted reverbs—they spent all of sound check dialing it in, after all! But personally, I’ve found it sounds a whole lot better to not hear the reverb—until you turn it off.

What’s amazing about this technique is that you can use incredibly long reverb times without affecting the clarity of the mix. I’ve done 4, 5, even 8 second reverb times and all you hear is a rich, lush vocal. Yes, if you pay really close attention you’ll hear the reverb tail. But for the most part, because it’s decaying in time with the music, it decays with everything else. 

So if you’re playing along at home, call up your BPM to time calculator and set the tempo to your song in question. Now, look at the time for a whole note. Set your reverb time to that time, or as close as you can get if you’re using a Yamaha console. Take a listen. If you’d like to go longer, try a dotted whole note (that’s 1.5 whole notes). Or, if the song calls for it, a double-whole. If you got the tempo right, the reverb will just dissolve in time with the music and sound fantastic. Now, for fun, pick some random time between a whole and dotted-whole. Hear the difference? Suddenly, you hear the effect. Put it back and it just sounds good. 

If you don’t want to spin a bunch of virtual knobs on a phone calculator, you can download this PDF chart that I made up. It covers a pretty wide range of time signatures common to worship music and gives you the corresponding time from a thirty-second note all the way up to a double-whole. I find this faster and keep a copy in my weekend mixing bag. Give it a shot and see if you like the results.

Elite Core

Streaming 101


Image Courtesy of  Sebastiaan ter Burg

Image Courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg

We talk to a lot of churches that have a desire to stream their services and events online. We recently taught a class on this topic at the North West Ministry Conference, and we thought we would share it with you here.  

So, you want to stream your services over the inter-webs?

Before you just jump in, here are some things you should think about.

Determine the Why

It is funny how many people we talk to that have no idea “why” their church wants to stream. Before you move forward, it is good to ask these questions with your team and leaders:

Does It Need To Be Live?

Would posting on YouTube or Vimeo Sunday afternoon or Monday work just as well? Often, a few hours or even a day delay won’t be a big factor for your audience.

Is it because it’s cool or does it advance the vision of your church?

Many churches fall into the trap of thinking they need to stream live because all the big “cool” churches are doing it. Most of those churches see live streaming as integral to their mission. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for every church. 

Here are (in our opinion) valid reasons to stream live:

  • Keeping services accessible for shut-ins and sick
  • Reaching your community
  • Reaching a larger audience outside your immediate community

Still going to stream live?

Do it well. Today’s connected generation has high standards and a short attention span. A poor live stream will do a lot more damage for your church’s creditability than no stream at all. Plus, you’re competing with all the big players will full staffs and big budgets.  

High quality video is essential. If you’re going for more than archival quality, you’re going to have to spend some money. Quality cameras can range from $5,000-50,000 each. If the camera requires an additional lens, they range from $3,000-50,000 each. If you have more than one camera, you will need a way to switch between them. Switchers range from $2,000-25,000.  Keep in mind you will also need capture cards, encoders, IT infrastructure and fast internet. The cost for those can quickly creep into the thousands of dollars. Live streaming is not a low-budget endeavor.

Camera Shots

Good execution is essential and that starts with camera shots. For speaking only, you can get away with one camera shot, but we recommend at minimum two. Here are some camera shots that work well and can also serve to feed your iMag and ancillary room video feed:

  • 1st front-center shot (above the knee or at waist)
  • 2nd Camera additional front-center (head to toe)
  • 3rd Camera Slash Shot (usually house left/ right)   
  • 4th-5th- Cameras POV on Stage    

Also:

  • Additional Slash or roaming
  • Audience shot
  • Jib shot
  • Dedicated Far-Wide Shot

Proper Lighting

You have to light with video in mind. Proper lighting is more important for video than it is in the room itself. Cameras don’t have the dynamic range our eyes do, so lighting needs to be well-controlled. The great thing about the new high definition cameras is that lighting doesn’t have to be crazy-bright anymore. That being said, color balance is important. The major things are:

