Kent Morris on Microphone Selection for House of Worship
Kent Morris is an acknowledged expert on mixing and sound reinforcement for Houses of Worship. In addition to working as a sound engineer for Bridgepointe Church and others near Atlanta GA, he is a frequent contributor to numerous HOW and pro sound publications. Kent also maintains a busy schedule as a sound system designer, clinician, and trainer for churches, church sound providers, and pro audio dealers. Kent was kind enough to answer a few questions about selecting microphones and mixing strategies for Houses of Worship.
Is mixing for HOW fundamentally different than for live entertainment?
Kent Morris - I've had this discussion many times and I think it is different. It's not the same as a rock-n-roll, country, or jazz gig. There's much more emphasis on the spoken word. I think the closest comparison would be to corporate events with a mix of live music, talking heads, lighting, and video cues.
Does the HOW environment change your miking strategy?
KM - In HOW applications, I choose vocal mics based on quality and performance. Ambient levels in HOW environments are much lower than for rock gigs: 60-65 dB versus 80 dB or more. In this quieter setting, I need mics with minimal handling noise, that are easy to move on and off the stand, and have a fairly tight coverage pattern for good isolation. I often use the Audix VX5 condenser, which has all of these characteristics and a nice warm sound.
Does miking instruments for HOW require a different approach?
KM- Not so much for instrument mics. I have my favorites that I can use in any situation, but it's been a bit of a journey back to using them. We used to mike amps onstage but it was chaos. Then for a while we switched to modelers and pods, which are DSP-based amp and speaker simulators.
With HOW, we have a lower overall stage volume, but more sound sources and coverage issues to solve. A properly covered service requires condenser and dynamic vocal mics, dynamic instrument mics, and special mics for choirs and ensembles.
Now in larger churches, we can place the amps offstage in isolation cabinets and mike them normally. This enables the musicians to get their tone without impacting stage volume. In some very large churches, we even have the luxury of using isolated rooms to do distance miking at full amp volume. This gives me the flexibility to use anything from an Audix i5 mounted with a CabGrabberTM, to an SCX25A back about four feet on a Vox AC30 for a more ambient tone.
How do you accomplish this remote full-volume miking solution?
KM - I use the SGI system from Radial Engineering to get the output of guitars and bass back to the isolation cabinets. It works especially well with single-coil pickups on Strat's and Tele's. The miked amps return through aux sends to individual in-ear monitor mixes for the musicians.
Do you use floor monitors on stage?
KM - These days about the only people using wedges in HOW settings are the backing singers because they have to move around a fair amount. All of the primary leaders and musicians use IEMs (In Ear Monitors), which really helps control feedback and maintain a lower stage volume. When the leaders use IEMs, I have more flexibility to select better microphones for them. For lead vocals, I'll choose mics with higher gain, such as an Audix VX10 or VX5 condenser. For backing singers I use dynamic mics, like such as an OM6 or OM5, because they are less susceptible to feedback in front of a floor monitor.
What are the challenges to miking a full choir versus backup singers?
KM - Placing controlled pattern condenser mics close to the singers is the key to good choir miking. Quite frankly, without the Audix M1255 mics, I would be in trouble. Previously, choirs were ensconced in their own balcony well away from the stage. Current trends often place them right next to a live drum kit. My best solution employs hyper-cardioid mics with a tight coverage pattern for the choir edges, and then fills in the center with cardioid mics. I use the Audix MICROBOOM84 TM;, mounting the mics on the 84-in carbon-fiber boom on a round-base mic stand. After all, there is a visual element to consider along with good sound reinforcement!
What advice would you have for other HOW sound technicians working in smaller churches or with limited budgets?
KM - I recommend finding the most economical microphones within reason. There are lots of mics on the market at "Six for $99!,", which just don't do the job. There are also many beat-up old band mics that don't work well anymore. These days there are several very good inexpensive microphones available, such as the Audix FusionTM Series.
Good worship service sound really matters. Honestly, it's the parishioners who donate to keep a vibrant music program going, and they won't continue to do so if their experience is poor. Simply put, good sound starts with good mics. A little bit of technical expertise doesn't hurt either!
Kent Morris is a frequent contributor to Worship Leader, Church Production, Technologies For Worship, Sound & Video Contractor and Live Sound Int'l magazines. He is also a panel member and speaker at NAMM, LDI, AES and NSCA.