3 ways to simplify your cabling as a church – Production System at Saddleback Berlin

Microphone with long cable

If you are a portable church or a church with fixed installations, one of the important components are your cables. Treat them well and they will treat you well. If you maintain your cables well, you will safe time and money.

As Saddleback Berlin we always had to work with boundaries such as time constraints , budget constraints and so on. We want to create a great Worship experience but can not get away from those limitations.

We are struggling with accepting any kind of boundaries. We always ask ourselves: “Isn’t there a way to simplify this? There must be a better way.” And I encourage you to have someone in the team who does this all the time. It is somehow inconvenient to get those questions but it helps you think out of the box.

At Saddleback Berlin we questioned the way we setup our stage and one part of it is how we do our cabling. We basically sticked to the principle to use the shortest cable possible.

On stage we implemented multi-core cables which bundle a set of input and outputs in one thick cable. Additionally we plug our instruments and mics with the shortest cables possible to those multi-cores. We also teach our people how to coil cables which helps reducing setup time.

Let’s dig a little deeper in those three areas:

1. Keep the multi-core cables short

With a multi-core cable several cables are combined in one line. Usually there is a row of plugs at one end and a strip with several connectors at the other end.

At Saddleback Berlin we are using a digital snake with 32 inputs and 16 outputs to connect the stage with the sound board with just one Cat 6 cable (RJ45). On stage we use several smaller multi-core cables to provide connections at several positions of our stage.

With multi-core cables it is fairly hard to find the exact needed length so we end up buying multi-cores always longer than we need them. But when we are having our stage always in the same size and in always the same building we can reduce the range of those multi-core cables by just tying them shorter and fixing this length with a cable tie.

The second binding is then loose, so that every stage manager knows that he can release this binding and then the stage box has exactly the right length. Each Stage Box is labeled with the same terms as shown in the table above, i.e. Front, Left and Right.

The multi-core cable with the two cable ties; one remains fixed, the other is loose

2. Keep the cables for instruments and microphones short

We use color coding for the cables that we make available to the musicians. Each color stands for one cable length. In our cable box we then have a small manual explaining the meaning of the colored marking (the cable length) and then write behind it for which use this cable length is suitable (e.g. 5m for singers and 3m for the keyboard or guitar). The shorter the cable is, the faster it is rewound at the end and the longer the cable is, the worse it is usually coiled and next Sunday the trouble is big if someone tries to get the cable apart again.

A color coded cable and a description for how we use the colors easily visible for the whole team

3. Learn how to coil cables

We don’t explain to everyone how to roll the cables correctly and knot-free. From my point of view this is a waste of time. We expect our Stage Manager and Producer to know how to roll up the cables correctly. They are also the only ones to roll up multi-core cables and cables longer than 5m.

Well coiled cables come loose immediately; in fact I can hold a well coiled cable at one end and then throw it out straight and without loops or knots on the floor. With a badly rolled up cable it can take – depending on the length – a minute until it is unknotted. The shorter the cable, the less problematic it is, so it is worthwhile to use short cables for the majority of cables.

You should learn how to coil cables properly and teach your Stage Managers and Producers how to do it. I found this video sequence which helps a lot to learn it:

Great description for how to coil cables with the “Over Under Technique”

Conclusion

This may have been my shortest article ever but the principles are simple and the effect is huge. If you keep the cables as short as possible (but never shorter than needed of course), if you tie your multi-core cables and if you teach your core people how to coil longer cables it will pay off.

You will be quicker with the setup as well as with the tear down. This will result in more time for practice and sound checks. This will ultimately benefit a better worship experience which is our end goal.

You can see that even a small thing like the cabling will benefit your end goal if you do it right.

Let me know what you’ve done to optimise your cabling by posting a comment below. Also feel free to point any question to me.

