Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Tag: broadcast_mix

The Broadcast Mix, Pt. 4


This is one of the things I'm still tweaking. This little dynamic EQ keeps the vocals from getting harsh as they get louder.

This is one of the things I’m still tweaking. This little dynamic EQ keeps the vocals from getting harsh as they get louder.

Today we’ll wrap up our series on the broadcast mix. At least for now. We’ve talked about the approaches to creating a broadcast mix, the hybrid group-based approach I’m using and some of the secret sauce to take it to the next level. Today, we’ll look at what’s next.

Continuous Improvement

Toyota is famously known for their continual improvement philosophy. I’m all over that. I never stop thinking of ways to make what we do better. I listen to the mix every week, make notes and tweak. So even though we’re at a place that I’m pretty happy with, it’s not done. 

If you email me in a few months and ask me what I’m doing, some of this will probably change. Plus I’m putting in a new PA and moving the tech booth, so that will by necessity shift parts of my process. As our worship style evolves, and we start adding new elements to the service, my broadcast mix will have to adapt. 

But there are a few things I know I want to do as soon as we have the proper logistics in place.

Add Two House Mics

This is another Andrew Stone tip. He has a pair of AKG C414s at the front corners of the tech booth to capture the “room sound.” These are in addition to the audience mic’s that are aimed to capture the audience. The goal of the house mic’s is to help recreate that feeling of “liveness,” of being in the room. I hear some broadcast mixes that are very sterile and studio-like. I suppose that’s one way to go, but I’d rather have a more live vibe. 

Since these mic’s will most likely live in the booth (or the front corners of it, anyway), we’ll need to time everything back to them. That will start another whole process of time alignment. Continuous improvement…it’s never done.

Refine and Tweak Comps and EQ

I feel like we’re close on our processing, but we’re not there yet. The hold up for me right now is one of real estate. My video position is very crowded, and we don’t have decent audio monitors there. So making EQ and compression decisions is hard. On one hand, listening through the cheap computer speakers we have is good, as that is what many people will be using at home. But it’s hard to make proper decisions based on limited information. 

When the rest of tech moves to the floor this spring, I’ll be spreading video out and deploying a set of Equator Audio D5 monitors. In the meantime, I listen to the mix every week in my office (on decent monitors) and at home, then translate my impressions into minor tweaks. 

For me, this is a process that will never likely be completely “done.” Music styles change, tastes change, people come and go, and we have to adapt. I believe I can get the mix to a point where we don’t touch it much week to week, but I will revisit it every few months to see if we’re drifting. 

I should point out that one reason we’re able to do what we do is because of our baseline show file system. We start with the same master show file each week, and that master is versioned like software. We’re at 10.2 right now, and the minor tweaks I’ve talked about are incorporated into that starting point. This system ensures all our engineers are starting from the same point each week. And if we have one week that is significantly different, requiring some modification of the broadcast mix, we go back to our normal setup next week. 

Well, that’s it on the broadcast mix. For now… Any questions?

Gear Techs

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The Broadcast Mix, Pt. 3


I do part of my leveling here in the matrix; the input gain on the band and vocal groups is also about -14 dB below the others.

Today we continue on in our series on creating a great broadcast mix. We’ve already looked at a few ways to get there, and considered my current group-based mixing approach. Today, we’ll get into the little things that move the needle from good to great. 

Audience Mic’s

As mentioned in earlier posts, one thing that is missing from a lot of broadest mixes is the sense of ambience of the room. Being able to hear the congregation singing goes a long way toward helping a viewer feel like they are part of the experience.

We’ve had a pair of DPA 4098HB’s hanging in our room for a few years, and we’ve used them as audience mic’s for the IEMs. I now mix them in with the rest of the groups to give that room sound. One of the tricky things about audience mic’s is that you can get too much room sound, especially if your room is live (and most of your speakers are pointed at walls…sigh…). When I have the mic’s set right for a congregational sing moment, they feel too loud and washy for a big song. So, I fixed it.

I put a side-chained compressor on the audience mic’s, and use the LR mix to key it. So when the band is rocking, the comp drops the level of the mic’s by 3-4 dB. When the band settles down and the congregation sings out, the comp releases and you can hear them. I’m still working on the settings for this, but we’re getting close. I may also experiment with the ducker we have on board as well. The ducker gives me a few more options and may sound better. Time will tell.

Get Things In Time

This is a trick I learned from Andrew Stone at Church on the Move. He has timed all his mix groups (though he takes a different approach than I do) back to the audience mic’s. The sound cleaned up considerably when I did that. I popped some balloons on stage in front of a mic while recording the groups and audience mic’s. A little math showed me how much I needed to delay the groups, and then I tweaked it from there by ear. 

It’s an important point that the “correct” delay might not sound “right.” When I lined things up so that it was all “correct” the audience mic’s sounded unnatural. So I adjusted the delay until it sounded right. Now it’s a bit like natural reverb, and it sounds pretty good. Again, we’re still working on this, and I will likely be making some significant changes when the new PA goes in after Easter.

Mild Compression is Better Than Heavy Compression

One of the things I like about this approach is that I’m able to do small bits of compression along the way. This brings the dynamics down a little bit at a time. I picked this up from Dave Stagl a few years ago. He found, and I agree, that taking 1-2 dB off three times sounds a lot more natural than taking 3-6 dB off all at once.

So I have a comp on my speaking mic’s group that shaves off just a few dB. The speaker mic’s are already compressed in the main mix, so there is no need to get crazy. This just cleans it up for smaller speakers a little bit more. 

I also use multi-band compression on the final matrix mix output. I tend to hit the low end a little harder so the bass doesn’t overwhelm smaller speakers, and I shave a bit off the high end so it doesn’t get harsh. Your mileage may vary, but that’s our current approach. 

Once we get through these steps, I send the mix out to a KT 9648 processor for routing. I was doing some limiting in the DSP, but I’ve turned it all off now that I have my mix sounding good. When we upgrade the tech booth this spring, the DSP will go away and I’ll be doing some different routing. Stay tuned for how that changes.

Again, I find the need to remind you that this is descriptive of what I’m doing, not prescriptive. The settings I use, the process I’ve developed and the way we route signal is all very specific to our situation. I think there are a lot of transferrable principles, but don’t get locked in trying to exactly duplicate what I  (or anyone else) does. Especially since I’ll probably change it in a few months. 

Speaking of which, next time we’ll wrap this series up with some thoughts on what is next for the broadcast mix. It’s not done yet, and I have some ideas of where I want to go.

Roland

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The Broadcast Mix, Pt. 2


These groups form the basis of my broadcast mix.

These groups form the basis of my broadcast mix.

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.

Monitor-ability

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.

Gear Techs

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The Broadcast Mix, Pt. 1


broadcast-mix-1.jpg

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.

Roland

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