But how will you steer it?

We got excited last week because I finally ordered our new auditorium FOH console. This is the part of the new upgrades that gets me drooling the most so bear with me.

When we first started talking about upgrading our auditorium sound system, one thing that kept coming up was we wanted to add a monitor console to the facility. Every week we have 8 mixes going that are currently done from FOH. Not only does that not seem to be enough mixes for us, but the 8 mixes that are happening don’t get enough attention because the FOH engineer is focused on mixing FOH and not monitors. As I talked with the other FOH engineers on my team, the consensus was that it would be better to relocate our current FOH console to monitor duty and acquire a new FOH console. The current FOH console is an Allen & Heath ML4000 (32 channel frame w/ 24 channel sidecar). It gets the job done, but we are maxing it out throughout the year and it’s missing some features that would help us make Sunday’s run smoother.

Let me give you a little background on a typical Sunday for us. Our Sunday services probably have more in common with a theatrical production–although, our goal isn’t to create a show–than a traditional church service. The majority of Sundays look something like this:

  • Begin the service with a praise and worship set. This is typically 4-5 songs featuring our vocal team and band. The typical band features drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, synth, and piano. Sometimes there’s a violin or sax added. Every so often we have what I refer to as the classical ensemble (2 cellos, 2 flutes, violin). And then sometimes there’s an 8 piece horn section . It’s actually kind of cool to get that kind of variety to mix. On top of that we’ll have anywhere from 8-12 vocalists singing every week–I was talking to someone the other day and they don’t know how we can handle 8-12 open vocal mics, but I guess we’re just used to it.
  • Next a member of our ministry staff welcomes everyone and makes some announcements.
  • This is followed typically by a color piece which could be a drama or a video. Sometimes it’s an interview. A few weeks ago we had a chef on stage cooking–that was cool…
  • The color piece generally rolls into a special music number that transitions into…
  • The message by our senior pastor or a member or our ministry staff

A typical morning has maybe 12 or so different cues ideally–control freaks like myself would maybe go up to 20. Up until now, my team has been handling the different cues by using the 8 mute groups on the ML4000. If we hook up a laptop, we can get 128 snapshots. However, I’m told the last time my team tried using the software it added a lot of hours in programming cues coupled with limited flexibility. The board works fine, but maybe it wasn’t the optimum choice for what we do on a weekly basis. It’s going to work great for our monitors, though. This leads to the new FOH console.

Initially, we were thinking of staying in the analog realm, but in the end decided digital was probably going to be a better route. As our church continues to grow, more and more events are making use of the auditorium and thus impacting our Sunday morning setups. Digital gives us the ability to instantly recall our settings. It also gives us the ability to store EQ and compressor settings for our large worship team. The current paradigm schedules a different lineup of band and vocalists every weekend so now we’ll just pull up each team member’s settings before the start of rehearsal.

We decided to go with the Digidesign Venue for the new FOH console. Initially we were looking at the Yamaha PM1D, although I was a bit leary about the learning curve for the team; the PM5D looked a little more user friendly, but it wasn’t big enough for us and no there’s expandability. When we first started designing the new sound system, the Venue was brand new so I was initially concerned about its stability since it is such a new product. Once the console upgrade was approved we went back and looked at the Venue again because it had some features we loved that the PM1D was missing. Here are two of them:

  • Direct Pro Tools recording ability: This was a big one. One of the goals is to start recording live worship albums, and this makes that a lot easier. These recording will also get used to help train future FOH engineers. I really don’t know how to train someone to mix other than to let them get their hands dirty and start mixing. However, this isn’t easy for us to do because there is an expectation for rehearsals to sound like Sunday mornings. With an archive of recordings, I can just pull up a past service on an off-night and let someone start playing with our actual band.
  • Plug-ins: These will do away with 95-100% of our outboard gear. While researching the Venue, I found that most of its users are almost exclusively using plug-ins and very little to no outboard gear. I’ve been using Pro Tools for a long time so I’m familiar with a lot of the plug-ins, too.

I talked to several current Venue users and the feedback was extremely positive. Not only does everyone love its features, they also seem to love the sound of the console which I haven’t heard about some of the other digital consoles we looked at. I had hands-on time with the board out at NAB and a private demo with our other FOH engineers. The control surface is pretty intuitive, and everyone is psyched to have this thing coming in. I’m particularly looking forward to showing Vegas mode to my two month old son.

We’ve been playing with the standalone software you can download from Digidesign for quite some time now, so I’m actually very familiar with the inner-workings and routing abilities of the board. The flexibility is awesome. I have a starting template that’s probably 95% there just needing some minor tweaks here and there as we figure out some better ways to do some of the routing and things we’ll need to do. The template is currently getting passed around the team to get a handle on the console. Hopefully we’ll be up and running on it in a little over a month from now.

Check out Digi’s website for some cool videos on the Venue. They’re spread out throughout the pages. http://www.digidesign.com/products/venue/

David Stagl

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But how will you steer it?