The best practices for creating incredible lighting designs for your church.
In this article, I’m going to share ten reasons why the X32 and M32 family of mixers is the best choice for most church sound systems. I’ve worked with these mixers for over six years now, so this review comes with a lot of practical experience using these tools for worship ministry. By the end of this article, you’ll have a firm grasp on the benefits of upgrading to one of these mixers, and you’ll know whether or not you should buy one for your church.
Selecting the right keyboard rig for your worship band can be a daunting task. In this article, I’m going to walk you through the setup we use at our church plant. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on a Nord, Roland, or Yamaha keyboard, we are able to produce amazing sounds with an inexpensive MIDI keyboard and Mainstage running on a MacBook Air. Keep reading to the end and you’ll know exactly what to buy and how to set this up at your church.
As the use of backing tracks in worship has risen in popularity, many worship ministries face a challenge. How do you build up a song library of tracks without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars per year? In this article, I’m going to share helpful tips for building a library of tracks for Ableton Live without breaking the bank.
I’m a worship leader at a church plant. Every Sunday I wake up at 5 AM, shower, get dressed, head to my office where I pick up my gear, grab McDonald's breakfast, and make the 20-minute drive to Green Mountain High School where Mission Lakewood gathers for Sunday Worship. There’s a lot of work that happens between 7 AM and 9:30 AM to set up our worship space. I’ll walk you through it all in this article.
One of the best parts of planting a church is you get to start from scratch. In all aspects of ministry, you have the opportunity to build everything from the ground up. No existing traditions, systems, equipment, and the headaches that come along with them. I’m an entrepreneur. The challenge of starting things from scratch energizes me. That is why I was pumped to join Mission Lakewood as the worship pastor.
One of the worst parts of planting a church is you start from scratch. You have no building or existing equipment to use for worship. All of it has to be set up and torn down.
My friend Kevin was in charge of selecting and purchasing the production gear for our church plant. When he sent along the gear list for Mission Lakewood, I could not wait to get my hands on it and start using it every Sunday. I geek out over this stuff, and I’m super fussy about using gear that is high quality (but not overpriced) and creating efficient systems for setup and teardown.
We are a month into our church plant, and I couldn’t be happier with where we are at with our set up process. Last Sunday, setup took only an hour and a half, which allows our worship band a full hour to run through and tidy up our five song set list. The first few weeks were not easy. One Sunday we had so many production issues to troubleshoot that we only had about 15 minutes to rehearse our music. Barely enough time to run the whole set.
I thought it would be fun to walk you through exactly what a Sunday morning looks like at Mission Lakewood before the worship service begins. Our production gear would work great for anyone considering a church plant or leading worship at a church plant. To access a document containing links and pricing to all of the gear I’m about to cover, download the worship toolkit.
I will break the remainder of this article into the various steps of set up for worship and production at our church plant.
Step 1 - Scope out the auditorium and make sure there are no obstructions.
We meet at a high school. We do not always know what the auditorium will look like upon arrival because the theater department also uses the space for their musicals and plays. So far, they have done a fantastic job at keeping the central part of the stage clear. They have background set piece for the musical, The Adam’s Family, but once our trusses and screen are up, you cannot tell it’s there.
When I arrive at the school, I scope out the sides of the stage to ensure there aren’t other random set pieces in the way of where we need to move in our flight cases containing gear. It is a small detail, but half the battle of setup is making sure you don’t make the process harder for yourself. We want to have our cases in the same spot with space around them every week, so we have easy and quick access to it.
Step 2 - Roll out the carpet
Our stage has a shiny wood floor. I have no clue what they thought when they designed it that way. Reflective, light-colored floors are horrible for stages. When in doubt, pain your stage floor matte black. Since we cannot paint the floor, we purchased a large but inexpensive, dark-colored carpet. It drastically helps reduce the amount of light pollution on stage and makes it look sharp.
Step 3 - Assemble the wide-screen
The prominent feature of our stage design is the widescreen. We chose to go with a widescreen for many reasons. We wanted an efficient way to project lyrics on one screen. That meant it needed to be in the center and behind the band. We also wanted a quick way to cover up the background of the stage. This wide-screen is 18 ft wide by approximately 12 ft tall. No matter what the school theater department sets up behind us, you cannot see it.