5 Reasons A Digital Soundboard Is Creating The Best Sound Experience

A digital sound board
Photo by Adi Goldstein on Unsplash

At churches we are always challenged to create a great sound experience with little budget and time at hand. We made great experience with our digital soundboard and I will explain why I think you should go for a digital soundboard instead an analog version nowadays.

I will explain you why a digital soundboard helps you get more variety in your sound, how it helps you to continuously improve your sound, how you can separate duties, how a digital soundboard helps you train your people at sound and that it comes with a much better price.

A disclaimer: I’m biased for Behringer

The one and only digital console I knew at the time I was studying audio engineering was the Yamaha 01V. It was the first affordable digital console but its usability was just horrible.

At this time Behringer as a vendor was just seen as the evil one. They did cheap versions of existing devices. So when I first saw the X32 in a church I was really disappointed. But the Production Director at this time just encouraged me to give it a try. Which I did and I was really impressed and excited.

Therefore I can speak very well about the X32. We use it at Saddleback Berlin and we made great experience with it. It is a good price with a huge stack of features so I can definitely recommend it although there are a bunch of other great digital soundboards out there.

But now let’s start with the five reasons why you should choose a digital soundboard over an analog one. Let’s go!

(1) A digital soundboard brings more variety to your sound

There are two reasons why a digital soundboard brings more variety to your sound.

First, there is no direct connection between your physical inputs and your channels. This gives you flexibility in raising the same input signal for different purposes. There is also no direct connection between your physical output and your mix busses, inserts or matrixes.

Second, with the utilisation of scene files, presets, and cue lists you can influence the sound on the go and you can still ensure a minimum standard quality. Let’s dig a little deeper in these aspects.

(a) Reuse input channels for different purposes

With a digital soundboard you can route any input channel to any fader on your console. Some soundboards are more flexible in such configurations (e.g. Allen & Heath).

On the X32 you should not route too excessively because it can be very confusing to troubleshoot problems.

The way we make use of it at Saddleback Berlin is we like to reuse some of the input signals. For example, our announcer is using the same microphone as one of the vocalists. But of course a singing voice sounds very different then a talking voice and one person has a very different frequency spectrum and dynamic than another person.

So, using the same settings for equaliser, compressor, gates and effect devices would lead into one voice sounding great the other sounding awkward. And if you decide to go for a consensual setting both voices sound strange. Of course you can make use of a second microphone, but with a digital soundboard you don’t need to.

As long as you’re okay using the same microphone type for a singing voice and a talking voice you can just route the same input to another channel on your soundboard and use a totally different preset. When the vocalist is handing over the mic to the announcer you mute the vocalist and unmute the announcer and both sound great.

(b) Prepare an instrument for different situations

At Saddleback Berlin we love the acoustic guitar. Sometimes she plays alone, sometimes she is completely covered by the keys or by the electric guitar. It is nearly impossible to make a setting that works well if she is playing alone or the full band is playing.

With our digital soundboard we have established an acoustic guitar setting that works well with the whole band and we have another setting that works perfect when the guitar is playing alone.

So, if the environment changes during a song I can just bring one fader up and the other down. I can tell you if you do this well no one will notice it’s two presets they will just recognise the acoustic guitar is always present and always sounds great.

(c) Make use of scene files, presets and cue lists

A scene file (some soundboards call it show file) is a basic settings file for your soundboard. When you load this file you just go back to a baseline of your soundboard setup. The routing, the channel allocation, the settings per channel, the sends per channel, the settings for the mix busses and for the effects are just reset to the baseline you once declared. It’s your personal “factory reset”. It can be used for a general basic setup of your board or as a real show file for a certain tour.

In addition a preset file is doing the same for a single channel. You can just load the settings for your acoustic guitar to any channel you want. Doing this will reload those settings such as channel name, gain levels, insert configurations, dynamics, equaliser and auxiliary sends into the selected channel.

With a cue list you can create snapshots of certain aspects of your soundboard and then create a playlist order of such snapshots which you can then recall during the service in that particular order. So, instead of using two channels for the same acoustic guitar you can also load these presets into the same channel and create two snapshots which you then recall whenever needed.

