Know your gear…

We recently upgraded our analog monitor console that had an emotional breakdown for the last time. Earlier this year, just before rehearsal on a normal saturday afternoon, it began pouring out the magical blue smoke. This causing two of us to carry it, running across the stage to the loading dock trying to get it outside. Turns out it was still salvageable, and a few weeks later back into the mix it went.

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Life was fine through the summer, until again, during a Saturday rehearsal the board had another break down. This was proving to become a common occurrence for the 12-year-old console. The decision was made to finally replace it, and a week later the new and improved digital console was in. But that is not the point of this post.

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This weekend, through a minor configuration change, I manage to wipe the output settings to the band’s In-Ear monitors, not once, but twice. Sending me into an internal panic. See, I didn’t setup the board. I let one of my guys do it, so that he’d get experience and frankly he loves that kind of stuff. This left me out of the loop, which was my fault. Now with the band and vocalists looking over my shoulder, I had to keep calm and patch the board, all 32 outputs.

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Because of the great work Kyle did setting up the console. I was actually able to re-patch everything quite quickly. However, it got me thinking what a risky move it is to have gear that plays such a vital role in our weekend service and to not know it inside and out. As tech people, whether on staff or a volunteer, we must make time to learn our equipment. If you’ve been around technology for any length of time, you’ll know how frustrating it can be at times. Knowing how it’s supposed to work, will help move troubleshooting along when needed.

Take a lesson from my faux pas this weekend spend some extra time learning your gear inside and out. I know I’ll be cracking the manual of our monitor console at Northview.

Morale of the story: Know your gear.

Guest Mixing

I had the awesome privilege to fill in for a fellow sound engineer at another church this past weekend. I rarely get to mix anywhere other than Northview anymore, in fact I can’t remember the last time I have since coming on staff. I need to get out more – I really do, I realized this weekend that my mix had become complacent in a way.

Guest Mixing at MPCC
Rehearsal at MPCC

I know exactly how the sound system at Northview sounds, and things have become so dialed in and digital (meaning everything’s saved) that I don’t have to do much more than just push faders it feels like. It’s like going to the gym and not adding any weight to the machines. While yes I am “working out,” I’m not bettering myself.

Guest mixing over at Mount Pleasant Christian Church (MPCC) this weekend was a big shot in my arm, and a bit of a smack across my face. It woke me up and inspired me to make some changes at Northview.

Three Takeaways:

  • You don’t know everything. Getting outside your circle of influences can really open your eyes to some new ideas.
  • You’re in someone else’s house. Be polite, and remember you’re there as a guest. Don’t try to fix everything, and ask before you do try to change something.
  • Network with their team.  Be careful not to cloister yourself away. Get to know their team, talk about their victories and celebrate them. Who knows you may get an idea to steal, I mean “borrow.”

I would urge all church sound engineers to get outside their auditoriums and mix at other churches. I guarantee it will open your eyes and make you a better sound engineer. If only to teach you other kind of equipment. I was fortunate enough to get to mix on the same model console as I have at Northview. However it was setup completely different from how I would run it. That’s not a bad thing, I’m not where the buck stops for sound board layout. The great thing with digital is, I was able to save their settings and lay it out like I wanted it. Then after the last service Sunday, I recalled what I saved at rehearsal and they’ll never know I was there.

So get your ears out there and change-up your surroundings. How often do you mix outside of your normal auditorium?



Weekend Mix

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We started a new series this at Northview called “A Journey Home” – I’m really excited for this series as it includes a special or two each weekend. These specials tie in better than any other series I’ve experienced before and just bring the message home.  Posted below are the live board mixes from week one. The band and vocal team this weekend was absolutely amazing! Enjoy these songs, and let me know what you think.

Weekend Mix:

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A Happy Little Mix (What Bob Ross Taught Me About Audio)

While channel surfing the other night I came across a Bob Ross Auto tune montage on PBS. I grabbed my iPad and began searching for clips of his “Joy of Painting” show. It brought back a flood of memories – watching his show at my great grandmother’s house, sitting on her lime green davenport (that’s what she called the couch.) Neither of us were painters, but we loved watching him – how he layered on paint, created shadows and textures, and in 26 minutes a work of art was complete. Hearing his soothing voice and him telling me to believe, still makes me think I could actually paint. It really got me thinking about how much being a Leader and Painting are similar.

If you believe, YOU can do anything. I know how cliché that sounds, but it’s the first step. In my ministry, I have had many people back away from mixing audio because it intimidates them. The knobs, faders, and lights seem overwhelming at first. When I start training a new audio volunteer, I ask them to commit upfront to give it 3 weeks (3 training sessions) before deciding it’s just not for them.