  • Color balance front light to 4,000K-5,550K
  • Even front light
  • Good back light
  • Color (which helps with depth)

Good Audio

No matter how great the video looks, if it sounds bad, you will drive your audience away. If you are only streaming the speaking portion you can get away with the board mix, but if you are streaming the entire service with music you will want to explore some of these options:

  • Dedicated matrix mix from main console
  • Broadcast mix of stems from main console
  • Broadcast mix of each channel (split)

* A great execution of this can be found here 

Staffing Needs

Adding this kind of video may require a larger crew. Staff/ Volunteer positions may/will include:

  • Camera Operators (1-6 or more)
  • Video Director
  • Shader (depending on the complexity of your system)
  • Technical Director

IT Infrastructure

This is a BIG ONE. If you are streaming your services, you must have a good IT infrastructure and bandwidth and up-speed is crucial. 

  • For SD, minimum 1 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For HD, minimum 5 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For Multiple Bitrates 8-20 Mbps (don’t recommend)
  • QOS (Quality of Service)—prioritizing streaming traffic

Streaming Company Qualifications:

Here are some, but not all, of the services a streaming provider will offer which you should consider:

  • Weekend customer service hotline
  • Video Player embedded on your site
  • Ad free (you will have to pay for this)
  • Transcode to multiple bitrates (Receiver’s bandwidth is a potential limiting factor)
  • Analytics
  • Player DVR function (record while streaming); archive and playlist ability
  • Geo Blocking (regional availability)
  • Password protection ability for conferences etc.
  • Simulated live
  • Mobile device compatible

Read the Fine Print

Some plans will charge a monthly fee and then add bandwidth usage fees. Unlimited bandwidth may seem good, but it might ultimately be more expensive, so read the fine print and plan accordingly. One more thing; read the fine print.

 Some Streaming Providers you should look at:

     Stream Monkey

     DaCast

     Church Streaming TV

     Stream Spot

     LiveStream (use the paid service)

     UStream (use the paid service)

     YouTube (maybe)

You can also “Roll your own” with CDNs like Akamai but this is not for the meek and with all the providers out there, unless you are an uber-nerd with lots of time on your hands, we don’t recommend it.

Here are some other resources for your perusal:

10 Church Live Streaming Providers to Consider

7 Best Live Streaming Services for your Church

Top live streaming services for Houses of Worship

6 Church Live Streaming Best Practices

Elite Core

High Pass Your Reverb


A handful of high pass settings for a weekend.

A handful of high pass settings for a weekend.

This will likely be a quick one. One of the most common problems I hear in mixes, especially with less experienced engineers, is that when the reverb gets turned up, the vocals get muddy. The solution is simple; high pass the reverb. Got it? Ok, we’re done.

Channel Strip High Pass

Well, not quite. I’m going to give you a few ways to high pass your reverb. Perhaps the easiest way is to simply turn up the high pass filter on the reverb return channel. Most of the time, we’re bringing the reverb in on a regular channel, and it has full processing. So go ahead and engage that HPF and dial it up. You also might find that taking a little out of the low-mids also helps. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Effects Level High Pass

Some reverb effects have a high pass filter (and even a low pass) built in. You can also use the function there. Why use it at the effect level instead of the channel strip? Well, the main reason I prefer to do it there is snapshot control. It’s not that I can’t snapshot the EQ of my return channel—that’s easy enough—it’s that I’m already recalling the effect setting with each snapshot. For me, it’s easier to recall the effects, and then recall only fader movements on my individual channels. It’s easier and quicker for me to scan down the recall settings and make sure I’m not recalling any EQ or anything on any of the channels than it is to make sure I’m grabbing EQ on the effects return channels. Again, it’s not that we can’t do it, it’s just easier to do the effects. 

You may also have some different controls in the effect unit. High dampening is another one that is very useful for taming some of the high end sizzle that can make reverb stand out instead of blend in.