I personally struggle with such cue lists because I don’t like the way it is implemented on the X32. I have more control when I use two channels instead of a cue list. But you will definitely benefit from using a cue list when you need to do a lot of changes at once.

(2) A digital soundboard helps you continuously improve your sound much easier

Just to make it clear: the Beatles didn’t have a digital soundboard neither did they have a lot of the effects and filters we are using today and they were great, creative musicians and build an awesome sound.

Nevertheless our ears are used to what we listen to on Spotify or on radio and thus certain types of sounds. When those ears are stepping into our churches it’s easier for them to connect and feel “at home” when they can relate to the style and sound of the music. We want our people to connect to God and this is just easier when they can relate to the music.

Learn why the Production plays a vital role for people to connect to God

That said it pushes a lot of pressure on the worship team and on us, the sound engineers. And I can tell you with the constraints we have to manage this is much easier with a digital soundboard.

Use and improve your presets

At Saddleback Berlin we reuse our presets every single Sunday. Now we have people who are not yet very familiar with all the settings of a soundboard. But that’s not critical. When we make use of those preset files we can focus on balancing the mix and create a good sound experience this way.

Some of our sound engineers are very experienced and they get to the soundboard prepared and willing to optimise one certain part of it. It might be they don’t like the current settings of the acoustic guitar or they want to check the mic position and the settings for the kick drum to get more kick out of it.

They play around with those settings and at the end of the service they conclude a certain sound is now better than before. These new settings are then stored in the related presets file and maybe also in the general scene file. So from next Sunday on this is our new reference.

This way we constantly improve our sound and develop a better experience at church.

(3) A digital soundboard can be operated by several people for different purposes

Most of the digital soundboards allow remote controlling and you should make use of it.

There are several use cases where this can help you improving your mix but the main one is that someone can take care of monitor mixes for the worship team and the sound engineer just takes care of the sound in the house.

At Saddleback Berlin given the time constraints we have this was a major milestone to optimise communication between the worship and the production team. Now the sound engineers were able to focus on the mix and were not distracted by any requests from musicians regarding their in ear monitor mix.

This remote controlling also allows another person to mix an overflow room, a nursery room or maybe the sound of a TV screen in the coffee bar area.

The only thing you need to make this happen is (in most cases) a Wifi router, which you connect to your soundboard, maybe additional Wifi repeaters so you always have a good connection wherever you need it. Then you need a tablet or a bigger smartphone where you install the app of your soundboard so you can control it from there.

(4) With a digital soundboard you can do virtual sound checks

“What is a virtual sound check?” you might ask. It means you record your service on a multi channel recorder and later you play it back into your soundboard and it seems like the band is playing live.

Those virtual sound checks are amazing for training sessions. You can replay the whole session wherever you want and your team can learn how to mix certain situations in a more relaxed surrounding.

But of course you can do those virtual sound checks with an analog soundboard as well. There is just the question how do you record the channels?

Most digital soundboards come with a multi channel digital output. That means you may plug your computer per USB or Thunderbolt cable, you start a recording application (Logic, Adobe Audition, …) and name your channels and here you are.

(5) A digital soundboard is more cost effective

I bet when you grow as a church or just in what you expect from your console, you quickly reach the point where the digital board supports you better and is also much cheaper than a comparable analog setup. Let us compare both setups to see the difference.

Let’s imagine a setup you might find a lot in churches: we have a band with two singers, one of them playing a guitar, someone who plays keys and we have a drum set which we take three microphones for. Additionally we have two people making announcements or the sermon itself.

We want the monitoring to be individual for every musician and singer. This way we simplify communication and improve hearing experience. Best case we even go for In Ear monitoring to ensure lower stage volume and improve control for the sound in the house. Although the monitoring system is not relevant for the choice of the soundboard, the number of mix or auxiliary busses we need to feed the monitoring has a huge impact on the soundboard we need.

