Hey guys! So if you keep up with our social media you may have seen that we just launched a little something new this week, we call it Skype Sessions! Now, you may be wondering what it’s all about? We wanted to take a second today just to share our heart behind it and what we hope it will accomplish! It's available now on our products page for you to check out!
Do you ever feel like you're playing catch up on Sunday mornings? That from the time you walk in the door to the time the service ends you were doing nothing but tracing down one problem after another and didn’t even get a chance to make things sound good? What if I told you there was a way to change this?
Alright sound guys (and girls), let's get really honest for a sec: do you ever feel like you're just not getting better at mixing anymore? Maybe you felt like you were progressing and getting better each week at some point in the past...but now, does it just feel like you've hit a road block in your journey to progress as a sound engineer?
You’ve probably heard about the idea of getting your mix to “glue” together. It’s usually talked about like it’s some mythical, magical process that only the top engineers know about, and maybe for a time that was true…but not anymore! Most modern digital consoles can achieve the kind of “glue” that we’ll be talking about today just by using their onboard dynamics processing. Additionally, companies like
How to Pitch New Gear
As a follow up to last week’s article, I wanted to take a second and talk about how to ask for that gear upgrade AKA, how to pitch new gear. While it may seem pretty straight forward, “Hey pastor, we need X-ammount of dollars for this new gear, cool?” Sometimes…thats not cool. There is an art form to proposing upgrades. Learning to submit the requests correctly, with the right information and at the right time could be crucial to whether you actually get the gear or not. Here are a few tips that I have found work very well in my experience.
1. Make sure you are ready
If you’re not sure if you’re ready for new gear go ahead and take a look at last weeks post. But, if you’re ready and know it, clap your hands…just kidding, read on. In Luke 16:10 Jesus introduces the principle that “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much”, I guarantee you that this idea is very present in your leader’s minds when considering who to give money too and who has shown to be faithful with it. Make sure that you have taken good care of the gear you have, and that you have squeezed every bit of value out of it. I am sure the leadership will not hesitate to send money your way if they know this is the way you operate
2. Overestimate the cost
It never fails, it doesn’t matter if you’re buying new gear, renting a car, checking out at waves.com, or just getting a few things from the store…stuff always costs more than you think it will. It looks really bad if you’re pitching your needs to your leadership, and later on, you have to go back and ask for more because you miscalculated. I see it far too often where the person in charge of the upgrades has to keep going back and getting costs approved because the number just keeps getting bigger. Even if the cost is going up because of completely legitimate reasons beyond your control, from the perspective of those forking out the money, it comes across as poor planning and lack of knowledge. Make sure that you think about the cabling needed to connect the gear to the system. How much is shipping? Are you going to want/need a warranty on it? (Hint: warranties can really be life saver and make you look like the hero when the fix is free!) Make sure you are always leaving a margin for things like this. After all its better to ask for more upfront and end up not needing it all then to be the guy/girl that has to keep going back asking for more and more money. Don't be that guy!
3. Submit it as a solution to a problem
One mistake that us sound guys often make is thinking that the leaders above us who are not particularly technical, see the same value as we do when it comes to gear. We love to get new gear for fun and we know why one piece of gear is better than another. Afterall, thats why we have the role we do. However, most of the time the pastor isn't going to understand why you should spend $200 on that multi band compressor plug-in that just makes the vocals sound nice and creamy. Now, its not that you’re wrong…muti-band compressors are the best thing since single band compressors….however to the non technical people, as long as they can hear the vocals…it’s probably not on their mind at all, its plenty good enough. Why spend $200 to fix something thats not broken?
What helps in situations like these is to propose the gear as a solution to a problem that even the non-technical people recognize. Something like, “ You know how we have a really hard time hearing the worship leader when the whole band is playing? This plug-in would completely fix that.” Or “This will make it easier to hear the vocals without having to turn them up so loud.” You are guaranteed to win some votes with that one! As long as you can provide the new gear as a solution to a problem (one that both you and leadership agree is a problem) you will be off to a very good start.
