In 15-plus years of working out of Nashville, where he toured virtually non-stop as well as mixed the occasional recording, professional audio veteran Andrew Stone rarely – if ever – envisioned plying his talents full time at a church.
Yet that’s just what happened about five years ago when he accepted the position of production manager and audio director at Church On The Move (COTM) in Tulsa.
Now he’s fresh off the complete renovation of the worship sanctuary, utilizing his professional audio experience to help lead a sound reinforcement design rivaling that seen on large concert tours.
COTM, one of the busiest churches in the region, boasts weekly attendance of up to 11,000 spread among several services.
The sanctuary redesign, under the direction of Tulsa-based Selser Schaefer Architects, added 300 seats to increase total capacity to 2,600 in addition to addressing layout and acoustical issues.
Presented with the opportunity to upgrade the production systems as the other significant cog in the process, Stone assembled a highly qualified team.
Strategic Connections of Charlotte, NC, was tapped for systems integration, and Jim Brawley, principal of James Brawley & Associates of Clemson, SC, came onboard to consult on modeling and loudspeaker placement.
“It was a collaborative process,” Stone notes. “We weren’t interested in someone just handing us a system without our input – the church has had similar experiences with that in the past.
We had a very solid idea of what form the sound reinforcement system should take, but wanted experts like Strategic Connections and Jim Brawley to help make it all that it could be.”
Despite the addition of a significant number of new seats, the sanctuary retained its original fan shape – very wide and about half as deep, which positions all seats in close proximity to the large front platform that spans a significant portion of the front wall. The platform also juts out into the house in its center region.
“Although 300 seats may not seem like a lot, it allowed us to go from four services a weekend to three, which makes it easier on our tech staff as well as the hundreds of volunteers that help make it all happen,” Stone says.
Since originally opening, the sanctuary had always presented acoustical challenges, with significant spans of reflective surfaces. JE Acoustics of Austin, TX provided input for eliminating as many of these challenges as possible.
Both side and splay walls have been dampened to a great degree by the application of acoustic panels. These are carefully angled to add further diffraction.
More panels on the back wall, at a height beyond where any loudspeaker energy should be directed, lock down any potential for “slap back” energy to be re-introduced.
And, the previously exposed metal ceiling is now double-insulated, which dramatically improves energy efficiency while also further curbing reflections.
This was especially a priority with a sound design that called for loudspeakers to be mounted close to the ceiling.
“After treatment, the room is within .01 percent of how it should be from an acoustical standpoint. In other words, it’s pretty great,” Stone says.
The previous sound reinforcement system had begun to offer subpar performance that, according Stone, had “little parts of it dying every week.”
The project team envisioned a high-end approach that could support any need and performance style presented by a modern worship style, and further, they wanted it to be very controllable given the acoustical concerns – treatment or not.
Line arrays were the choice for house loudspeakers, with a thorough evaluation process culminating in the selection of JBL VerTec.
Brawley played a big role in helping determine array structures and locations, employing modeling to help with the finer details. “Jim was not one of those guys that want to take over the entire project and stay involved for the life of the system,” Stone says.
“He was there to make sure that the arrays got flown and trimmed and dialed in to perfection, and that was that.”
The arrangement consists of four arrays flown above the front platforms. Two of the main left-right arrays consist of 10 VerTec VT4888 3-way, dual-12 modules flown more toward the center region above the front platform, tapering gently to the classic “J” shape.
Flanking them on the far sides are two more VT4888 arrays, these comprised of nine modules, extending solid coverage to the widest regions of the room while carefully positioned to keep as much energy off the side walls as possible.
The subwoofer complement to the full-range arrays have an interesting “flown and floor approach.” Six JBL ASB6128V dual-18 subwoofers are positioned equidistantly in chambers carved out beneath the front platform.
Another 10 ASB612B subs are flown above, split into two groups of five that are mounted in straight lines behind the full-range arrays on each side.
All are flown on custom flybars designed by Strategic Communications, and at the suggestion of Brawley, each adjacent cabinet has reversed polarity. Combined with some strategic gapping between each unit, the result is cardioid output.
“When we originally looked at how the subs would have to fly, it was kind of ugly,” explains Stone.
“Jim suggested that we fly them one behind the other and to enhance cardioid principles for additional control, and to diffuse low-end build-up down the center of the room. It seemed kind of crazy at first, but sounds amazing.”
Seven JBL AC28/95 compact full-range loudspeakers were installed under the lip of the stage to bolster mid/high coverage to the first few seating rows, in addition to helping to further anchor the audio image to the platform.
Range Of Functions
One of the biggest parts of the remodel was rebuilding the backstage area, which encompasses production and creative offices, all of the back stage space, lighting control, the amp room, as well as all of the building’s AV and computer interconnect.
A new AC run delivers power to the equally new rack room carved on the third floor of this area, right behind one of the main arrays. It’s served by a dedicated air conditioning unit that keeps the temperature at a constant 62 degrees.
Racks house the main system’s 49 Crown MA5000i power amplifiers and eight BSS Soundweb London digital processors, both of which are under Harman HiQnet monitoring and control accessible from several points in the facility, including the house operator position.
The Soundweb London units perform a wide range of functions, not only in zoning and steering the main arrays but also in distributing audio to numerous other areas throughout the COTM campus, such as offices, hallways, lobbies and so on.
While the racks and stacks are new, Stone elected to retain select components from the previous system, most notably the 48-channel Midas Heritage 3000 house mixing console acquired a few years earlier that Stone has grown to really enjoy.
“I considered digital, but I just haven’t found one yet that sounds and reacts like a good Midas board,” he says. “As a matter of fact, I like it so much that we added another Heritage 3000 console to double our channel count.”
The two consoles reside side-by-side at the operator position located centrally in the sanctuary listening area. All 18 stage monitor sends are also run from these consoles as well.
“The performers were used to having monitors run from front-of-house, so it wasn’t a big deal – we just handle it all from one spot,” he says.
The operator position is also outfitted with dbx and Universal Audio microphone preamps, an assortment of Eventide, TC Electronic and Lexicon effects units, and Klark Teknik Square One dynamics.
The project is also marked by a complete overhaul of all of the wireless microphone and monitoring components. Part of this was due to systems being at or near the end of their life spans, and the other part was influenced by the prohibition on the 700 MHz band.
Shure UHF-R systems, equipped with either handheld and beltpack transmitters, are available for all primary vocalists in each service.
In-ear monitoring needs are handled with Sennheiser SR300 G3 systems, while the production staff has Clearcom handheld wireless communication units at their disposal.
With more than 200 frequencies in use on the COTM campus, the system team performed a careful, meticulous RF analysis and plan to insure every wireless system channel can be used, and without threat of interference.
Stone and his team also continue to ride strict herd over the wireless situation to insure that it remains problem-free.
During the renovation process, services were conducted in a different campus location for several months, allowing the team to work without interruption in the drive to finish.
While there was eager anticipation regarding the new sound reinforcement system, upon returning to the room, it delivered even beyond expectations.
“It’s concert-quality, equal to many that we see on the road in support of big tours,” Stone concludes. “When it debuted, I wanted the congregation to be blown away – and they were.”
Julie McLean Clark is a writer and marketing consultant working who has worked in the pro audio industry for more than 15 years.