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As contemporary church services evolve, the worship experience is taking a more professional, concert-style look. Even traditional churches are spending money on better sound systems, more powerful, colorful lights, and larger video screens. However, there is no bigger mood killer than that awkward, see-through plexiglass room in the middle of the stage. The only alternative for most churches would be electric drums, and that is definitely not rock n roll.
WWJD? Jesus would not use electric drums.
Unrestricted, acoustic drums can be one of the most visually captivating pieces of décor on the platform, if setup properly. However, many of us struggle with the ability to have our drums out in the open because of the high volume they produce. Hence the need for the distracting plexiglass room most of us have on the platform.
In some smaller rooms, there may be no way around the need for a drum cage, yet in mnay situations there are ways to beat these issues so you to can have a more appealing, cohesive stage. First, there are a few questions that must be asked when a church runs into a situation where the drums are too loud:
1. What is the desired overall SPL (sound pressure level) of your service?
2. Where are the drums placed?
3. How are the drums tuned?
4. What type of sticks are the drummers using?
5. Are the drums mixed properly.
Before we go on, I want to point out that working toward a solution requires a positive working relationship between the drummer and sound guy. The truth is that the drummer hates being in “the box,” and would probably do anything to get out of it.
What is the desired SPL?
If you are planning on uncovering the drum set and letting the drummer become more visually and musically united into the worship service, first make sure your church is okay with averaging at least 95-97 dB (A-weighted). This is fairly loud, but it isn’t uncomfortable if your loudspeaker system is setup properly, and is designed to handle that level of SPL.
Where are the drums placed?
One big factor that can cause drums to be too loud is having the kit shoved up next to a wall or in a corner. The reason that this is an issue is because the snare and cymbals (especially) can reverberate off the wall and become very loud within the room. Getting the drums off the wall can be very helpful. However, if that is not an option then you can take acoustic foam and put it on the back wall to help diffuse some of the bounce. Make sure the foam is about two feet higher than the cymbals. For those of you with shorter ceilings, putting acoustic treatment above the drums can also make a huge difference.
How are the drums tuned?
A big help from the drummer comes in the form of getting him to tune to the drums (especially the snare) as low as possible. The lower the snare is tuned, the lower the volume and the better control you have in the house.
On a side note, the two main high-volume elements are normally a snare and cymbals. While you can tune your snare down, you can’t tune your cymbals down. However, you can get new cymbals. Most churches have very high-pitched, cheaper cymbals. They don’t realize that by spending a few more dollars they can get cymbals designed for their situation. Most cymbal companies make a series that produce less volume and are darker sounding. These will help with natural volume.
What sticks are your drummers playing with?
The lighter the sticks the softer the hit. Now the immediate statement a drummer may say is that they will break the sticks. There are two good responses to that: 1) If you try to play a little softer, they won’t break, and 2) The church will buy you a bunch of sets so you have spares. If you explain to the church business administrator (or whoever signs the checks) that supplying sticks for the drummers could keep the volume down, most will consider it money well spent.
Mix the drums properly.
One of the biggest mistakes that sound guys make is not mixing the drums loud enough. Drums actually sound louder than they really are when you can hear them naturally in the room, rather than from the speakers. If you make sure all sound heard is from the speakers then it will sound cleaner, more professional, and easier on the ears. The knee jerk reaction is to turn them down and let their natural acoustics to be heard, but if you will turn them up just a bit, then it will feel better to the people in the audience.
Once again, most drummers want to be “unleashed” from the “cage”. If you explain that to the drummer that he has the opportunity to retire the plexiglass prison, then odds are he will work with the you by tuning, playing a little softer, and choosing different sticks.
If you are working closely together with your drummer, and your church is okay with a little extra budget for cymbals and sticks, then these tips could you get rid of that eye-sore, plexiglas drum cage on your stage and help you create a more unified look and feel for your worship services.
There was a time when power amplifiers were measured by weight, meaning bigger and heavier indicated more power; a time when 1,000W amplifiers were nearly impossible because of the amount of power it would take to make them work. Well, those days are over. Power is getting smarter, lighter, and more efficient every day. If your go-to amplifiers don’t include some of the new breed of power mentioned below, you owe it to your clients to take a look.
Pêma is a Protea-equipped matrix amplifier from Ashly, either 4-channel or 8-channel at 250W or 125W per channel. Pêma is a matrix mixer. All Pêma models have a full 8-in by 8-out matrix mixer, where any input can be assigned to any output or outputs. Pêma is a digital signal processor. In addition to the full Protea suite of DSP settings, there are four new features to Pêma—gain-sharing automatic microphone mixing, an automatic feedback suppressor, ambient noise detection and adjustment, and a realtime clock with an event scheduler. Pêma is more than 80 percent energy efficient out of the box.
The Audio Authority SonaFlex SF-16M SonaFlex SF-16M is a unique blend of premium, 2-channel amplification, matrix distribution, flexible input options, signal processing, and open control capability. Designed and assembled in the U.S. with the custom installer in mind, the SF-16M gives you a different solution to common residential and commercial distributed audio applications. Simplified switching of popular consumer audio sources such as an iPod, AppleTV, and BluRay player can be located near the listener and connected via Cat-5 to the FlexPort audio inputs. The SF-16M uses Sound Scenes, which are system-wide snap-shots of all volume and source settings. Up to 10 Sound Scenes can be stored and recalled. For installations with multiple SF-16M’s linked together, additional system-wide Sound Scenes can be stored and recalled across all units.
The iNuke DSP series amplifiers have built-in DSP and 24-bit/96kHz converters to ensure signal integrity with an extremely broad dynamic range. DSP functions include a sophisticated delay for delay-line loudspeakers, crossover, EQ (eight parametric, two dynamic), and dynamics processing with lockable security settings. A convenient front-panel LCD display allows you to setup and make adjustments directly at the amplifier, without the need for a PC. All iNuke DSP models can be set up, controlled, and monitored via the front-panel USB connector. iNuke models include NU1000, NU3000, NU6000, NU4-6000, and NU12000. The DSP models include NU1000DSP, NU3000DSP, NU6000DSP, and NU12000DSP. All models feature a limited three-year warranty, ultra-efficient switch-mode power supply for noise-free audio, superior transient response, and low power consumption. They also feature Zero-Attack limiters offering maximum output level with reliable overload protection. Independent DC, LF, and thermal overload protection on each channel automatically protects the amplifier and speakers without shutting down the show.
