This article is one of a multi-part series addressing some of the biggest pitfalls that church technical directors encounter with the latest digital mixers. I originally wrote this article 10 years ago and looking back over it, I have to say, I still see the same problems today.
#10 Not knowing signal flow at the front end of the mixer
I see this from House of Worship environments to the “pros” in the secular world mixing “A-list” artists to the corporate guys pushing faders for talking heads at conferences. But I see this most often in churches, where mic inputs need to be moved, and no one knows what the signal path is.
Signal path is: Simply the route a particular signal takes through a chain of equipment and/or electronic components on the way to its destination. When we think of signal paths in audio we are usually thinking about connecting different pieces of equipment together and routing some signal(s) through them. [SOURCE]
It is so important that you know the signal path of everything in the system you’re operating, not just for troubleshooting problems, but to prevent issues in the mix. Do you know if all of your microphone lines are “good?” Are they functioning without hums, buzzes, or noise? If you are called upon to add an instrument at the last minute, can you get it in the FOH (front-of-house console) and in the monitor system without major wiring surgery?
Typically, in the audio world, the “A2” or “systems tech” knows the “ins and out” of the system. They know every system’s patch point, floor box, extension, and cable. The church world rarely has the luxury of having a systems tech. Most church techs have to be the A1 (FOH) engineer, A2 systems tech, monitor engineer, and audio janitor, all rolled up in one.
Do your mic lines pass through a patch bay? Has the patch bay been serviced since it was installed? Dust and gunk will find their way into the bay, so as a preliminary precaution, clean them out.
If you have Phantom power passing through the patch bay, make sure you have all patching done before your musicians put in IEM’s (In-Ear Monitors). The best practice is to ensure you have the main house fader(s) down so you don’t send a transient (pop) through the system and potentially blow components in the process – – or damage your musicians’ ears!
Sooner or later, a mic line, mic cable, and input jack will fail in the system. The more you know about the overall input signal path of your system coming in before the mixer, the better prepared you are to fix it and then mix it!
What do I mean by “before the mixer?”
Many churches have transitioned from analog mixing consoles to digital mixing consoles, and for budget reasons, they chose to reuse the analog snake. Or, worse yet, they have the digital stage boxes on the platform and have floor pockets, or stage boxes, mounted in the platform with analog copper wiring running to the digital stage box. All of the wire from the instrument to the mic pre-amp on the digital stage box is considered “before the mixer.”
I could be walking you into a rat’s nest, and most times, it is. This is why God invented prayer and punching bags.
It’s best to clean all of these issues up before they become issues! Try having a workday with 2-3 people testing every stage input from the instrument or mic all the way to the mixer. Bring coffee and donuts..that tends to help. IMPORTANT – while you’re at it, label everything and make a detailed wiring flow chart as a blessing to the church. Also, keep in mind, your tech team is your life group and this is a great opportunity to have community and enjoy one another!
Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
#9 Not knowing the signal flow in the mixer
Not understanding the signal flow within a mixer is sure to be a source of frustration for the sound person at your church. “Back in the day”, a sound person in training had a difficult enough time navigating the rows of knobs on analog consoles. Now that digital desks have taken over, rows of nobs have become layers of menus and some consoles are more intuitive than others, whereas others are just plain hard to navigate.
There was always “more than one way to skin a cat” in the analog realm. It seems with digital, there are hundreds more ways, so it’s not a great time in history to be a cat…sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
The best way I’ve found to learn digital mixer shortcuts, layers, and tricks is through manufacturer-provided classes. Another great resource is YouTube, of course. There are a lot of resources available, so don’t be intimidated, again, this could be a great community opportunity for you and your team! Get together, pop some popcorn, and watch manufacturer instructional videos on YouTube. If you can make it through some of those awful training videos and still come out a unified team, you are sure to form lasting friendships.
Besides, you can’t mix if you can’t navigate through the digital inside your console! Is “digital insides” okay to say in church?
A quick flow for how I like to set up a mixer is all drums starting on input 1. If you ever have to hire a contractor to come in and mix, in the professional audio world, you will see this standard band setup.
- Tom 1
- Tom 2
- Tom 3
- Tom 4
- Overhead L
- Overhead R
- Click Track
- Keys L
- Keys R
Of course, you might have a band running supplemental tracks, or video stems to worship songs. I usually put them near the click, but if I have lots of video stems, then I will group them near all of the playback inputs like CD, computer, etc.
Then I place the lead singer, vocal mics, and lastly, the money mics. What are money mics, you ask? They are the pastor’s microphone, announcement microphone, pulpit microphone, etc. These are not hard fast rules, but just some guidelines to help keep you organized and efficient.
The bottom line is to first know the signal flow, both front-end and in the mixer, of your microphone console so that when you need to add mics, make changes, or fix problems quickly, you can do so with more ease and less headache. In the meantime, happy mixing and I hope this article will help you in creating an environment for worship!
BTW, for future posts, we will get into more mixing workflow, grouping, MCAs, and DCAs.
EXPLORE ALL 10 MIXING CONSOLE TIPS
- #10 – Signal Flow At The Front End of the Mixer
- #9 – Not Knowing The Signal Flow In The Mixer
- #8 – Improper Gain Staging
- #7 – Abusing EQ On The Channel Strip
- #6 – Adjusting House EQ to Correct Lapel Microphone Feedback
- #5 – Misuse of Compression
- #4 – Overuse of Plug-ins
- #3 – Mixing Levels With A Sound Meter
- #2 – Not Listening to the Monitor from the Musician’s Position
- #1 – Mixing on Snapshots Alone
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Michael is a 35+ year industry veteran with a passion for training in the technical arts. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Ministry and Worship Arts. He has a background that includes touring, system design, and consulting, and he has been on church staff as an Audio Engineer, Technical Director, Media pastor, and Worship Pastor. He has been a technical consultant for Air Force Entertainment, written curriculum for Christ for the Nations, and served as Adjunct Professor in the Worship and Tech Arts degree Program. He has been involved in sales and training for numerous manufacturers. He founded LiveWorshipAcademy.com, the first online certification program for church volunteers in the technical arts, and is the Director of Content. He is able to speak into the lives of both artistic and technical individuals, teaching technology as well as the worship theology behind it.