Digital? Say It Isn’t So!

Church on the Move’s commitment towards creating an unforgettable musical experience each week is a big part of how our workflow, production staffing, and gear purchases are determined. It wasn’t long after I arrived at COTM that we discovered the power of our live events was affected greatly by the success of the audio quality. Having a great mix and audio philosophy is a lot of it, but the actual audio console maintains a MASSIVE role. I chose to use large-frame Midas consoles many years ago and they’ve served us amazingly well. Every week for almost ten years, we’ve enjoyed listening to absolutely stunning analogue technology that always sounded gorgeous—not to mention the fact that we were preserving the lost art of REAL audio mixing…you know, the way God intended.

Since we’ve traditionally done things our own way, it might seem that we were fine to stay in this analogue realm and admittedly, there’s a part of me that has very much enjoyed staying true to this type of pure audio workflow. The organic personality I can create when pulling together a mix using nothing but traditional analogue technology is one of the most fulfilling experiences I could hope to achieve as a mix engineer.

So if it sounded so good and everything was so perfect, why in the heck would we switch? Was there money burning a hole in our pocket? ABSOLUTELY not. Have we lost our minds? Well, that depends on the day…I mean, NO, we haven’t! Were we bored? NOPE… Here’s the answer: We needed to find a way to serve our teams better and achieve greater efficiency in our rehearsal and event preparation. Yep, that’s right, it had nothing to do with looking for better audio. Don’t get me wrong, we have noticed a massive difference in audio quality, but it wasn’t our primary reason for switching.

How in the world does switching an audio console make things better for our team? To be honest, it affects our musicians more than it affects the audio engineer and the production staff. This fire was lit after I spent a day with Robert Scovill as he went through his paces on tour with Tom Petty. Robert is an amazing engineer, and has mixed some of the most pivotal bands in current music, but what impressed me the most was his workflow. He was able to do a virtual soundcheck in full rehearsal mode without anyone on stage. In my world, that wasn’t even a remote possibility. I flat out didn’t have the technical options to pull that off. But what if I did? We could still keep pushing to do bigger and better things, even things far more musically complex than we do now, while not having to keep everyone on stage for hours and hours and hours. I could do the bulk of the mixing and rehearsing completely on my own and maybe even do it when I was rested and my ears didn’t have a speaker tan. Seriously?!

I spent the next year working on a plan. I kept it secret as this would be an extremely pivotal change for the church and for me personally and I needed clarity, not an over-abundance of opinions. Not only was I looking for something to help us make some great strides in our efficiency but I needed something to satisfy my quite picky mix preferences. I also needed something that maintained a logical workflow as it needed to make sense to my predominantly young audio staff. Let’s face it, these will be the guys using this platform the most as we progress into the future—I needed something that they could get their heads around quickly.

Having mix experience on nearly every digital console platform, Solid State Logic was a newcomer for me. I had no mix experience on it, and actually knew very little about their history, other than the reputation they had in the recording industry. During that year, I did plenty of research, arranged to A/B the SSL consoles along with several other platforms using my own multi-track recordings, and finally did a live demo in our own room to see how a couple of full weekends would work using a completely different technology.

Obviously, you know what the outcome was since we elected to make the change. Hands down, this SSL L500+ is the best sounding console I’ve ever had the privilege to mix on. Not only has our production never been served this well, but it has FAR exceeded what I hoped for. The sonic clarity and transparency of our mix feels like this platform was a natural progression to our sonic experience. It actually makes me think about things a bit differently in the mix, not to mention inspiring me to mix differently. I also find it beautiful that I’ve found a company that acts as persnickety as me for what constitutes good audio! The team at Solid State Logic are true comrades in that they too believe audio should be heard the RIGHT way and have gone to great strides to create a product that does exactly that.

So will I miss the Midas glory? Oh yes. One of the hardest days I’ve had in recent years was the day these beautiful beasts left the building. (Needless to say I spent some time in my office that day with the door shut.) Let’s face it, everything I’ve ever mixed, good or bad, has been interpreted or “colored” by a console. There’s a reason why certain musicians insist on using the same exact instrument time and time again—like a specific piano must have sounded to Beethoven or a certain guitar is to Eric Clapton, an audio console is no different for a professional mix engineer. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to resolve this dilemma in my head and make a decision that will set us up far into the future. Even when mixing now at what looks like the helm of the Starship Enterprise, I do feel at home.

Note that I haven’t drifted into any type of analogue vs. digital debate. I refuse to waste time in that world as everything has its place. But suffice it so say, this specific digital platform “interprets” what I’m hearing in my head in a clear, perfect, AND musical way that indeed completes me. Listen to anything we’ve posted, streamed, or broadcast since August 2015 and you’ll hear nothing but digital console technology at work. And if you want to really get a good dose, stop by scenic Tulsa and have a listen! The door is always open.

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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.
@stone_rocks