4. Connect it to the vision of the church
This may seem like common sense to some but I can't talk about requesting new gear without mentioning this. Ultimately what you are doing is asking for an investment in your production team. Leaders want to know that they are going to get a good return on their investment if they choose to use the church’s funds for your team. In order for them to do this, they need to be able to see how it benefits not only your interests as a tech team, but also the overall vision of the church. For example, lets say your church has a huge reach locally in the community and does lots of community outreach and events. However it doesn’t carry a very large online presence. Getting a broadcast console approved for live streaming and a new computer to multitrack everything is going to be a much harder sell than say, a brand new portable PA and console packed into shiny new road cases that you can use for all the community events (With your logo on the cases for extra advertising!). Just an idea. The point here is to make sure to take some time and think through how the upgrade you are requesting fits into the overall vision of the church. Be ready to explain that when you request the money because that will definitely be on their minds.
Side note: This doesn't just apply to new gear purchases, even just for microphone upgrades it could be as simple as pointing out that “at least 40%-50% of the duration of the service is spent in worship. We want to make sure that we give our members the most pleasant listening experience when they choose to spend a Sunday morning with us. Upgrading our drum microphones would put us in a much better place as a production team to make Sunday mornings that much more pleasant for our congregation.”
Okay…That one’s for free! ;-)
5. Show the research
Lastly, when you do present your proposal, I highly recommend that whether they ask for it or not, you are prepared to show a little bit of research. Give them the reasons that lead you to your specific solution. Maybe come prepared with two solutions to the problem (Hint: always show the more expensive option first, you have a much better chance of actually getting the cheaper option in that scenario!). Do your homework and if you find out that buying those specific microphones off amazon is cheaper then buying them from Guitar Center (true story), then let them know! Tell them that you were originally quoted $500 from Guitar Center but after a little homework you found out that you could get them from Amazon, delivered straight to the church for $450. Even if the savings aren't massive, they will certainly applaud the effort and take comfort in knowing that you did the research and are making an educated suggestion.
Good luck friends! As always If you have any questions (or would like some recommendations on new gear!) don't hesitate to shoot us an email at email@example.com
How do you know when its time to upgrade?
Alright guys, who doesn’t love new gear? I know there's no way that I’m the only one who spends at least a little time each day, day-dreaming about what gear I wanna buy next! While it would be nice to get new gear all the time, we know that's not how it usually works. Part of our job is to be able to know when we actually need new gear. So how do you know when you do need that new console, microphone, compressor etc.?
Here are a few of the mile markers that I’ve learned can show you when it really is time to go and ask for that upgrade.
1. When you have physically outgrown your gear
This landmark is probably the easiest to know when you’ve hit. There comes a point when you actually outgrow the number of channels a mixer offers you. Or you outgrow the space your speakers cover. Ideally, you can see in advance when you’re nearing the point of outgrowing your gear and you can have a conversation about it with your leadership. If not, you may get stuck running at full capacity for awhile and that means you have 0% flexibility which is a place no one likes to be in. Do your best to see this one coming and have the conversation before you actually do outgrow your gear. This doesn’t apply to just consoles, this could mean making sure that you don't exhaust your entire stock of XLR cables, so that when you have to add that extra vocalist last minute…you have cables for it!
2. You already know the gear like the back of your hand
One common mistake I see fairly often is churches upgrading to the next newest and best thing before they have fully understood and utilized their current setup. Many times when I am called in to help out a church, the team has already made up in their mind that a new console would solve all their problems. But after a look around it’s clear that their current console can do the job, they just haven’t learned how to use it. I am a firm believer that you shouldn't resort to buying new gear to fix a problem unless you have learned all there is to know about your current setup. There are SO many resources out there on the internet for you to learn everything about what you have. Between youtube, case studies, manufacturers website and yes even the manuals, there is no excuse to not become an expert on the gear you own. It's actually quite fun to hunt down as much information as you can!
3. When there is a weak link in your signal chain
Sometimes there is one piece of gear in your signal chain that could be limiting the quality of all the other gear in the chain. For example, lets say you have top notch microphones, high quality XLR cables, a brand new digital console running 96khz, all coming out of some age-old speakers that look like Noah hung them after he got off the ark…Something tells me that you’re not really going to hear the full quality of your mics and console and killer musicians. Let's say you’ve got a great full range speaker system, a killer band and brand new console but only sm58’s to mic your entire drum set…you see my point. Sometimes it is easy to spot the weakest link in your signal chain, if it's hindering your ability to fully utilize the rest of your system…it might be time to upgrade it.
