dB: Quality Over Quantity (Part 2 of 2)

ATTENTION: Although some level of nerd-speak is to follow, there are applicable thoughts to those outside the world of tech. I promise to be gentle.

So, in part one of this topic, I gave some info on where the live mixes at COTM seem to live volume-wise—allow me to go ahead and blow your mind just a bit. Track with me... If you have been privy to a mix in our main auditorium, you may swear that there is NO WAY it’s only 97-ish dB—it’s a big mix that is very much in your face but at the same time, it’s quite smooth and easy on the palette (sounds like a nice beverage actually). There’s nothing screeching out at you trying to drill a hole in your forehead like a lightning bolt—but herein lies the secret...

Many moons ago, I started to spec touring rigs that were considerably larger than what I could’ve gotten away with. This was done mainly to make sure we were covered from an audio perspective for any venue that may show up on an itinerary—many shows had to have gear prepped and out the door before the end of the tour had even been booked. But here’s what I began to notice—the times that I used way more audio gear than was really necessary for the venue du jour, the better it sounded. I had considerably more presence and tone in the mix while able to significantly decrease the mid and high range information... The result was a much bigger-sounding mix with smoother high end that wasn’t nearly as invasive—it made it much easier to listen to and much more friendly on the dB side. Since I was using more low-end presence, it was injecting more energy and coupling into the actual building which when translated to a human body, creates the illusion or sensation of increased volume.

So over the years I’ve worked a bit of this into conventional audio rigs and mixes wherever applicable. This is what we’ve done at COTM—the low-end isn’t just killing you from a volume perspective, but the presence that it builds is something you can feel—thick enough to cut with a knife. Vocals sit better in the mix, music feels better and our dB meter stays quite happy since we’re making better use of the 95-100 db that comprises our mix product. Yes, this is the same 95-100 dB that others may use that at times can feel completely loud and overwhelming. This is accurately demonstrated by the following SMAART screen grab of a previous worship service:

If you’re not completely familiar with seeing a frequency analysis—it’s pretty easy at first glance. The graph represents the frequencies that comprise normally “hear-able” (yes, my own word) audio. From 18Hz on the far left to 18,000Hz on the far right—or extreme low-end on the far left sliding all the way up to extreme high end on the right. Using this explanation you can see that the low end of the spectrum is greatly exaggerated in the mix while the high end is diminished. This is exactly what the feel is like in the room and is indicative to the type of mix I’ve been describing—seeing it visually sometimes helps make sense of it...

Although this type of thick mix resonates nicely in our space and really seems to define our musical sound—it’s really obvious when you listen to the DPA headset we use on Pastor George. He has a massive voice anyway but I really wanted our audio system to accurately reflect his unique vocal characteristics after being amplified. This style of mixing completely lends itself to an increased presence in a vocal which translates to a very commanding and authoritative sound. Quite fitting for an old west gospel gun-fighter—I mean, for our Pastor.

As I noted in the previous blog—I am still on an endless quest to find new and better ways to pursue a great mix but approaching my mixes from this vantage point seems to provide a good foundation to our current musical and audio presentation.

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Andrew Stone
Production Manager
Andrew Stone is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 27 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM's live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He's been married for 20 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (stone.rocks), and is a blog contributor on Seeds, COTM's free resource site.