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Church Sound: Challenging Digital Myths
This week is not last week...
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When I was at Crosswinds, we did a Saturday night service (that was preceded by a afternoon rehearsal), and two services on Sunday morning. By the time we got to Saturday night’s service, the room was warmed up and we had snuck up on a good mix.

In the morning, however, it could be 10 degrees cooler in the room. The earlier service was often lighter in attendance. In the summer it was more humid, in the winter it was drier. When we started up in the morning, everything was different.

Then came the later service. After getting the early morning service on track, the whole mix was shot for the live walk in at the 10:45. What happened? Everything changed. The room was now warmed up, and full.

You see, having a digital board doesn’t take away the responsibility to conduct a proper sound check. It doesn’t free the engineer from having to mix. It doesn’t allow the musicians to not communicate what they want in their mixes. Even with a digital board, there’s a lot of work to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like having a digital console. It enables us to quickly switch from one type of service to the next without a lot of re-patching. But really, that’s it.

The settings we recall each week are nothing more than a starting point. In fact, I’ve been advocating that our starting points start with zeroed out gain and monitor settings. Why? So those get done each week the right way.

At first, that may seem like it’s counter-intuitive, going backwards from having a baseline of last week’s “good mix.” I’ll say it again; this week is not last week. Even if the band is the exact same week to week, stuff changes.

In fact, the only time I would advocate starting with last week’s set up is if the entire band was exactly the same. Then and only then could you even consider it. If only one instrument or vocalist changes, you are better off starting from scratch. Still, I would argue that you’re better off starting from scratch each week (from a gain and monitor standpoint anyway) all the time.

So what about EQ? What about it? It changes with time also. Think you have a guitar dialed in exactly this week? Guess what, if the guitarist plays during the week, it’s going to sound different come next Sunday.

Same with vocals. Very few singers can perfectly replicate the same vocal performance week after week. Not to mention the fact that room is going to vary based on temperature, humidity, loading, etc..

So am I completely dismissing the recallable set ups of digital boards? Not at all. Just don’t buy into the myth that if you save this weekend’s settings it will all be the same next week. ‘Cause it won’t.

Don’t think that if you spend $20,000-$50,000 on a digital board that any monkey can sit back there and make great sounding mixes after someone who knows what they’re doing has “set it all up.”

There is still no substitute for a good mix engineer, and for ongoing training to make them better. And if the person who is sitting behind the mixing desk week to week can’t hear the difference between a good mix and a bad one, no amount of digital recall-ability is going to fix that.

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.

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