CTA Classroom - The Soundcheck

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by Mike Sessler,

Soundcheck time can be one of the most productive times of the weekend from an audio standpoint. It can also be one of the most frustrating. I have seen a soundcheck turn normally mild-mannered and reserved musicians and engineers into angry combatants. My brothers, this should not be. Soundcheck can be very efficient, productive and dare I say fun; but we have to do a little work first. Because there are so many different ways to do a soundcheck (and so many different church situations), I’m not going to prescribe one “perfect” way. What I want to do instead is offer a series of suggestions that hopefully apply to all situations, and you can create your own plan. Sound good? Here we go…

Read more: CTA Classroom - The Soundcheck


Buying better gear will save you money.

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Americans are wired to want it now, to want something for nothing, to think about the short term at the expense of the long-term.  Agree? 

Maybe I'm crazy.  I know that the best gear costs more than the cheapest gear, but hear me out on this one. 

The other day, I realized that I use equipment, some of which is 20 years old, and that works perfectly.  Over the course of 20 years, obsolescence takes its toll on electronics, but lots of pieces still work.  I have a friend with a Roland Vocoder from 1985 and a Roland SDE-1000 digital delay.  He might even have an original Alesis Midiverb and Midifex.  How about SM58 microphones and Atlas MS20 microphone stands from 1983, circa 1990 Beyerdynamic M300 and M201 microphones and GST500 boom stands?  They all work. 

Where buying good stuff  really pays off is...

Read more: Buying better gear will save you money.


CTA Classroom - The Proximity Effect

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by Mike Sessler,

Today we’re going to take a quick look at a characteristic of directional microphones called the Proximity Effect.

The proximity effect is one that exists in microphones with any of the cardioid (cardioid, super-cardioid, hyper-cardioid, ultra-intersellar-cardioid—OK, I made that last one up…) patterns. As the mic is moved closer to the sound source, the low end response of the mic is boosted.

Proximity Effect

Sample vocal mic response graph.

On this graph, the solid line represents the response of the mic at 12” from the sound source. The dashed line shows the response at 2”, and it’s clear how much the lower octaves are boosted. This can be desirable for vocals, as it tends to add warmth and a nice bottom sound. However, those boosted lower frequencies can also be overpowering and cause the sound to get what we often call “muddy.” Clarity can suffer at times depending on the vocal and the sound quality of the mic.

We need to be aware of the proximity effect for two reasons. First...

First, when we’re using cardioid vocal mics (and we almost always are), if we’re hearing excessive low end in the vocal, we know exactly where to roll off that low end to bring it back down to a more manageable level. Second, if a vocalist is moving the mic all over the place, near and far, the low end response is going to change. That makes it difficult to get a consistently good sound. At that point, we need to have a quick discussion with them (and not via the talkback mic…) about holding the mic at a more consistent distance from their mouth.

It’s important to note that the proximity effect isn’t all bad. We can take advantage of it when we need some extra low end. Keeping guitar mics right close to the cabinet will help emphasize the lower registers. And if we’re getting too much low end, before reaching for the EQ, try pulling the mic back a little bit.

The same can go for drum mics. Experiment with moving them closer and farther from the drum heads to see what kind of sound you get. Typically they work best pretty close, but sometimes backing them off just a little will clean up the low end overtones. Other times, keeping them really tight will help emphasize the low end (especially in floor toms) and give you some extra oomph.

I like to take a look at the frequency response graphs of mics I’m using to get an idea of how they will respond at various distances. Some manufacturers are really good at providing good data, others are not. However, more information is always better, so take a look at your mic manuals, or search them out on the manufacturer’s websites. Having a good idea of how your mics react will help you get the most out of them.

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


How can I reduce stage volume?

