CTA Classroom - Using Groups

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by Mike Sessler,

Since it’s a new year, I’m going to change things up on the blog. I’ve noticed that my posts have gotten increasingly esoteric, and possibly only relevant to a small set of readers. So I’m going to set aside Friday’s post as more educational that will hopefully be useful to a wider cross-section. Rather than get all geeky talking about snapshots and scope and automation, we’ll hit things like using groups, gain structure, basic lighting techniques, presentation tricks and probably even some video tips. With that brief introduction, let’s get started. Today’s topic: Using Groups.

Groups Defined
A group, sometimes called a subgroup, is basically another mix bus that you can send the output of channel faders to. You could say that the Main Left and Right is a group—a stereo group typically. The signal comes into the input channels, the gain is set, it’s EQ’d and finally the output goes through the fader to a group; either the L&R main output— sometimes there’s a Mono option also—or you may have anywhere between 4-12 groups.

Most analog boards over 16 channels have at least 4 groups. Larger desks often have 8, the biggest may have 12. Typically, these are mono groups, though most of the time the output of the group can be panned left or right so if you use two of them you can build a stereo group. Usually, the output of the group is fed to the L&R mix, though some boards offer group outputs as well. If there is a matrix mix on board, the inputs of the matrix are usually the groups (including L&R).

Using Groups
To send a channel to a group, you typically push a button somewhere in the channel strip to assign that channel to the group. To save button count, there are normally half as many buttons as there are groups (plus a L&R button). If you want to assign the channel to Group 1, you would push the 1/2 button and pan the channel hard left. To get to Group 2, same button, panned hard right.

Often, the groups automatically are assigned to the L&R mix. Sometimes you have to engage a switch to send it there. If you’re unsure, break out the manual (blow the dust off it first…). Normally you can pan the group if you want.

It’s important that you un-assign the channel from the L&R mix if you’re going to be using groups. Otherwise, you double the channel’s level at the L&R mix, risking overload, and negate the purpose of using groups. If you’ve been playing with groups and come in one day to find no signal coming out of a particular channel, check the group assign switches.

Why Groups?

If you’re mixing to a mono or stereo system, it might seem like more work to use the groups; why not just send everything straight to the L&R mix? Well, you certainly can. However, if you have more than a few instruments on stage, or if you have a band plus a choir plus a number of people speaking each weekend, the use of groups can really make your life easier.

There are dozens of ways you can use groups and I won’t even begin to try to list them all in one post. I will present you a few examples of things I’ve tried which will hopefully give you some ideas. First up, consider a basic 4-group board such as a Mackie 1604VLZ (or the current 1642 VLZ3), a Yamaha MG32FX, or an A&H 2400 series.

A&H GL2400

Allen & Health GL 2400

A Four Group Option
With four groups, you can’t break things up too much. But you can make them useful. Consider this layout:

  • Group 1: Drums
  • Group 2: Guitars
  • Group 3: Keyboards
  • Group 4: Vocals

In this situation, you would assign all your drum mics to group 1, all your guitars to group 2, and so on. Anything that doesn’t fall into those categories gets sent straight to the L&R mix. The advantage of doing this is that you can now move entire sections of your mix around at once. If the drums are feeling too loud in the mix, you can pull them all back, while retaining the balance you’ve set up between the mics. Need some more keys? Push the group up and you’ll get both piano and synth, again, maintaing the relationship between them you set on the faders.

One other thing you can do is group compression. If you don’t have 32 channels of compression for every input channel (and with an analog board, you probably don’t), you can insert a comp on the group. When I was mixing on a Soundcraft Series Two 32-channel desk with 6 channels of outboard comp, I typically had one patched in on my Vocals group. It’s not as ideal as compressing each singer individually, and you do need to be careful how much you compress (that’s another post), but a few dB of gain reduction on the vocal group can keep untrained singers from getting out of place in the mix. Remember, less is more here, and the upside of compressing everything as a group is also the downside; everything gets compressed. A few dB of group comp on the drums can really help glue that together in the mix as well.

An added benefit is that you can now shut the entire band off in the house by pulling down four faders. Note that the group faders will not affect aux sends, so if the channels faders are still up and the channels un-muted, sound will still come out of the monitors. That may or may not be what you want depending on your situation.

Yamaha IM8-32

Yamaha IM8-32

An Eight Group Option
If your board offers eight groups, you have some more flexibility. Here’s how we had our Series Two laid out:

  • Group 1: Speaking Mics
  • Group 2: Vocals
  • Group 3: Drums
  • Group 4: Guitars
  • Group 5: Keys
  • Group 6: Brass Section or Vocal Team (varied by week)
  • Group 7&8: Stereo for CD, iTunes and Video playback

With this type of set up, you can easily tweak the mix using just the groups. Once the overall mix balance is set up, adjustments can be made on the groups to highlight different sections of the band for different songs. Having mixed for a few more years since then, here’s how I may lay it out today:

  • Group 1: Kick & Bass
  • Group 2: Rest of Drums
  • Group 3: Guitars
  • Group 4: Keys
  • Group 5: Brass or Vocal Team
  • Group 6: BGVs
  • Group 7: Worship Leader(s)
  • Group 8: Drama mics

I would sent speaking mics to the main L&R mix, along with all playback. The reason for putting the kick and bass together is that those two form the foundation of the mix. Since they’re tied together musically, it makes sense to control them together. I wouldn’t try to group compress them, however. If you did, every time the kick would hit, the bass would drop down. Better to use individual comps or none at all.

