Refocusing its music services to appeal to a younger congregation, the new leadership at Houston’s Sagemont Church – which is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention – introduced a contemporary worship style. To address the demands of a modern service, the church upgraded the aging sound system in its 2,500-seat sanctuary, installing a SSL Live L350 digital mixing console and replacing the PA speakers.

The PA installed after the church’s 118,000sq-ft worship and adult education centre was completed in 2012 were no longer up to the task, says Evan Warren, who was appointed lead audio engineer in late 2020. ‘We have a new pastor, a new worship leader and a whole new direction, and we wanted to do modern contemporary rock ’n’ roll-style worship music. But our PA and console were pushing ten years old and falling apart. The faders on old console were moving on their own, and the old PA just wasn’t cutting it.’

Front of house at at Houston’s Sagemont ChurchHaving dreamt about equipment as a young engineer, it didn’t take Warren long to narrow the mixing console choices to an SSL Live L350. ‘I thought, “what can do the I/O count, what is flexible and, bottom line, what sounds the best?” I wanted sound quality to be a high priority, because you don’t get to upgrade a desk and PA at the same time very often.’

AVL supplier and integrator Hairel Enterprises installed the24-fader SSL L350 Live desk and a d&b audiotechnik KSL loudspeaker system – all on the same day, shortly after the church’s final Christmas service. The new system also includes a Fader Tile, a self-contained, 12-fader console extension, acting as a second operator position managing monitor mixes for the band – which can include up to a dozen musicians and singers.

Warren can handle FOH, monitors and broadcast stream mixes from the desk, which offers 96 channel preamps. ‘We have a monitor station and we’re running the SSL Live Solsa app on a PC for the monitor control,’ he says. ‘But I wanted to be able to run with one engineer if I had to, if the monitor engineer had to step away.’

The improvement in audio quality has also had an impact on Warren’s mixing: ‘The crazy thing is that I don’t need a lot of the “tricks” that I’ve used over the years. Between the SSL and the d&b rig, everything is so clear, punchy and defined that I don’t need to force things up in the mix anymore; they just have their place.’

The integration of the console has also brought a noticeable improvement to the audio quality of the musicians’ in-ear monitors: ‘We had a bass player who plays in a regional country band come and fill in, and he said it was the best ears he’d ever had.’

At the church where he previously worked, Warren had to rely extensively on plug-ins when mixing. But with SSL Live, he says, the system’s processing sounds so good that he now finds himself using very few. ‘I feel great about just using what’s on the desk – the front end, the conversion, the summing and the processing are just better than anything I’ve ever used.’

Evan WarrenIn particular, he says, ‘The SSL bus compressor on the desk is fantastic, and it has a high-pass filter, which is amazing. I use that on my master bus. And I think the dynamic EQ sounds better than the plug-in I was used to, so I use that as much as possible.’

The L350 console is integrated on a Dante network. Dual Domain Routes, unique to SSL, enable the desk to interact directly with devices on the network without the need to launch Dante Controller.

As for broadcast streaming: ‘I send my front-of-house mix to a mastering chain, blend some crowd mics in and send it out. I tweak that week to week. I have some little Genelec speakers at FOH to make sure that everything is translating. I also went with a Dante PCIe card and record into Reaper. I use that for virtual soundchecks, no matter what. But I’m also recording, so that in the future I can hopefully do some remixing and archiving.’

Starting this year, the first Sunday service is now for the older church members and features a more traditional band and choir. The second service is driven by contemporary worship music. ‘It’s an interesting challenge for me,’ Warren says. ‘I have to mix two very different styles for two very different audiences, so I start from two different showfiles.’ Worshippers have responded positively, he says, and congregation numbers began to rise significantly in February.

‘We’re still in the early stages, but we have an exciting new direction and all the equipment we could ask for,’ he says. That includes the new console, which has been a revelation to Warren. ‘I never got to work on analogue equipment. I’m 30 and have been doing this about ten years, so analogue stuff was on its way out when I started. But I feel like I’m discovering that level of sound quality on the SSL. I’m finally discovering what good is.’


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