Long-Range Planning: Why We Went Allen & Heath

Originally published in Worship Musician Magazine by Mitch Bohannon

Is your church still using a soundboard that was purchased in 1980? I would think not. 1990? Probably not. 2000? Maybe… What process do you have to go through in replacing a soundboard? It’s a much bigger decision than that of purchasing a new microphone or some new cables.

In most churches there is usually some sort of committee or team that oversees the budget and approves expenses. I’ve heard many a complaint about committees, however it’s healthy to have checks and balances when it comes to managing people’s tithe money. This article is not about the committee process, but I will say, the better your overall upgrade plan when it comes to purchasing a new soundboard or two or eight, the more receptive committees will be.

BACKSTORY:

If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll know that I came to be the Director of Live Productions (Tech Director) at Trinity Baptist Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana this past December. The church had experienced the natural disasters of Southwest Louisiana 2020 and 2021…including two major hurricanes, an ice storm, and a flood. One of the hurricanes really wreaked havoc on the sanctuary and other parts of the church as well.

The day I started to work at Trinity, the sanctuary was in its final stages of preparation for the grand opening. The decision about upgrading every venue to Allen & Heath had been made by a team of folks led by my worship pastor, Randy Monroe. Allen & Heath offers a series of control surfaces and mixers that are part of an ecosystem of products that have the same workflows, the same terminology, the same buttons and they work seamlessly together. That means as I have different technicians at church learning the different consoles, they are actually cross-training for running sound in another venue. Here’s the experience of one of our sound technicians, Marcus Michaelis, “I’ve had the opportunity to operate the dLive, Avantis, and SQ6 boards recently installed in my church and in my 15+ years of mixing and the multiple brands I’ve worked with in the past, these boards have quickly become my favorite. The patching system is simple and intuitive, the channel controls are just laid out in a way that makes sense. Other boards I’ve worked on have had me scratching my head and wondering why it was designed the way it was, but I haven’t thought that with this new series of boards. I really enjoy the design and system setup and physical layout. It makes jumping between venues seamless even with each venue requiring a different mix and sound design.”

DIFFERENT SPACES:

Trinity Baptist Church has four main venues. The Central Venue is our main sanctuary with 1100 seats. The North Venue is our more contemporary service with about 600 seats. The Student Venue can hold about 350-400 seats. And the Trinity Kids venue has about 350-400 seats.

The kids and student spaces both had different hand-me-down digital soundboards. The North Venue had a good digital soundboard that was about 10 years old. So, the decision was made to upgrade every space at the same time while the major renovation of the Central Venue sanctuary was taking place. COVID actually contributed to the delayed arrival time of each soundboard which was actually helpful for me. Because of the multiple boards we were buying, we chose to hire two different pro-audio installation companies in the Lake Area. Porche Advanced Systems, LLC oversaw the install of all AVL in the Central Venue and Stevens Audio Visual, LLC took care of the dLive installation and the tuning in our North Venue and then I installed the SQ systems in our smaller venues.

Only the Central Venue boards had arrived and been installed by the time I started working. The FOH console is a dLive S7000, the monitor board is an SQ6, and the Avantis takes care of our live streaming audio in the Production Room. At the heart of the amp room is the DM64 I/O that is directly connected to the dLive S7000 and then the audio is passed to the Avantis and SQ6 via gigaAce connections.

The North Venue received a dLive S5000 with a DM48 I/O. The Student Venue and the Trinity Kids area both received SQ6 boards with the kid’s area needing two DX168’s for stage boxes and the student area has a GX4816 I/O.

The beauty of these different stage boxes is that they are interchangeable and can be inter-mixed. For instance, I am now budgeting to add two more DX168 boxes for our drum enclosures in our two big rooms. These are rugged, moveable boxes with plenty of inputs for all drum microphones and even enough for our click and tracks channels. This will allow me to have all of those inputs routed through one CAT5 cable connected back to the system. It also frees up the input channels at the main I/O in the instance I need more inputs.

THE BIG PICTURE:

The Central Venue equipment had been destroyed and absolutely had to be replaced while the other rooms had older working equipment that would benefit from an upgrade. The fact that we were going with all Allen & Heath products made the “whole house” upgrade logical. Logical is the key word here when it comes to Allen and Heath in the way they all work together.

Another logical aspect to our situation… our finance team directed by our administrative pastor, Greg Bath, is planning for the replacement of all equipment. Every piece of equipment that costs over $1000 is being placed into a life-cycle calculator and money is then being saved based on that calculation so that by the end of a normal life cycle of a piece of gear (like the dLive), we will have the money set aside to replace it! There’s a life-lesson in there somewhere…

UPDATES, UPGRADES, AND DOWNLOADABLE EFFECTS:

I’ve had a few DAW’s over the years and it’s fun to see what downloadable sounds and effects come with the software. Well, the dLive comes with Allen & Heath’s DEEP processing which is full of controls and effects that are updated and added to regularly. Those updates are available when upgrading firmware. If you choose the Avantis or SQ boards, the dLive effects are available to purchase so you can have those same dLive effects and audio controls installed directly on your board. Then there will be no outboard connections that can cause latency problems and other issues.