A very detailed description on how you can optimize the monitoring system

If we take all of this we might have the following setup for both cases: two mics for the singers which can be reused by the announcers, a DI box for the guitar, two DI boxes for the keyboard, three mics for the drums (kick, snare, one overhead).

The analog setup

We search for a soundboard that has a minimum of 12 inputs and at least four mix buses or auxiliary channels. Those four channels are required for the four monitor mixes. This is a very minimal setup because it gives literally no space for growing and improving things.

The Yamaha MG20 XU comes with 20 input channels and 4 auxiliary channels, one of which can be used for the internal effect device. The mixer even comes with a compressor in every channel although you can just set a threshold, other settings are not given.

The mixer comes at a price of 649€.

This console is neat. It’s basically everything there what you might need for mixing in a church. On the other hand when you have more practice and you want to continue to improve the sound or your band grows you will probably miss some functionality.

You might then want 8, 12 or even 16 mix busses because you need more monitor mixes or you want to bring the signal to a nursery room or to an interpreter. You want more different effects on your mixes. Or you want more options for equalising or compression.

In this case you might choose the Soundcraft GB8-24+4 it’s worth 2.900€. This mixer brings four equalisers with two bands having a flexible frequency. The board comes with eight mix buses. It also comes with a compressor in every channel.

So now you have a much better mixer that gives you more flexibility and room for growth. Still you will experience the boundaries of having just two flexible equaliser bands and your compressors lack of options.

In comparison: the Behringer X32

I could take just another digital console but as I shared I just know this one the best. There are way better consoles but the X32 is definitely affordable for smaller churches and it comes with a great set of functionalities.

The X32 comes with 32 inputs and 16 outputs plus additional 6 auxiliary outputs. 16 mix busses will serve you well for a lot of cases. Every channel comes with four full parametric equalisers and a compressor with a full set of parameters (frequency, bandwidth and gain).

All of these components come with a reasonable quality and the soundboard comes with a price of 1.700 €.

You might think why should you ever need 16 mix busses? I can tell you this might not be relevant for you now as it was for us during the first two years. But then we grew in our attendance (which I’m praying for it will happen to you as well) and in our expectation for quality. And finally we utilised them all.

Conclusion on the price comparison

The analog Yamaha console for 650€ might serve you now but it creates boundaries just from the start and my opinion is your soundboard should never stop you from growing and improving.

The analog Soundcraft still has some boundaries. However it comes with a much higher price with its 2,900€.

In comparison the digital Behringer X32 with its 1,700€ comes at a reasonable price and a lot of inputs, outputs, mix busses and a great set of functionality. It will support you best to grow as a worship team and in improving your sound.

Conclusion

I’m really excited about digital soundboards, as you can tell. But I hope this list helped you to understand all the benefits you get with a digital soundboard.

With a digital soundboard you get more variety in your sound. It helps you to continuously improve your sound. It also helps you to let more people work with the soundboard at the same time and it helps you train your people.

All of this comes with a much better price than with the analog soundboards you find in the market. Yes, analog soundboards start at a lower price so it seems to be easier to start, but this comes with a trade off and I want to motivate you to steward your budget well and that doesn’t mean to buy cheap but to buy smart.

I love to see your comments or questions on this and I’m happy to answer them as best I can.

And now go and mix as best you can 😉

How to overcome “It’s easier to just do it myself” as a Production Leader

“It’s easier to just do it myself!” Did you hear this phrase before? Did you have this thought before?

I did. I am a certified Audio Engineer. For more than two decades I’m doing live sound in churches. I’m hearing everything. I see everything. A speaker turned in the wrong direction. An equalizer switched off which was on before. A vocal sound with too much compression. A de-esser set to strong or bypassed.

Sometimes it’s hard to just enjoy Worship because I‘m constantly observing every aspect of the production. Now there are these volunteers you know? And they don’t see it. They don’t hear it. So, why even care, I better do it myself, right?

