Tim Stafford, pastor of music ministries at The Moody Church in Chicago, grew up performing in bands as a gitarist and singer, often church-related. He moved to Chicago to study music at the Moddy Bible Institute, where he is now an adjunct professor. The Church (where Stafford has now worked full-time for 20 years) and the Institute are separate entities with close affiliations, both founded by Chicago-based evangelist and publisher DL Moody - a leading figure in the late 19th century who was pivotal in shaping the evangelical movement.
"At the church we have a good choir and various levels of orchestra members, from professional to student," notes Stafford. "I'm also trained as a conductor. As I lead the music ministry these days, I direct the choir, contract professional orchestras several times a year, and often lead as guitarist with five- to seven-piece bands, often combined with orchestra and vocal teams. We don't have different services; we don't have a contemporary service and a traditional service."
He remarks that the pandemic has shifted the church's attendance as well as the logistics of holding services: "We're still building back from Covid, so we're avaraging about 900 worshipers in in the sanctuary and 2000 online views for our 10am Sunday service. Covid has impacted our production approach considerably. The backline has used headsets with mixers for a while, but since we weren't planning to sync music to production/video cues, IEMs for vocals were a very low priority for me. When the pandemic hit and we transitioned to broadcasting church services online only, we had to retool our monitoring needs for a virtual environment. Even more practically, when we started opening back up, we couldn't have more than one vocalist using a floor wedge because of distancing. In order for the vocal team to have monitors with a band mix (drums, bass, two electric guitars, keys, Hammond, acoustic guitar, etc.), they would each need their own monitor. IEMs were the obvious solution, but I have heard volunteer vocalists struggle with IEMs because of the experience of extra bass pressure and over-isolation while singing. It's easier to play an instrument with headphones/IEMs than to sing with them because of head resonance and isolation."
The Moody Church vocal team, comprising four to seven people a week including Stafford, has recently adopted ASI Audio x Sensaphonic's 3DME Music Enhancement IEM System, which consists of Active Ambient earphones with embedded binaural microphones and a bodypack that houses the headphone amp, dual mic pre's, earphone and monitor I/O and DSP for signal processing and mixing. System control is througn the free companion companion ASI Audio App that allows users to pair any common portable device with the 3DME bodypack mixer for untethered adjustment of the system's 7-band independent stereo EQ, limiter threshold and the blend of monitor mix and stage ambience.
"In my experience," says Stafford, "the most pronounced benefit from the ambient technology is experienced by the vocalist. They like the fact that they can establish their monitor mix with the ambience off and then add the room back in, and it feels like the IEMs disappear. They don't feel the need to take one ear out to hear the room or their own voice. Even if more than one vocalist needs to share a monitor mix, the ambience helps them hear their own voice more prominently. For me personally I can't be tethered to anything - it has to be wireless. I hate being cut off from the room; I need some way of hearing where I am." The 3DME system gives him freedom, he says. "It's very helpful to move between playing guitar, conducting an orchestra, or going backsatge without needing to take the ears out. I can hear the orchestra without needing a mix from the board and they sound like they're in front of me. I can hear the choir and the organ without needing the board's help. I can notice a question from someone behind me. These are all reasons I wouldn't have purchased an IEM for my own use in the past."
"A lot of what I do is building bridges between groups of people so that we can see ourselves as one congregation, one group of people," says Stafford. "We have all kinds of people here. We have people who love black gospel music, we have people who love organ and brass, we have people who like funky or folk. The means of creating that community sometimes determines the technology we need. It gets kind of complex at Moody Church for that reason. I call my service style 'bundled' because I want to go for genres but rotate through different sets. If I have a day that really emphasizes the organ more, I'll really want to do that to the organ's strengths. On an orchestra Sunday, I want to really blow the doors off with something that orchestra does well. And then, if I get the Hammond and the Leslie out, 'Hey, we're going to have a gospel day.' Moody Church is big, so we're not really a quiet service no matter what we are. We go big most Sundays at least a couple times."
The Moody Church has a very large sanctuary, capable of seating 3,750. "I would say that it has the feel of a huge revival tent made of brick," says Stafford. "It's a blue-collar cathedral that fits Chicago's working/industrial class. It's a large hockey rink shape that's like a block deep and about half as wide." The main architecture is the room is red brick from the early 1920s, making it very reflective. The ceiling uses an acoustical tile that is also somewhat reflective. The floor is concrete, with carpet only on the pedestrian walkways.
"We have a mono sanctuary because of its shape," says Stafford. "Stereo is very difficult, so instead of left-right we have a Meyer mono single cluster center with a couple of subs hanging behind the main array. The choir monitors point down from the back of that cluster. The dispersion for the Meyer system is pretty wide. We just have two side-fill speakers that go to the close side of the balconies because they wrap around like a horseshoe all the way up - the balcony holds almost as many people as the floor."
With a somewhat reflective mix under the bslcony, out of the Meyer system's direct path, under-balcony speakers help, says Stafford, focused on spoken word reinforcement and intelligibility. The main FOH mixer is a Yamaha RIVAGE PM7, with Dante interconnection to stage and a separate broadcast mixer.
Henotes, "The choir has area mics that cover about nine people per mic. Because we broadcast our service for radio and for internet and recordings, we also have a stereo pair of mics for choir and a stereo pair for organ. Sometimes in the broadcasting feed, the best mics for the choir are actually the distant stereo pair and we just use the closer ones for intelligibility, diction and control."
"We enclosed the drums a little while ago to make sure we had a single-source drum sound," he adds. "Previously, we would get same reflections off the ceiling. A bass amp creates a lot of trouble for us because we have a pretty bass-heavy room. We started heading toward a more controlled stage volume and isolation for those two instruments in particular. Bass goes direct. I have a Fender twin and another amp mic'd in isolation boxes off stage. There's no way to isolate a pipe organ, of course. If you have a choir, there's a lot of things about that that you just can't isolate. You need to have a mix of what's live.
"We do have audience mics for broadcasting," says Stafford. "If you do a mix of that into in-ears, it's not really in close enough proximity to where I am, or where any other person who might be using headsets would be, to make it helpful."
"I like the 3DME system," he concludes, "and believe that it addresses the important problems and barriers that make singers disinclined to opt into an IEM system."