From a stage design perspective, I highly prefer a widescreen over anything else. It’s the easiest way to transform the aesthetic and look of your stage. It’s minimalistic but allows you to cast whatever image, video, and background textures you want.
We purchased our screen from Carl’s Place (www.carlofet.com). Carl’s place creates DIY projection screens that give you a massive display on a small budget. Here’s how it works. When you order a DIY kit from Carl’s Place, you receive the screen material with grommets, bungee cords to mount the screen to the frame, steel corner/support fittings, and assembly instructions to go to a local hardware store and purchase 1” piping to complete the frame yourself. It saves a lot of money on shipping and a lot of money compared to purchasing the whole frame yourself. Setting up our screen takes about 10 minutes with 3 or 4 people helping assemble the frame and connecting the bungee cords.
Step 4 - Assemble the trusses and mount lights on the trusses.
While the screen is assembled, other volunteers work on building the four 11ft trusses. On the top of all four trusses, we mount two LED wash lights. The center trusses hold up the widescreen. The trusses remain on the floor while we mount the lights. When the screen and trusses are ready, we raise and secure the screen on the trusses.
Step 5 - Set up the audio equipment and band instruments.
Once the screen and trusses are up, our band members and one of the production volunteers begins assembling the sound system and instruments. Our sound system consists of the following equipment.
- Midas M32R - This is a fantastic sound console. It has the simple user interface of a Behringer X32 but with higher quality hardware and preamps. The M32 has wifi connectivity so it can be controlled by a tablet for total control or smartphones to control monitors.
- Behringer S32 - We use this as a digital stage snake that is rack mounted and positioned by the drum set. Everything is plugged into the S32 and networked back to the M32R over an ethercon cable.
- Powered Speakers - Our EV powered speakers pack a punch and sound fantastic. We have two 12 inch tops and two 18” subwoofers.
- Wireless Microphones - We use three Sennheiser wireless microphones. One for the worship leader. One for the preaching pastor. One for the hosting pastor.
- Wireless In-Ear Monitors - We have one wireless in-ear monitor transmitter paired with two wireless receivers. Each receiver receives a mono signal and is panned either to the left or right. It’s a handy hack to prevent the need to buy a second transmitter.
- Other - We also have an Audix drum mic kit, a bunch of microphone stands, cables, DI Boxes, and a few Behringer P16 monitors. I’m not a huge fan of the P16. I’m going to purchase an eight channel headphone amp that will be a much more straightforward setup (not having to deal with the mixers), and the musicians can control their mix wirelessly with their phones (using the M32 app).
Our church owns a Gretch Catalina Club drum set with DW hardware and Zildjian K-Custom cymbals. Our keyboard rig consists of an M-Audio midi controller and MacBook Air running Mainstage.
Step 6 - Set up lighting.
We use the American DJ MyDMX 3.0 lighting controller to run our LED lights and the school’s existing DMX system. From our media laptop (which runs MyDMX 3.0 and ProPresenter), we plug a USB cable into the MyDMX interface and out from the interface, the DMX cable goes into a splitter. We run a DMX back to the school’s media booth where we plug into their DMX system, and we run a DMX line to the stage for our LED lighting system.
Once the trusses and screen are up, a production volunteer connects the four truss warmer lights and top wash lights with DMX and power-con cables. Everything is daisy-chained which drastically reduces cabling.
Step 7 - Set up the widescreen projector and stage display projector.
Approximately 5ft behind the widescreen, we place our ultra-short throw projector for a rear-projected image. We have another rear-projection setup in the back of the auditorium for stage display lyrics.
Step 8 - Troubleshoot and fine tune
Every week we spend a few minutes troubleshooting or fine-tuning the setup. One crucial fine-tuning step is light placement. Our LED lights have to be positioned in the right place, so they do not blind the congregation and they do not wash out the widescreen.
By 8:30, the band starts rehearsal, so that is when the production team will troubleshoot or fine-tune any issues with the setup. I use Ableton Live to automate ProPresenter and lighting, so this frees up our production volunteers to focus on mixing sound and making sure everything is functioning correctly.
On a good day, the band is finished rehearsal at 9:30 AM and we have our production meeting where we talk through the order of service with the pastors, ensuring everyone is on the same page. Then we have about 20 minutes to chill before the service and greet people as they enter. Our five-minute countdown video begins at 9:57 AM and the service kicks off at 10:02 AM.