I will explain you why we should thrive for higher purposes and I will explain you how I overcame those thoughts and implemented healthy procedures and systems.

Why you better don’t do it yourself

We need churches with loving atmospheres

I’m serving as a Production Leader at the Berlin, Germany campus of Saddleback. In Berlin less than 2% would claim to be a follower of Christ. Also, people in Berlin are very isolated. Many people would say they do not have a real friend.

So, there is a lot to do as a church. We need to create a welcoming and inviting family so that people find a home. We need to create an atmosphere of authentic love. First and foremost that can only happen if we let Jesus change our heart and we let him open our eyes for other people.

People are searching for “intimacy, meaning and a destiny” (Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus) which affects every aspect of our lives. And it is affected also by what we do as Production Leaders. Jesus created people with certain gifts, passions, and abilities and who are we to judge people and stand in their way?

The production of a Sunday service is one of the most undervalued ministries in the church. Only when it’s done bad everyone notices it. Rarely will people notice when we do a good job and really mixed the worship as best as possible. They will all just say: the worship was great today.

Because of that it’s usually people that are shy or introverted to tend to serve in those positions. Maybe they love music and worship in particular and they want to support it, but they would feel very uncomfortable on a stage. As a Production Leader it’s my job to create a great atmosphere in my team where people love to serve and they feel appreciated for what they do. And since no one else might do it, you as a Production Leader need to do it.

As a Production Team we are part of the church and when we as a church want to create a welcoming and loving atmosphere we as the Production Team should do the same. Our job is not only to create a great worship. Our job is to create a great church.

We need more churches

Less than 2% of people living in Berlin would claim to be a follower of Jesus. Heaven has enough space for 100% and God has never created a person He doesn’t love and He has never created a person He doesn’t want to live forever. All that to say it’s a lot to do for us as churches. We need more churches, we need bigger churches, we need healthier churches.

Close to where I live there is a small park with a tower that plays bells every hour. It plays a very old hymn from the 17th century which the church in which I grew up sang a lot. Every time I cross this park and it plays this song I begin singing the lyrics – very oldish style lyrics. I sometimes imagine every person I pass would sing this song as well because everyone just knows it and loves to praise our Lord.

I think that’s what God wants. We trust him completely and we praise him for everything in response. So Production Leaders all around the globe: we need more churches, healthier churches, small and big churches.

We need more Production Leaders

If we have more churches or bigger churches we need more sound engineers, slide operators, light operators, stage managers and so on. Maybe today you’re a church with 80 attendees and you might think why do I even need all of these roles?

Good question and I would throw back the following questions: What would your church and especially your team look like if your attendance grows to 500 people? Or what would it look like if your pastor plants four more churches and he now needs tech leaders for those?

If we lack developing new people in tech, worship will not grow but shrink in quality and thus will hinder the church to grow further. I can tell you I don’t want to be the guy being responsible the church can not grow as expected. It’s people’s eternal lives at stake. Too important to miss that.

All that to say there is enough reason to overcome our quick reaction: “I better do it myself.” So let’s make sure we don’t fall into this trap. But how?

How we overcome “I better do it myself”

As churches we need more great production teams and leaders. So, the main reason we should overcome our “I better do it myself” mentality is we need more sound, graphics, light and video guys. And God is preparing people for such ministries.

Therefore the only way to overcome this unhealthy mentality and behaviour is to understand our role is not to make the production but to make a great production team.

If you’re a pastor and you want to make this happen you must find the right leader for this position and as a leader in this position you need to understand the why of your ministry, you need to implement the right tools and you need to establish reliable mechanisms.

Define the why of your role

If you read this and you’re a pastor I encourage you to search for someone with leadership potential, a passion for music and an understanding of tech and give him the responsibility to lead the team. Sometimes you find those people in the worship team and you need to re-position them. Although this is painful first it will serve both teams in the long run and ultimately the church will benefit from it a lot.