Carvin’s DCM-L series is an amp that delivers great sound and reliability, ultra-light weight, models from 200W to 3800W, and made-in-the-U.S.A. quality. Each amp is Audio Precision tested, which includes a burn-in under full load to assure reliability and specs. The DCM3000L is 15lbs. and features ultra-low THD at 0.03 percent at 8Ω, soft-start power-up that prevents tripping AC breakers, Speaker Guard that protects from harmful DC, shock-proof SMT reliability, and a three-year warranty. The Class A/B linear topology features high current bipolar output devices that reduce distortion to a near theoretical zero limit while delivering high slew rate performance. Five high-ratio 6063-T5 flow-through aluminum heat sinks remove heat fast with multispeed fans that run quiet under 2Ω loads. Air is pulled from the rear and exhausted to the front to keep the rear of the rack cool. The accessory group features recessed front controls with status indicators that won’t get bumped or easily moved. A rear ground lift switch eliminates ground loops. A parallel input switch eliminates the Y adapter typically used for paralleling channels. The mono bridge switch delivers the full power of the amp (both channels) into one output. The limiters are available at the push of a button to help control peaks protecting your drivers. Connecting is done with balanced XLR and 1/4in. TRS inputs.
Crown’s new DriveCore install series of amplifiers are based on proprietary technology and feature digital audio transport via Harman’s proprietary BLU-Link, balanced analog inputs, and a priority router that allows for the specifying of a primary input and automatic switching to the other input if audio is lost. HiQnet protocol over standard TCP/IP provides for better monitoring, control, and audio manipulation, as well as allows the Audio Architect software and powered by Crown app to work with DCi amplifiers. DSP capabilities include LevelMax limiters, input/output EQ, delay, matrix mixer, and speaker-line monitoring. Power points of 300W or 600W in 2-, 4-, and 8-channel configurations are possible in a 2RU form factor. They also feature direct drive constant voltage using either 70Vrms or 100Vrms. Highly efficient internal cooling fans provide airflow to the most heat-generating parts.
New to Electro-Voice’s CPS line are the multi-channel amplifiers CPS 4.5, CPS 4.10, and CPS 8.5. They offer 4- and 8-channel independent Class-D Variable Load Drive (VLD) amplifier blocks, each one capable of delivering up to 500W and 1,000W into Low-Z or High-Z loads. Each channel can be configured individually for maximum power output intoeither 2Ω, 4Ω, 70V, or 100V networks without involvement of any output transformers. In addition to low current consumption and heat dissipation, these amplifiers provide remote standby switching with just 5W consumption in standby mode. An optional remote-control module RCM-810 provides control and supervision features via IRIS-Net, including monitoring of amplifier status and realtime load supervision. In addition, via RCM-810, the variable load drive characteristics can be set for maximum power output into any load between 2Ω and 10Ω, in steps of 0.1Ω. Other features include rear-mounted attenuators, switchable 50Hz high-pass filter (Hi-Z mode), complete protection: thermal, overload, shorts, HF, DC, back-EMF, inrush current, Phoenix-type input and output connections, remote power-on/off contact, programmable power-on delay settings, and front-to-rear fans.
Adding to the range of Martin Audio MA series amplifiers is the new MA2.0. At 1RU and 16lbs. this amplifier offers performance in a compact, lightweight, and cost-effective package. Delivering up to 1000W per channel (4Ω) this amplifier provides the power that will meet the requirements of small to medium-sized applications such as stage monitors and installed and portable sound reinforcement. With clip limiting, DC, VHF, and thermal and AC protection built in as standard, this new addition to the MA range of amplifiers is fully featured to meet the most demanding situations. Features include advanced Class-D output stage, switch-mode power supply, low inrush current, built-in clip limiters, variable speed cooling fan, comprehensive front-panel indicators, and fully protected circuitry.
The 100W per channel, the 4-channel Rane MA 4 amplifier achieves exceptional power density and reliability in a space saving 1RU, 19in. rackmount chassis weighing only 8lbs. A universal-voltage switching power supply provides superb power factor, reducing peak currents to 1/3 compared to non-power-factor-corrected supplies. Unique features including constant load power, built-in automatic redundancy switching, and advanced dynamics control, qualify the MA 4 for the most demanding fixed installation applications.
TOA’s AV-20D introduces a new entry in small amps for plenum use. The AV-20D features an ultra-compact design with a flexible compliment of inputs, power configuration, and control options. Carrying both UL2043 and Energy Star 2.0 certification, the AV-20D also features micro Class-D amplification, bass and treble control, input signal present indicators, and a remote volume control port.
A fusion of Yamaha power, DSP, and network technologies, the DSP-enabled TXn series provides benefits like saving rack space or eliminating cabling. Truly versatile: Not only is the TXn flexible in its I/O formats, but voltage gain/ sensitivity can be adjusted in 0.1dB steps. Detailed control and monitoring parameters not found in conventional amplifiers are now available from a remote location. A combination of analog inputs and card slot inputs provide failsafe signal redundancy. The ultra-low latency AES/EBU card’s “THRU” output is designed to send signal even in case of power failure on the amplifier. All TXn models incorporate a 24-bit ADDA 96-kHz DSP engine. In addition to basic amplifier control and status monitoring, there is ample DSP power built in to provide extensive speaker processing capabilities that can make external processors unnecessary in most applications. Onboard DSP parameters and functions can be accessed directly through the LCD and button interface provided on the front panel of the amplifier, or via Yamaha’s amplifier control software running on a computer connected via Ethernet.
I had to reprint this excellent article regarding the transitioning of worship styles within the church. Read on for the author’s insights and findings with just two churches and how different the approach should be. The short-story is know the vision of the church and follow the direction of the pastor. The techs, especially your volunteer team, must be very involved in the process. Enjoy!
by Andy McMillan
A few years ago I was attending a church that was in the process of transitioning their musical style. In less than a year they went from a single worship leader/singer, a drummer (that wasn’t mic’d), a bass player that just played out of an amp on stage, and a piano player, to full band with a guy who brought in three different guitars every week, three keyboard players (piano, keys and organ), a drummer with a fully mic’d kit, a percussion player, and 12 background singers on wireless mics. Needless to say the volume more than doubled.