That’s how we set up our church plant.
At least that’s how we set up worship and production for our church plant. This articled covered nothing about setting up for kids ministry and first impressions, each of which deserves a lengthy description.
I mentioned a lot of gear in this post. You can access my detailed and comprehensive list of gear by downloading my Worship Toolkit. It contains pricing and links to everything we use at Mission Lakewood.
What questions do you have about our set up? Let me know in the comments! Or better, leave me a voice message question and it could be featured on my podcast!
Listen to the podcast session
Achieving a solid mix in a church worship gathering can be a struggle for a lot of worship tech teams. It’s difficult to find audio engineers with the knowledge, experience and most importantly, ear for the craft of mixing a worship band. Most churches cannot afford to hire a full-time or even part-time audio engineer. The responsibility of running sound is often left in the hands of well-intentioned volunteers who may be tech savvy but are novices to the art and science of mixing audio.
I recently sat down with Eric Olson, one of the audio engineers at Red Rocks Church. Eric started as a volunteer on the production team at Red Rocks, and over the past couple of years, he served his way up to being a contracted audio engineer. I have heard his mixing on numerous occasions since he works at the campus I attend. I have also played in the worship band at Red Rocks multiple times while he was running the front of house mix. To say he knows what he is doing with a mixer board is an understatement. He has not even graduated college, but he is creating a fantastic mix for the 3,000 people that attend the Littleton campus every weekend.
I asked Eric to share ten tips for better church sound. I wanted to create a simple guide for aspiring audio engineers or worship leaders responsible for training sound volunteers at their church. For those of you who are seasoned worship leaders and audio engineers, these tips will seem basic, because they are! I am convinced that church sound would be significantly better if more tech volunteers implemented these fundamental tips. Church sound can seem complicated and overwhelming, especially for those new to the responsibility. Keep it simple by taking Eric’s advice outlined below.
1. Know how your equipment works
Church sound engineers must be the resident expert on all aspects of the sound system. Understand what each piece of gear does by reading manuals or looking up tutorial videos online. Know the signal flow of your system. How does signal go from the front of house mixer to the stage for monitors, or to the main speakers? Parts of this system inevitably fail or malfunction. The sound engineer must be able to troubleshoot issues quickly.
2. Be a team player
The relationship between the audio engineer and worship and production teams is crucial. Often the audio engineer is the liaison between the band and the rest of the tech team. Over-communicate with one another. Use basic social skills. Be intentional about the tone you use as you communicate with the band. Remember you are on a team.
3. Learn the music
Audio engineers should know the music just as well as the worship leader. As a worship leader myself, I am super bummed when the guy or gal mixing the sound has no clue how the song should sound. If you are an audio engineer, you must be listening to the songs your worship leader has up on Planning Cetner. Listen for important parts of the songs like guitar solos. Know how loud the backing tracks should be. Know who is singing lead or harmonies. Listening to worship albums should be a part of your daily routine, not because it makes you super spiritual, but because you should be developing an ear for the genre of music.
4. Use your ears
With the rise of affordable digital consoles, the mixing experience has become increasingly visual. You can see all of your EQ, dynamics, and effects parameters on beautiful and bright displays. Remember that just because certain parameters look right on your mixer, doesn’t mean it will sound right. Maybe you found a Youtube video on how to EQ a kick drum. Don’t expect that copying the exact parameters will yield the same results in your church. Use your ears to fine tune the sound to your context, rather than sticking to someone else’s template.
5. Always be learning and evaluating
Being a lifelong learner is the key to success in every aspect of life. Continuously refine and hone your craft. Seek out advice and wisdom from more experienced audio engineers. Take advantage of online resources whether they are Youtube videos or podcasts on mixing.
6. Gain structure
The first step of sound processing as the signal from an instrument or vocal enters the board is setting gain structure. There are multiple methods and techniques for how you set gain structure that we do not have time to cover here. The important thing about gain is to make sure you have a strong enough signal coming to the board from your instruments or vocals, but not too high that it causes clipping and distortion. Learn more about gain structure here.