Instilling confidence in them, much like Bob did on his show, is very powerful. When I believe in their ability, they start to as well. They are an artist, and the stage is their canvas.

They are creating a masterpiece, using the instruments as paints, and the board as the brush. Add lows, cut highs, push the vocals, it’s all apart of a bigger work in the making.

There are no limits – swap a mic for a new sound, tweak the EQ, or add some reverb. Suddenly the mix comes alive.

I never get bored mixing because it’s always different. After a 1,000 shows/services, I know that the next one will be a new experience – a new canvas lets say.

I think now with inspiration from Bob Ross I will be thinking that the “Happy Little Bass Guitar” that needs turned up.

Happy Mixing and God Bless.

Bob Ross host of his show “Joy of Painting” which started in 1982. He’s known for his “You can do it” attitude and all around positive vibe.


Noise – How Sound Effects Us

The Psychology of sound has always fascinated me, and the science behind how as humans we react to sound and noise. Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency a company that specializes in Sound Branding for corporations. He shared at a TED conference in 2009 about how sound effects us. Now while Julian deals with corporations finding their “sound” his thoughts can easily be applied to live sound engineers. He starts this talk saying, “much of the sound around us is accidental and unpleasant” – it’s noise. If you’re like me there never seems to be enough time to rehearse and dial in that perfect sound. Often times we’re going into the second song by the time I feel the mix coming into a cohesive form. In doing this that poor first song didn’t get to shine.

When you are building your live mix, are you listening for noise that is unpleasant? Maybe a Hi-Hat with a harsh resounding ring in it, or a bass guitar that is distorting? That may seem elementary but when you have 32+ channels going full tilt, it’s easy for noise to creep in. Tweak your mix, get the “noise” out of it. I usually run two mics on each guitar cab. Some weeks I can tell that I’m getting something worth while. Other weeks its garbage, it’s not distinctive enough to warrant being put into the mix, so I cut it.

A few things I do when I mix, they may seem elementary but it’s worth saying.

  • Walk the room – Listen for things that aren’t presenting themselves at the mix position.
  • Use Headphones – Solo channels or groups to hear how they are blending up close.
  • Temporarily boost or cut a channel’s volume to see where it sits in the mix.
  • Do everything you can to become familiar with the music you’re mixing. This way you’ll be helping the musicians create the sound they are looking for.

It’s the small things to always be looking for. Those things are what keep a good mix from being a GREAT mix. We’re always trying to get better right?

Happy Mixing!

On a side note, I was really glad to hear him talk about chirping birds as well. I wouldn’t say I am afraid of silence, but I think I am addicted to noise. I use the White Noise app almost everyday which gets me my chirping birds fix.

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The Beat Goes On (Part 2)

This post is a follow up to The Beat Goes On: Part 1  Here I have taken our Heil PR30 top firing mics and recorded them from under the crash cymbals and then again from overhead. This was recorded live in the Nothview Auditorium from our Venue Profile direct into ProTools. The audio is raw: without compression, or EQ.




Crash Mics Under

The Heil PR30 mics are amazing. I have actually come to like them even more than our Earthworks Cardiod SR25’s I had been using.








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Crash Mics Over

I like the sound of using them in this pattern. The warmth of the Heil mics here too is astounding. Listening to the two recording below I think actually prefer this sound. So Now I am on a mission to get the under mics to sound like this. I just don’t think I can give up the clean look mic-ing under the cymbals is giving me.



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The Beat Goes On: Part 1

I love audio, and if PeeWee were here he’d tell me to marry it. What I love about it, is that there are so many ways to do something. There are very few right or wrongs and millions of opinions. There is a freedom to always push boundaries and try new things. I enjoy those spirited discussions that arise over different microphone types and placements. The people who swear by one brand and swear at another because of something that happened 10 years prior. I am asked all the time why our drum set has 12 microphones on it. Well I will start to answer some of those questions here.  So in the spirit of open dialogue and full disclosure, I thought I would share my latest thoughts on the drum microphones and how we use them at Northview.