Now you’re given the responsibility of “doing tech”. As mentioned before “tech” is one of the most undervalued ministries in church. “Just make sure we can hear everything, it’s not getting too loud and there is never a feedback” might be your job description.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are more important things to do as a church for sure. Let me compare it to my home. If you would ask me what’s most important in my home I would probably say something like time together, love, kindness, fun and so on. That’s at the heart of our family and for sure this will instantly change if we have a power outage. Power is a very foundational and existential service nowadays. As a society we’re depending on it.

Today music plays a vital role in the lives of people. Thanks to streaming services like Spotify we have all music of the planet at our fingertips. The way music is produced today is very different to how music was produced during the times of the Beatles. A lot of technology goes into the production today. So whether they know it or not people come into churches with a certain expectation how music sounds. And the more we meet such expectation the more they feel at home. There are other more important aspects but this is still relevant.

If you lead your production team you need to explain their role in the health and the growth of the church. It’s important they know they’re just not moving faders or showing the next slide. They’re helping people to connect to God. And when people connect to Him they will find their purpose in live and ultimately serve the whole Kingdom.

If your team understands the whole picture it’s way more exciting to serve in this team.

You always hire more than you actually need

You might think as a church of your size you just need one at the soundboard and one clicking the slides. Both are willing to come every Sunday so I just need those two.

With such conclusion you just decided to not grow in the team and in conclusion this might be a bottleneck in the further growth of the church itself.

So be sure you make the church aware of you’re always open for new people to join. New people can always shadow existing ones and if you have more people in the team you can also always think of next milestones to improve the quality of the sound, the graphics and so on.

Implement the right tools

Tools can help you a lot to simplify things. These are the most important tools we use (in brackets you can see the specific tools we use at Saddleback Berlin):

  • A tool for managing and scheduling people (Planning Center Online Services)
  • A tool to organize songs and program flow and communicate it with the team (Planning Center Online Services)
  • A tool to communicate with the team (WhatsApp)
  • A flexible and programmable (digital) mixer (Behringer X32)
  • A tool for preparing and showing slides for lyrics, announcements and the sermon (ProPresenter)
  • A tool for playing music for intro, outro etc. (Spotify)

The more you can integrate those tools with one another, the more you can concentrate on your people.

You will find a lot information about those tools in other articles, so I will resist the temptation to explain their roles and reasons here in detail.

Implement reliable mechanisms

This one is the hardest part because now you need to reflect on what makes a great production at your church. What makes a great sound? What makes a great visual appearance? What makes a great lightning experience?

When you figure out what aspects make a great production you implement mechanisms that ensure those aspects are always taken care of, independent from the team on stage or at the front of house.

A couple of easy mechanisms to implement are:

Label everything

  • Put labels on your cables that show their length or their purpose
  • Make the description of those labels visible evrywhere for everyone
  • Teach people to search for descriptions of labels; self service is always quicker and the learning curve is much better
  • Put labels on inputs and outputs so that their purpose is clear

Use multi core cables

  • Use multi core cables to bring inputs and outputs close to where the worship team has their mics and instruments
  • Think about using several multi cores not just one; several smaller multi-cores at certain positions are better than one big one in the middle

Use a digital sound board and make use of it excessively

  • Use a standard show or scene file which represents your standard setup for things that never or rarely change (sections, layers, effects, routing, matrix etc.)
  • Use preset files for every vocal and every instrument and store them somewhere centrally (i.e. Google Drive or Dropbox)
  • Every Sunday load the standard scene file and then all needed preset files. This way you ensure a certain level of quality
  • Every Sunday concentrate on the whole mix but also on a certain channel to optimise
  • After the Sunday when you found better settings for a certain vocal or instrument, store this setting as your new preset file and use this one from then on

Create checklists for every single position

  • The checklists describe the order of activities for setup, rehearsal and tear down
  • Review those checklists regularly and improve them whenever needed

Train your people

  • Train them on your mechanisms
  • Train them on the checklists
  • Teach them on their job role
  • Ask them for how they see and experience their role regularly

Conclusion

In October 2019 we had a special event at Saddleback Berlin. We where celebrating our sixth anniversary. For this special event we brought our whole church together which usually meets in two services. In addition we had a special guest, Rick Warren, author of „Purpose Driven Live“ (sold 16m times).

