One XLR Input? Are You Crazy? Micing Up a Stake Conference Broadcast
I feel extremely blessed. I've got microphones, mixers and the ability to donate my skills to my church for their biannual Stake Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I love doing this. I am thankful for my church, and I love the Stake Conference meetings, so getting to contribute using my talents is a blessing to my life.
But... Setting up audio for this meeting is a nightmare. In LDS Church buildings, much of the audio system is behind locked cabinets, making everything as simple and idiot proof as possible. This restricts access from good natured folk who would reroute everything if they could. (Oh wait, I'm one of those people!)
So as a live audio mixer, my options for plugging into the building's PA is limited to an XLR mic input. You might think, "That's perfect! Plug in a couple of microphones and you're done!" This is somewhat akin to a point and pray method of audio engineering. It rarely works, especially if you are broadcasting Stake Conference to multiple buildings. We need to figure out how to hack good audio into such a rigid system.
We are going to delve into this problem, bit by bit. There are several parts, so stick with me and you will have great audio for your Stake Conference broadcast.
We're gonna need a mixer. I suggest any modern mixer that has at least 4 XLR inputs (nothing like running out of XLR inputs and your mixer is no longer useful for your purposes) and phantom power. I like the Behringer mixers cause they are cheap and work well. Whatever you use, you will need a mixer with phantom power!
You are going to need small diaphragm condenser mics. Most Stake Centers and Ward buildings stock dynamic mics. These are the wrong microphones for micing up a choir and organ. Get some good small diaphragm condensor mics. I love the CAD C9 mics. Again very inexpensive and just solid, tiny mics. Get a pair, so you can use one for each side of the choir. Remember that condenser microphones require phantom power. (I have often sat around trying to figure out why nothing works. It's the phantom power I always miss.)
A Good DI Box
Most DI (Direct Input) boxes are not designed to take a signal from a mixer. The mixer level is too high. I use a DI box with a -40db pad. The Pyle PDC21 or the PDC22 DI boxes will take the output of your mixer and turn it into a level that will work well for your church system XLR inputs.
Mic Stands and Cables
If your building has a couple of mic stands use those. Put a mic on each side of the choir, as high as the stands will go (make sure they are even) and about 4 feet on each side of the conductor. This is called a spaced pair.
You will need at least one balanced TRS cable, and three Microphone cables. The microphone cables should be long. Like 100 ft long depending on where the mixer sits. (I like to be near the back, to monitor over the PA speakers.)
There are several sellers on eBay who sell inexpensive but good XLR and balanced TRS cables. Check their seller feedback and go for it.
You're going to need to tape cables down so people don't trip. I would not skip this step. Having a congregant trip and get hurt is just unprofessional. Make sure you get some gaffer tape (I like 4-6" wide) and tape everything down. Gaffer tape is strong and doesn't leave a residue. It is much better than duct tape. You can also use it to mark mic placement and performer positions.
Setting it all up
Once you've run your XLR cables and you're ready, we set everything up:
- The microphones get plugged into the mixer.
- The output of the mixer (1/4" TRS) gets plugged into the Pyle DI box.
- Engage the -40db ATT switch on the Pyle DI box.
- Plug the output of the DI box (XLR) back into the church's audio system. Any XLR input should do, I often use the one under the sacrament table as it is nearest the side I'm working on.
- Roll down the gain knobs and the volume sliders on the mixer and turn it on.
- Engage the phantom power switch!
At this point you can set levels. I like to bring up the main fader to 0db, then the mic faders up to 0db. At this point I will start to set my gain knobs. Bring them up slowly until you start to hear feedback. Then dial it back a little bit.
This should be a good level. If you get too much feedback and not enough volume, lower your mic stands a little bit (You are fighting against the PA speakers on the ceiling above the pulpit. )
I like to go to the back of the chapel's overflow (all the way back into the gym) to monitor what is happening. It allows me to hear what they are getting over the Internet broadcast, and helps me set levels properly.
Problems! Quick! Help me!
1. Feedback is crazy!
Your gain is too high! Start over. Bring the gain knobs and the faders all the way down. Bring the faders up to 0db, and then bring up the gain to adjust to your feedback limit! It does not get louder than the feedback limit. You must adjust mic position from that point to get louder i.e. get the mics closer to your source.
2. I'm getting radio picked up by this system!
Enable phantom power.
3. There's a loud buzz, what do I do?
You are in a ground loop. On the DI box is a button for the ground loop. Engage it or disengage it until the buzz goes away.
4. There is noise or hiss when I turn off the mixer.
This might happen. I setup a few days beforehand, and leave my audio system unplugged from the church's system until I am ready to go.
5. The organ is overpowering the choir!
The organ is hard wired to the sound system. You will need to open the back of the organ. The cable is located inside the back of the organ near the bottom. It should look like an XLR cable connected to a TRS adapter. Unplug this.
Remember, if you do this, the only organ sound you will be transmitting to the broadcast with be through the mics you have setup. You will need to bring up the volume of those mics during congregational singing.
I've found I only need to bypass the organ if the organ is the accompaniment instrument to the choir.
5. The soloist wants to use the podium mic!
Why is this a problem, you may ask? You lose control of the mix! Setup another microphone for them (the church's dynamic mics will work well for this, or if you have a group, grab a good condenser mic, or use your small diaphragm mics for this. I once heard a full operatic singer sing directly into the podium mic. She completely overpowered the piano accompaniment. Stake Conference needs a little more control over the sound. It could go to 1000 or more people at once.
I almost hesitate to mention this. After all my purpose is not to subvert the stock design of these church building audio systems, but to give you options to work within that system. However, we found it very helpful in doing these broadcasts to intercept the church building audio before the broadcast hardware. My good friend Chris, who is also an audio engineer inserted a small mixer between the church audio system and the broadcast hardware. This allows him just a little more control on the volume of the broadcast, increasing the volume for quieter speakers, and lowering the volume for louder pieces. I'm not going to go into the details here, but if you are interested in this shoot me a message and we'll talk about it.
Every Stake Conference is different. For instance, today we had a family singing, and an organ solo. I used one mic on the family (mic placement is critical here!), and two on the piano . I also left the organ hardwired so I didn't need to mess with that.
It is not easy striking a good balance between the audio for the chapel and for the broadcast, since they are the same. Communication is key. Working with the person who is running the broadcast itself will help you find the best mix. I find that if I can get a good mix from the back of the overflow, it tends to translate fairly well to the broadcast. This isn't always true, especially if the high frequencies are particularly present, so you may need to adjust your mic position, and then play with EQ to get it to play ball.
Good sound in these meetings are a blessing. It takes a little work and some equipment to make it go, but it makes the meeting go so much better. Have fun with it and go make good audio happen!
Leave a comment below if this was helpful for you!