Our Mics include:

  • Shure SM91 (Kick in)
  • Shure Beta 52 (Kick Out)
  • Yamaha Subkick (Kick Boom)
  • Shure Beta57 (Snare Top)
  • AKG C451 (Snare Bottom)
  • Shure SM81 (Alternative Snare Bottom – Just depends on what I am doing with the C451 that weekend)
  • AKG C1000 or SM81 (High Hat – with SE Electronics Filter)
  • Sennheiser 421 or Heil PR 28 ( Rack Toms)
  • Sennheiser 421 (Floor Tom)
  • Earthworks SR25 or SM81 (Ride)
  • Earthworks SR25  or Heil PR 30 (Overheads)

Here is where I start to get the weird looks and people start the name calling. I took our overheads and mounted them under the cymbals. Now this isn’t that crazy of a technique. I had thought I might end up with some weird resonance under there but remarkably I get a crisp, clean sound. Since I am already putting individual microphones on everything else, I don’t really need the benefit of an “Overhead” mic.

This individual approach really helps to isolate each piece of the drum set, and in a Live environment I end up with more control. It is also a huge deal for our video guys, gone are the days of giant boom mics in their shots. The drums have a nice clean look to them. I am currently working up another post with audio to demonstrate the audio difference between the Overhead and Underhead approach. About a month after I started doing this, Andrew Stone Production Director for Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK released this blog post and video. I was really excited to see this and thought he did an excellent job explaining it, I encourage you check it out.

What is that thing on you High Hat? – The high hat shield idea I stole from Andrew after he posted his video. I immediately ordered one and put it to use. The #1 complaint I get from the band is bleed on the high hat mic. The SE Electronics Instrument Reflection Filter was amazing. Now there is still some bleed, I mean it’s an acoustic drum set after all. But the high hat sound is much more defined. I highly recommend this approach. 

Why 3 kick drum mics? – Well, when I am mixing, there is this particular sound I want from that drum. You might as well call me Ishmael because that distinct sound is my white whale. For me, the Yamaha Subkick gets me closer to that sound. It adds that the extra boom the Beta52 doesn’t offer. Now I only use it in moderation, it’s not a ghetto blaster, but in our 2100 seat room, our people like to feel that low end. We feed our subs through an Aux (I’m a control freak I guess.) The Subkick is only routed there and not through the mains buss.  Because of the design of the subkick it basically has very little response above 600Hz. This means the bleed from other piece of the kit rarely interfere with it. With that information, I use the subkick to trigger the gates on my other two kick mics through the side chain. The Subkick alone is not enough. The SM91 gives me the attack and the Beta 52 does a good job with the low end, the subkick becomes the icing on the cake and allows my subs to really move some air.

Why a bottom snare mic? – I am a firm believer in the bottom snare and I have no more scientific reasoning other than years of practice. Adding the bottom mic, gives you that snap and crack of the snares. I switch out this mic a lot, trying different mics with different snares. I have pretty much settled on a condenser over a dynamic for the bottom, but that is just my preference. I know a lot of guys that use an SM57 on both top and bottom and get a great sound. When using the bottom mic, be sure to use reverse the phase on it.

Where are the mic stands? – I should really buy stock in LP Claws. If you are not using these yet, you should be! I use two mic stands on the entire kit, one for the Beta52 and the other holds the SE Electronics filter. Everything else is held in place with LP Claws. These really help you keep your drum area clean and easy access to move mics. We also went away from using stands on our percussion setup and went to all Claws, but that is for another post.

Part 2 has the audio files demonstrating the different mics. I have recorded them in different orientations to give a better idea of their sounds and placements.

What drum microphones are in your locker?



Live Mixes

I was blessed to be back behind the mixing board this past weekend. I rarely put any hours there these days, the volunteers have just flourished to the point where they are confident and prepared enough to go at it without me standing behind them. I still try to get there every so often, just so I don’t forget how it works. They say it’s like riding a bike, but I’ve never fallen off my audio board and gotten road rash so I am not seeing the comparison.

Below are the 3 services we did at Northview and are the raw board mix with the crowd mixed in. For this weekend I setup our LS9 next to FOH.

I have been on a quest to improve our “live” sound on the recorded video. This idea has me routing our crowd mics and house L/R feeds into the LS9. There I can delay the house mix to compensate for the crowd mic placement. Then the one set of outputs of the LS9 comes back to the FOH console so that ProTools can capture the recording. Another set goes straight to our Video Control room for the capture equipment.

Check out these raw mixes, they aren’t perfect but I am getting happier with the results. I learned quickly that the “Preset” compressor setting for TV should never be used, unless you’re playing back on an AM radio. I made tweaks at each service, please let me know which you think sounds the best in the comments section.


Worship from 09-08-2012 (Saturday Night with Drum Solo) from Northview Church on Vimeo.

Worship from 09-09-2012 (9am service with Drum Solo) from Northview Church on Vimeo.

Worship from 09-09-2012 (11am service with Drum Solo) from Northview Church on Vimeo.