Archives For Live Sound + Mixing

Hey community!

I’m in Cincinnati with my good friend and very talented worship leader / songwriter, Zak Stegman.

Zak is leading worship this week for the Summer of Service conference at the Vineyard church in Cincinnati (where I used to work).

He is running his loops this week in Surround Sound, which I thought was pretty cool. Basically, he exported two different stereo tracks. Each track
has different instruments panned. Track 1 is set to play through the center array speakers, and Track 2 is playing through a set of speakers set up in the rear of the auditorium.

Check out this video to spark some creativity in your looping and multitracking!

Anyone else out there doing this?

-Matt McCoy (@mattmccoy)

Sound check is one of the most critical steps in delivering an excellent weekend service. It ensures that all the complicated patching, routing, conversion, and reproduction are happening the way you want them to happen. When sound checks go bad (coming soon to your local Fox station!), it can put off the mood of both the worship band, the worship leader, and the production team. It is an easy way for the evil one to interrupt and distract you from the reason you are at church. By taking the time to prepare for your entire service, you reduce the chance for failure, distraction, and frustration.

To The Audio Team

Sound check is NOT the time to find out if your lines work, or if that sketchy DI is going to hold up another week. Before the worship team even sets foot on the property, you should have already made use of a tone generator (like this). If you can’t find $21 in your budget for one, ask your team to sacrifice their Starbucks for a weekend and buy one. The following items, at a minimum should be checked every single time:

  • For guitars, plug an instrument cable into that direct box and use the tone generator into the instrument cable. Checking this tests your 1/4, your DI, your XLR, etc.
  • For keyboards, turn it on and play it! It doesn’t need to be pretty to know if it works. If you don’t have the keyboard there for whatever reason, test with the instrument cable, just like the guitars.
  • For instrument mics: snapping in front of them works great. Never tap or blow on them.
  • For vocal mics: Stand in the position that the vocalist will stand and hold it properly. You are more likely to identify sources of feedback or other problems if you mimic the actual use as closely as possible.
  • For headworn mics: PUT THEM ON AND TEST THEM. These mics tend to have cables that fail frequently and see a lot of rough handling.  By putting it on, you’ll not only check that the mic is passing signal but that the ear piece or head-basket hasn’t been damaged. It also checks that the wireless receivers are working properly.
  • Check any videos/tracks/CD’s that you’ll be using and ensure they are working properly.

While that might seem like a lot, it should only take ~20 minutes for a typical setup once you get used to it. The important part is that you check EVERYTHING, EVERY TIME. While all of that is happening, you also need to be ensuring that the test tone, or test voice, is being heard in wedges and the in-ear system. Depending on your setup, this can be a complicated system and needs to be part of your pre-band routine.

As the worship team and vocalists enter, remember a few key things:

  • They may not know your setup. Help them locate their position on stage, their microphones, in-ears, etc. If you have new members, make sure they understand how to ask for changes and how to work your in-ear system if you have one. The audio team serves the worship team in this capacity and being proactive will help things go well.
  • Have a few common things handy. People make mistakes; they forget patch cables, in-ears, batteries, etc. Having these nearby the stage ensures that a simple mistake doesn’t derail your service while someone has to go dig a battery out of a case somewhere.
  • Communicate to everyone the best way to ask for changes. Do you have a stage manager that everyone should talk to? Should they shout to the booth? Have they been through the school of audio hand-signals? Establishing a prescribed channel for communication helps them feel cared for and allows them to not worry about potential problems.
Once the time for sound-check starts:
  • Politely remind the worship team to not play during sound-check so you can tweak and tune each instrument as quickly and effectively as possible.
  • Establish a pattern and stick to it. I personally prefer to do drums -> bass -> electrics -> keys -> acoustics -> vocals. However you do it doesn’t matter, but sticking to a pattern helps the worship team know what to expect and how much time is remaining.
  • For each instrument, check your gain, EQ, compression, and effects. Spend enough time to get the sound 90% of the way there. Save the last 10% for adjustments within the mix. You’ll probably change just about everything you set here anyway, so taking an inordinate amount of time here serves no one well. When you finish an instrument/player, check in with the musician and make sure they can hear themselves adequately and are satisfied with the sound.
  • Once each player is checked, ask the team to play through a single song so they (or you) can rough in wedge/in-ear mixes so they can begin rehearsal. After that first song, check in and ask if anyone needs changes. If not, you’ll all done – nice job. Now the band is off and running for rehearsal.

Sound-check shouldn’t be hard once everyone figures out why they do it and how much better a rehearsal can go once it is done. If you and your team do it different, I’d love to hear what you do and why! Everyone has a different setup, different cultures, and different solutions. This isn’t the end-all-be-all sound-check guide, but if you’re struggling with technical problems and inconsistency, it’s a solid place to start.

