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November 2004

Tips for Church Mixing

By Gary Gistinger

When I say "blessed," I really mean it! Over the years I have seen many fine brothers and sisters faithfully putting in time at the mixing console, almost always getting the blame for anything that goes wrong with the sound. Very seldom are they getting any of the recognition they truly deserve, and often not thought of as being very important. Well, I certainly know better, so here's to all of you!


As we all know, church size and complexity range from the humble to the magnificent. We also know that the sound in churches ranges from terrible to fantastic. It is without question how important it is to have the best sound possible. Unfortunately in many churches the budget for proper sound gear and staff is inadequate or even possibly non-existent. So, oftentimes the faithful volunteer has to struggle with limited capabilities and equipment. Fear not! It can be done!


The scope of this article will be geared towards the small to mid level ministries that may not have all the latest and greatest gear. All of you "big" brothers and sisters read along too, as I have often seen very sophisticated systems being operated poorly!


To begin, the very first thing a church sound person needs to do is get a firm grip on the gain structure of the gear they have to work with. This is often a subject that is made very difficult and confusing, and of course it can be! However, if you can implement this concept, you will see a dramatic reduction in hiss, hum and feedback problems. A person with good ears and some patience can deal with this issue without expensive equipment.


Here's how:


Study your system
Make a sketch of your system starting at the microphones and inputs to your console, then move through any outboard gear/power amps to the speakers.


• Set the Gain Structure
• Set the gain controls on the power amps all the way down
• Set the gain knobs on the console all the way down
• Set the console faders at 0 / unity. This also includes the master faders


Run signal from a CD into the console, and get signal showing on the LED's or meters if they are available. You are looking for a reading of 0 or close to that.


Now set the power amps to a pleasing level. With multiple amps in a two/three/four way system this is a bit trickier, but with care it can be done by ear. Please be careful with the high frequency sections of mulit-amped systems. Most power amps are much too powerful for high frequency drivers and it is easy to literally BLOW UP horn drivers! With high frequencies, less is more, and you would be surprised how little you really need on horns! Bring the level of the amps up slowly, as you are listening for a good overall level. Oftentimes, the amps will provide a great sound at settings considerably less than "all the way up."


At this point I would highly recommend that all sound people forget the myth of "set your power amps all the way up". This simply does not work! The "headroom" aspect of this myth is just that: a myth! Here's why: The console doesn't know how powerful the amp is, the amp doesn't know what the speakers can handle, the outboard gear may be adding a ton of noise because of improper settings... I hope you get the idea!


The only time you would "set your power amps all the way up" is if you have a very small and under-powered system. With the amps blaring at full volume, the system noise is being amplified to the audio level. Here's the proof: If you hear "hiss" from your speakers, the system is probably not set correctly (although bad cables will do this too!).


Set the Channels
To set the channel levels, have the singers, musicians, and speakers send you signal to the console. The faders are already at unity, now bring up the gain knobs until you get the required levels from your mix. Sometimes, consoles will have a PAD switch to lower the gain of the incoming signal to a more useable level. If the incoming signal is too hot, by all means PAD it down. This often occurs with, and is called line level. CD players are usually very hot!


Live sound certainly can "get out of hand" with all of the various equipment available. Use some careful thought and you can get a very good sound. By and large, most gear is fairly forgiving and will work well if care is taken to "make it work" with all the other units in the system.


If you have questions we'll do our best to answer! Please contact us through our webpage at www.creationaudiolabs.com and take a close look at our logo, we think you'll find a familiar friend! Sarge out for now.

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