While most of us would like to think our church experience should be about an organic relationship with Christ, the truth is, we are in the 20th century and technology, and very specifically media, is all around us.
Visual media is king, and number one on that list is video. With that in mind, we have to consider how to capitalize on this medium being a high impactful part of getting your church's message to the world.
But most churches are not megachurches, and you want to leverage this medium, but you can't afford broadcast staffing or the expense of a broadcast studio and a separate console. That's OK. You can - with some smarts - create a good broadcast product with your FOH console.
So let's start there with one console that is doing everything.
There are two methods in which you can send audio to your broadcast. You can create a mix using matrixes and also create a mix through aux sends.
I've been very successful at both, and I'll walk you through how to do each. You'll find some consoles, whether digital or analog, may or may not have a feature mentioned, which is why you are going to see a few ways you can work on developing your broadcast mix.
Visual media is king, and number one on that list is video.
Broadcast feed thru matrixes To use this method on your console, you will mix a blend of stems with your main house mix. Why are we creating stems? Well, mostly to balance out the difference between the music portions of the service, which lets just put a number on it, is averaging 95 dB in the house. Then your pastor comes up and he is only averaging 75 dB in the house. On a broadcast mix, that means the pastor is extremely quiet and will need a bit of a "boost" to match the level of the music content.
So the first group we will make what is called "Boost," and we will put all spoken word mics in there, such as your speaking pastor, host, welcome, and anyone who can grab the handheld mic, etc.
The next group will be "Playback," which includes playback sources from iPods, playback from your local Mac, videos.
The last group will be for Room Mics.
Now let's put this together. Build in your matrix mix the groups Boost, Playback, Room Mics and your left-right mix. This will take some time, and if you have the ability to run a virtual sound check, it'll speed up your process. But the goal here is to have all of your sources sound nearly at the same level as your final product.
The caveat to using matrixes to blend your feeds in the digital world may result in some time alignment issues with what is coming from your L-R mix, meeting up with the Boost or Playback groups.
Each different type of console likely has some tricks and workarounds to make it work. Some of those are taking the input channel directly out of the L-R send, and instead assigning the group to the L-R. Again check your console's instructions for how to build matrixes, based on their requirements to avoid echoes and delays in the matrixes.
Broadcast feed thru auxes If you have a free stereo aux send, you should be able to obtain more specific control over your broadcast mix through this method. The goal here would be to have your entire mix sent to the aux's post fader, so that you still get mix changes that are being made for FOH.
However, here you can make additional fine tuning changes to compensate for some things that don't translate well from the FOH mix to a broadcast mix. As mentioned in matrixes, you can set your spoken word mics and playback sources at a higher level to match your music content. Likewise you may find a vocalist, instrument, or FX you use in the house that need to be heard more or less in the broadcast mix.
The uniqueness of aux sends I love most, is that you have the ability to create a larger stereo image that you would with your FOH mix. Don't underestimate your stereo image, it can make your broadcast mix come alive, if leveraged correctly. Most digital consoles will allow you to adjust pan separately in auxes from your FOH mix.
Go ahead, pan stuff wider, leaving room for your spoken word mics, lead vocals, and other key lead instruments to own the center image.
Let's talk about room mics, also known as audience mics. These come in handy for a variety of reasons. Make sure you have two audience mics to get a good stereo image of the room and that they are never sent to the PA. Place the audience mics as close to the stage as possible, facing away from the stage and the PA. Close placement eliminates a lot of time alignment issues, which I'll cover here in a bit. If you have some decent hanging pencil condenser mics, hanging them from the ceiling is ideal so there is more even coverage of your congregation. Cardioid pattern is preferred, so we are not hearing what is behind the mics, that being the band and PA.
The first thing you should do is to EQ these mics to cut most of the low end out. If you have a HPF, or high pass filter, on your console, run that up to about 350 Hz, and you may use additional EQ bands to notch out some more low mids.
