CTA Classroom - Using a Click

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

by Mike Sessler,

A lot of worship bands want to play to a click track, a metronome that keeps everyone on time. There are quite a few companies (Boss, Korg, Yamaha) who make small, portable metronomes, and most have an 1/8” headphone or even a 1/4” headphone jack on them.

I’m not going to debate the use of a click and what it does or doesn’t do for the music; that’s another debate for another article. At this point, all I’m assuming is that the band wants to use a click and you as the audio engineer has to figure out how to make it work. There are several scenarios to consider, and I’ll try to come up with as many as I can.

Basic Configuration

First, you need to find a metronome (hereafter called a click because it’s faster to type…) with a headphone or line out. Take that output and route it into a DI. We have a cheap DI that’s designed to take a 1/4” stereo (TRS) source and turn it into two XLRs. Someone replaced the 1/4” with a 1/8” plug and we use that to get the click into the system. While you could buy a really expensive Radial DI for this purpose, it’s a click, so a cheap one will do fine. Set up gain for a solid, but not slamming level and you’re good to go. I use mono for the click; I’m not convinced stereo is worth the channel count.

Once in the system, you have to be very intentional about how you route it. Most mixers allow you to assign a channel to either a group or the L&R bus. With the click, you want to leave it unassigned. This is really important as you don’t want the click coming through the mains.

Read more: CTA Classroom - Using a Click


CTA Classroom - Using Audio Delay

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

by Mike Sessler,

Most audio effects processors include a simple delay. Often, that effect gets overlooked because we typically reach for the plates, halls and other reverbs first. However, if you have the capability, adding some delay can create some very cool effects.

For this post, I will contain the suggestions to vocals only. Guitarists often add tap delays themselves, and putting some tap delay on drums can be really cool (when done well). But those will remain out of scope for the time being (play with those on your own).

There are tons of uses for delay; I will focus on two today--thickening and echo.

Read more: CTA Classroom - Using Audio Delay


Getting the "right" sound

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

by Mike Sessler,

I've been having more conversations lately about trying to get sound "right." I've spoken with more than one Sr. Pastor or other church leader who just wants the sound to be "right," but doesn't really have a handle on how complicated the task of getting there is. In some conversations, they seem to intimate that there is a knob labeled "right," and all we have to do is turn it up and we're done. You and I know this is just plain silly, but I can understand their point of view.

For example; why does it take them 20 hours to come up with a 30 minute sermon? I mean really? Based on how I write, I'm quite sure I could write 30 minutes of dialog in under 3 hours. What are you doing with the other 17 hours, pastor? Surfing YouTube?

When we don't understand each other's worlds, it's easy to make assumptions. They tend to assume that the shiny new digital board mixes the sound all the way to "right" by itself, and we assume they're slow.

In an effort to bridge the gap, I'm always trying to come up with ways to explain the complexity of what we do. One of my latest illustrations comes out of my math-geekness. I started adding up the number of adjustments we make on any given Sunday to make the sound good. Then I started adding up the number of parameters we have at our disposal, out of which we make adjustments. Then it occurred to me that each of those parameters has a wide range of values. And I wondered what that big number added up to.

So I did what anyone would do, I built a spreadsheet. Starting with the basic parameters on our SD8 (I excluded multi-band comps and dynamic EQ, as well as inserted GEQs and FX) and started adding up how many things we can adjust (HPF, LPF, EQ, Comps, Gates, Auxes, Fader). In our current configuration, that number is 43. I then assigned an approximate number of values to each parameter.

Now this is somewhat subjective; take EQ gain for example. If you have 18 dB boost or cut, how many steps are there? The SD8 works in .1 dB. But who among us can hear .1 dB? So I took it to 1 dB, thus I have four EQ gains with 36 possible settings (actually 37, counting 0). I did the same with Q and frequency, then worked my way through the channel strip.

Any guesses as to how many values we have per channel strip? Remember, this is our board in our configuration and I've made some subjective judgements as to the number of values per parameter. Nonetheless, I came up with just over 2,000 values per channel!

Of course, we don't have one channel. In our case, we normally run between 32-40 channels on a weekend, depending on band configuration, number of speaking mics, etc.. Total it all up, and you are at 65,000+ possible values! 65,000! Some combination of those values will make it sound "right." And as my friend Roy says, "A lot more of them will make it sound wrong!"

I never really got a handle on permutations and combinations in math class so perhaps someone can help me out here. But if you take 43 parameters with 2000 possible values and spread it out over 32 channels, I'm guessing the total number of possible combinations runs into the billions. Math is like that.

Essentially, we have to pick one of a billion possible combinations (for each song, mind you) to make it sound "right."

Of course, this is a vast over-simplification; you can likely be 1 dB off on your guitar EQ and still be in the "right" ballpark. But when you look at this this way, it starts to become a little more clear that this is way harder than it looks.

And, we've not even begun to talk about mic choice or placement; reverb and other effects settings (heck, I didn't even count up output parameters and values!); or even the basic musical artistry that separates technically competent engineers from great engineers.

Feel free to pass this on to your Sr. Pastor if you're struggling to help him understand the complexities of what you do. I have the opportunity to run this by our Sr. and Exec. Pastor at the end of next month; I'll let you know how it goes.

Have you been successful in communicating the complexities of your job with your pastor? If so, what's your secret?


Shortening the digital learning curve

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

by Mike Sessler,

A while back I wrote a post on virtual soundcheck. Simply put, virtual soundcheck is a mechanism for capturing the inputs to your board as close to right after the mic pre as possible, then being able to easily play that back, in the same inputs as the real band. Digital consoles have made this process relatively easy, though the exact implementations vary.

The other day I was asked to recommend a digital console to a church who as looking to make the switch. As I pondered the options in their price range, one of their requirements kept coming back; the console should be fairly easy for volunteers to learn.

To some extent, this is a catch-22. An audio console is by nature a fairly complex device. The bigger they get, with more routing and mixing options, the higher the complexity. When moving to digital, the complexity factor goes higher. Even the best, most user-friendly consoles are still pretty complicated pieces of technology, and as such, require the user to spend a fair amount of time on them to be proficient.

This brought me back to virtual soundcheck. I thought of one of the ways we use virtual sound check, and that’s to train new volunteers. In the old days, training new volunteers had to happen either during the week, with no sound running through the board, at rehearsals, or--heaven forbid--during a service.

What I love about training with virtual soundcheck is...

Read more: Shortening the digital learning curve


The Sound Check Process

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

by Mike Sessler,

The other day I was talking with Kevin Sanchez, and he asked me if I had ever written a post about our sound check procedure. I thought I had, but a quick search of the site turned up nothing. So here it is.

I’ve found the sound check to be one of the most important times of the entire weekend experience. It’s a short window in time that allows you to set the tone for the service, either for better or worse. A smooth, well-run sound check will put the musicians at ease and enable them to lead well. A rough one will elevate tension and put the service in jeopardy.

For me, the key to a successful soundcheck is all in the preparation. That means...

Read more: The Sound Check Process


Page 11 of 19