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!

 

 

What Does Your Church Facility Have To Do With Attendance?

The simple answer is nothing and everything.

I am sure you have seen massive churches that have very low attendance, relative to their size.  I am also sure you have seen a small church bursting at the seams with people.  As with most things in life, shall we say, the answer is also complicated.

Holy Spirit-filled ministry in any building brings growth, but I also believe that great Spirit-filled ministry results in great things that permeate throughout the entire ministry, including the facility.

So what can you do with your facility to help encourage attendance?

1.)  People come to church for an experience.

This experience is both spiritual and social.

I worked with a church who had an amazing piece of local artwork that you encountered as you walked in the front door.  It was a beautiful representation of Christ made with tiny pieces of colored glass.

It was such a thing of beauty that it caused you to pause and take it in.  It also became a great discussion starter for anyone new to the church. As they would see the art piece and stop to gaze at, a well-positioned greeter would chime in at the right time say how beautiful it was and how it was done by a local artist.

For those that attend or visit this church they have an experience that immediately points them to Christ and at the same time offers an opportunity for social engagement.  What in your facility brings a social or spiritual experience?

2.) People come to connect and fellowship.

One of my favorite things to do before a worship service starts is to hang out in the lobby and just observe what happens out there.  It’s great to watch old friends connect, to see people hug those who are hurting and to watch the joy the expressed and people connect.  ‘

Do you have a place that allows this connection to happen?  Do you encourage it by placing appropriate furniture and fixtures around to serve as anchors for people to connect?

3.) People come to find meaning.

One of the reason people come to church is to make sense out of this crazy life.  As mentioned above artwork can be a great way to for people to see things in a different way.  Sometimes art can be that catalyst that helps one find meaning.

Something as simple as having a place for people to bring goods and items to drop off to go help the needy is another way for people to connect and find meaning.

4.) People come to seek respite from a noisy world.

Today we are all bombarded with so many messages, many of them conflict with our Christian walk.  People who come on Sunday are wanting to take a deep breath, refocus and if only for a brief period of time get some separation from the noise.

In your facility are there areas where one can “escape” and get alone with God?  Do you have separate prayer areas? Seating areas that are in some out of the way places? Ultimately it is the individual’s responsibility to detach from the noise.  However, some simple things in your facility can help facilitate in that endeavor.

I really like it when there is a separate “quiet room” This could be a classroom that is converted into a prayer room.  Use soft lighting and comfortable furniture and a door that closes to create a living room type of atmosphere and separation.

5.) People come to seek comfort

One of the great comforts we have as Christians is having others pray for us. The prayer room that is mentioned above is perfect for this.  Make sure your congregation is aware of this room and encourage them to use it.
By providing appropriate space, atmosphere and experience your facility can help provide ways for people to connect and be ministered to and thus encourage people to keep coming back on a regular basis and to invite others.

 

Attaining Distraction-Free Worship Sound

It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.”

 

As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my life is quite hectic right now, packed beyond capacity with things to do.

Most of them are worthy things that I want and/or need to do, but they keep me hopping.

In response, I’ve chosen a very simple motto: “Simplify.” I plan to live by this simple (pun intended) maxim through the end of the year—at least. Simply (pun intended again), simplify means removing some of the clutter from my daily life and the complications that go with it.

When you’re a “type A” (driven) personality, as I am, there’s a strong tendency to not look before leaping—jumping with both feet into every project and activity without considering the consequences.

Even as mere humans, we can have tremendous capacity, but there’s a limit, a zone where there’s just too much noise, we feel too much stress, and we can’t be at our best in everything we do if there’s too much of everything to do.

In part, this new direction came about after a recent conversation with a friend about how noisy contemporary music is. Noisy as in busy. With all of the tools now available for music creation, recording, and amplification, sometimes it seems that they get used just because they can be used—without real purpose, resulting in compositions that are more noise than music.

The other day I was at a church that is looking to purchase a new digital mixing console. They’re moving away from the analog world.

But what struck me is the biggest factor to them in selecting a console is what plug-ins are offered internally or can run from an external server. Not once did they bring up sound quality, workflow, layout, I/O capability, operator friendliness, the ability to meet future expansion needs, and so on.

It got me thinking about what I see as a current philosophy of “we can fix it later”—just apply a plugin and all will be right with the world. Plop down a mic quickly and sloppily on stage or in the studio—no problem, we’ll just fix it with a plugin.