How High?

The question should be asked, how high to set the HPF? Well, probably higher than you think. I typically start with my high pass somewhere around 250-300 and go from there. It’s not uncommon for me to go to 400, especially when I’m layering effects. This is all by ear, of course, there is no set formula. However, what you’ll find is that the higher you run the HPF up, the more reverb you can use without it clouding the vocals. It seems counter-intuitive, but you can actually get more reverb by taking it away. At least the low end. 

Give it a try this week. I bet your mixes will sound better.

DPA Microphones

This post is brought to you by Nemosyn. The guitar player practices, the keyboard player practices, the vocalists practice, how does a sound guy practice? Nemosyn record. Practice. Perfect your mix. Visit their website at Nemosyn.com.

Drum and Instrument Mic’ing Part 2


Image courtesy of  Art Bromage

Image courtesy of Art Bromage

Last time around, we started talking about using mic’s in a live setting. We talked about some options for the drum kit and how to change some variables to get the right sound. Today, we’ll consider some of the other instruments on stage and how we can make them sound great. 

Don’t Get Stuck in a Rut

Sometimes, we get so used to using the same mics on something we never consider what would happen if we change them out. Or we just use whatever the last guy was using on a given instrument, without questioning if that’s the best approach or not. A great example of this is the Hammond Organ. When I arrived at my last church, we had a B3 connected to a Leslie 112 cabinet (the classic combination). We had been using two very expensive, variable pattern condenser mics on the top speaker (AKG C414), and another mic usually used for toms on the bottom rotor (Audix D4). It was what we had and it worked OK. But it was just OK.

Then I got talking with a B3 playing legend (alright, name drop, it was Bob Heil…) and he suggested changing it up a bit. So I packed up almost $2,000 worth of condenser mics and replaced them with about $500 worth of dynamic mics—Heil PR-30s—and swapped the bottom mic out with one normally used on a kick, a Heil PR-48. He suggested positioning the top mics 90° to each other and flipping one of them out of polarity. 

The first weekend we tried that, without telling our B3 player what I had done (and it’s his B3, so he knows what it should sound like), he started playing and almost immediately pulled out his ears and asked, “What did you do to the B3; it sounds so much better!” He suggested we move the lower mic back a few inches to smooth it out—which we did—and it sounded fantastic.

I’ve had similar experiences with electric guitar cabinets. Simply trying a different mic, or moving either closer or further from the center of the speaker will dramatically change the sound. Don’t be afraid to put two different mics on a guitar cabinet and mix the two (or use one or the other depending on the song). Our job as sound techs is to find the combination that sounds the best. That often takes experimentation and the willingness to try something new. 

What I’ve found is that getting the right mic—properly matched to the source—in the right position will dramatically improve your sound. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you are using less EQ and fewer plug-ins to get the sound you want. 

Finding the Right Mic

Finding the right mic is often a matter of trial and error. However, it’s helpful to ask what other engineers are using, and find out how they are using them. Talk with your dealer and see what options are out there for a given instrument. And if you buy a mic that doesn’t end up working for purpose you intended, try it on something else. A friend of mine is using a mic marketed as a tom mic on his guitar cabinets with great results. 

Ultimately, we have to remember we are in the sound reinforcement business. We take what’s on the stage and make it louder. Getting great sound starts with a great sounding source. Work with your band to get that part right first. Then choose the right mic, get it in the right spot and listen to your mix improve.

Elite Core

Drum and Instrument Mic’ing, Part 1


Photo courtesy of  goatling

Photo courtesy of goatling

A while back, I found myself in a somewhat unusual situation; I just couldn’t get the toms sounding good. I say it’s unusual because most weeks they dialed right up and sounded really good. We had a house kit that we used every week and while the drummers changed, for the most part, the tone remained the same. But not that weekend. They didn’t have the snap they usually do, and were not sitting right in the mix. I tried EQ, I tried compression and gating. I even tried changing the plug-ins. But nothing really worked. And since we start from a baseline that should sound good, I knew something was amiss. 