During this same time, the lighting for the services went from no colored lights at all and a bright room, to tons of color and moving lights, and a dark congregation. During that year the church experienced a large congregation shift. Many left the church because they felt what was happening was “over the top”. They felt it was too “showy” and too much like a performance.
Many churches have successfully transitioned their worship style. But how far is too far? How cool is too cool for church?
Every church is unique, so we asked two pastors from two very different church environments for their opinions were on this topic.
Dr. Jeremy D. Sims is the music and high school pastor at Kingwood Church in Alabaster, Alabama. Dr. Sims says, “It isn’t about what is ‘too far’, it is about the vision of the church and the goal of who the church is trying to reach.” He says he’s observed a consistent issue with some church production departments where the techies are more interested in “playing with their toys” than they are concerned with supporting the vision of the church. To further illustrate his point he adds, “I would rather have a mediocre production guy that was excited about the vision of the church, than have an incredible production engineer that was not concerned with the direction the pastor desired.” He made it clear that “too far” is relative to who you are, the background or history of the congregation, and the vision of the senior pastor.
Next we talked to Pastor Jason D. Mayfield, music pastor at Bethany Assembly of God in Adrian, Michigan. His perspective is very different. He says, “There is no such thing as too far or too cool, but there is a such thing as too fast.” Pastor Jason concludes that lighting or video effects or even volume levels in church are never too much. He suggests that church congregations can handle it as long as they are transitioned into it. “It takes time to get any church acclimated to change,” Mayfield says. “If you want moving lights running through haze, then start out with the just moving lights for a while and slowly add haze to the room. If you want your audio to be louder, take time to slowly raise it to where you want it. Don’t just turn it up.” He says that it simply takes time to transition any group of people to what the goal is. He believes it had less to do with what they will tolerate due to their background and more to do with how to transition them to the new way of doing things.
So how far is too far? A single answer could never cover all types of churches. The more important questions are: 1) What are the vision and philosophy of the church? And, 2) How, and how fast should the service transition to fulfill the vision of what the leaders desire?
If the tech staff is properly addressing these two questions, then there may not be such a thing as “too cool”.
After spending almost a decade as a FOH engineer and integration specialist, Andy McMillan left his FOH position and is now student pastor at Turning Point Church in McDonough, Georgia.
“Should we do this A/V/L install ourselves or hire a contractor?” is a question I’m asked often. Too often, the question comes down to budget. On paper, it looks like hiring a contractor is always a more expensive option, but this is rarely the case when all factors are considered.
The illusion of cost-savings comes from the fact that most churches (and many companies) don’t factor in the cost of labor for their staff. But there is always a cost, and a wise manager will take that into account.
This isn’t to say that doing a job in-house is always a bad idea; it’s simply a matter of weighing the options and determining the best approach for a particular project.
Here are some guidelines that to use when trying to decide how to proceed.
Do the job in-house when:
1) You Have the Skills In-House. Some churches have highly skilled tech staffs, and it makes total sense to use that skill set to do the work of an install. The team will be working with the equipment day in and day out anyway, so installing it makes sense. Having people on staff who can lay out cable runs, pull said cable, solder, interconnect and commission systems is a blessing to many larger churches. If you have the skills, by all means, proceed.
2) You Have the Manpower In-House. Sometimes a church has one or two highly skilled people on staff that could do the install, but is that enough? Depending on the size of the project, more hands may be required. Often, larger churches will have larger tech staffs that can put in significant time on an installation. So again, this makes sense.
3) You Have the Time. Larger churches with sizable tech staffs have those large staffs because the church is very busy doing ministry. If the project is not extremely time-sensitive, it’s entirely possible that this team can get the job done. Deciding two weeks before Easter that you’d like a new video system may not allow the in-house team enough time to get the job done, however.
4) The Budget is Tight. Sometimes we have to do installs within a tight budget, and the easiest way to save money is to self-install. Even factoring in the costs that really do exists with self-install, it’s often easier to stomach that bill than paying a contractor. Sometimes it can even mean the difference between getting the job approved or not.
Note that the order of those criteria is intentional; as hard as it is, budget should really be last in the decision-making process. If you put budget first, you may not truly consider the other three factors fairly.
Hire a contractor when:
1) You’re Hanging Things Overhead. Very few churches have tech staff that are truly qualified to hang hundreds (or thousands) of pounds of speakers, projectors, screens or other stuff over people’s heads. And even if you are qualified, why would you want the liability?
2) Time is Tight. Some projects have very tight timelines and the in-house staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to get it done. This is a perfect contractor job. They can bring in additional installers who do this every day, and will probably do better work in less time.
3) Manpower is Limited. A solo technical director will probably have a tough time installing a complete A/V/L system by himself. Even if he can pull in some volunteers, it’s going to be a long, hard install. Churches that don’t have professionals on staff will almost always come out ahead when they hire a reputable contractor.
4) The Church Wants to Protect Its Staff. Some churches are wise enough to know that pushing the staff to the limit all the time will not result in long-term employees who are committed to the organization. Sometimes it’s a smart call to let your highly qualified, fully capable tech staff leave at 5PM while someone else does the install. As a church leader, would you rather have energized, fully-engaged and excited or tired, disengaged and aggravated staff? You make the call.
Sometimes a hybrid approach is best; install what you can and bring in a contractor for the rest. I generally recommend hiring the rigging, because it’s just safer. But pulling cables, installing amp racks, consoles, patch bays and the like can often be easily be handled in-house, especially if the install company has helped with the design, making sure things are well thought out.
This decision-making process is not hard, but it should not be taken lightly. It’s almost never as easy as, “We’ll save so much money…” so be sure to think it through. You may find that at the end of the project, everyone will be better off if the install was handled by professionals. Or maybe not.
written by Mike Sessler, Church Production Weekly
When it comes down to it, what your congregation hears begins with the microphone. If you don’t initially capture the audio source with sufficient level and clarity, everything else in the audio system is playing catch-up. Perhaps you can make it usable so that a person in the last pew will still have an idea what is being said, but even the best processors, mixing consoles, and speaker systems will not take you back to the source.