Even the more-humble live and recording systems have more tools than we can possibly need, just waiting to be applied nonetheless. But just because one can doesn’t mean one should. It’s adding up to a lot of noise.

A plugin can only do so much to “fix” a lousy mic signal—it’s still a lousy signal. So how about simplifying instead, taking the time to place the mic correctly in the first place in order to capture a quality signal?

I love technology. It can help us immensely in achieving our desired result, or even better. But there must be a point to using it. A voice must sound like a voice, a guitar like a guitar, a piano like a piano—once we achieve that, by applying simple time-proven concepts first, then we can take advantage of technology to tailor it.

One of my favorite photographers, Ansel Adams, did his work almost exclusively in black and white. The simplicity is one of the things that makes his work so powerful.

Late in his career, Adams used the latest darkroom equipment on his most popular work, Moonrise. Yes he took advantage of the best technology available—but he used it to enhance what was already there. He was not adding things, making it noisy; he was simply enhancing an already great image.

It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.” Can I get an Amen?

The Church As A Stage For Worship

When preparing for a worship service and setting yourself up for success, the little things can make a big difference.

 

When talking about what our worship services are going to look like on a Sunday, our worship planning team will often use the phrase “setting the table”.

What we mean by this, is setting the look of the stage for a worship service.

Our worship services in general do not involve many lighting cues, we generally set a look for the morning and leave it relatively static. As a team we have chosen to create an atmosphere and then – if fitting – we will make subtle changes to it.

What I have heard about our services is that people enjoy our style because it’s comfortable, done with excellence, but does not feel overly produced.  What I take away from comments like that is that people appreciate the atmosphere we create and they like the fact that worship does not feel like a concert with moving lights and tons of video elements.

Just because we don’t have tons of moving lights and video content doesn’t mean we haven’t given thought and planning to our services.

We have!  In fact, we have chosen not to use click track for the band, loops or even in-ear monitors. The drum set does not even have a cage around it!  Lest you think we don’t care about audio quality we do have a Digico board at front of house and a great sounding L’Acoustics PA.  To top that off on the video side we have a 9’x16’ led wall that hangs just above the band.  All of the decisions like no click or loops just fit who we are and for us it works well.

This past week I found myself pondering the question why do we limit the “setting the table” philosophy to just our worship services?  Isn’t the atmosphere as someone enters the parking lot just as important as the atmosphere in the worship space?  What about the bathroom, lobby, classrooms?  How are we setting the table there to reflect who we are?

I am beginning the quest to take the philosophy of “setting the table” throughout our ministry on Sunday morning.  Following are three quick things that come to mind.

1) Purpose
In order to set the right atmosphere or feeling involves identifying who we are and then running everything thru that filter.

I have a tech partner on my team that would love to add a bunch of moving lights, haze and video elements.  I am not opposed to that at all!  In fact, I love the tech side of it.

It would be fun and challenging and I sure rewarding as we would have a blast setting up and executing a service like that.  BUT as much as we might love it (and have done services like that) we have to ask the question, what purpose does it fulfill?  If the purpose doesn’t exist to do it, why am I using all the energy to make something like that happen?

Think about the exterior of your building, your sign, the overall look of the building what does it communicate?  I suggest that it needs to communicate excellence.  It is difficult to change the look of a building, however no matter the size, shape or color the building can look well maintained!  That right there is “setting the table” Well-manicured landscaping and a well maintained building helps prepare one for a positive Sunday morning experience.

2) Plan
In my opinion “setting the table” requires more planning than scripting out a service.  You would think with less moving parts, fewer cues and “simpler production” that worship planning would take less time.  Wrong.  Yes, a lot less time is spent on scripting out every minute and cue for a service.  However, a lot more time is spent in talking about the purpose of service elements and the order and sequence of the elements.

For example, a very long discussion might take place on the purpose of communion in that particular service.  Are we doing it just because it’s on the calendar?  That might be the reason and that might be just fine, but then we need to determine where it fits in the service and how it has meaning and purpose for being there.

On a ministry side I see more time being spent on why are we doing this vs we have always done it this way.  I believe only the federal government is worse at cancelling ineffective programs than the church is, and the church is not far behind. Routine and the “we have always done it that way” mentality often takes place of true planning.