This Sunday we where 700 people in one room. This is essentially four times more people in one room than usual.

The event was a blast in all aspects. We made mistakes but we get the setup done on time, the worship was amazing, the sermon was great and we had a lot of fun as a team. But we also get aware of the fact we’re not yet ready to be a church of 700 people at the same time. We were able to handle it once but that doesn’t mean we can handle it every week.

The whole team was very excited about that specific event so everyone wanted to take part of it. It was a much bigger effort than our usual Sunday in terms of planning and operation. Would that team have to handle every Sunday this size the team would drown.

So we’re not yet a church of a 700. We would need to grow the team in terms of number of people and in terms of our skills. We need to grow and optimize our mechanisms.

Wether we are a church of 50 people or a church of 5,000 people we always need to think about how we structure our team for growth. The mission of our team stays the same independent of our size, but our team structure, our mechanisms, our tools and our checklists will look very different.

That’s why there will never be a status quo and we always stay flexible in the way we do and structure things.

How to optimize your Monitoring system as a Portable Church – Production System at Saddleback Berlin

Worship Leader with In Ears

An important prerequisite for a good sound is that the musicians can hear each other well. You can’t rely on the PA. The speakers are directed towards the listener, not the musicians. In this way we create a good sound for the listener and at the same time avoid feedback. But we also create a situation where the musicians on stage hear themselves less well, because the sound from the room is reflected back onto the stage by the walls. This sound is delayed and echoed, so it is impossible to judge how the band sounds, whether the notes are hit right and whether they play in rhythm.

We used to place monitor speakers on stage that were aimed at the musicians. So we could create a mix for them, they could hear each other well and therefore play their instrument well or sing in a clean tune.

This small venue’s stage shows an example of a typical monitor speaker set-up: there are three “wedge” monitors directed towards the area of the stage where singers and instrumentalists will be performing. The drummer has both a subwoofer cabinet (for monitoring the bass drum and the electric bass) and a “wedge”-style cabinet for monitoring vocals and mid or high-frequency sounds. Source: Wikipedia

Monitor speakers, however, increase the volume on stage enormously, so it’s a real challenge to get a good sound in the room. Especially for small churches this is a nightmare.

The best solution we came up with is In Ear Monitoring. A mix specially put together for a musician or singer is transmitted via radio or cable to headphones. There are special headphones that reduce ambient noise and look inconspicuous at the same time.

A reliable In Ear system consists of three components: good headphones, good transmission technology and a good In Ear Mix, with an easy way to quickly adjust it to meet the needs of musicians and singers.

(1) Good headphones create great sound and protect ears

I think it goes without saying that we should us In Ear headphones on stage. It looks really strange when musicians or singers are on stage with visible On Ear headphones. Sometimes you see drummers or bass players with On Ear headphones. That’s because they usually transmit the low frequencies better, but still I would argue to go for good In Ear headphones.

There is no limit on how much you can spend on headphones. So, I will explain how a headphone gets better but at the same time increases from a pricing perspective.

