Practice for Sound Techs: 3 Best Multitrack Recorders for Church

How does your audio person rehearse? Can a sound tech practice their craft? The answer is yes, and here are several of the best options in today’s digital multi-track recorders.

How does your sound tech practice?

Your vocalists practice, your guitar player practices, your drummer well… he may practice, but how does your sound guy or lady, practice?

Assuming that you have a 5-piece band – there are at least 15 hours of practice that the entire band has put in.  This is assuming a 2-hour band rehearsal and that each musician practiced 1 hour on their own during the week.

I believe that is an extremely conservative estimate. Those 15+ hours can be wasted by a bad mix during the worship service.

So how does your sound guy practice?

Some would argue that in the above scenario, the sound guy did get in 2 hourw of practice with the band.

But really was it practice?

Sure, the sound guy was able to mess with the faders, play with some eq, maybe dial in a little compression.

More than likely, this was mixed with taking care of the band’s needs.  It was also pretty fragmented.  He could have been in the middle of trying to set the gate on the kick drum and the band stops.

A friend of mine jokingly refers to the stop button.  You are right in the middle of dialing in something and the band stops and leaves your hanging.  So, what is the solution?

Enter Virtual sound check.

Record, Practice, Perfect your mix.

Today most digital boards have a multitrack digital out.  The most common form is USB.

With inexpensive, or free software, you can record 32 or more tracks of live audio to a computer.  Waves Tracks Live, for example, offers a free version that is fully functional (you can pay $99 and get phone support and priority updates).

Once you have recorded the band, then you can flip the inputs on your console to digital in and playback the multi-track recording.

It is just like the band is there live.

Now you can take your time, mute everything but the kick drum, and really hear the changes that your compression settings are making on that input.

You can also replay a section as many times as you would like and listen to how it sounds as you change your settings.  You can do this with all of the channels.

You can turn everything back on and play with your overall mix.

No more having the musicians wait around or play individually as you tweak the sound.

There are also devices on the market that are stand alone, purpose-built.  They do not need a computer to operate and you do not have to mess with any software. The advantage of a stand-alone device is that you have little to no set up and no computer to lug around.

There are many multitrack recorders that can do a virtual sound check.

The following are three of the best fit units for the worship market:

  • JoeCo has Blackbox
  • Cymatic has Utrack 32
  • NemoSyn has Ndrive

JoeCo blackbox comes in 3 flavors, Analog, Madi and Dante. 
You hook up a hard drive to the usb on the blackbox and you can record full uncompressed wav files. Physically a single rack mount unit, the Black box is geared towards the professional user and requires an interface if you only have usb out on your console.

Being rack mounted It is the most “pro version” and is great if you are on tour and want to capture audio from the show.  Your recording length in limited by the hard drive size that you connect to it.  Cost for the Madi version $3995,00 plus hard drive http://www.joeco.co.uk/BBR_models.html

The Utrack 32 by Cymatic is a purpose built card that fits in to the popular Behringer X32 digital mixing console. 
Once inserted in to the board you simply hook up a usb hard drive, download the app, connect the Ethernet port on the card to a wireless network and then you the app to control the recording and playback of your files. Cost $499.00 plus hard drive http://cymaticaudio.com/products/recorders-players/utrack-x32

Nemosyn has the Ndrive a portable usb recorded that can connect to any mixer that has a usb multitrack out. 
(Behringer, Yamaha, Soundcraft, Allen and heath and others have mixers with usb connectivity for multi-track).  There is a large record button, a large play button and a touch screen to control playback and recording.  The unit records to an onboard SD- card.  Nemosyn ships the Ndrive with a 64 gig SD card.  Cost $599.00 (includes everything needed) www.nemosyn.com

Virtual sound check is the by far the best tool a sound guy can have to hone his craft.  One of the really beautiful things is that now the sound guy and worship leader can sit together and work on the mix together.

It is well worth the investment; with practice you can perfect your mix!

 

 

Sound System Upgrade From Good Enough To Great

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road when it comes to system upgrades?

I’d like to share two experiences, unrelated on the surface, that really got me thinking.

The first happened at a church that was talking with me about upgrading their sound system.

If you’ve ever been through the process of updating a system, be it sound, lighting or video, you know it’s a chore—or actually, a set of chores.
There’s the pursuit of determining what’s needed, soliciting proposals, selecting a proposal, getting the church/committee to sign off on it, overseeing the install of the new components, and then figuring out how to operate them.

I could talk at length about any one of the steps, but based on my recent experience, let’s start with a question (actually two): Why upgrade, and what are the expectations?

My meeting was with the head sound tech (volunteer) and the worship leader. We were primarily focused on switching to a new digital console and main loudspeakers. The existing stuff is almost twenty-years-old, still works fine and sounds pretty good (twenty years ago it would have been considered a near-premium system), but it is showing increasing signs of age.

As we talked the sound tech made a statement that I hear way too often. Paraphrasing it, he said, “We’re not looking for something excellent, or top of the line, but more middle of the road.”

Every time I encounter statements along these lines, I want to reply, “Sorry, I’m not the guy for you. Please see one of my competitors because they have the whole ‘doesn’t suck too bad’ thing nailed down.”

Of course, what I really say is “Well, let’s see what we can come up with” and then I start questioning them about their goals and needs, working to steer them to the best solution for the budget they have available. And if they don’t have a budget, I gently push them to establish a reasonable one.

My question: Why do so many churches talk about middle of the road?

My own experiences, both as a church member and as an A/V pro, have shown me that most/all churches striving for excellence are growing, while the ones doing the “mediocrity thing” are stagnant or shrinking.

The specific church I’m discussing here did its upgrade 20 years ago in an excellent fashion. They invested in the best they could afford at the time. (I remember it because I was involved with the project.) The minister of music (as we referred to them in those days) solicited a couple of proposals. It was a growing church, the place was pretty full, and he laid out the system needs while stressing that he wanted top quality. “I want these speakers to be hanging here 20 years from now,” he said, prophetically.

My proposal sought to meet his challenge. My competitor tried to go the middle of the road route. Of course, the minister of music did not want to settle for that.

A couple of years after we did the install, he said to me. “I never thought we’d get to use your company because you’re known as the provider of ‘Cadillac’ systems, but it turned out that you were less the 15 percent more than your competitor—and we knew with you that we would get something that would serve us well and stand the test of time.”

With that context and memory in mind, I move to my second more recent experience, where I was working front of house at a seminar at a mid-sized church. It was a very simple event, a headset mic and a handheld mic. Doing EQ on a mid-level console (only one band of sweepable EQ), I listened closely to how the system sounded. It was “just OK,” and there really wasn’t anything else I could do to make it better.

During the event, a church member who serves on the sound team stopped in to pick something up, and in passing he said, “Keep your hand on the fader—every once in a while the system just doubles in volume for no real reason, and if you don’t catch it the feedback is painful.”

Nice!

So now as I paid much more attention to the board, keeping my finger on the fader, I also began mentally adding up the cost of the system.

My conclusion was that for maybe 10 percent or so more investment, the church could have purchased far better equipment. Sound quality would be higher, and more than likely, they wouldn’t be having issues just five years after the installation.

It really does seem that with most things in life, it’s that extra 10 percent that takes things from good to great.

Something we all need to keep in mind when we’re thinking about system upgrades, because it can very much pay off in the long run.