3) Perspective
I learned this long ago, just because you think it is cool doesn’t mean that it really is.  I have had many great (in my opinion) ideas that I was sure was going to be loved and accepted by all fall flat on their face.  Why?  I did not get perspective from anyone but myself or anyone outside of my immediate circle.

In politics they refer to it as the Washington bubble.  This is where a politician gets caught up in the DC culture and totally forgets about the heartland or even the rest of the country.  The politician has created a circle that all revolves and DC and thus places them in a bubble where they do not even hear or get any outside the “bubble” input.

In church we are good at doing the same thing.  We create this echo chamber of likeminded staff and parishioners that keeps us insulated from really hearing or connecting with the congregation. On the opposite side of that often we only hear from the vocal critics.  We all know the ones who have a complaint about everything.

The key is to engage and seek input for the congregation.

This takes time and work, but if we don’t do it we can begin to make decisions on only small groups.  Those in our circle and those who complain.

Setting up a worship service for success does involve lots of work.  As they say “the table is not going to set itself”.  Even if the service is simple in its production elements.  To set the table for success you must find the purpose, plan it into the service all well listening to the true pulse of your congregation.

Evaluating Your Sunday Church Experience

Do you really know what the experience is of those who attend your services? Avoid overlooking some very important factors.

 

I think that often, as the church in general, we tend to overlook some really important things that impact the experience one has on a Sunday morning.  Yes, the preaching needs to be engaging, the worship spirit-filled and the people pleasant, but there are also other factors that impact the overall experience.

Let’s take a look at evaluating your church’s experience!

1. Facilities

  • How far away did I have to park?
  • Did I have to walk thru unplowed areas to get to the entrance.
  • If I am a visitor can I easily find the entrance?
  • Is there good signage to help me find my way around?
  • Does the building look well maintained?
  • Has the building been updated or does the décor still give homage to decades gone by?

Your facilities say a lot about who you are a church.

Your building – new or old – radiates a feeling whether it be mediocracy, excellence or failing.

What people see as they look at and navigate your facility gives them a very strong perception. It’s from that perception that opinions are formed about your ministry.

I don’t care if your building is 150-years-old or 1-year-old. An unkempt lawn, stains on the carpet and items in disrepair all say the same thing: you really do not care that much about the building.

On the other hand, clean restrooms, windows without finger prints and a wonderful aroma of coffee brewing communicate that as a church you care about the building and The Experience on Sunday morning.

2. Production

  • Was the production distraction free?
  • Did the service flow smoothly?
  • Was there some continuity throughout the service?
  • Did you walk away from the service with a reaction?  Encouragement, A challenge, conviction?

I often refer to the service itself as a production, not in a bad way or a way that implies manipulation, but rather in a way the conveys planning and purpose.

I often will also refer to the service as the product.  Again not in a negative way, but in a way that highlights what the church delivers on a Sunday morning.

I remember as a teenager walking into church 5 minutes before a Sunday night service and seeing the minister of music (that’s what we used to call worship leaders) sitting in the back row, thumbing thru a hymnal writing down the numbers of the songs we would sing during the service.

Even as a teenager it struck me that the music must not be that important.  I probably even wondered if the pastor just got up and opened the bible and just started talking.

A service doesn’t have to be “glitzy” and look like a Broadway production or concert, but it needs to be planned out and prepared ahead of time.

3. People

  • Were you greeted properly?
  • Did you feel welcome?
  • Did you feel comfortable?
  • Did you feel cared for?

We all know that it is the people that make a difference.  So why does church leadership, in general neither empower and commission people to be friendly, or model it for the constituents?

In a number of churches, I have visited I often see two extremes.

The first is where the Pastor that’s “larger than life” is pretty much the center of attention.  After the service he’s the loudest and the person that has to shake everybody’s hand.  He’s the one who wants to greet guests and visitors and nobody better get in his way.

The second is the recluse Pastor that magically disappears after the service.  He is nowhere to be found.  I guess he figured he did his part, the sermon and now is done for the day.

Obviously both of these responses are on the extreme end of the scale between being engaged and not available.  What really is needed is an entire congregation that is empowered to welcome people and make them feel comfortable. Many visitors will return just because somebody made them feel welcome.

So do an evaluation.

What is The Experience at your church?  If you visited your church would you want to return? Or, would you find some work that needs to be done.