4. If you spend most of your time finding gear hacks
We’ve all been there at some point, at the present time there is no budget so we just have to find ways to make things work. While this is a skill that many church sound guys need to possess…it is also a sign that an upgrade really is needed! I have not only been to many churches where this was the case, but I have been caught in this myself…we have so many complex work-arounds going to make a console do something or to get signal from point A to point B…it really is worth to just spend the money and get the right piece of gear for the job. If you are down to using the dry output on your analog FX unit as another direct output for your monitor system…it just might be time to upgrade (true story)!
I hope this finds you well and that it was helpful in distinguishing the things that really need upgrading, and the things that are going to have to stay in our daydreams for now. Happy mixing guys and gals and as always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to shoot us an email!
How Loud Is Too Loud?
The other night I was at a show at a local bar…I mean church…I mean…no it was definitely a bar, seeing a friend’s band play, and the mix was LOUD. Like, uncomfortably loud. I pulled out the dB meter app on my iPhone (not super accurate, but close enough) and it was reading 112 dB on average during loud choruses. Luckily I had earplugs, but it got me thinking: how loud is too loud? And what do we as church engineers say when people tell us that the mix is too loud?
On a technical level, it’s pretty easy to say what’s “too loud”. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has done research to determine exposure times at various decibel levels that can lead to hearing damage. Their data tells us that around 106 dB (A-weighted) for 3.75 minutes will lead to possible hearing damage. That’s pretty loud, but I’ve definitely heard some church environments (especially camps/retreats) hit that level regularly. Above that, you get to a mere 2 minutes of exposure at 109 dB and less than a minute of exposure is acceptable at 112 dB. So…I’m really glad I brought those ear plugs.
In purely the technical sense, going over 106 starts to get into the territory of “too loud” for the average ear to handle for the length of a typical song, but there’s a lot more to it than that. For on thing, it’s rare that a song is going to be that loud for the whole duration of the song. Contemporary worship music usually has a lot of dynamics, with lots of different parts that are soft and loud. So it’s unlikely that you’re going to hurt anyone if you peak at 106 for a few seconds at the loudest part of the chorus, because after that loud chorus there’s going to be a softer verse or instrumental that drops the dB level back down again. There’s a lot of give and take when it comes to loudness.
But let’s talk about what really matters: your congregation’s PERCEPTION of loudness. You could be running at 91 dB, which on a technical level is perfectly safe to listen to for 2 hours straight…but if you try to pull that level with a congregation full of older people, you’ll be kicked out of that church faster than you can make a joke about turning down their hearing aids.
My personal “safe level” for the churches that I mix at (which are contemporary, medium-to-mega churches playing modern worship music) is from 92 to 98 dB depending on what it feels/sound like in the room, and what the congregation is used to. Lower than 92 dB, and the mix usually starts to feel flat and lifeless, but higher than 98 dB, and you usually start getting complaints from the people near the speakers.
So what do we do when we get a complaint about it being “too loud”?
The answer is: it depends. If the complaint comes from the pastor, or from the tech director, I immediately turn the mix down. There’s is ZERO room for argument when the request comes from them. You might be perfectly within the safety levels defined by NIOSH, but if the pastor says it’s too loud, then it’s too loud.
But what about the other times, like when a random congregation member comes back to the board and says I’m running too loud? This is when we as sound engineers have to be very objective. There’s definitely a chance that I may have become caught up in the moment and have pushed things louder than they should be. So the very first thing I do is to check my dB meter. If I find that I actually am loud, I’ll pull down the mix a little and thank the congregation member for telling me. That’s just the right thing to do. But, if I REALLY, objectively don’t think it’s too loud, I’ll politely tell the congregation member “Thank you, I appreciate your input, if you’ll come stop by the sound booth after service, I’ll be more than happy to talk with you”. That’s my line, every single time. Feel free to use it.
If they actually do come back after service (which is exceptionally rare) I’ll explain to them that I’ve been hired by the church to provide a certain level of sound reinforcement that is compatible to what thousands of churches across the country do on a Sunday morning, and that what they were hearing was absolutely not damaging anyone’s ears. Usually, that’s enough to satisfy them, but if not, I’ll refer them to the tech director or a pastor on staff for follow-up, but I’ve almost never had that happen.
Hopefully, this has provided you with some insight on what volume is “too loud”. It’s a complicated subject, but it’s an important one that needs to be addressed. Above all, trust your ears. If it feels like a good volume, it probably is.
-Worship Sound Guy
As always, we want to help you become a better live sound engineer! So if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
*All figures quoted above are based on the “A weighting” system of sound measurement, and all information is based on my experience – none of the information contained within this blog should be taken as scientific, and I take no responsibility for its use.