Read PART 2: For the Worship Team

Sound check is one of the most critical steps in delivering an excellent weekend service. It ensures that all the complicated patching, routing, conversion, and reproduction are happening the way you want them to happen. When sound checks go bad (coming soon to your local Fox station!), it can put off the mood of both the worship band, the worship leader, and the production team. It is an easy way for the evil one to interrupt and distract you from the reason you are at church. By taking the time to prepare for your entire service, you reduce the chance for failure, distraction, and frustration.

To The Worship Team

Just as the audio team has preparation to complete before you arrive, you also have preparation:

  • Change your instrument batteries (or at least check them)
  • If you need to change strings, do it before you get to church.
  • Warm up your voice in the car on the way over so you’re not singing over sound-check.
  • If you come with a lot of gear, get there a little early so you can get setup and ready to play when sound-check starts.
  • Remember that the audio team has already been working for at least an hour already and are in what I call ‘work mode’. They are ready to go, so don’t go grab a cup of coffee.

During sound check, don’t play unless you’re asked to do so. Even when your instrument might be muted in the house, level meters moving at the desk can be confusing if there is a problem being resolved, and not all instruments are silent when muted (looking at you excited drummers)!

During your check, play as you expect to during the set. While playing a rocking solo might be fun, if it’s not matched to what you’re going to play during the service, then the value of sound check is almost completely erased. If you need to adjust pedals, communicate that to the audio booth so they know you are making changes and they should expect that change.

Know how you want to sound, and try to articulate that. Simply telling someone that your guitar sounds ‘bad’ doesn’t help improve anything. Be as descriptive as you can, even if it doesn’t make total sense. Brightness, mud, crunch, harsh, boomy, etc., are all good words because they communicate a specific thing to the engineer. If you’re unsure about what you want, consider setting up a time to come in early or on another day with the audio team to try some new things and get it dialed in. I can’t imagine an engineer that doesn’t enjoy playing with tone controls and tweaking mic placement until it sounds absolutely killer.

During your first song run-through, remember that the audio team may still be getting levels right so be patient as things move around in the mix. If there are things that you cannot hear or are simply way too loud, send that information back to the desk at the end of the song. When you stop playing mid-song, the rest of the team loses their reference of your instrument and the problem escalates.

Assuming the audio team has done their job, things should go fairly smoothly and you should be rehearsing and worshipping your face off before you know it!

In Summary

  1. Come prepared, regardless of your role.
  2. Respect the people you work with, and their responsibilities.
  3. Communicate as clearly as you can at all times.

 

Sound-check shouldn’t be hard once everyone figures out why they do it and how much better a rehearsal can go once it is done. If you and your team do it different, I’d love to hear what you do and why! Everyone has a different setup, different cultures, and different solutions. This isn’t the end-all-be-all sound-check guide, but if you’re struggling with technical problems and inconsistency, it’s a solid place to start.

Read PART 2: For the Audio Team

Getting started with loops can seem complicated and confusing. People talk about interfaces, direct boxes, Ableton vs Reason vs Logic vs everything else and the complexity of some setups can be daunting.Rest assured, once you get started – you’ll want to do all those fancy things, but to get started – all you need is a couple cables and a pair of direct boxes.  A picture is worth 1000 words right? Good!

 

Lets face it. We all know the benfits of an in ear monitoring system and many a small church sings the same tune – “I wish we had the funds for an Aviom System.” Consider the following price tag for 16 channels of in ear monitoring:

Aviom A-16II Personal Mixer $620.00 x 5 = $3,100 (1 for each musician)
Aviom A-16D Pro A-Net Distributor $1365.00 (Connecting the musicians to the input module)
Aviom MT-1 $31.00 x 5 = $155 (Mounting hardware)
Aviom AN-16/i Input Module $1195.00 (Standard 16 channel input module)

GRAND TOTAL = $5,815!       ZOWIE!!!

Well the party is over, Aviom. Say hello to Qmix.

Qmix is a highly affordable alternative for any church on a budget and is part of Studio Live by PreSonus. This system not only addresses personal mixer issues, but it does it with hardware most of you already have, It also provides a full channel strip on every channel and the ability to multi-track record every channel on the desk every weekend. Just the channel strip (EQ and Compression on every channel) alone is worth thousands in analog hardware.

Well… a picture tells a thousand words. Check this video out.

The cost for the same 16 channels from PreSonus?
PreSonus StudioLive 16.0.2 = $1,299.00

Need we say anymore? The Aviom alternative has arrived!

If you have questions about how to implement Studio Live in your church send us an email.