Affordable digital boards like the Behringer X32 come with a built-in compressor or dynamics control. When listening to professionally mixed music versus something you recorded on your phone with the voice memos app, you may notice that the volume levels of professionally mixed music are much more consistent whereas the levels on low-quality recordings are all over the place. Compressing vocals so that the lower volume sounds increased and the higher volume sounds decreased significantly increases the quality of a mix. In a live setting, your worship leaders vocals can drastically change volume if they move away from or toward the microphone, or if they a variation of vocal parts that are high and low in their range. A compressor smooths this all out. It’s also a hand tool to use on instruments like the kick drum so that the loudness of each strike of the kick drum sounds consistent. To learn more about how to adjust the parameters of a compressor or noise gate, click here.
Equalization plays a huge role in achieving an excellent mix. The key here is to reduce bad frequencies rather than boosting good ones. Use tools like the high-pass filters to get completely rid of low muddy frequencies on instruments that never need them. To learn more about EQ best practices, click here.
The most common effects you will hear in a professional environment are reverb and delay. Effects have the potential to both enhance and destroy a mix. Do not overdo it. If you are new to mixing, start with only applying a little bit of reverb with a second or two of decay. Eric has two types of reverb when he mixes. The first is his default reverb that has a one-second decay. It’s on almost all the time on the vocals. The second reverb has a four-second decay. He uses this reverb during appropriate climaxes of songs. Delay can also enhance a mix, but be especially careful with it. Most mixers come with a tap tempo feature to allow you to set the tempo of your delay to match the tempo of the song.
The most intensely debated aspect of church sound is volume. People in your church will inevitably complain about the volume. Some complain it’s too loud. Some complain it’s too quiet. Make sure you and your church leadership are on the same page about the volume and stick to that standard. Often when people complain about the volume of church sound, they are complaining about issues of EQ or some other mixing parameter that you can quickly adjust. EQ is probably the most common because poor EQ can make instruments sound harsh or piercing. Before you turn down faders, examine the other parameters explained above. A few additional notes about volume. Make sure the vocals can be heard above the instruments so people can sing along. As we already mentioned, know the music so you can make slight adjustments to instrument levels based on the style of the song.
I’m grateful for Eric taking the time to share these ten tips for achieving better sound. While this article is by no means a comprehensive guide to mixing sound for church worship services, hopefully, you can take away some valuable fundamentals for increasing the quality of your mix. Do not over-complicate this process. Keep it simple and always work towards refining your craft.
Advantages of in-ear monitoring for worship bands
In-ear monitoring for bands has been around for a few decades now. This type of monitoring has several advantages. Musicians can hear themselves much better, making it easier to sing or play one’s instrument with excellence. Stage noise is drastically reduced, making it much easier for the sound guy to produce a clean mix. In-ears allow bands to play with a click track without the audience hearing an annoying metronome sound. Of all of the advantages of using in-ear monitoring, using a click track is by far the greatest advantage offered by this technology. When the band plays in perfect time together with a click track, they can begin to utilize backing tracks that bring the musical experience to a whole new level. Almost all new worship songs produced today rely heavily on backing tracks. Just listen to the latest albums by Hillsong United, Elevation Worship, and Red Rocks Worship. Backing tracks allow worship bands at small to mid-sized church utilize these same sounds. You can download these tracks at multitracks.com or loopcommunity.com. Using software like Ableton Live to run your click and backing tracks also gives worship bands the capability to automate their lighting and video systems.
I share all of these advantages to using in-ear monitors to give you a glimpse of the possibilities they provide for improving your worship ministry. You do not need to be a professional musician or have a multi-million dollar church budget to get started with in-ear monitoring. In my opinion, in-ear monitoring can help the struggling worship band on a tight budget make drastic improvements to their sound without breaking the bank. Here are three options for building a wireless in-ear monitor system for your church. This guide assumes you already have the basics of a sound system such as loudspeakers for your congregation and at least a 16-channel mixer. In this example, I am going to use the Behringer X32 to demonstrate in-ear monitor setup. This board has dominated the market of affordable digital boards the past few years and is a popular choice for smaller churches on a budget.
Option #1 - Headphone Amp
Low Budget (<$500)
It is the most affordable in-ear monitor setup. It’s important to note that it is NOT wireless. The downside is your musicians can only move around on stage as far as the headphone extension cable will allow them. The upside is you never need to worry about batteries and wireless packs. Here is how this setup works.