The mic you choose for a particular application, and how you apply it, can make a great deal of difference in how well they hear the sermon or the singer, on the balance of instruments in the praise band, and on how much work the sound person has to do to provide sufficient level and intelligibility through the house system. What follows are some useful techniques for working with the pastor, the choir, the band, the holiday pageant, the church meeting, and other audio capture situations you may encounter.
UNDERSTANDING THE PASTOR While some pastors are gifted orators with strong, distinct voices that will travel intelligibly to the back of the room, with even a quiet or whispered passage having sufficient level and articulation to be heard, many are not so blessed. The microphone is essential to active communication. The choice of microphone and where it is placed relative to the pastor’s mouth will make the difference between comfortable listening and straining to hear—and between having headroom in the system and riding the fader on the edge of feedback.
Since most pastors need their hands free, the typical microphone choices are a pulpit mic, typically on a gooseneck, a lavalier, or a headset. Depending on how much the pastor moves while preaching, the lavalier or headset can be hardwired or connected to a wireless transmitter.
A gooseneck mic has a flexible boom that allows the mic element to be positioned at varying heights and angles to best respond to the particular presenter. As with all microphones, the signal level from the voice will decline a very significant 6 dB each time the distance doubles between the presenter and the mic, so coach anyone who will be using the mic to work fairly close to it—perhaps a hand-width away if possible. This distance will allow the presenter some side-to-side head movement while still remaining in the coverage pattern of the mic. Have the user take a moment to adjust it to their height before speaking.
When using a gooseneck mic, keep an eye on where your loudspeakers are located. Especially with speaker systems located above and slightly to the front of the pulpit and altar area, try to keep the mic element positioned level, more or less parallel with the floor and at mouth level to the presenter, rather than pointing up toward the ceiling (and the loudspeakers). In many cases you’ll achieve more gain before feedback.
Lavalier microphones are available in omnidirectional and directional/cardioid polar patterns. They can keep hands free and the face unencumbered, but are often difficult to use in live settings to achieve a full frequency response and enough level. Make sure to choose a quality mic with as flat a frequency response as possible, to maximize gain before feedback. Some lavalier mics have a shaped frequency response with added highs or diminished chest resonance frequencies; check out the specifications.
Omnidirectional mics typically have less clothing, cable, and handling noise, but pick up sound sources relatively equally from all directions. And because of the lack of directionality, it is harder to keep their pattern away from the speaker system—resulting in more feedback potential. Directional mics can provide more isolation, but the user needs to be more consistent with their movements so that their head (and voice) don’t dramatically move away from the mic’s pickup pattern.
Try positioning the lavalier mic at the upper chest/lower throat area. Once positioned, make a loose loop of the mic cable below the mic element and secure it as a strain relief rather than just letting it hang. You can also pull a loop of cable and return it to the mic clip to hold it. The loop of cable will help to lessen movement noise being transferred to the mic and out the speakers.
When possible, a headset microphone is a more consistent choice, and the frequency response is invariably better in a live setting. Low-profile headsets are available from many manufacturers; invest in one of higher quality. Headset mic advantages include considerably greater gain before feedback, more natural voice quality with full frequency response, and more consistent audio level with movement. Place the mic element toward the corner of the mouth but out of the direct line of the voice to minimize breath noise and consonant pops.
Perhaps the pastor will present part of the service from the pulpit and other parts at the altar or in the center aisle just in front of the pews. In this case, having a pulpit mic on one channel and a wireless transmitter and low-profile headset on another makes sense—and then you can mute one or the other, as needed.
PRAISE BAND MIC’ING When working with the praise band, and trying to maintain consistency and more control on overall levels from the mixing console, a technique that combines amp positioning and mic’ing can prove useful. Instead of having the instrument amplifiers pointed directly at the pews, and directing their output to the congregation, have them side-fire so that they are aimed across the stage. Place a microphone on a short stand or boom, with the mic head positioned toward the outer edge of the speaker cone (if you mic toward the center, you will usually pick up too much high-frequency content).
Have the musicians adjust their desired tonalities, but at a lower level than if they were trying to fill the building with sound. This may be difficult at first to get them to turn down, but it will benefit the overall musicality of the performance. If they need more of themselves on stage, either put more of their signal into the monitors, or have them tip their cabinets a bit so that the speakers are pointing more toward their ears.
Using this technique will have several positive effects. First, it will minimize the bleed of the guitar or bass into the vocal and other mics on stage. Second, it will give the sound mixer more level and audio shaping control over the entire mix, so that an overly loud guitar or bass part will not overwhelm the vocals or other instrumentation. Use the same technique with a keyboard amp, if used. When I’ve used this method, both the listeners and the band have been pleased with the resulting clarity.
VOCALS MICS Harking back to the beginning of the article, it all starts with the microphone. So this is not an area to skimp in the sound budget. Look for a microphone with good, consistent pattern control (polar pattern) across all frequency ranges from low to high, and a relatively flat frequency response. Such a microphone will require less equalization and will typically achieve higher gain before feedback.
Condenser mics with a cardioid or supercardioid pattern are often used for vocals because of their added responsiveness and crispness at the top end, but a number of excellent dynamic mics are also available for the purpose. When possible, use the same model of mic for similar functions, such as lead vocals, background vocals, and certain types of instruments so that you can learn their responses and treat them consistently.
One key element that you cannot control from the console is the microphone technique of the singer or speaker. Many inexperienced users hold the mic far away from their mouth, or down below their chin, or other hard-to-hear locations—often because they think their voice is too loud. So you end up pushing the limits of feedback to make their voices intelligible.
Before the service or event, whenever possible, spend a few minutes with anyone who might be using a mic to show them how to hold it in front of their mouth, pointed in, and typically between two and four finger-widths away. For singers, encourage them to stay on the mic and keep a consistent distance from it. And know your microphones, as some are optimized for lips-touching use, while others can effectively be used a few inches from the source.