Then it hit me—I hadn’t set the drum mics up, a less experienced volunteer had. I ran down to stage and sure enough, they were all out of position. Not by a lot, but by enough. I quickly repositioned them (they probably moved a total of 1 1/2” inches) and returned to FOH. Finally, I had my toms back. I reset my EQ, and compression to my usual starting points and went on with the rehearsal.

I share that story at the beginning of this series to demonstrate that quite often very small changes in mic position can yield large changes in sound. Sometimes, we will rely too heavily on “fixing it in the mix,” when what we really should do is head down to the stage and move or change the mic. Sometimes, the problem is having the wrong mic on the instrument. I’ll illustrate that point in a moment. But first let’s consider the instrument that probably has the most mics on it; the drum kit.

Drum Kit Mic’ing

How you mic your drums will depend on the room, the size of the kit, your mic inventory and the style of music you’re dealing with (not necessarily in that order). Generally speaking, most of us will have at least a mic in the kick, on the snare and high hat. Which mic you use for each will depend on taste and/or budget and inventory. There are plenty of mics to choose from for the kick (the Shure Beta 52, Audix D6, AKG D112, E/V RE320 and Heil PR-48 are popular choices), and each has a different sound. 

Placement is just as critical as mic choice. First, listen to the kick drum by itself. Get right up on it, and listen to what it sounds like. If the front head has a hole in it, I typically start with the mic sticking in the hole about 1/2, and give it a listen in the PA. If I like what I hear, I’ll leave it. If not, I may move it inside to get more of the snap of the beater on the front head, or outside to get more boom. There aren’t necessarily wrong positions; it all depends on your set up. By the way, I start this exercise with the EQ flat and leave my compressors bypassed. I want to hear what the drum really sounds like. After it sounds good with no FX, then you can work with those tools. 

For snare and tom mics, your life will be much easier if you are using rim-clip mic mounts. These give you the ability to put the mics right close to the drums without having stands all over the place. Positioning again starts with listening. If the drums don’t sound good up close, tune them (or have someone tune them). 

There are a lot of ways to get your positioning dialed in, but here’s one way to get them in the ballpark. Turn one hand over and place it near the rim of the drum. Use your other hand to flick the drum head (or use a stick). As you hit the drum head, move your other hand around and you’ll feel the hair on the back of your hand vibrate. The place where the “tickling” sensation is the strongest is a good starting point for the mic. 

Sometimes you’ll want them low and near the heads, other times, it will sound better with them off the heads just a bit. Always listen first, then adjust. Once you get it sounding good with no EQ, compression or gating, you have a good starting point for great sound. This takes a while if you’re doing it yourself, so it’s good to have someone else help.

There are plenty of ways to position a high hat mic, but lately I’ve found myself swinging a boom mic stand over the center of the cymbal and pointing the mic toward the outside rim, away from the snare. This takes advantage of the natural null in the cardioid pattern of the mic to reduce the snare spill into the high hat mic. I prefer the sound of this position, but many like to come in from the outside and get more of the open/close action of the hat. Use what works well for you. Or try something different. 

Many times, you don’t really need overhead mics. If you have a smaller (or really live) room, you may have too much cymbals already. But if not, there are two basic approaches here. One is to take one or two condenser mics and position them a few feet above the kit, on the left and right sides. These act as “whole kit” mics and will pick up all the drums as well as the cymbals. This technique can add some overall sparkle to the whole kit, though you may have to delay your close mics to keep phasing issues to a minimum. 

Another approach is to use dynamic mics with a tighter pattern—such as a Heil PR30, my personal favorite—and use them more as cymbal mics. I’ve been doing this lately and really like the results. By minimizing interaction between the drums (mainly the snare) and the cymbal mics, phasing is reduced and I find the whole kit sounds tighter. 