Hi everyone! Before we jump in to this blog post, I want to tell you something really exciting: we're starting a blog. Wait...don't we already have one of those? Well, yes. But this one is going to be better, and more consistent. It's called "Sunday Soundcheck" and it will be posted EVERY Sunday morning for you guys. It'll feature tutorials, interviews, and reviews that will be much more comprehensive than what we've been able to do in the past. So make sure to check back every Sunday to read the newest posts. Without further adieu, let's jump in to our first Sunday Soundcheck which is...actually about sound checks!
5 Steps To A Better Soundcheck
The pre-service soundcheck can often be one of the most frustrating parts of the church mixing experience. What should be a time to make sure everyone is ready for rehearsal/service can easily turn in to a horrible mashup of musicians noodling on their instruments, tech directors/producers trying to figure out who has which headset mic, the media team trying to check a video in the middle of a song, and you the sound guy in the middle of it all just trying to hang on for dear life!
So, here are few things you can do to help the band and the rest of the team function better together during soundcheck and rehearsal.
1. Set up the stage
This might seem obvious, but it’ll come back to bite you every time if it’s not done properly. Before the band ever loads in, you need to make sure that all the appropriate mics, lines, cabling, and equipment is set up on stage so the band can walk in and get set up without having any questions. Nothing slows down a sound check quicker than a keyboardist who gets completely set up, only to discover that their DI box is suddenly missing and you have to track it down, or when a worship leader doesn’t know what mic that they’re supposed to use. Setting the stage beforehand eliminates all of these issues and helps insure that the band can load in and get set up quickly. At my church, I even go as far as to put down a little “X” mark on the stage where each person will stand with masking tape that has each band members name written on it so they’ll know exactly where they’re supposed to set up. I also set out bottles of water for everyone and print out copies of the order of service from Planning Center for each musician before they load in. Maybe those little steps seem like overkill, but I firmly believe that letting the musicians know that you’ve prepared for them and that you’re expecting them allows you to be able to host them well and builds trust between you and the band. Think about it like the stage is your home, and you want to host your guests (the band) well while they’re there.
2. Do a line check
Once the stage is set, take a couple minutes to check each mic and line on the stage to make sure they’re assigned to the correct channels on your mixing board. It only takes a few minutes to check, and it eliminates the frustration of trying to track down a mis-patched input during rehearsal. While you’re at it, make sure you change all the batteries in any wireless mics/in-ear packs so you don’t have to worry about anything dying during rehearsal or service.
3. Communicate with the band
Once the band is loaded in, it’s up to you to tell them what you need to check. There are lots of different ways to run a sound check: you can have each individual musician play their instrument and check them one at a time, or you can have the band run a whole song and adjust things while they’re all playing, but the one thing you CAN NOT do…is let the band choose. When the band runs the sound check instead of you, it ALWAYS turns in to the guitarist playing a Van Halen solo, while the bassist does his best Flea impression, as the drummer twirls his sticks and spaces out wondering if the girl he’s crushing on is going to come to service. That’s what happens…always. So don’t let it! Take control of the sound check and ask the band for what you want. That’s your place as the front of house mixer. Once the rehearsal starts, it’s on the worship leaders or the music director to lead the band, but before that, it’s on you, so take charge and make it happen!
4. Set your gain levels appropriately
Keep it in the green! Ok, maybe just a little in to the yellow…but not red! Setting your input gain level might be THE most important step during a sound check. You can worry about EQ and compression while the band is actually practicing, but if you don’t set your gain correctly, your whole mix will suffer. With your input gain set to the optimal level, everything about mixing will be easier, and things will sound better. Don’t miss this step! Just because it was set last Sunday, doesn’t mean it will be the same for this Sunday!
5. Walk the room
Your auditorium doesn’t sound the same everywhere. I guarantee it. If the only place you listen from is behind your mixing board in the back of the room, you have no idea what the people on the front row are really hearing. Heck, you don’t really even know what the people sitting 15 feet away are actually hearing. That’s why you have to walk the room. I’m a big proponent of walking the room throughout practice, run-through, and even during service if you can, but checking what things sound like throughout the room during sound check is a great way to hear instruments individually in a way that you might not be able to when the band is playing all together.
We hope this helps you have a better Sunday morning experience! We’d love to hear from you to know what you think about this blog, or if you have any questions for us about any aspect of live sound production!
-Worship Sound Guy