By James Wasem
Volunteer sound techs are blessed with a calling to deliver great sound for their congregations week after week. It’s a big responsibility. And now that churches of all sizes are regularly live streaming, there are even more demands placed on the average technical ministry team.
Not least among these demands is the need to produce a quality mix for both the in-person congregation and those viewing the live stream feed.
While some churches have the technical capacity, space, and staff to produce two separate mixes (one for in-house, one for the live stream), many small and medium-sized churches simply need to produce a great sounding mix with one mixing console and one sound tech at the controls.
Fortunately, there are some simple steps any church can follow to produce a quality sound mix for in-person and online listeners.
Start with signal levels
Every mix starts with setting the gain on each input of the console for the ideal signal level. Each audio source should be loud and clear, with “headroom” that allows the signal to go up in volume without clipping or distorting.
Tech Tip: To set the gain, put the channel in “Solo” or “PFL” mode and turn the gain up until the average signal level registers near the middle to upper-third range of meters. This is about -6 to 0 dB or VU on analog consoles and -16 to -20 dB on digital consoles, or where the green lights meet the yellow lights.
Mix for the room first
Start crafting the worship mix for the room first. Build the mix so each instrument and vocal has space in the mix, while placing the worship leader or lead vocal on top of the mix. Use EQ to fine-tune the frequency balance of instruments and vocals as needed.
Tech Tip: Use a high pass filter (HPF) to eliminate low frequency noise from most of the input sources. Vocals can use a 100–125 hertz (Hz) HPF setting. Guitars may use a setting of 80–150 Hz, and low-frequency instruments like the bass guitar can benefit from reducing low-end rumble below 40 Hz.
Set up an aux mix if possible
Most analog consoles offer an auxiliary (aux) or matrix mix option, and almost every digital console has the option for multiple mix outputs. Use the main mix for the room and the aux mix for the live stream. Using the aux mix allows for more control of the live stream mix separate from what is heard in the room.
Tech Tip: Use headphones to monitor the aux mix output to ensure it sounds good for the live streaming audience.
Use a limiter or compressor for the live stream mix
Using a limiter or compressor for the live stream audio mix can make a big difference in sound quality. A compressor/limiter will reduce the dynamic range and allow the online listener to experience a more even volume level. Most digital consoles will have the ability to add compression on the mix output and several streaming software providers offer audio effects that include compression. Alternatively, use a basic analog compressor between the mixer output and the computer or streaming encoder input.
Tech Tip: A compression setting of 4:1 to 10:1 should work to control the dynamic range. Adjust a slower release time to squash the signal more. An alternate method is to boost the streaming mix level to just below peak and use the limiter threshold to offer gain reduction of about -3 dB.
Test, test, test
Every quality mix requires critical listening and adjusting. Spend the time to test the live stream mix in advance by using headphones and by doing several test live streams. Be sure to regularly check the live stream audio feed once you go live, both before it enters the streaming interface and on the live stream itself.
Simple, integrated slides & streaming
Want church presentation software that integrates with your live streaming solution? Take a look at Faithlife Proclaim, which includes hassle-free integrations with YouTube, Church Online, and lots of other church streaming providers. Learn more about how Faithlife Proclaim makes live streamed services simple.
This post originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Ministry Team magazine.
James Wasem is the author of Great Church Sound: A Guide for the Volunteer and has been professionally designing, installing, and operating sound systems for over 20 years. He has a passion for simplifying technical concepts and helping church tech volunteers deliver great sound every week. Connect with James at GreatChurchSound.com.