Yet another option is under-mic’ing the cymbals. I’m seeing this more on awards shows and concerts as it gets some of the hardware out of the way. I have not personally done this much as I’ve not had the right mounts, but some friends have tried it with good results. This definitely offers more of a cymbal mic sound, which might be just what you’re looking for.

But this is not a right/wrong thing; take the approach that works best for you in your room.

So that’s the drum kit; but there are plenty more mic’s on stage that we need to account for. But we’ll save those for next time!

DPA Microphones

Why Church Sound Is So Bad


Photo courtesy of  osseous . I can't say whether this show sounded good or not, however.

Photo courtesy of osseous. I can’t say whether this show sounded good or not, however.

Last month, I came across a post on Bobby Owsinksi’s Big Picture Music Production Blog that really resonated with me. It was called Why Do Concerts Sound So Bad?. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and it was good to hear someone else put into words what I’ve thought. I’ve heard some pretty dreadful concerts, not to mention conferences and trade shows. But I also hear some pretty poor sounding church services and I think many of the reasons concerts sound so bad carry over into church. I’m not going to re-hash his post—he did a fine job with it—instead, I’m going to append five reasons why I think church sound can be so bad at times.

No Training

This is certainly one of the biggest reasons church sound is so bad. Sadly, it’s also one of the most easily remedied. I say sadly because it saddens me that more churches don’t bother to do it. I have received email after email from pastors and worship guys lamenting how bad their sound is, but when I suggest bringing a pro out to train them, you’d think I was asking for a gold plated Rolls Royce. 

Most pastors spend a few years in school leaning how to preach and communicate, and then it takes them 10 years of actual practice to really get good. Yet they expect a volunteer who mixes once a month, who has no training (other than figuring out that moving faders up makes it louder) to mix a flawless service. Mixing is hard. It takes time and effort to learn to do it well. And it takes some good instruction. 

Poor PA

Again, this is a common one. Traveling around to see churches all over the country, I’m struck at how many terrible PA’s I find. From line arrays hung up against side walls to the old “flying junkyard” to random collections of speakers hanging everywhere, I’ve seen a lot of bad ideas. Sadly, not all of it is old. I saw a post on social media where someone was excited about their newly hung speakers. Two subs facing each other in the center of the seating area, and full range boxes outside the subs pointing down and across each other. Side note, if that’s not immediately apparent why that’s all a terrible idea, please don’t ever hang speakers in your church.

The common denominator in these situations is the sound is going to be bad. A highly trained professional with a great band and a solid console might be able to make is sound tolerable. But it’s never going to be great. If you want great sound, you need at least a decent PA. And that will require hiring someone who knows how to design and install a decent or better PA. 

Sound Guys Who Have Been Trained Wrong

Bobby O points out that we have a whole generation of mixers who somehow got the idea that the kick and snare is the most important thing in the mix. Now, they are important, but they are not the most important. In live concerts he points out, the vocal is king. I would argue that the same is true in a worship service. Worship leaders are leading the congregation. However, the congregation cannot be led if they can’t hear the vocal. Believe it or not, the kick drum helps very little when it comes to learning a new worship song. Same for the bass and low toms. If I can’t hear the vocal, I can’t follow the melody and I can’t learn the song. It’s really that simple. 

Young guys hate it when the old farts tell them they’re doing it wrong, but guys, I’m telling you, if I show up at your church and all I hear is kick, bass and snare, you’re doing it wrong. 

Too Loud

Again, I’m going to sound like an old guy here; but I’m really not. I like volume and I led the charge at my church for years to get the maximum volume raised up. Under the right circumstances, volume can help create energy and engagement. Those are good things. But like the increasing reliance on the kick and subs, too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. I recently received an email from a reader asking for help because their new, young sound guy likes to run rehearsals at 105-115 dBA. 

Precious few PA’s, rooms and bands sound good at that level. I guarantee theirs doesn’t. In addition to the hearing damage the engineer is inflicting on themselves and the rest of the crew, it’s screwing up their perception for mixing the services (look up Temporary Threshold Shift). 