Route your monitor mixes from the mix bus or auxiliary outputs on your mixer to the stage. This will look different depending on how you route signals to the stage from your soundboard. For some people, this may be the most tricky part of this setup. In some cases, you made need a separate snake or adaptors to convert your cables to the proper type. For example, I would need to convert the XLR outputs of the X32 to a quarter inch connection so I can connect my mix bus outputs to the headphone amp I will show you in a few minutes. It would cost me about $100 for an eight channel ¼” snake and the adaptors to plug into the Mixbus outputs on the X32. Or I could put my monitor mixes from the ¼” auxiliary outputs on the back of the X32.
Once those signals are on the stage, find a location for a headphone amp. I recommend a headphone amp like the Behringer HA8000. It is only $150 and has eight channels, which will allow up to 8 separate monitor mixes from your front of house board.
To get the signal from your musicians to their in-ear headphones, you will need some long headphone extension cables. Twenty-five-foot extension cables should work for most stages. If your band was using the X32 or a similar digital board, each musician could control their monitor mix with the X32 app.
That completes this first setup for in-ear monitoring for your worship band. It is by far the least expensive, but it does require a bit more cabling work. It also requires that your mixer has as many outputs for monitors as you would need for individual mixes. If you only have 2 or 4 auxiliary sends, the same setup would work, but your musicians would not be able to have individual mixes.
Option #2 - Digital Personal Mixer
Mid-range Budget ($1500-$3000)
Thanks to the drop in the price of digital mixing technology, Digital Personal Mixers have become an attractive solution for worship band in-ear monitors. Here’s how the concept works. From the digital board like the X32, you can send a digital signal containing 16 channels of your band over a single networking cable to Digital Personal Mixers on stage. These personal mixers can be daisy chained with the network cable and every musician with his or own mixer can create a unique mix. These personal mixers are easy for anyone to use.
While the setup of this monitoring system is simple and it allows for unlimited personal mixes, it does have a few downsides. First, the cost may be prohibitive for many churches. These digital mixers cost $300 each, totaling up to $1500-$2000 for your average five to seven person worship band. Another downside is the fact your musicians are tethered to these personal mixers with a headphone cable, unless if you spend the extra money for some wireless in-ear transmitters, you can connect to these personal mixers. For most band members, being tethered is not a problem. But it can be a pain for worship leaders and vocalists. The other downside is you have additional gear on stage. I cannot stand the look of digital personal mixers on stage, especially if they are not hidden.
While digital personal mixers have a few advantages, this is probably my least favorite setup. If you were to purchase these, I would recommend using them for your drummer and keyboardist. Those musicians do not move around the stage, and it is easy to hide the personal mixer somewhere behind their instrument. If I had to choose between Digital Personal Mixers and the budget solution of a Headphone Amplifier, I would definitely choose the headphone amp. I would much rather control my monitor mix wirelessly with my phone than with a digital personal mixer.
Option #3 - Wireless In-Ear Monitor Systems
High Budget - ($4000-$5000)
This setup is my favorite form of in-ear monitoring. Unfortunately, it also costs the most. Here is how it works.
If you are using a soundboard like the X32, setting up wireless in-ear monitors is simple. First, find a wireless in-ear monitor system you will use. You can expect to pay anywhere between five to six hundred dollars per individual monitor mix. One way to save money is to put two separate mixes on a stereo wireless system. You would buy two wireless receivers for every transmitter. The transmitter can take two channels of audio from your mixer. Usually, this is to give your musician a stereo mix. That is unnecessary for worship band musicians. What you can do is send the left channel to one receiver and the right channel to the other receiver. Make sure those receivers are in mono mode and panned to either left or right depending on which mix that musician needs to hear. You’ll save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars by doing this.
Your band members can control their mixes by using your sound board’s monitor app on their mobile device. They are also free to move about the stage without being tethered to a headphone extension cable or digital personal mixers. There are a couple of downsides to using wireless monitors. First, you must worry about having fresh batteries. I recommend finding some reliable rechargeable batteries and replacing them every other year. The second downside is wireless interference and signal drops. If your system is not setup properly or it is cheap, there is a good chance you will experience wireless issues. If you are going the wireless monitor route, spend the money for proper gear and a professional install.
I hope this gives you some clear direction and ideas for building an in-ear monitor system for your worship band. This setup will look different for all churches. I think you’ll see that any band can have in-ear monitoring even on a small budget. If you have any questions, let me know in the comments.