When that magical day comes and the church budget allows you to purchase a new sound board, a whole new set of questions come to mind…
Analog or Digital? What’s better? What should we train on? Should we make it easy for volunteers or make ‘em learn like we did in the ol’ days? Will a digital board sound worse than analog?
In today’s show, we’re interviewing the experts from Behind The Mixer to calm your nerves and give you an easy to follow path to follow when looking for a new sound board.
About Our Guests: Chris Huff and Brian Gowing
Chris Huff has worked in audio for 25+ years, as everything from audio engineer to tech director. Via Behind The Mixer, he teaches church audio production while navigating the unique church environment.
Back in 2014, Brian Gowing started writing for this site and he’s been a huge blessing to the Behind the Mixer online community. Brian’s the technical director at a Northwest Ohio church and the Business & Technology Manager for the Great Lakes District Office of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. He’s helped over 150 churches with worship issues, both technical and worship-oriented. He’s also co-authored a guide with Chris Huff, Equipping Your Church for Audio.
TL;DW (Too Long; Didn’t Watch)
Dave and Justin are dangerous with audio, but by no means the experts. That why we had to get Chris and Brian to weigh in.
Strap in, this ones a doozy…
Buying A New Sound Board: Analog or Digital?
This is a common question. Do you go all in on the what’s current and new to learn? Or do you get something reliable that you know?
The first steps to answering this question is knowing the tech level of your team. Are they able to take the time to learn a new digital console? Or are they stretched thin and would work better with what they know?
There are some good digital consoles that anyone can learn, but it does take a little bit of time.
You also need to weigh your needs and priorities. If you’re running a simple 4-channel setup for some mics and an instrument, then a less expensive analog mixer will do you fine.
But if you have quite a few rack units along with a large ensemble to manage with unique needs, then a digital console will save space and money.
If your team is already familiar with sound-mixing, go ahead and invest in a new digital board. But if “running sound” just means controlling volume levels, purchasing a new analog board may be in your best interest.
The Biggest Benefit Of Digital Sound Boards
In the “old days” we used to have rack units to do any kind of audio effects beyond basic EQ and volume mixing. And when you have several instruments that require their own effects and rack units, you need more money and space for the add-ons to your analog mixer.
But now digital boards are replacing everything. A digital sound board is like a big computer. And every sound board is equipped with it’s own effects that it can add, kinda like plugins in Adobe Audition or Garage Band.
Instead of relying on external hardware to manipulate sound, the digital board can do it all within itself! And with simple-to-advanced routing, the possibilities are endless with what you can do in one board.
Many churches also like to use a digital board to “set it and forget it.” They just want to come in and push a button and get going.
There’s just one problem with that…
Digital Boards Are Not “Set and Forget”
It’s very tempting to buy a digital sound board to make your job easier. You want to set your sound once and never touch it again. But that’s not exactly how it works.
Every week is different. Sound isn’t static when it comes to mixing. Acoustics are different every week due to a different number of people in the room, different instrumentation, equipment discrepancies, and even temperature!
The expectation in churches over the last few decades has been “we’re a church so people will forgive poor sound.” But that mindset needs to die.
Anyone can get high-quality music at their fingertips now. It’s so easy that when folks don’t hear high-quality music in church or other venues, they choose to skip out. So sound ministry needs to be treated as a professional gig.
Your church volunteers and techs need to be constantly training and improving to give the best sound for the members and audience. Any hiccups in mixing can result in turning people away. It’s not fair and it shouldn’t be that way, but it is. The great thing is it’s just as easy to find training to get great sound! (We recommend starting with Behind The Mixer)
Remember that you’re mixing for a moment.
You put everything forward for the people in church on that day, for that worship set, for that service. This is not something that should be taken lightly.
So with sound becoming so important to service, can anyone run sound anymore?
Anyone Can Learn Sound…Here’s How
Not just anyone can run sound…but anyone can learn to run sound.
There are 3 components of learning how to mix for your church.