Your overall gain before feedback will be highest when you judiciously use the channel mute to minimize the number of open mics. Mute any microphone that is unused for a time during the service; by keeping an eye open and knowing the routine you will have it unmuted by the time someone is ready to use it. Keep the choir mics muted until necessary. If the pastor’s wireless is still on when stepping up to the pulpit, don’t turn on the gooseneck; this will also alleviate potential phase cancellations between the two open mics.
During instrumental breaks with the praise band, mute the main and background vocal mics, if possible. In some cases, if you have a high-quality cardioid mic with consistent polars, your backing singers might share a microphone rather than having one per singer. Also, it is sometimes helpful if you need to minimize stage noise—as well as to prevent noise from HVAC systems and similar [equipment from] adding to your mix—to engage a high-pass filter on the microphone, or on the mixing console, starting at 100 to 150 Hz.
When reinforcing the choir with microphones, specialized small-diaphragm cardioid condensers are typically used, either suspended from the ceiling or on high stands. Use these mics sparingly, and try to maintain a ratio between mics of at least three times their distance to the nearest singer. Position them above the head of the tallest vocalists in the back row, and set the angles so that they are aimed toward the choir (rather than pointing straight down to the floor) and with their lower sensitivity zones toward the speaker system.
INSTRUMENT MIC’ING For an acoustic guitar, use a directional mic—preferably a condenser—on a boom stand or gooseneck and experiment with the best area to aim it. Good candidate locations are at the guitar’s upper bout where the neck meets the body or slightly below and on the top or bottom side of the bridge, a few inches away. Mic’ing directly in front of the sound hole will give more level, but also tends to be boomy.
With acoustic piano in a larger space where you need additional reinforcement, or when the piano is part of a group of instruments, you can use a combination of a cardioid condenser mic on a boom stand over the sound board (or a pair covering the low and high side about midway between the hammers and the rear) with one or more small condensers mounted inside the piano above the sound board and clipped to the harp. When bleed from other instruments or gain before feedback is a problem, emphasize the close mics for the fundamentals and high-pass the overhead mics at around 2.5 kHz for the piano’s shimmer.
Sax and other reed instruments often are naturally louder than many of the other instruments, and having a fairly directional microphone a foot or so away will provide some additional reinforcement for the sound system and monitors. Acoustic bass can be picked up with a small instrument condenser clipped under the bridge. A minimal drum kit mic’ing consisting of kick, possibly snare, and a single or XY pair of overhead condenser mics can be quite effective.
IN THE END … A church service is a dynamic event combining spoken word, with experienced and inexperienced speakers, solo vocalists, choirs, bands ranging from mellow to rock levels, and responses from the congregation. And though the program can often be fairly predictable from week to week, new variations always arise. So keep experimenting and trying new ideas.
As you go, keep the key principles in mind: use quality microphones with consistent polars and frequency response; control the number of open mics; use directivity to your advantage by keeping the mic’s most sensitive pattern pointed toward the source and away from the speaker systems; coach the users in good mic technique; and judiciously use equalization to minimize any problems that can’t be solved by mic selection and placement.
by Gary Parks; Reprinted from the March 2013 issue of Church Production Magazine
The Alexandria First Presbyterian Church’s main sanctuary was built in 1843 and the building is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Even with periodic updates, its interior looks much the same as it did for over a century, with hard-surfaced, parallel walls that can make intelligible sound a challenge. It’s also a relatively small church, seating about 200, so the line array solution that has become more common in mid-sized and larger churches wasn’t a suitable solution for it.
Fortunately, there is a relatively new technology that offers a perfect fit for smaller churches and that can address aesthetic concerns that many older, landmarked structures have. How Ken Wieder, a church member and its ad hoc sound consultant discovered it is how more and more churches in this situation are doing just that.
“I Know How to Connect Things”
Wieder’s pro audio knowledgebase accrued from a combination of some academic work in college but perhaps more from his years as a drummer and later as a club DJ. “I know how to connect things and adjust them,” he says of his practical knowledge. But he also knew what he didn’t know, so when the church last year came into a small windfall in the form of a willed bequest from an elderly member of the congregation — who specifically asked that it be put towards a new sound system — he was asked by the church committee to head up the task of determining how best to spend the money.
Wieder put out a call for bids to several local A/V integration companies. He says the responses were complex and in many ways vastly different. “We got bids for everything from a basic PA system with a mixer and amplifiers to some fairly complex solutions that you could pretty much tell would be overkill,” he recalls. One company, Blackwood, NJ-based JD Sound and Video, suggested a columnar array, specifically, Community Sound’s ENTASYS system. Wieder likes the fact that JD Sound owner Joe DeSabatino made the effort to explain how a properly aimed columnar line array would project a nearly consistent level of sound from front to back in the sanctuary, with a deviation of no more than 5 dB from front to rear, and do so nearly invisibly, when a system with white components was mounted on the white interior walls of the church. The fact that JD Sound was a Community dealer and was able to secure a better price essentially sealed the deal.
A Niche Solution
The columnar line array is at once a descendant of the modular line array — the often-huge tentacle-like series of loudspeaker enclosures that are hung from the ceilings of large arenas and stadiums — and its predecessor, a design similar to the that of 1960’s portable PA that is like the iconic Shure Vocal Master, which was famously part of the PA system used when the Beatles played Shea Stadium in 1965.
Modular arrays are more versatile. Designers can add or subtract enclosures as needed and the curvature can be shaped to make coverage very precise, and manufacturers have created lines of so-called compact line arrays in recent years. The column array, on the other hand, tends to be more cost effective, easily installed, and its thin design often makes it a more aesthetically preferable solution, particularly for churches and landmarked structures that need to avoid architectural distractions.
Column line arrays are generally passive (versus the self-powered active-electronics options that most modular line arrays offer) and have limited steering (i.e., directionality) capability compared with highly steerable self-powered modular line arrays. But manufacturers are innovating around those limitations. PA-maker Community’s ENTASYS system, for instance, has multiple mechanical steering settings and also offers a low-frequency-only column with 6 3.5-inch drivers that reinforces the low end from 200 Hz to 1.6 kHz. This enables low-frequency reinforcement without having to increase the size of the full-range column. (Array height directly influences low frequency directivity: the taller the array, the better its low frequency output.)
