In today’s church, the most sought after “staff member” has got to be a trained volunteer. Can you remember the number of times you’ve had to run back and forth from the booth to the stage to adjust house and monitor levels simply because you didn’t have a volunteer that could run sound? A few years ago, many prayers were answered with the advent of the very first digital console in a church! While digital consoles have been around since the mid 80’s, the developments that make them the perfect volunteer have only been introduced over the last few years. More reasonable pricing, diverse sizes and configurations, and many major onboard conveniences have made digital consoles a driving force in the church makeover for the next generation.
One of the greatest attributes of the digital console is its ability to store and recall scenes and snapshots. For the church that has a limited volunteer staff, this could possibly be the saving grace for most of the headaches on Sunday mornings. Scene and snapshot storage allows the user to set fader levels, EQ, aux levels, routing, and DSP then record them on either an onboard drive or a removable thumb drive for later recall.
The depth to which you can record is practically unlimited. Inside this incredible feature is the ability to lock out any user from making adjustments on many levels. In a small church setting where the sanctuary is a multi-purpose room, this feature allows you to record a different set up for service, funerals, weddings, and meetings then lock out the console so that wandering hands won’t cause an hour of reset time Sunday morning. This can prove to be extremely useful when the grooms brother, who ran sound for his church eighteen years ago, volunteers to run sound for the wedding.
In a larger setting, this feature becomes even more incredible when there are different musicians and multiple volunteers each week. You can now store customized EQ settings and monitor levels for praise team members that alternate week by week, and each volunteer can have their own user ID and password. Using storage and recall, the worship leader/audio engineer can now strap on his wireless body pack, grab his mic, stand in the booth, set the sound, and store it for recall on Sunday.
Anyone who has ever used a digital console knows the pain of flipping through pages and pages looking for the mute button for the electric guitarist that can’t stop playing when the pastor is making the greeting. The store and recall function allows you to create a scene in which the band is muted and the pastor’s mic is hot and then go to the next scene when the band plays again without flipping a single page. The ability to store and recall in a digital console makes training those whose passion is far greater than their ability exponentially easier!
Essentially, a digital snake consists of a box for the stage that has analog connections (XLR mostly), that connects to a processor card inside the console via Cat5, Cat6, or fiber optic cable. Given the low cost of bulk cable, the digital snake option makes upgrading much easier than most people realize.
Another aspect of the digital console that makes upgrading easier is the onboard FX. Most digital consoles come standard with at least two onboard effects engines. Basically, you can use the onboard FX (generally reverb and delay) and eliminate the need for outboard pieces. This could free up not only space, but possibly allow you to sell these pieces to offset the cost of the upgrade. You can also utilize the compression, limiting, and gating that most digital consoles have standard. The fact that you can compress not only the input signal, but as far as the aux outputs makes it worth the upgrade in itself!
For the church on a limited budget, the digital console can be one of the most intimidating things to think about during a system upgrade. The most frequently asked question when considering upgrading the sound system is often, “How much is this going to cost?” There was a time in recent history when the church had to be independently wealthy to even consider a digital console. Recently, however, a number of consoles have been released to make the switch to digital much more achievable for the church on a budget.
Regardless of the cost of the console, upgrading to digital has never been easier. Understand, however, you get what you pay for. Meaning, if you are looking for 128 inputs and 96 outputs, don’t expect to pay the same as if you were buying a 32-input console. As you expand your needs and expectations, the price will most likely expand accordingly. However, you can always take into consideration the ease of expansion in the console and system when upgrading. In upgrading your system, one of the most important items to consider is the console. Knowing that, it’s important to ask yourselves a few questions. What size console do I really need? Do I want to keep my existing snake system? Is the console affordably expandable? In answering these questions, it’s dually important to ask the question, “Can I afford to NOT switch to digital?”
Digital consoles have been revolutionizing the concert touring industry for years. In the last few years, they have infiltrated churches and worship services bringing the spirit of revolution with them. While paying homage to the analog generation, yet keeping an eye towards the future, digital consoles have poised themselves as being one of the most important developments in audio in the last hundred years. There are a number of reasons to make the step into the digital world.
Whether it’s storage and recall, ease of use and training, multi-tracking, or the “wow” factor, having a digital console can allow you to have a much less stressful and more enjoyable worship service every week.
Gear Watch: Digital Consoles
Presonus recently released their 16-channel StudioLive digital console that sells for around $2499 MSRP, while companies like Allen & Heath and Roland both have digital consoles that sell in the $15-20,000 range. The advantage consoles like the StudioLive have in churches is that not only are they affordable, they are expandable. The StudioLive can be linked with another one to create a 32-channel console with full store/recall and onboard DSP. In the larger consoles, like those from Allen & Heath and Roland, you can expand the capabilities by adding input and output cards to the system.
While the StudioLive can be put into place where any analog snake exists, consoles like the Allen & Heath iLive-T have a digital snake.
One of the most impressive features of the digital console has got to be the ability to multi-track your services. In this age of iTunes and pod casting, multi-tracking your services has never become more important. Consoles like the Digidesign Venue have nearly perfected the integration of a digital console and recording software. Using the ProTools platform, the Venue has made it possible to take any and all inputs and track them individually to a hard drive. Not only can you track the services, you can pull the file back up later, and mix it right there on the console. Gone are the days of “mouse mixing” projects for the church bookstore!
Digidesign has also developed a feature called “virtual sound check”. Essentially, this allows the engineer to track the sound check, and bring the file back up later to mix the sound in the room without the band even needing to be there. This feature could be one of the most invaluable to the smaller church. For example, the worship leader comes in and finds out his bass player is not going to be there. He can now pull up the file from last time the band played the songs, set a click track for the drummer, and replay only the bass player’s part for the band to play over.