Dec 29, 2009 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer
Three approaches to audio capture and distribution.
Mars Hill Church
Mars Hill Church has nine locations in the greater Seattle area and one in Albuquerque, N.M, but the church is nowhere near finished expanding. The church plans to open 90 more campuses in the next 10 years. “We’ve got a vision to dream big,” says Matthew Josey, the systems and operations manager for the church. That new title reflects a new approach to audiovisual systems for Mars Hill. Before, Josey was simply the church’s audio engineer. Now the idea is to standardize the systems as much as possible across campuses in order to avoid repeating the work of selecting a new system every timea project that Josey is overseeing.
Considering the number of new campuses that Mars Hill is determined to open over the next decade, with audio and video systems largely duplicated from those of established campuses, it makes sense that the church has (just as Saddleback has) brought systems integration inhouse. Not only does the church save some money on new systems, but the on-staff integrator can also help maintain systems from week to week. “It is very beneficial to have an audio/video/lighting guy on staff who intimately knows their systems,” Josey says. “I feel like there’s a lot of [other] churches who fall into that thought pattern as well.”
Josey certainly knows the systems at Mars Hill, but at this point, the standardization has just started. So it’s a bit difficult for him to list all the various recording configurations. Still, some general rules apply. First is that live music is a key part of the worship experience at all Mars Hill campuses. Each location has at least a couple house bands, so recording is at minimum a weekly activity at each campus. “I can probably with confidence tell you that we’ve got 25 bands at the moment,” Josey says. “It’s probably higher.”
Each band’s Sunday performance is captured with Shure SM58 and Sennheiser e 935/945 mics, recorded to Marantz PMD660, PMD560, or Tascam DR-100 solid-state recorders as a stereo mix from front of house. (Mars Hill has decided to make the DR-100 the standard recording device going forward.) This is known as the band reference podcast, and it’s a private feed for band members. “That is so that bands, after they play, they can go back and say, ‘Well, this worked in this song; this worked in this service,’” Josey says. “It’s a tool for the bands to use to try to get better.”
The second general rule is that there’s a semi-standard setup for multitrack recording at the various campuses. The goal here is to polish worthy live performancesvia multitrack mixing and occasionally some studio overdubbingto the point that they can be posted to the Web. At most campuses, a Yamaha M7CL board outputs audio via an installed ADAT Lightpipe card, which has either 16 or 32 outputs, depending on the location. These channels feed a Mac Pro computer that’s running either Pro Tools M-Powered or Apple Logic. M-Powered is a version of Pro Tools that limits the number of tracks to 16. So if a campus is running up to 32 tracks, it runs Logic. None of these systems have a control surface attached; mixing is strictly via mouse.
After a volunteer mixes these tracks down to a stereo MP3, the next step is quality control. Brian Eichelberger, a part-time employee of Mars Hill and the only staff recording engineer on the audio side, receives this file via email and types up a short critique of the track. “He’s got a good ear; he knows what to look for within music,” Josey says. Eichelberger sends this critique to the volunteer recording engineer, and that person then either remixes and resubmits the song or simply takes the critique as a lesson for next time. If the mix passes muster, the track is uploaded to Mars Hill’s ever-growing public music library at www.marshillchurch.org/media/music.
With all the volunteer recording happening at Mars Hill’s 10 campuses, training is another process that the church is trying to standardize. Josey says that at the moment training is an ad-hoc process, but the plan is to offer free training via a series of web pages and blog posts in January, with videos to follow later. “Part of our goal in this is to do it for free, because we also want to make our training available to other churches who might stumble across it,” he says.
Meanwhile, there’s a separate track to the media ministry at Mars Hill. The church has a theologically rigorous and sometimes provocative pastor in Mark Driscoll, who preaches every Sunday at the church’s main campus in Ballard. His message is recorded every week for audio and video podcasts, and also for video playback at the nine other campuses the following week. A Pro Tools LE system records Driscoll’s headset (a DPA 4000 series mic), his wireless lav, wired lav, the audio from the video, a FOH board feed, and timecode. “Out of these, we choose the best input, usually the headset mic, and master it as needed,” Josey says. The audio file is then sent into Apple Final Cut Pro to be cut together with the camera feeds. (Most mics for bands and singers are a mix of Shure, including SM58s, and Sennheiser models, including 935s and 945s.) A staff audio-for-video engineer, Sam Stewart, handles postproduction for these tasks, as well as all music beds for the many preproduced videos that Mars Hill creates. “He’s a guy who has his own projects, his own deadlines that are separate from the music side of things,” Josey says. “They’re two very different workflows.”
Stewart works in his own studio at the Ballard location, where about 45 percent of the congregation worships. The house PA there comprises Meyer Sound CQ-1 loudspeakers with 700-HP subwoofers. Like many of the volunteers, Stewart runs Apple Logic for multitrack editing. The studio has a MOTU HD-192 interface and a Sound Devices hard-disk recorder, with Aphex 1788 preamps, and Summit Audio compressors and dbx Professional Products 160 compressor/limiters. There’s also Digidesign 192 I/O gear in the studio, but the church is waiting for budget to come through to get Stewart a core card so he can run a full Pro Tools rig.
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