After DeSabatino spectrum-analyzed the sanctuary, it was determined that a pair of ENTASYS columns and two Community VLF208 subs would be sufficient for the church’s needs. As DiSabatino explained, the building’s stone walls and hard surfaces make for a highly reflective acoustical environment, and achieving good spoken word intelligibility has long been a challenge. “It’s a large, boxy room with high ceilings, hard plaster walls, and lots of hard wood,” he says. “It sounds great for the choir, but not for the sermon.”
The array columns are installed on the side walls, by steps leading up to the stage; the subwoofers are installed underneath the stage. Control of the system is purposefully simple: A Rane HAL 1 DSP system that automixes the sound system as well as checks system and peripheral status, CAT 5 wiring integrity, and other functions. This level of automation was desirable, says Wieder, because of the wide range of possible users of the system, including the church’s youth group.
“We needed to keep it simple, and this does,” he says, noting that the wall-mounted controllers, one each at the rear of the sanctuary and on the stage, are essentially little more than microphone input selectors and overall volume controls. More parameter control is available via a USB-connected laptop, but Wieder says they have not had to go beyond the basic programming that DeSabatino left the system set with. The system also includes four channels of Shure SLX wireless microphones, and Shure lavaliere and podium microphones. A Tascam SSR-200 digital recorder was installed to record services.
The project also included extending video to an adjoining hallway and social hall, to accommodate overflow attendance for services, using LG 47CS570 LCD displays and a Panasonic HDC-TM900 HD digital video camera. Each display has a pair of JBL C2PS speakers attached linked to the main PA system.
The entire project came in well under budget, at about $18,000, says Wieder, due mainly to using a single contractor for the entire project and taking advantage of the installer’s distributor relationship with the manufacturer. But Wieder also points out that to get to that point, he had to consider a wide array of options and strategies offered by several vendors, and had to learn as much as possible about a technology he had never encountered before. “There was a lot to figure out,” he says. “But after you spend time with it, you begin to see what works and what doesn’t.”
By Dan Daley, Worship TechDecisions
The GLD-80 and GLD-AR2412 AudioRack system—a great package, at a great price, that is both simple and intuitive for volunteers to use, but has a feature set that even experienced engineers look for.
The reality is, any new sound board will make you feel like a kid at Christmas time. But, working with churches, my immediate instinct is to look at any product with an eye for ease of use by church volunteers, many of which have no working experience outside of the church setting.
That said, straight out of the box, this board looks like something that makes sense without even turning it on. The control surface layout looks as though the Allen & Heath (A&H) guys spent a great deal of time thinking about packing a lot of features into a system that would be easy and intuitive to get your mind wrapped around, even for the average church volunteer. The labeling is clear, the fader banks make sense, the control strip across the top is laid out well, and the surface is very uncluttered. And the presence of a “Select” button that opens its accompanied window in the touchscreen makes for a feeling of “this is gonna be easy.” They even placed the “Copy/Paste” function buttons right at the front of the mixer—no paging through windows, just do it on the fly.
The GLD-AR2412 AudioRack, which upon unboxing and plugging a supplied network cable into the console, started talking with the console with no required addressing (once again, simple).
At this point, you would be immediately aware of the ease of physical setup that could benefit the average mobile church, or a church installing a system themselves. So, the reviewer decided to put this to the test—Do the “guy” thing and not read the directions. How far can you get before you have to pick up the manual?
I tend to view technical systems through the eyes of a church volunteer, and I’m always looking for items to recommend to other churches that might not have a lot of help. So, if I can recommend something that’s quick to get up and run on, that means whomever is on the receiving end will be more successful day one. Then whatever help they need won’t be “how to make it work” but “how to improve what they’re already doing.”
Open the “Quick Start” brochure (didn’t get far without reading), and you find the console shows up from the factory with several scenes that assign channel and fader layout in fashions that make it immediately usable to most any small church. I chose the Factory Scene 1, which laid out 46 inputs on the left bank of 12 faders in four layers, six mono aux mixes (which were used for wedges), one stereo aux mix (which was used for the drummers headphone mix). It also sets up four effects sends with four stereo returns (on the same master page—nice idea), six DCAs, two matrix outs, and six group sends. Along with this, the left/right master ends up on nearly every page.
Then, a quick unplugging of the existing console on the system we’re demo-ing this on, patch the A&H audio rack in, patch in the Cat5 to the board, and we’re up and running.
Immediately, I realize our PA sounds better—and without any system EQ. Remember, we just plugged in this board straight out of the box. Smooth, with a low end that sounds a little like something you’d hear on surround sound at the movies—deep and powerful without being overwhelming.
So, on to setting up the board as the band walks in. I was quickly able to select individual channels and label them accordingly with the pop-up keyboard on the touch screen. A quick perusal of available effects suddenly made me wish I had all day to set this up, as I’m now seeing that the engines will emulate such classic effects as “480 Hall” and a multitude of modulation effects … stay focused—remember, the band just walked in. Pull in four effects that emulate what I’m used to using for the average mix (two reverbs, a chorus, and a simple delay), already assigned to sends and returns in a fashion that made sense, thanks to our “Factory Scene 1.”
Start channel walkthrough as the band starts plugging in, and now I notice something really nice. The worship leader’s guitar normally has this slightly annoying thing in the hi-mid that’s not there, and his guitar has tremendous low end that I’ve not hear on it before—cool, but engage HPF (high-pass filter) and keep moving.
Another very useful feature: each channel strip [appears] as a knob that can be either the gain, the pan, or one of two user assignable functions.
Also, as mentioned before, the presence of a “Select” button on all channel strip functions (mic pre, gate, HPF, EQ, compressor, and routing) opens the associated control window for each function on the selected channel. This means one less button or screen to push to get where you want to go.
Drums sound great—smooth, deep (once again) but controlled. Dialing in some crispness on the snare and toms makes me notice that the upper mid range of the EQ is very usable and smooth. Another neat feature: pressing down on the EQ frequency dial controls Q on the particular frequency band I’m on.
