I call this the “dialed” baseline because we have so much of it preset. Typically, my gain settings are within 3-4 dB of final, I have basic EQ, dynamics and even monitor mixes pre-built based on the last few hundred services I’ve mixed.
If time were really a major factor, we could probably call up the baseline and mix the show live and it would be fine—it’s that close. I even have presets for various players and vocalists in my library that I can call up to get me even closer based on the band configuration that week.
None of this means I’m locked into anything, and we can and do change stuff, sometimes quite a bit. But the baseline we use gets me really close right out of the gate.
For us, this is important because we have 2 1/2 hours on Saturday to practice and rehearse the service before we kick off the weekend services. Anything we can do to help the process go faster is a big deal. That’s how this whole series came about in the first place.
Like everything else in live production, everything has trade-offs. Yes, I could probably stay a little fresher from a mixing perspective if I started from zero each week; but for me, getting the band up and running in 15-20 minutes is a bigger value as it gives them more time to practice. A more comfortable band means they can give me better source material, which makes my job easier.
We version our baselines like we would software—really, that’s what it is. As of this writing, we’re on version 8.8; that shows you how many tweaks we make. Each version gets us closer to the ideal starting point, and occasionally introduces a few “bugs.” These are corrected with additional point version updates.
Depending on your mixing platform, you may have to come up with different ways to version your baselines. On the Yamaha platform, for example, you may have starting configurations stored in Studio Manager, and use the computer to store your versions. Just push the latest one over to the desk.
Develop A Plan For Your Setting
However you do it, the plan should work for you. Just because I have a fully dialed baseline doesn’t mean that’s the right thing for you. Consider your needs, your band and your operators. I’ve made the choice that I’d rather let the computer do most of the heavy lifting set up for me, which frees me up for other things. But that may not be the best option for your church.
Whatever you do, come up with a plan to back up your baselines. There’s nothing worse than coming in on a Saturday afternoon to discover that someone has overwritten your baseline with a whole bunch of changes. Keeping a spare on a thumb drive in your office is not a bad idea—as long as you keep it current. Dropbox is also a wonderful solution.
Like everything else in the Optimized Stage series, this takes some time. It doesn’t happen over night; I’ve been at Coast Hills for 3 1/2 years and I’m still working on this process.
However, every time we implement another step in the process, our weekend set up goes more smoothly and the services happen with less stress on everyone, so I think it’s worth it. Start with a plan, and work the plan; you’ll get there eventually!
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.