Clint Aull is the sound director at Bethel Church and will be an instructor at this year’s WorshipU On Campus. Recently, Clint joined us for an “Ask Me Anything” session with students on the WorshipU Discussion Board and gave these incredible insights for gear to use as well as how to build a great sound team in your church.
Developing a strong relationship with your sound engineer is essential. This can be the most overlooked interaction on the worship team, but a good relationship will enable you to have healthy conversation about the mix without anyone getting defensive. Everything starts and ends with relationship – so make sure your sound team feel like they’re working side-by-side with the musicians and listen to their input.
Most of the time, I’m working to achieve the worship leader’s goals, not my own. Even if I think “the bass needs to be louder”, I will defer to the person in charge. The worship pastor should make the final call on the overall sound and volume level in the sanctuary. And obviously the senior pastor has input on this, too. I always offer my opinion since I’m hearing from a different perspective, but I’m not offended if my advice isn’t taken. However, I would encourage all worship leaders to listen to and trust the expertise of your sound engineer.
Vocal Mics, Compression, and Gates
At Bethel, our main vocal mic is the Neumann KMS 105. We also use a Sure Beta 87 and a Telefunken M-80, depending on which sounds best for the particular vocalist on that day. All of the preamps and EQs are done on our analog console at front of house. We also use Distressor compression on all vocal channels, then a hall reverb for vocals as well as a chorus. For drums, we start with tuning and proper mic placement. If those are not correct, no amount of mixing will help. (JP’s drum class on WorshipU has some great tips on mic placement). Then, we use compression and gates as well as parallel compression.
In my opinion, in-ear systems are far superior to wedges. I prefer Avioms but we use the Behringer X-32 system with P-16’s because it’s more affordable. At Bethel, we require everyone on our team to invest in their own in-ears. Alternatively, you could use headphone amps or small mixers in place of wedges. The quality isn’t great, but it will drastically reduce stage volume and help to protect voices and ears from damage.
The click is mostly run by our keyboard player, although the drummer runs it during spontaneous moments. Each musician can choose how much click they prefer to have in their mix. The click is always running, even in spontaneous moments. If the spontaneous moment is a completely new song, there won’t be any tracks. But if the worship leader decides to spontaneously repeat a certain part of the song, the keyboardist can trigger that section to play again. The tracks are broken up into verses, choruses, etc so that we have the freedom to repeat parts and alter the original song arrangement. Check out Matt Stinton’s Keyboard class in WorshipU to learn more about setting up tracks in Ableton.
Mixing Front of House
When it comes to mixing front-of-house, we use panning to create space for clear vocals and a good band mix. The most important starting points for any mix are good gain structure and correct mic placement. No matter what, I always make sure those are done correctly. And it’s important to make time for a full line check so that you can recognize any problems before rehearsal starts. For our FOH soundsystem, we use a Meyer Mina Line Array, Meyer 700 HP Subs, and a Midas Heritage 2000 Console with lots of outboard gear such as various compressions and reverbs.
There are a few tricks to help you produce a fuller sound, even in a smaller church building. Firstly, you need a good PA system. It doesn’t have to be big but it does need to be quality for the room. Next, reduce your stage volume by using in-ears and drum shields. And the final step involves good acoustic treatment. As far as mixing goes, if you have a different band, you do need a different mix. The same mix can’t be used week in and week out, even if there are only slight alterations to your band setup.
At the end of the day, my job is to steward the resources that I’m given. Here at Bethel, we’re privileged to have access to a lot of resources, but even when I worked on a smaller budget in the past, my approach was no different. Besides, expensive equipment never replaces skill and drive. Some of the most creative artists that I’ve known haven’t necessarily had amazing equipment, but they were smart about using what they had. I am also a big fan of training up people for your team. If someone hadn’t come alongside me when I was 17, I wouldn’t be where I am now, doing what I love to do.