If your console has a LPF, or low pass filter, bring that down to about 12 kHz. The focus here is solely the crowd voices, eliminating all other unwanted frequencies the mics may pick up from the lowest and higher ends to clean up your mix.
If you are streaming live, and you don't have the ability to monitor the level of the room mics while mixing FOH, find a comfortable level to set them for your broadcast mix, where you can hear a little clapping and singing.
All right, it's time to send this mix somewhere!
Let's take a look at the final levels, because at this point you might have a great mix happening but it's distorting in video world. Let me introduce to you mastering, well rather in a crude way, but it'll get the job done.
Mastering from your FOH console. Most digital consoles likely can give you some final processing on your outputs. Let me be honest here, most consoles designed for FOH don't do hard limiting very cleanly. Most of them are compressors that can be set as limiters. To that end, you'll hear hard compression, pumping, and possibly some crunching. Some consoles you may have the use of studio plugins, and I recommend if possible, using studio limiter plugins to help you here.
But if all you have is onboard dynamics, you may want to bring your mix down and use a softer compression ratio to manage your broadcast dynamics. Also fine tune here with a final EQ designed to make your mix more appealing for smaller speakers, typically used at home.
Mastering outside your FOH console. If you are still running on an analog desk, you'll want to run your broadcast mix through an external mastering compressor or whatever you have around. This, like treating your levels internally from the FOH desk, is designed to reduce the dynamic range for your listener.
Mastering your broadcast mix through an external DAW for live and post. Depending on what you have available as a separate external recording device and software, you could feasibly feed your broadcast mix into external software, then back out to video world to your broadcast. Here you can really fine tune the mastering of your mix.
So if I open up Avid ProTools, I would have my two broadcast L-R inputs coming in. Now your FOH mix may be specific in EQ based on your PA, so it'll need some tweaking to sound good for broadcast.
The rule of thumb, though, is to compress first, EQ second.
So the first plugin I'm going to create is a compressor based on some sonic needs I want. Generally, I'm going for a warmer sound and a very light compression just to pat down some of the larger transients and gain up if necessary the overall level.
I'm a huge fan of Waves PuigChild 670 and other tube like plugins. The next plugin I may insert is a DeEsser. In broadcast, sometimes the FOH console does not treat the "S" well enough. For this, I'm exclusively using the Massey DeEsser.
After some dynamics treatment, I move on to EQ. Use any parametric EQ you'd like and make adjustments to create a good sound for smaller speakers that one would use at home. Sometimes, I'll use a Pultec EQ in the chain, honestly not doing much, but it adds a warm character to the mix. Lastly I'll treat the L-R mix with the Massey L2007 Limiter or Waves L-2 limiter.
To be safe, I always set the limiters at -1 dB, which gives you a bit of breathing room before sending to video or your live stream.
So lets come back around to those room mics. Are you hearing a slap or echo compared to your L-R mix? It's likely because the mics are too far away from the band. That's OK, let's fix it here in ProTools. So this will require four inputs coming from your console, and where you also are required to exclude them from your matrix feed and Aux feed from the FOH console.
Create an additional stereo channel in ProTools, and you can do some additional EQ'ing and limiting here also. But you'll want to go back to your L-R mix now and add a time adjuster plugin. You may know the estimated distance from the drum kit to where your mics are, start there, and then play with the timing by a few milliseconds until you hear things lock.
A quicker way to do this, which will work if you post your video later, is that you can nudge the room mics over until you see the transients line up. That will also give you a way to measure while live, how much to set your time adjuster for.
Now you are ready to send your mastered audio to video.
If done correctly, your signal won't be peaking over 0 dB. You'll have nice hot levels in your video feed that are not distorted, with a wide stereo image, and much more pleasing for your broadcast mix.
It takes some work to make a FOH sound great for broadcast, dial it in, take your time, but it's worth it to make the word of God clear for the world to hear.