- The Tech: Learn the equipment.
- The Craft: Discover how to bring the instruments and vocals into the tech and mix it together.
- The Art: How does the Tech and Craft effect the audience?
The best compliment to any audio tech is when nobody notices what we’re doing. That means everything is flowing, nobody is too loud, and everyone is mixed right. It sounds great in the moment and people can worship freely with no distraction.
Learning The Tech, Craft, and Art will get you most of the way with your new sound board…but don’t miss the biggest part of audio ministry beyond the board…
The Most Important Part Of Audio Ministry
If you were to stretch audio into a 100% scale, 0% being you know nothing and 100% you’re mixing professionally for the big bands, learning The Tech and The Craft above will get you about 80% of the way.
It’s okay to start off just learning the tech and the craft skills to get Sunday done. You may have to listen and copy the sound of Hillsong, Passion, or the church down the road. But as you practice, The Art of mixing for the moment will come in time.
But there’s another portion of the this scale we can’t miss. And that’s the most crucial 5%: learn to communicate and work with others.
We sometimes think the sound booth is our castle, but we are not in this alone. We work with the band, the leaders, heads of ministries…our work doesn’t start on Sunday morning. We’re prepping as early as the ending of the last service!
To be the best sound operator and have the greatest impact in worship, you need to communicate your needs and assist others with their needs.
Is There Any Degrade In Sound When Going From Analog To Digital?
Kinda like how audiophiles complain that mp3s don’t sound as good as CDs or how vinyl is the best way to listen to music…there’s a lot of fear in moving to digital.
But cast your anxieties, going digital will often IMPROVE your sound when you’re switching for a decade-old analog unit to a fresh new digital board.
Unless you’re switching from a high-end board, you’ll be hard pressed to tell a difference between analog and digital.
We’ve Got A New Digital Board…What Now?
With a new sound board, the first think you need to do is figure out how to mix like you did on your old unit. It’s tempting to get distracted with the extra features, but you need to give yourself a foundation.
Run a known sound source through your board. Usually this will be a high-quality recording through your computer. You want this consistent reference to see how the room sounds. Is it boomy on the low-end or give you a lot of ringing highs? When you play something you know through the board, you can make the channels sound more musical.
After that point, then you can start adding instruments and vocals to channels and start mixing them. Find their gain levels, equalization, and volume levels. Now you’ve got your foundation.
Only after you get your foundation set should you start adding effects. That way when you mess up your mix with a bad or tweaked effect, you can go back to where you were with ease. PLUS after you get your baseline mix, you can easily save it as a scene to revert back to.
BONUS: Your Audio Tech Is A Musician
The sound board is an instrument. A bass needs to be re-tuned every week, so does the board. The trombone needs maintenance, so does your board. The guitar will switch out pedals to find new sounds, and your board can add and tweak effects to bring new life to old songs.
The sound board game is never finished. The sound guy needs to practice just like the worship leader. In fact, the sound team is part of the worship team!
The tech team provides reinforcement and tools for the ambiance of worship. The sound techs are just as important as the pianist and drummer. This mindset is ESSENTIAL for success in the worship environment.
We all play a part in the worship team.
When looking at a new sound board to purchase, don’t sweat the details.
If your team is knowledgeable in sound mixing, go ahead and make the jump to digital. It’s a bigger time-investment up front, but you’ll more than make up for it with the expanded capabilities in the future.
If your team is just someone who knows how to control volume, then another analog board might be the better route to go.
When you do get your digital board, don’t go crazy on the new features. Give yourself time to get back to how you sounded before. Once you’ve got everything similar to your previous board, THEN explore the new frontier of effects and routing.
But most importantly, remember that analog or digital, new or old, your audio team is a part of the worship team. The sound may not be perfect, but the capability is there. Just like the band practices, give the sound booth opportunities to perfect their crafts and work with the rest of the team.
Are you mixing on a digital board? What’s your favorite feature? Let us know in the comments below!