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Audio tips for hybrid worship

 

CHURCH IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Achieving optimum sound in both the sanctuary and online

By Richard Hong | Presbyterians Today

Photo of a small electronic audio mixer

Em M./Unsplash

The worship experience is still centered around audio, much more than the visual. After all, would you rather listen to a worship service that you could not see, or watch a service that you could not hear? As more churches provide hybrid worship, offering both online and in-person experiences, it is easy to overlook the importance of good audio both in the building and online.

Here are a few basic things to think about. If I have used some technical terms that you want to research further, Google and YouTube are convenient, helpful resources.

Audio mixer. To start, a good mixer — an electronic device for combining sounds of many different audio signals — is a necessary asset. Buy the best you can afford. For a small church with just a few microphones, you can get an adequate mixer for about $200. If you can afford to upgrade to a digital mixer, there are more benefits such as stored presets so you don’t have to worry about someone messing up the settings. Most can be controlled through an app so you can operate it even from your phone. A low-end digital mixer with these features is about $500.

The main feature you need from a mixer in a hybrid worship environment is the ability to set sound levels for your in-house speakers differently from what you send to the livestream. Anything that people are hearing naturally in the sanctuary will not be heard at home unless it is picked up by a microphone. Beyond having a microphone for the pastor, three common examples of where mics should be placed are at the organ, piano and choir. The microphone sound from these sources would only be sent to the livestream because the people in the sanctuary can already hear them.

Microphones. Picking the right microphone is essential. If you have an electronic organ or piano, you may not even need a microphone. There may be output jacks on the bottom of the console that can be connected directly to your mixer.

There are two basic kinds of microphones: dynamic and condenser. Without getting into technical details, a dynamic mic is typically used for singers. It is designed for a loud sound source (a singer’s mouth) to be close to the microphone — no more than an inch or two. Almost all mics that are handheld, wired and shaped like an ice-cream cone are dynamic mics.

Condenser mics “condense” sound: They actively gather sound, requiring a power source, either a battery or something called “phantom power” supplied by the mixer. Lavalier mics, “shotgun” mics and “pencil” mics are generally all condenser microphones. Condensers can be farther away from the source. This is why a lavalier mic can be 6 inches from your mouth.

For a choir, the best choice is a condenser mic — often a “shotgun” style microphone — placed far enough away from the choir so that the voices can blend. If you use a dynamic mic or place the mic too close to the choir, you’ll only hear the voice of the person closest to it. Google is your friend: Just search for things like “how to mic a (whatever)” and dozens of articles and YouTube videos will surface.

Aux sends. Once you have all the sounds of worship being picked up through microphones, you can balance them for your livestream output. On a simple mixer, you will do this by adjusting the level that goes through one of the auxiliary (“Aux”) sends. You then connect that Aux output — a mixer may have as many as four Aux sends — to your livestream’s audio input. Meanwhile, you adjust the “Main” settings for your in-house sound. It would be typical, for example, to have your choir mics at a normal volume on the Aux send for the livestream, but completely off in the sanctuary.

Equalizer. Another useful adjustment is the equalizer (“EQ”), especially on spoken vocal channels. If you have ever adjusted the “bass” or “treble” settings on your car stereo, that is equalization. EQ is simply changing the volume in certain frequency ranges.

Even a simple mixer usually has a three-band EQ on each channel. This means each channel can be adjusted in the high, middle and low frequency ranges. Most human speech is in the middle range. You may sound much clearer by simply turning the high and low EQ dials down just a tiny bit and boosting the middle a little. Small touches like this make your service more clearly heard.

This is just a start. As you increase your skill level, you’ll make the worship experience better and better. If you want to discuss this topic in more detail, please feel free to email me at rich@englewoodpres.org.

Richard Hong is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Englewood, New Jersey.

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