SAN JOSE’S WESTGATE CHURCH BRINGS MODERN MIXING INTO THE MAINSTREAM
For most of the audio world, the digital revolution is long over. Even live sound, one of the last bastions of analog mixing, has seen a shift in recent years, with more and more digital consoles turning up on tours and in permanent installations. But for many small and mid-sized churches, the move to digital has been a challenge, with most systems designed for larger venues and deeper pockets.
Westgate Church in San Jose, California is a case in point. The 2,000-strong congregation opened its new 700-seat sanctuary in 2007, painfully aware that their aging analog desk’s days were numbered. As Worship Pastor Mark Averill explains, the decision eventually Became an obvious one.
“As our old console became more and more maintenance intensive, we knew it was time to make a change,” says Averill. “We had looked into digital a couple of years ago, but there wasn’t much in our price range. Fortunately for us, technology has advanced to the point where we now had more viable choices.” The church turned to San Jose-based Zamar Media Solutions for advice and expertise, and after evaluating a number of currently available digital desks, found a perfect fit in Avid’s new VENUE SC48 “We had looked at the original VENUE D-Show back in ‘07, but it was really more than we needed in terms of features, and a bit over our budget,” says Averill. “The SC48 had all the VENUE features, with a smaller footprint and a price point we could work with.” As with a good many mid-sized congregations, Westgate’s tech crew is made up of all volunteers, ranging from audio professionals to entry-level trainees. “We offer quarterly hands-on mixing workshops at Zamar, and for some of the newer folks that’s the first exposure they get,” says Zamar Media’s Ken Hughes. “Needless to say, the learning curve is always a primary consideration in selecting a new console. Some digital mixers are fairly complex, with multiple layers of menu pages, and that’s intimidating to first-time users.
While Westgate does have some highly skilled users, it was important for their less experienced volunteers to have a user interface that was very intuitive.” With five different services every weekend, the snapshot capability of a digital console was an important consideration.
“Mark encourages the idea of moving people around, so the band might be completely different from one service to the next,” explains Hughes. “It’s great from a learning perspective, but it’s a challenge to maintain consistent mix quality with an ever-changing band and different engineers. UsIng snapshots enables them to save libraries of dedicated channel strip setups with plug-ins and EQ settings for different players, and for each pastor.
With so many services back-toback, it’s a huge time-saver, and it really helps to maintain consistency.” Services are recorded to Pro Tools as multitrack files, with podcasts of the sermons available online. For Averill, the ability to use those multitrack files with the SC48’s Virtual Sound Check feature offers a wealth of new training opportunities. “We’ve only begun to scratch the surface, but the ability to augment the training they get at Zamar with an actual multitrack recording of the services is something we’re really excited about,” he says. “For our younger techs, the ability to pull up the settings saved by our more experienced guys and work with those is also a great tutorial.” Averill points to plug-in compatibility as another factor that made the Avid desk stand out. “Most of the other systems we looked into were closed systems,” he says.
“With the SC48 we’ve got access to a wide range of Pro Tools plug-ins, as well as McDSP and other third-party processors. The ability to integrate plug-ins that may not even exist yet goes a long way toward future-proofing the system.” Avid’s support network was another big plus, says Averill.
“The company is really responsive to questions. Their forums and webinars have a wealth of information, especially for first-time users. I love the feature request board; that’s a great idea.” “For a congregation like ours, going digital has been a huge step,” Averill concludes. “Our mixes sound better and more consistent, our technical people are learning faster and gaining more confidence, and it’s enabled us all spend a lot less time on technical issues and more time on creating a great sounding service for our congregation.”