During the past 50+ years, membership and community outreach at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church in Belleville, IL has continued to grow, with its current congregation standing at over 1,200 members. Several years ago, they decided to do a major renovation of its technology systems-from the floor pockets to the speakers-including sound, video presentation, tech booth and platform. St. Matthews’ Audio Engineer Brian Caringer worked closely with church media consultant Phil Mahder of the international teaching ministry Training Resources, who was brought onboard to help facilitate the change. Together they spent three years researching the options, including replacing the analog mixer with an upgraded digital console. The revamped house of worship now features a DiGiCo SD8 at its center, featuring the latest “Overdrive” software upgrade suite incorporating many of the features of its big brother, the SD7.
“St. Matthew’s UMC brought me on to look for a solution to their sound system as no one was pleased with the existing sound system,” said Mahder. “It is a difficult space and it took us over two years of discussion, research and testing to determine a solution. We went with Renkus Heinz IC Live for the speakers. Then we had to walk through the difficult decision of moving the sound booth to the main floor from the balcony. We also determined that the platform infrastructure needed to be upgraded significantly. Moving the booth and rewiring the platform opened up the discussion of replacing the analog mixer with a digital console that incorporated a digital snake. When a new service was added to the Sunday morning regimen, requiring a complete change of the platform between services, the large number of microphone input connections (130) on the upgraded platform the need for a quick change from service to service while still keeping the operation fairly simple for volunteer operators, led us to the DiGiCo SD8. Also, they needed a large number of I/Os with the ability to then split the signals. Some solutions have lots of I/Os, some can split, but few can do both.”
“DiGiCo rep, Ben Shipman of AVA, did a great job of presenting the DiGiCo solution,” Mahder continues. “Ben brought in Matt Larson National Sales Manager from Group One for a demo/training session for the volunteers and that gave us the opportunity to carefully examine all the requirements of our needs and found that the SD8 was a powerful solution to our needs. We also got great support from the dealer, Danny Watson of Ozark Pro Audio Video.”
“Previously, we were using a Soundcraft Spirit 8 with 40 channels,” added Caringer. “We hired Chris Baron, a contemporary worship leader, with the intention of starting a contemporary service in the morning. When this happened we realized that the analog board would not be an option since we would only have about 20-minutes in between services for changeover. So we started looking at options that would fit within the budget. The first proposal was a Roland M-400. For me I knew this would not work solely because of the input limitations. I had also proposed we look at a Midas Pro 6 and a Digidesign Profile. I had previous experience on the Profile and knew the capabilities that it had. We ruled out the Pro 6 due to budget. Then it was recommended that we look at the SD8. When it came for a demo we were also lined up that day to go to another church to look at a Profile. After hearing the sonic quality and seeing the features and the cost difference, I told the worship leader that there was no need to look at the Profile. The SD8 gave us all the aux options and digital flexibility that we needed.”
Once Caringer got a chance to spend more time mixing on the SD8 in the sanctuary, he was blown away with its feature set and sonics. “The flexibility of the digital system is great. I was sold with the SD8’s 12 VCA’s, 24 Stereo Busses-plus Left/Right or LCR-and a 12×12 Matrix (now 16×12). I also really like having a board that has internal bus routing. But the sonic quality I thought was the best. I work at another church as an engineer on a Profile, and right off the bat, the SD8 had better sonic quality. And in comparison to the Spirit 8… the SD8 blows it out of the water! Just switching the console and keeping the system the same, the improvement in sonic quality was phenomenal. In comparison to other boards that I have heard, it’s the ‘best’!” But for most houses of worship that rely on a volunteer staff to handle many of the tech functions, the console had to be accessible for the most inexperienced of users. “Most of the volunteers have had very little to no experience with parametric EQ or dynamics, so they are still learning these functions and getting used to how they work,” elaborated Caringer. And the file saving and loading ability is what we needed. They love that they can save and access their shows and sessions easily. They are also using the off-line editor as a control for an aux-for-video send. It has proven to be absolutely user-friendly.”
A custom tech booth was built to house the SD8, which created a seamless integration into the space. “We hired an excellent carpenter to build a booth that looks like it has always been there,” said Mahder. “It was a perfect fit in the Sanctuary. We also asked him to give us a custom counter top for the SD8.” A/V recording is where St. Matthews UMC is growing. They have been on local cable for many years, and the SD8 is helping facilitate those recordings. “We currently have a software program called Reaper installed on a MacPro with an RME MADIface interface that is connected to the board that we use for virtual sounchecking-which has proved to be a tremendous help not only in the capability to record it, but also the ease of doing it,” explains Caringer. “DiGiCo couldn’t have made it simpler on their end of things, two BNC cables, one button hit, and I’m switched over from the live band to running 56 tracks off the computer. I am hoping to get Cubase on there soon, and hopefully in the future, we will get some material that is acceptable for a live CD.”