Other Advantages
If you have a matrix, breaking your band up to feed the matrix can be very useful. For example, let’s say you have some ceiling speakers in the lobby or a cry room. Sending the entire house mix to those speakers may cause distortion from all the low end, or the vocals may not be clear. But let’s feed it from a matrix that’s fed from the groups. In this case, you could lower the level of Group 1 and perhaps slightly bump the level of the vocals. If all your channels don’t end up in groups, you can start by sending the main L&R mix to the matrix, then supplement with additional groups to get the mix you need—“subtraction” happens by not adding a particular group to the matrix. Groups give you a lot of flexibility.

I could go on for another thousand words, but I’ll call it quits for now. Obviously, I’ve only scratched the surface of the use of groups, but as I said at the beginning, my intention was not to be exhaustive, but suggest some ideas that will get you thinking.

How do you use groups? Please feel free to share!

To read more of the CTA Classroom series, click here.


No Budget Tip #3 - Fighting the effects of time

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by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel

Having trouble getting your microphones to sound good? Are the instruments sounding muddy? Are things not quite as good as they used to be?

Maybe it's time for a new system (that's what many dealers will tell you).

I can hear you now, "But you said that this article is a 'no budget' article, and last time I checked, my dealer didn't take 'no budget' for payment."

Your system probably sounded pretty good at one point, so the problem may not be in the equipment - the problem may be time.

Time? What does time have to do with it?

Read more: No Budget Tip #3 - Fighting the effects of time


Don't turn your iPhone off during worship!

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Virtually every church that projects announcements during its services has a slide of some sort that says something like "Ssh...Please Turn Off Your Cell Phone During Worship."  Why?  

Well, of course a ringing phone is a distraction, and a conversation from the pews is generally inexcusable, not to mention what a bunch of little radios does to the wireless microphones, unbalanced signal cables, and more.  

In short, make sure to leave your iPhone off, unless you're a part of the tech team, and if you are, I have a few tricks to show you.  

The most basic is a free SPL meter from Studio Six Digital.  But that's not the half of it.  It's actually only a third of what we'll discuss today.  

One of the most exciting is ProRemote from the folks at Renewed Vision.  If you're a ProPresenter for Mac user, you'll find ProRemote to be invaluable for those times when you want to control the software via wi-fi from either the presenter's hand or from anywhere away from the computer itself.  Pastors, have you ever wanted a remote control so that you could advance your own slides? 

Best of all, this one's just $4.99 and it's available from Apple's AppStore.  iPhone and iPod Touch users are familiar with how to get there.  For more information on ProRemote, please visit Renewed Vision's website.  We don't sell it and don't make a dime for mentioning it. 

And visit our site for more info on ProPresenter for Mac or PC.  The demo software for ProPresenter is free to download and we can get you an activation key to unlock ProPresenter within minutes, during normal business hours. 

Kramer offers three 9-input presentation video switcher/scalers (used to select from cameras, computers, DVD, VCR, etc. for use on your projection screen) with the ability to be controlled by an iPhone app.  The VP-729, VP-730, and VP731 all offer the ability to use your iPhone as a control device.  You can change sources, adjust menu and network control settings, and more.  Neat stuff.  Each has a different set of features, so if you have questions about your specific application, please call for help with product selection. 

There you have it; at least three good reasons to not turn off your iPhone during worship. Don't let your pastor know that I said that it was okay.  A word to the wise; discover Airplane Mode on the phone very quickly.  Do you really need to take calls during worship anyway?  Airplane Mode also keeps an incoming phone call from defeating the iPod app while playing a song, if you're using the iPhone or your iPod Touch during pre-worship, post-worship, or when playing a background track. 

Apple, iPhone, iPod Touch, and other marks are registered to Apple.  Apple gives no endorsement to these products or apps. 


Silence is Golden - No Budget Tip #2

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Silence is Golden.

by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel

In the last installment, we talked about how the use of proper microphone (mic) technique yields better results at no additional cost. The combination of mic in the right place will help you achieve great sound.

In today’s “No Budget” tips, we’ll talk about some tricks to help you make things sound better.

Nothing destroys a great sounding mix faster than leaving microphones on when they're not in use, or using a microphone with a pick up pattern that's too wide - consequently picking up all kinds of unwanted material along with the source. Ambient noise is an enemy of great live sound.

Don’t get me wrong; when recording, ambience and spill help create a sense of space and dimension that wouldn’t otherwise exist. In live work, however, ambience and space already exist in your auditorium.   So what is the best place to start to assure better sound? 

Read more: Silence is Golden - No Budget Tip #2


No-Budget Tips to Improving Your Sound

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No-Budget Tips to Improving Your Sound

by Eric Chancey, @BigDaddyDecibel

So, what exactly are “no-budget tips to improving your sound”? This article is the first in a series about making improvements to your audio mix - improvements that don't require you to spend a dime on new gear.  

I realize that these tips may be basic to you but profound to others. Along the way, I'll bet that you find something that you can use.  I hope to add a new tip every week...until I run out!

Today's tip: Mic Placement

The best place to start to improve any sound is at the source, but it’s not always possible to replace a whole drum kit, or a player's favorite instrument. Besides, the challenge of sound reinforcement is to accurately reproduce the sound coming from the instrument.  

Move the microphone around.  

If the sound you are getting isn’t working well for you, the first thing to do is to try moving the microphone around in proximity to the instrument.

For example, if your kick drum doesn’t have enough attack ("click" from the beater), move the microphone closer to the batter head. To deepen the kick sound, move the microphone away from the batter head and you’ll get more low end.  

Warming up or clearing up your vocal sound can be just as easy.  If you have a vocalist whose voice sounds dull... (click the link below to read the rest of the article)

Read more: No-Budget Tips to Improving Your Sound


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What others say

Also wanted to let you know that our first week with the new system was incredible!!!
People were really blessed, and were so blown away at the clarity of speech and audio overall in the entire space.

So thank you so much!!
Phil Kosakowski
Director of Technical Arts