  • The more drivers a headphone has, the better it can handle complex mixes, i.e. many instruments and voices with high dynamics.
  • Headphones will be better if they absorb ambient noise well, because then the musician doesn’t have to turn up the headphones too loudly to hear everything and thus dramatically protects her ears. Usually the headphones supplied with your phone are not suitable for use on stage. Headphones with noise cancelling are also no help here, as they can usually only reduce constant ambient noise without altering the actual signal too much; this doesn’t help us with live music.
  • The best headphones are custom made for your own ears. You make a plaster cast from your auricle and send it in to the vendor. The vendor will then create your customised In Ear headphone. Brilliant! And incredibly expensive. 😉

Recommended headphones for your In Ear system

Here are a couple of headphones we recommend:

The Shure SE215-CL In Ear Headphone
  • The Shure SE215-CL is a good headphone with very good isolation and good sound characteristics. It has one driver. The headphones has a very good cost/performance ratio with it’s less than 100 EUR.
  • The Shure SE425-CL is quite similar but comes with two drivers that can handle much more complex sound mixes. It is especially suitable for the worship leader who wants to get an overall impression of the mix. It is about 250 EUR.
  • The Ultimate Ears are amazing. With these custom-made headphones the external signals will be reduced by up to 26 dB and the three drivers can also handle very complex and dynamic signals without any problems. This high quality costs you a good EUR 1,000.

(2) A good transmission (wired or wireless)

Now we need a reliable transmission to bring a signal to the musician’s headphones. As with the headphones there are a couple of options for different budgets. We create a mix on our sound board for the band – which I will explain in a second – and now we need to get it transmitted to their headphones.

Basically there are two options:

  • Wired transmission
  • Transmission over the air

Wired transmission

With a wired transmission you connect a headphone amplifier at the output of your mixer and plug your headphones into it.

Pros:

  • Great quality
  • Cheap solution

Cons:

  • More cables
  • More setup time
  • A bit uncomfortable
  • More visible cables to the audience

The Fischer Amps Mini Bodypack 2, for example, is a version of it. This device can be easily attached to the belt, the signal is sent to the device via an XLR cable and the headphones are connected via the mini jack output. The device costs less than 60 EUR and is therefore excellently suitable for a slim budget.

Transmission over the air

The second option is to transmit the monitor signal wireless over the air. The musician or singer has a body pack on her belt which receives the signal via an antenna from a transmitter which is setup on stage or near the sound board.

Pros:

  • Very comfortable
  • Once configured, quickly set up

Cons:

  • Way more expensive
  • Initial configuration complicated (frequencies, antennas)

With the use of radio links, the entire setup becomes much more complex. It is important to take care that the transmission frequencies used do not collide with other signals (e.g. 3G, 4G or Wifi). In many countries the frequencies are not freely available, but the use of certain frequencies must be registered and cost money.

The best quality is being experienced when the antennas of the transmission system and the body pack have constant visual connection. In most cases that is only achievable with extra antennas on the transmitters.

An example of a wireless In Ear system is the Sennheiser ew IEM G4 E-Band Set. Here comes a transmitter with one or two receivers. The E-band describes the transmission frequencies between 823 and 865 MHz. The set costs 1.300 EUR and is therefore much more expensive than a transmission via cable, but wireless systems are of course much more practical on stage. There is less to set up, the stage is tidier, there are fewer stumbling traps etc.. Each transmitter sends two signals. Either one receiver can be supplied with a stereo signal or two receivers each receive one of the two mono signals. The receiver is set to either the left or right channel.

The Sennheiser ew300 IEM Transmitter
The Sennheiser ew300 IEM Transmitter
Sennheiser EK 330 IEM Body Pack
Sennheiser EK 330 IEM Body Pack

(4) Create a great In Ear mix

The musicians now have great headphones and a wired or wireless signal transmission. Now we make sure they receive the best possible mix in their ears. I’m explaining how we do In Ear mixes at Saddleback Berlin in the following article:

Conclusion

When the band hears itself well, the quality of the music increases and distractions are reduced. The church can then tune in much better to the music and it is easier to get in touch with God. Our music should invite to it and the quality of the music has a certain influence on it. There are other important aspects to leading us into worship before God. Nevertheless, we must not wipe away the quality of music as unimportant.

Good monitoring will help the musicians and that will ultimately help the church. Let me know your thoughts on it and feel free to post a comment to let me know how you are doing monitoring in your church.