Volume is relative. Larger rooms with better PA’s can stand more volume than small ones. But not all songs or worship sets require maximum volume. And if you crank it up, you better know what you’re doing to keep it from becoming so harsh it hurts. Or better yet, back it down a few dB. Chances are, everyone will thank you. 

The Band is No Good

So far, we’ve talked about technical systems and technique. But there is one other element that leads to bad sound in churches—bad bands. I’ve heard my share of them, too. I recall being at one church helping train their team, and I played back some tracks from my band at Coast Hills. It didn’t take much to get it sounding great, even on their mediocre PA. Then their band took the stage. The first question I got was, “What did you do to the bass? It sounds nothing like it did a minute ago.” I replied, “That’s not my bass player Norm up there on stage…”

In fact, this bass player was terrible and yet had a pedal board bigger than some electric players I’ve seen. I changed nothing on the channel strip and the bass went from very solid (even on their less-than-stellar PA) to pretty much mush. The lesson is simple; sometimes there’s not much you can do. I worked at that bass for a while, and it never got better not good. It all starts at the source.

There you go. This is not an exhaustive list; I’m sure we could come up with some more reasons church sound—or concert sound— is bad. But this is what came to my mind. What else have you seen, and how can we fix it?

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

The Pros and Cons of Aux Fed Subs, Pt. 4


rms218_xlg.jpg

Today we’ll wrap up my three part series on aux fed subs. Yes, I know this is part four; consider this my “one more thing.” As you have been thinking through the pros and cons of feeding the subs on an aux, you may be wondering how else we could do this. Is there a way to gain the benefits of an aux fed sub without the drawbacks? I’m glad you asked, because yes Virginia, there is. Or are. We have a few ways to do it. Which one you choose will depend on your console’s capabilities. 

Group Fed Subs

If I were the only person mixing on a system, this is how I would probably set it up. To use this method, you would use two groups, one for the main speakers and one for the subs. Assign all your channels to the mains group and only the channels you want to appear in the subs to the subs group also. The nice thing about this is that the gain structure is maintained. On most consoles, sending a channel to a group is a unity gain send; that is, there is no change to the gain when you assign it to the group. This keeps the crossover and thus the sub timing in tact. But you still get to choose what goes to the subs. 

On the output side of the console, you would just route the groups to outputs and run those to the DSP. Not all consoles will let you send a group directly out, however. This can be a challenge with analog consoles as well. But it doesn’t mean we’re done yet. You can combine this method with the next one to get the two groups out of the console.

Matrix Fed Subs

If you can’t route a group directly out, you can probably route a group to a matrix. In this case, you’d need two matrix mixes, a sub and mains. Doing this adds another level of gain staging, so you do have to be careful how you set everything up. It’s important that the levels are the same at the group level and the matrix level. 

On many digital consoles, you can route individual channels to the matrix. Some, Yamaha’s M-7, CL and QL for example, let you route any or all of the channels to a matrix. The matrix can either act like an aux with variable level for each send or like a group with fixed level. You want to use the fixed level mode for this to work properly. Remember, we don’t want to have level control between the sub feed and the mains feed; we simply want routing control. 

Bonus Round

What I do on Digico consoles (and perhaps others can do this as well) is build a subs group in addition to my master group. I then gang the faders together so they track at the same level. I often won’t even bother assigning the sub fader to the surface because it’s simply going to track the master. Then it’s a simple matter of assigning the channels I want to go to the subs to the subs group and I have the best of both worlds. 

Like I said, how exactly you do it may depend on the capabilities of your console. It may take some experimentation to find the easiest way to do it that doesn’t put an unnecessary burden on the volunteers, but gives them the control. Of course, standardizing your inputs, building a baseline show file and working from that file every weekend goes a long way to making sure everything works as expected. But that’s another post. Or three.

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

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