An Efficient Sound Solution for Multipurpose Buildings

by Vince Lepore
in Sound Sanctuary
Multipurpose buildings diagram
Multipurpose buildings diagram

Churches are in the unique and difficult position of providing sound reinforcement for multi-use facilities. Our campus hosts a diverse array of events each week, ranging from contemporary worship, conferences, outside fundraisers and even large dinners. One of the challenges that we face is the constant need for “just two wireless mics and computer audio.” Sound familiar? How do you take a large line array driven by an advanced digital audio console and make it usable for these small events? Answer: Pay an audio engineer for every little event. These types of events cost the church money and run the tech team into the ground with a million little one-off gigs.

If you read my column regularly, you know that we recently opened a new Contemporary Worship facility on our campus. The budget was tight, and we did not have the funds to supplement the audio system beyond the gear that we already owned. As a result, the system is difficult to operate for anyone outside of our tech team. There’s a lengthy power-up procedure and there are a lot of things that could trip up a novice user. We are, however about to embark on a technology renovation of our older sanctuary, and we’ve got a bit more money to play with. I’m currently planning a concept that will allow virtually anyone to operate the sound system for a few basic types of events that happen regularly in this space. Here are some of the ideas I’ve had about how to make that work, and maybe these are something you could implement in your church as well.

‡‡         Power Sequencing

It is certainly not a new idea, and many of our readers probably have power sequencing integrated into their church. However, it’s worth noting that power sequencing drastically cuts down on the complexity of turning a system on and off, and therefore makes it easier for the average church member or staff member to operate. There are several options for power sequencing depending on the level of complexity required. Most installations simply require sequencing for the primary system electronics. This would include things like the mixing console, DSPs, amplifiers and wireless microphone receivers. The most comprehensive solution for sequenced power would be a motorized circuit breaker panel from a company like Lyntec. These can range from a basic contact-closure controlled panel to more advanced control via IP, RS-232, DMX or sACN. A second possibility would be a more traditional horizontal or vertical power sequencing product from companies like Middle Atlantic, Lowell Manufacturing or Furman. These products are typically triggered from a contact closure which could come from a control system or something as simple as a remote button or switch.

‡‡         DSP

If you are attempting to make a system simple to operate for basic events while simultaneously making it powerful and flexible for worship, the system needs to be dumbed down after Sunday services. Fortunately, audio DSP technology has advanced greatly, and many of us have access to incredible processing power at an affordable price. Here’s the scenario that we’re looking to implement in the renovation of our sanctuary. A new speaker system will be installed along with new amplifiers and a QSC Q-Sys DSP to manage system routing and processing. QSYS will also manage the power sequencing via GPIO contact closures. At FOH, there will be a Q-Sys touchscreen to enable the system in one of two modes; “Basic” or “Advanced.” Advanced mode will provide full system control for worship, but what we’re really interested in for this article is the “Basic” mode. When “Basic” mode is activated via a button press on the touchscreen, Q-Sys will power up the system and bypass the main mixing console entirely. For all intents and purposes, Q-Sys will be the mixing console in “Basic” mode. Six commonly used inputs will be split and fed directly into the Q-Sys system; four wireless microphone receivers and a left/right input for computer audio. The Q-Sys touchscreen will display basic level controls for those inputs, allowing a novice user +/-6dB of level adjustment on each channel, plus mute control. Behind the scenes in Q-Sys, several things will be happening that will never been seen by the “basic” user. First, the microphones will have a ringout in place, based on positions out in the house. Second, an automixer will be in place that will allow a fixed amount of gain to be shared among the four wireless mics, ensuring optimal gain before feedback.

‡‡         Automixing

If you haven’t had the opportunity to use an automixer yet, or maybe the idea of automixing sounds outlandish to you, it’s time to give it a try, because the technology has been coming in leaps and bounds. Digital console and plugin manufacturers have brought this technology to the masses, even incorporating it into mixers in the sub-$2,000 price range. To be sure, there are different levels of quality when it comes to automixing, just like any other digital audio technology. Automixing is tailor-made for this type of application — where you need to have a few wireless mics and maybe some computer audio, but you don’t want to pay an audio engineer to manage it.

As you can see, a DSP-managed system like this is totally conceptual in nature and fits my church and my worship venues. The idea could be scaled up or down depending on different requirements and budgets. Part of my design concept that isn’t covered in this short article is another Q-Sys preset for “Choir Rehearsal” that would allow our music team to rehearse using piano and choir microphones without having an audio tech present. Consider these ideas and how they might apply to your facility. You’d be surprised how affordable this is to implement, and there’s a great argument to be made that this will save the church money in a very short amount of time, while enhancing the utility of the system.

Vince Lepore is the technical director at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando and teaches live production at Full Sail University.