Now I start adding things to the different monitors, by pressing the “Mix” button on each of the aux send masters, channel faders now become aux sends—very familiar to digital boards. Then I accidentally stumble on a very useful feature. While a particular mix has its “Select” engaged, the “Mix” button on the individual channel reveals the send levels by turning the master faders into “Aux Send” faders. One can now look at what’s being sent to all aux’s on a master bank one input channel at a time.
The band starts playing. Faders up— the mix sounds nice and full. Dial down the gates on the toms, add compressors to the bass and vocals, now add one to the acoustic. An interesting note: this compressor is doing a nice job of leveling, but it sounds very natural and transparent—almost like it’s just a nice, full input without compression.
Now, add some effects, pan a couple of things slightly, and check with the band on their monitors. “Wow … this sounds really good,” says the worship leader. The woman singing harmony with the quiet voice asks to be turned down in her monitor—not turned up because she has a quiet voice. Another interesting note: no monitor EQ—remember, we just pulled this board out of the box.
Add a little compression to the main mix … it’s here I notice that the compressors (on each channel and every output) all have four different compressor “models,” including two that are fashioned after recording-style compression. I pick “Opto Slow,” dial down the ratio, and continue mixing.
At this point it should be noted that we plugged this board in about 50 minutes ago. The band has been setting up and rehearsing now for about 20 minutes. Aside from programming a scene mute and adding a couple of headset mics for the presenters, we now have a new board set up on our system, a mix to six wedges and one headphone, a mix dialed in (sort of), and a happy band. Oh … and it sounds great.
As you can see, the GLD-80’s feature set is robust, offering even veteran engineers options that would make them pleased. But it also has stuff that is incredibly helpful to the church market, like the onboard RTA (real-time analyzer) that can help one quickly identify feedback, the ability to record and playback from a USB memory stick, or the fact that the AudioRack I/O has a port that directly interfaces with Aviom personal monitor mixing system. The expandability that is possible through the available card slot leaves a lot of room to dream about what could you do. Its layout and workflow are incredibly efficient. Allen & Heath does indeed have an iPad remote mixing app in the works. Though we were not able to pin down a release date, the app will be in an upcoming firmware update. It’s also interesting to note that the available balanced inputs/outputs on the control surface might seem limiting at first. But if you consider that the average small- to mid-sized church generally needs a couple of iPod/CD inputs, and a couple of media feeds at FOH (assuming wireless microphones and such are on stage near the I/O rack), you’ve really got what you need in the right places. It’s almost as if the Allen & Heath guys were thinking of us church folks when they planned this.
I want to highlight the touch screen, too. I found the layout of it very easy to read on the fly, and the graphics looked great. I never found myself feeling “confined” or having trouble reading this quickly.
Now, there were a few things I didn’t like that much. I feel that the LEDs on the channel strip area, especially around the EQ section, are not an articulate source of information, and often looked a little bit like a “smear of light” due to the fact that the LEDs are not surface-mounted (I can see where low light or even sunlight might accentuate this). But after about 30 minutes of mixing, I was only starting to get used to this. The faders do feel just a little bit on the flimsy side, but not cheap. And, I could also see where some might consider the mic preamps to not have the clarity or edge that they would prefer (remember the mention of smoothness and considerable low end “umph”).
But I don’t find these to be “deal breakers.” Instead, I’d encourage anyone who is looking at consoles in this price class to demo this one, as well. The feature set, ease of use, sound quality, and expandability really set it a part in many ways. In fact, in some ways, this console is a better value than others in the same class for more money. But don’t take my word for it—demo it. The final word on whether or not a console is the right one for your church needs to come from you and your volunteers after you have put it and other consoles you may be considering through its paces. But I believe you will find that your experience will be similar to mine in that this was an easy console to learn. The short learning curve allowed me to get comfortable and confident quickly, in turn allowing me to focus on mixing and enjoying my task.
BRENT WHETSTINE is the technical systems engineer at Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, where he’s been on staff for nine years. He’s worked in live production for over 20 years and feels blessed to serve God and His church through technology, and equipping the saints to do the work of the church. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife, three dogs, and several chickens.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) sounds like a highly abstract concept. But it’s really not. It’s also something that churches—sadly—tend to miss out on.
TCO is simply a calculation of what a particular product or service is going to cost you during it’s life. It has become popular in automotive circles, with some manufacturers boasting about the fact that while their car might cost a little more to buy, it will cost less to own. At least in theory.
Missing TCO Calcuations TCO can be missed in several ways. Sometimes, a church will buy a particular piece of gear—sometimes a very expensive piece—that will dig into their cash reserves pretty significantly.
Projectors are a great example of this. A really bright, say 15K, projector can cost well over $20,000-50,000. That’s a lot of money.
However, it will also cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 to re-lamp it. And at that brightness level, re-lamping is going to happen every 500-800 hours of use, which is right around a year (at least for us).
So not only did you spend, let’s call it $30K, on a projector, you can figure on another $20K in lamps over the next 5-7 years of life. And we haven’t even talked about filter replacements, electricity costs or service.
Costs on this imaginary projector (that’s not that imaginary) will easily exceed $60K over the life of the unit. Did anyone think about that or did the initial purchase price double as a complete surprise?
Other times, a church will buy the cheapest piece of gear they can find, thinking they are saving money. However, what they find out is that the consumeables cost of that gear is far more expensive than a slightly more expensive piece of gear. Ink jet printers are a classic example here.
But I’ve also seen churches replace older, heavy duty color laser printers with newer “cheaper” ones because the toner cartridges are half the cost of the old ones. What no one noticed was that the new cartridges last about eighth as many pages, which about quadruples the per page costs and aggravates the users who find the printers always out of toner.
Do Your Homework Sometimes it’s hard to choose between two seemingly comparable pieces of equipment. What you need to look at, besides initial cost, is total operating costs.
I’ve compared projectors based on bulb and filter life plus electricity and found brand A to be almost 50 percent less expensive over a 5-year period than brand B. And these are projectors who’s output and picture quality are close enough to being called “the same.”
Rechargeable batteries are another great example. Yes it might cost you a few hundred dollars to get into the game once you figure chargers and the initial stock of batteries. But from that point on, your annual battery costs drop to under $100 to handle replacements.
