With the advent of churches streaming their services on the web or broadcasting to offsite campuses, you may have questions on what audio to provide. Or maybe you haven’t thought about it? I want to take a few minutes to discuss a couple different thoughts on the topic and give a few different options to consider if this is something your church is looking into. Or, maybe you’ve been doing it for a while but the service never really translates all that well. Either way, I’ve got a few things for you to consider.
First things first, where is the audio coming from? You need to decide what mix you are providing the stream. Will you be just taking your Front of House mix? Do you have a monitor desk that provides extra mixes? Or do you have a multitrack recording system? Or will you use a separate mixer all together for streaming? We will talk about a few of the options and their pros and cons and then secondly, trying to understand what the overall goal of your stream should be.
First, let me break down each option for you.
Taking the mix straight from FOH- This option is probably the easiest and most likely for any church no matter the size to accomplish. While this is a great way to get started quickly, you may want to consider a few things before you do so. Your FOH mix is tailored to the room that you are in, meaning that even though it sounds great coming out of your speakers in the room that same mix may be light on bass or a bit honky if you listen to it somewhere else. Or the music is super loud and you can barely hear the Pastor speaking on the stream.
If using FOH is your chosen option but things don’t quite translate. Try using one of your post fade Aux sends to control your stream mix. This way you can make separate adjustments to the stream mix verses the PA but it will still follow fader adjustments for transitions and such so you don’t have to fully operate two mixes. I would also recommend using a compressor to control the overall level of that mix so you don’t have people constantly changing the volume.
Taking a Mix from Monitors- Similar to FOH make sure you compress the mix a bit to keep things consistent. With a monitor rig you may have a bit more flexibility in what you provide the stream and have a more customized mix available. However, it may be difficult for your operator to focus on those on stage relying on him/her and a separate mix for the stream. Often times you may have a few too many things happening at once during transitions and change overs to keep a smooth uninhibited mix going on the stream end.
Taking the mix from the Recording System- Maybe your church has a multitrack recording system separate from FOH or Monitors? If it’s a DAW or even a separate mixer you are taking direct outs from you might want to consider having this system and operator run your stream mix as well. Typically if you are at this level of Tech you may already be thinking along these lines but streaming may be something new for you. If your not recording a set of audience response mics, do so. This is a great option because you are typically already isolated and able to mix specifically for an outside audience. I know a few places that have a recording system they also use to mix stems for FOH so making sure you have an operator that can do double duty is important. Also make sure your DAW rig is up to the task, trying to use a computer to both record and live mix can lead to crashes which is detrimental to the entire purpose of streaming your services.
Dedicated stream/broadcast console- This is the ultimate option and if available it provides the most in-depth and comprehensive mixes tailored for your online and offsite audiences. You can really make sure you are providing the highest quality and most engaging audio possible. The downside to this is it requires another operator and it may be a bit more than you need to start. I’m a big fan of making sure you are maximizing the use of the equipment you have before running out and buying something bigger and better. So while this option may be the best quality, your audience might be too small to warrant such an investment. If you are just getting started with streaming and you are a small to mid size church, it’s ok to start off with one of the other options and expand your capabilities as your online and offsite campuses grow.
Second, understanding the goal of your stream.
Depending on what you are actually streaming, your goals may be different. But streaming both to an offsite campus and to individuals online can be a great way to engage people who either may not be able to attend that week, or on a regular basis, or maybe they are deployed overseas or just moved and haven’t connected to a local body yet. Whatever the circumstance, even an accidental stumble upon your stream, this is a great way to expand the reach of the gospel. However, with it comes a great responsibility. In this media/tech saturated world there are a ton of voices vying for peoples attention and people have come to expect a finished broadcast quality experience. But even if your audience is “used to” a lower quality unfinished stream, that doesn’t mean we should leave them frustrated and looking to turn it off or suffer through it to try and learn something or just watch something else.
Here’s where your audio mix comes into play, if you are constantly changing levels or missing cues or other problems or mistakes then you aren’t giving your people an opportunity to really engage. A high quality engaging mix is key to getting and keeping people interested, even if they are listening on a mobile device they know what the music sounds like coming from those speakers or headphones. One of my goals is to recreate the environment so people can really experience what it’s like to be in the building right with the congregation. That means house mics! I’m not talking ridiculous here but you should have them at a good level throughout. Think about watching a sitcom or other type of live audience show on TV, the response people hear from other people, be it laughing at Pastor’s joke or singing along with a worship tune, is contagious. This helps the engagement level skyrocket. To start, you need to make sure that your music mix is as close to a finished product as possible, being realistic about the fact that it is happening live and then blend your house mics in just enough so you can hear the room and open up your mix. I like to throw a high pass on, a little compression and then just brighten it a touch so that it doesn’t muddy the mix but helps the sound of the people stick out. Think about a live worship album, they are designed to bring you into the space they were recorded. If you have a multisite campus that feels a bit sterile especially during the message, add audience response mics into your mix and you will see and hear the difference!!
Basically remember this, the goal of your audio mix should be to have a finished sound as possible that helps people forget they aren’t there in the environment and gives them opportunity to engage in the music and message in a way that is pure and authentic. It’s a tall order but it can be done. So whether it means adjusting where the mix is coming from or how it’s created or adding house mics or throwing in a compressor to help maintain levels. Keep looking for ways to immerse people into the environment and give them a quality product that they can engage with.