It’s the digital age.
Why would a church founded on pillars of Sacred Scripture and TRADITION benefit from state of the art, DIGITAL technology? It’s the greatest no-brainer in the history of church audio. Here’s why…
- Because it is consistent
- Because it is easy
- Because it is foolproof
- Because it is flexible
Consistency is key!
Several years ago, I was at lunch with a friend of mine who was contemplating going back into restaurant ownership. He asked me, “Greg, do you know what the key to success is in making a restaurant successful?”. Foolishly, I responded with “Great food?”. Then he asked me “Would you consider McDonalds restaurants to be successful?” “Of course” was my answer. He told me “Consistency is the key to making a restaurant successful. Some restaurants have become successful by delivering excellent food consistently, and some have become successful by delivering crappy food consistently. The key is that every time someone orders a specific meal at a restaurant, they want to know that it will be the same as the last time they ordered it.” (By the way, location can also be argued as the key to success, but for this post, we will focus on the consistency)
Think about it. Would you continue going to the local burger shop if you consistently ordered your favorite combination, and every time you received it there was something different about it? Like one week, they put your #4 combo on a wheat bun, and next week they served it on a tortilla? I know I wouldn’t. People who order a Quarter Pounder with cheese meal at McDonalds want it to be like the last Quarter Pounder with Chesse they ate. People want the same experience.
So let’s bring this back to audio, since that is the focus of this article. Would it be a great experience for you if you walked into Mass at your parish one Sunday and the microphones were barely audible, and the next week they were so loud that it hurt? Or worse, at one mass, the music was so loud that it hurt, yet you couldn’t hear the readings from the Ambo at all?
Those scenarios are awful. The problem is that in many churches, they are also true.
With a digital mixer, you can “save” all the settings in your audio environment to what most manufacturers call a “scene”, and then “recall” them at a later time in the future, like next Sunday. So let’s pretend for a moment that your church hired a professional sound engineer. Let’s say that they came to your morning mass and tweaked, adjusted, and perfected the balance, EQ, and gain settings for every microphone in the church, and then “saved” those settings into a “scene” called “Morning Mass”. Guess what would happen next weekend when the engineer wasn’t there, but you “recalled” the scene called “Morning Mass”? Right. Everything would be EXACTLY the same as when the engineer last hit the “save” button.
Would this scenario help the sound in your church?
Digital is Easy?
Yes, digital is easy. There is a learning curve, and you can make mistakes, but overall…digital is easy.
Digital mixers can be controlled by a traditional surface that look and work exactly like an analog console. There are also digital systems that can be controlled by wall plates with buttons programmed to “recall” a specific scene. At my parish, we have abandoned the mixer, and control our system with two wall plates and an iPad.
Here’s the greatest example of digital being “easy”. I can rehearse my music ministry teams in the choir room until 10 minutes before mass. At that time, we can walk out, plus in the guitars, press a button on the wall, and (wait for it)…be ready for mass. No soundcheck needed. No more wondering if anyone tweaked anything during the week. No more concern about running back to a mixer and trying a soundcheck before mass. By the way…our parishioners love it. They don’t have to listen to us drone through a “check one, one two. mic check, check? check!”. One button, and we play mass.
I have heard it said that if you make something foolproof, a better fool will eventually come along. While that may be true, with many different digital mixer systems, you can grant your users (volunteers or staff) certain “permissions”. Here’s an example…
At the parish where I work, I am the Administrator, and have complete Admin rights over the system. I can save scenes, overwrite settings, recall settings, overwrite existing scenes (gotta be careful). Our technology partner also has Admin rights in case something comes up at the church when I am not in town (never happens, but just in case, ya know?).
Our volunteer sound techs use (2) wall panels and an iPad to make adjustments during our larger and more complex masses, but I have not granted them permission to “save” anything to a scene, or overwrite any settings. In other words, they can adjust people’s vocal mics during a mass to make sure that our vocals are blended, but at the end of the mass when we “recall” our daily mass scene for the weekdays, all of their changes are gone and the system resets back to where it was before they arrived.
Untrusting? Not exactly.
If there are changes that need to be made, I trust their ears and listen to their counsel. Since I work on the system almost daily, I have found that it is better that I make those changes and save them, because ultimately, I am responsible for the system.
One additional point in foolproof. Most digital mixers have the ability to save all your scenes in something called a “show” file and transfer them to a USB stick. I backup to 3 different USB sticks. Two remain onsite, and one travels with me at all times. If our digital system melted down in a fire, I could drop in an identical digital brain and transfer all of our mic and scene presets in a matter of seconds. Is that a big deal? It is to us. Here’s another scenario… we often have large events at my parish where national speakers are brought in. I have a scene called “guest”, so anytime a speaker or band come in, I save their settings under that “guest” scene. On the day of the event, after soundcheck, I know that I have everything saved for that event on a USB drive so that if anything happened, I can recall their data in seconds. You could call it OCD/Obsessive, I call it prudent.
Digital Mixers are a great solution for the church. They give you…
- A consistent experience for the people in the pews (and the clergy and musician teams)
- Easy control and operation of your audio environment.
- Foolproof and reliable operation.
- Tremendous flexibility.
In my next post, we will dig into the flexibility and tools that are included in digital systems to really make your audio shine, err, sound amazing.