GETTING ALL ON THE SAME PAGE:

I gathered all volunteers who work with audio in the church for a training event. My long-time friend, Dennie Edwards, who is now the Louisiana representative of Allen & Heath, drove over from the land of boudin and sugar cane (Lafayette, LA) to instruct our team. We had over 15 people stay after church for a few hours to learn some techniques that they can utilize the next time they stand at the sound desk… whether they are using the SQ6 in the Student Venue, the Avantis in the Production Room, the SQ6 in the children’s area, the dLive in the North Venue, or the dLive in the Central Venue.

The beauty of it is that before I chose to get our team all on one page, the designing team of the Allen & Heath Ecosystem all got on the same page which is what I have repeated several times in this article already, but it’s worth repeating again… all these boards are so similar, it’s easy to forget which one you’re working on. As an example, each of the boards have touchscreen monitors with similar layouts and options. One of my favorite functions is the ability to drag and drop channels to my surface layers. Like if I am having a special service like a funeral or a wedding where I’m only using two handhelds, four instruments, and computer audio… I could drag all seven channels that usually live on different layers (1. Vocals 2. Guitars 3. Keys 4. Media) and drop them all on a spare layer so that everything is at my fingertips without swapping back and forth for that service.

Moving from one soundboard to the next is also easy. As we train students in the Student Venue, they may not realize, they are also learning and training for the other rooms! Each board has the same signal chain and can run the same effects so the process of moving from one to the next is very natural.

Just like a quality high school football program includes training the junior high coaches and players, we need to be training up new tech workers whether it’s for audio, video, or lighting. I love that I will soon be able to move my students who are running sound on Wednesday nights for their service on an SQ6 over to the broadcast room to mix on the Avantis and eventually to the dLive in the Central Venue.

Soon I will be adding two more systems, each with an SQ5, to our Fellowship Hall and another multipurpose room. When events take place in those rooms, anyone who runs sound in any of our venues will be able to take care of business whether that’s setting up or making changes to the system based on what it’s being used for any particular event.

We had some good questions and interaction with the team when Dennie was working on the dLive. One of the features that got a lot of reaction is that of being able to copy and paste different parameters within each channel just like we use copy / paste on a computer. It’s amazing to have the ability to select a channel, hold copy, touch the EQ or the compressor, the effects, or all of it and then select the channel we want to paste that parameter to… hold paste and touch the channel… done.

If you’re anywhere close to my age, you learned to mix on an analog board. I recall switching to digital around 2006 or so. Oh, it was cool, but often it seemed that making changes or initializing settings were more detailed than getting into the hidden “library” folder in my MacBook. Hold this button, click here, scroll down, select a folder, realize you selected the wrong folder, try to back up, go too far, click the folder you wanted, find that you accidentally dragged it into a different folder but you’re not sure which one… anyone else ever done this?

So, it goes without saying that the intuitiveness of the Allen & Heath Ecosystem is such a welcome idea. It’s fun to sit at a board and actually get to make things sound better rather than to just try to make them work.

Simple features that I would highlight are the ability to easily setup quick layers on the board for special events and the ability to PAFL specific layers of a channel. Check out the video here… setting up a layer, say for a funeral, is a simple drag and drop to give access to the specific needs all on one layer rather than spread out all over the board. As for the PAFL listen ability… I’ve never seen this on another board… Select a channel, hold the listen button, and you can quickly and easily evaluate the specific details of a channel.

TEAM FEEDBACK:

I asked some of those who attended the training what stood out the most to them and what they could implement this coming Sunday… Here are some of their responses.

JD Broussard, our worship leader for the North Venue said, “My biggest takeaway from the Allen & Heath training was that the better I understand the gear and the sound desk, the better I can serve our church and the service. One thing I learned specifically to Allen & Heath was how to quickly navigate to channel settings, reset those settings with a few shortcut commands, and even copy certain properties and paste them to other channels in my mix. This Sunday I plan on utilizing and implementing the option to save a specific EQ for one of our acoustic guitars in our user library for future use when that specific player returns to the stage later in the month.”

Jacob Cooley, one of our guitar players and worship leaders who is also beginning to work the sound desk said, “My biggest takeaway: The simplicity of the Allen & Heath board allows anyone with a relatively small amount of training to add value in a live band or broadcasting setting. The thing I learned most from the training is the ability for saving presets for a consistent user and listener’s experience seems endless. What can I implement this Sunday? I will set parameters for my guitar and save them to an unused channel for recall the next time I play. I also wanted to speak on the continuity of the different boards. I was able to train on the dLive board and then work our broadcasting board (Avantis) with no assistance at all. That was really exciting actually.”

Overall, this was a huge undertaking. Two install companies, six audio consoles, four venues, all upgraded. Being one tech director, it’s so helpful to have all of the equipment matching from room to room. Thank you to Allen & Heath for the brilliant design!