TULSA, OKLAHOMA – Church on the Move (COTM) has grown substantially since being founded in 1987. The main Tulsa campus now occupies around 300 acres and is home to several venues including the 2500-capacity Main Auditorium, a 1500 capacity space in the Oneighty building (youth ministry), and an outdoor amphitheatre. The church even has its own private school (Lincoln Christian Elementary and High Schools) with associated football stadium and gymnasiums, plus a satellite 'COTM South' campus in Glenpool.
COTM is well known for its high-energy events, with music playing a leading role in worship for the thousands of people that attend. Every service is a powerful, professional live production with technical and performance values that equal the best in commercial tour-sound and theatre. To compliment this approach, the church has recently purchased two SSL L500 consoles and a Live Remote Expander for its Main and Oneighty auditoriums from system integrator and SSL Partner, CCI Solutions.
Andrew Stone has been the Production Manager at COTM for nearly 11 years and has been a professional FOH Engineer for 25 years. He has a reputation for an uncompromising approach to preparation, quality, and ambition. "We like to do things big and with tons of quality," he notes. "Most church services are a three-camera shoot - we use 11 cameras… My 'A' crew are mostly professional touring people that I have been fortunate enough to recruit… The PA systems are full-blown line arrays, and now we have the SSLs for front of house... That is what sets us apart.
"Musically, we love organic, real, precision, clarity... It's all about quality... In rehearsals for the weekend we’ve taken five hours to work on four songs - and we'd done those songs before! We’re very committed to getting it right."
Stone has been well known as a devoted analogue fan for as long as he has been working, and in COTM's main auditorium he had been using two large-format analogue live consoles for some time. However, after considering how to better serve the needs of the ever more complex productions, he decided to audition a variety of digital live consoles - including the SSL L500. "The SSL sounded the best - plain and simple," he states. "And it wasn't just a little better - it was night and day better... It was the only console that I thought could exceed the beautiful analogue sound that I had been used to.... Not just match it, but exceed it. There's a clarity and a transparency that comes from the SSL platform that I have never experienced before.
"I now get fantastic, positive comments from people that normally don't pay attention to the sound… All they know is that they are sitting in the seat, listening, and it's giving them a different kind of experience. That's a huge win... It really is the only digital console I would replace an analogue console with."
A recent increase in the number of Sunday services means that the Stone and his crew now alternate 9am, 10am, 11am, and noon services on a Sunday between the main auditorium and the Oneighty building, allowing time for audience entrance and exit at each venue. Those are in addition to other events and activities that continue at COTM seven days a week. Both the main auditorium and the Oneighty venues now have L500s installed, and a Live Remote Expander will be going into the main auditorium to provide an additional 36 faders and large multi-touch screen.
Stone has quickly mastered the new platform. "I've become very fast at moving on it - I don’t even think about it anymore. I never thought that would happen after an entire career of analogue consoles... I've got one thing on the small screen, I'm using the overview monitor to watch all my fader levels, and I’m using the main touch screen to maneuver... And I'm really starting to enjoy duplicating faders and VCAs, and using the independent layer and bank switching on fader tiles..."
These control aspects help Stone put the emphasis on his creative role: "That was my biggest problem with most digital platforms," he says. "They made me feel like I couldn't be creative… Like I had to be an IT genius rather than a Mixer…. I wouldn't dream of doing what I want to do, at the level I’m doing it at, without a certain kind of console at my fingertips.
"The SSL Live platform has made me think more about that part of it... I feel I am being more creative now than I have been in the last 10 or 15 years..."
One special aspect of COTM's live production workflow is a simultaneous broadcast mix that is used for the Church's streamed output - an increasingly significant part of all services. "We have thousands of people listening to the stream every time we do a service - it's like another church out there.
That broadcast mix is created at FOH, and requires a specific solution. "We don’t have a separate broadcast facility that we're re-mixing in," explains Stone. "...For a church service I might have music at 100dB, but then I've got big parts of the event that are all spoken, and those will be closer to 70dB. For a live broadcast mix that's a big level disparity between segments - if you're streaming on your computer and the talking is 30dB lower than the music you won't have enough volume available to hear it.”
Stone mixes the spoken section/MC microphones to a ‘Stem’, which is a type of sub-group unique to SSL Live consoles. Stems are available in Dry or Full Processing types and with independent send levels, flexible onward routing, and more feed point options than auxiliaries.
The band is mixed to a Master Bus and that, plus the MC Stem, are routed to one of the console’s four matrices. One set of Matrix outputs is used for the PA and one set is for the broadcast feed, with ‘MC’ contributions to the PA output set at -30dB. This allows Stone ultimate flexibility during a show. He can adjust the MC mix, as well as both band and MC contributions to the PA and broadcast feeds, with full processing.
"It does put another level of complexity on how you have to mix,” says Stone. “But the L500 made life easy, so now it's just not a big deal.”
Duke DeJong of CCI Solutions, which supplied the consoles to COTM, comments: “Church on the Move has amazing musicians and top notch audio engineers; they demand the best. The L500 has not only met the needs of their team, but has far exceeded all of their expectations… Every little adjustment pays huge dividends in the mix.”
SSL’s George Horton adds: “Solid State Logic is very happy to have the opportunity to work with Church on the Move. Their commitment to quality and technology leadership in the House of Worship Market is truly second to none.”
Andrew Stone contributes to the COTM Seeds blog with articles about live sound production here.