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Since many churches aren’t large enough to have the acoustic volume from the stage diminish into the space of a large auditorium, the only feasible answer is to drastically reduce the acoustic volume of instruments, amplifiers, and monitors so that the sound in the public seating area is both manageable and not too loud.
The main offender in most cases is the volume of the drums. There are two choices to take care of that, and drummers don’t often like either of them. You can switch to electronic drums or you can put the drum set inside or behind a drum shield or isolation booth. Both can cut acoustic volume dramatically. If you choose the shield or isolation route, be prepared to buy some microphones
I can hear you know, “if the drums are too loud, why on earth would I spend money to reduce the volume and then to increase it again?” That’s a fair question. 
Inside an isolation booth, the congregation won’t hear any direct sound from the drum set. Using microphones will allow you to bring back just enough presence to make the sound the way you want it to be. 
Electronic drum sets are another topic. No matter what anyone says, nothing feels like a real drum. Nothing sounds like a real drum. But the reality is that most electronic kits have better sounds than most churches are able to create with any combination of shields, isolation, microphones, processing, etc. 
The drummer won’t like it, at least initially, but most everyone else will. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice. Seriously. 
Minimizing the drum volume may take care of the issue for many of you by reducing the need for higher volumes to be heard over the drum kit. If not, your next most likely offenders are instrument amplifiers. Again, you have two choices; electronic emulation and isolation. 
Tech 21 makes its SansAmp series of pedals that do really nice guitar amplifier emulation of well-known brands like Fender, Vox, Marshall, Orange, and more. They’re $149-299.95 and they work really well. Many guitar and bass players won’t want to give up their amps, but again, you might find that “giving up” a $299 practice amp for something that emulates a $1500 tube amplifier might not be a sacrifice after all. 
Your other choice is to use an amplifier isolation booth, which will cut the volume in half. Again, you’ll need a microphone to pick up the sound that’s hiding inside the isolation booth, but that’s the price that you have to pay. 
With those sources under control in terms of volume, you might find that the monitor speakers can continue to be used. If the monitor volume is still too loud, your only other solution is to go with what some call a Quiet Stage and to have all of your platform participants using in-ear monitors or headphones
The possibilities for how to do in-ear monitors are endless. There are wired systems, wireless systems, systems with personal mixing (each user or group of users controls their own sound), systems that are simply extensions of your existing audio mixing console based around headphone amps. 
To discuss specific solutions, give us a call. We’ve used and/or tried lots of things and everything that you’ve read about above has solved some problem for someone we know, alone or in combination with other products. 

How loud is Loud Enough?

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The battle is almost as old as the church sound system.  It has always baffled me that the pipe organ can be played at 100dB, but that when the band plays at 100dB, it's often "too loud."  We're not here today to define how loud is "loud enough" or "too loud" for the acoustic volume of your worship service, but to help figure out how much difference there should be between what your congregation hears from the main sound system and what the congregation hears from the monitor speakers, instruments, and amplifiers on the platform, in order to hear the sound system with acceptable clarity. 
To allow optimal clarity of sound in the seating area, the main sound system needs to be about 25dB SPL louder than the volume from the monitors, instrument amplifiers, and acoustic instruments. That may not sound like a big deal, but it is. 
If the platform participants require monitor volume that spills over into the main seating area at 90dB SPL, your main speaker system must be about 115dB SPL to compensate. 
An average sound pressure level of 115dB is much too loud for long periods and impossible to attain in most settings, so it makes sense that the monitor volume (as it relates to the room) must be reduced in order to improve the overall clarity of the system.
Managing the acoustic sound from live drums, live instrument amplifiers, and associated monitor volumes can be a nightmare. Guitar amps sound best when they’re wide open (loud) and a guitar player’s sound is his or her signature. Same with the bass player and the drummer. 
Have you noticed how much more tone a drum set has when it’s played hard than when it’s played lightly?    Therein lies the problem. 
Everything sounds better when they’re loud enough. Unfortunately “loud enough” on stage often forces the sound technician to balance the “it’s too loud” snarls from the audience with making the mix feel good out front.
Make sure to see the companion article entitled "How can I reduce stage volume?" in the Resources section of our site. 

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What others say

Just a quick note on the two Da-Cappo DA12's our church purchased from you last week. Wow! They really reproduce the voice accurately, whether speaking with the omni, or singing with the cardioid. This was money well spent! Thanks for great advice, as always.

Vic Schiro