For us, we went from spending over $1,500/year to about $200; and the only reason I spend that much is because we now have five rooms using rechargeable cells, and the ones in the student rooms go missing more regularly.
It’s Real Stewardship If you want to win friends and influence people, especially your senior leadership, continually present them with plans that demonstrate you know how to make purchases that represent an excellent value over time. Showing them that you’ve done TCO calculations, and have chosen equipment with that in mind will show them you’re serious about leading your department well.
Of course, TCO doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s just one data point. But it’s an important one. You still have to consider usability, whether the product fits your needs and if the volunteers can use it. Still, TCO can often be the tipping point between brand A and brand B. Choosing the one with the lower overall lifetime cost will pay off in more ways that one.
Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog Church Tech Arts. He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.
Sometimes small improvements add up to a big improvement and eliminate the need for a big spend.
It may be time to start looking at how our systems – specifically audio – can be improved this year. Certainly big-ticket items like new PA’s (power amplifiers), new consoles or new speaker arrays are nice, but often times we have to make incremental improvements. These small improvements add up to a big improvement and sometimes negate the need for a big spend, and the ‘break’ between Christmas and Easter can be a good time to work on these projects. NOTE: Easter is early this year, so be aware when scheduling big projects!
Below is a non-exhaustive list of five things you can do this year—without breaking the bank—that will improve your sound.
Test And Repair Bad Speaker Components: Blown or torn drivers can certainly impact the sound in a room, and not in a good way. It may take the better part of a day to diagnose the faulty drivers, and then another half day to replace them, but once done, you can actually get full-range sound again at a fraction of the cost.
If you are uncomfortable doing this or are unsure, contact a local dealer. This is a fairly simple process for them, and will likely lead to either a thumbs up or a list of new components to replace (and by components, I mean drivers, not an entirely new PA). Replacing the HF drivers in a system can have a great impact on the sound, and it’s not that expensive.
A test like this can have other benefits. Something such as an incorrect processor installation can be discovered and corrected, leaded to a PA that sounds brand new.
Get Your System Tuned: Once your speakers are all producing full-range sound again, it’s a good time to have the system tuned. A lot of people refer to this as EQ’ing the room, but it’s really not. You don’t EQ a room, you EQ a PA to work well in the room. If you feel competent with using a measurement system, you can do this yourself. If not, or if time is an issue, this shouldn’t be a huge expense with a lot of benefit.
Often times, people who don’t really know what they are doing will try to “improve” on the sound of a PA by adjusting the system’s EQ. “Smiley faces”, “fish” and other strange patterns on graphic EQs will rarely, if ever, sound good. Having someone come in to take measurements, set delays and EQ will often make a less than ideal PA sound decent again.
Once the PA is properly aligned and tuned, lock the processor or EQ either in software or by using vented security covers on the rack. At the very least, the settings should be documented. Just put them somewhere safe—and where at least one other person knows where they are.
Upgrade the Mic Package: Microphones are mechanical, and like all things mechanical, they can wear out. They are also dropped and abused in other ways over time. If you are using really old, beat up mic’s every week, changing them out is a cost-effective way to improve sound. Sometimes, it’s a matter of matching a mic to the source; a better fit for a vocal is a great example. Other times, you may be using a mic on a source because you had it available, not because it was the best choice. Finding the right kick drum mic for your drum kit, PA, room and sound can make a big difference.
Outfitting your stage with all-new mic’s might be cost prohibitive (although, it may not be as much as you think), but perhaps you can start down the road. A few new vocal mic’s that will help your singers sound better can make a tremendous difference. Then move on to drum mic’s, and finally other instruments. Get recommendations from people you trust and try them first if possible.
Optimize System Gain Structure: Gain structure is one of those things that we don’t talk about enough in audio. Consoles can be way overdriven with amps turned way down, and others with the amps all the way up and the faders all running at -40. Optimizing your gain structure is critical to fully exploiting your system and getting the best mix in your room.
There is no shame in bringing in someone who knows how to do this! It’s another area where big improvements can be made by making some small changes for a moderate cost.
Practice What You Mix: We typically expect that the worship leader, vocalists and musicians are practicing their parts throughout the week. But when does the sound guy or girl get to practice? Practice is the only real way to get better, so how do we do that? Unless you have a band that really enjoys playing for hours on end, the best answer is virtual soundcheck.
There are many systems available now that make it fairly easy to record each input on the board and play it back in place as if the band were still there. With a virtual soundcheck system, you can mix a song over and over, trying out new things, adjusting EQ, compression, FX and other techniques until you get it just right. And the only person you need in the room is you.
Or, try this one; after recording the rehearsal, invite the worship leader to sit in with you and work on the mixes. Find out what he want to hear, and work toward getting there. Sometimes, it will be clear that the problem is not a mix issue, but an arrangement one. Everyone wins when the band gets better, and this is a great way to help facilitate this. A Virtual sound check might be the most expensive item on this list, but it’s still less than a new PA and will often have greater benefits. In the end, making notes during reheasal, recording, and listening to playback is a way to help volunteers get better in tuning their craft.
Roland Systems Group is pleased to announce the shipment of the Roland M-200i, a 32-channel V-Mixer Console with iPad control. Roland says this compact digital mixing solution is designed for those who want the flexibility and mobility of comprehensive iPad control fused with the precision of a professional console. The Roland M-200i V-Mixer is a powerful addition to the V-Mixing System line-up that includes solutions for live sound with consoles, digital snakes, integrated playback/record and personal mixing.
The M-200i Remote iPad App is also available as a free download on the Apple iTunes store. The M-200 Remote iPad app is fully functional on all key aspects of the M-200i mixing and control parameters. Roland says it is a great way to experience the power of the console. It not only contains the typical preamp control, pan, high-pass filters, and extensive PEQ and GEQ control, it also includes the ability to store and recall scenes, adjust compressors and gates, sends on faders, patching, effect editing and many other parameters. This enables complete remote control of a mix from any location in the room, according to a company announcement.
Also available for download is the M-200i Remote Control Software (RCS) for Mac or Windows. This free application allows the user to control the M-200i mixing and setup parameters from laptop as well. It can be downloaded at www.rolandsystemsgroup.com/m200i and then select the platform application of your choice under the Downloads tab.