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DiGiCo Mixers Spearhead New AV System for Cornerstone Church Pt 1

Show 145, Part 1

SVC Podcast – Show Notes – Show 145-1:

In this edition of the SVC Podcast, SVC Contributing Editor Bennett Liles talks with Joey Engel, a front-of-house sound engineer for the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Joey details the large digital upgrade done to the church sound system including the addition of two DiGiCo mixing consoles and the installation of an all new fiber based signal transport system. Joey describes the 4,700 seat sanctuary and he discusses the DiGiCo Purple Boxes that serve as the physical interface to the fiber system and he reveals how the musicians and performers use the Allen & Heath ME-1 personal monitor system.

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From Sound & Video Contractor Magazine, this is the SVC Podcast with Joey Engel of the Cornerstone Church. Show notes for the podcast are available on the web site of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at

The Cornerstone Church in San Antonio had gone as far as they could go with their old analog sound system and it was holding them back. DiGiCo mixers and a new fiber distribution system have taken the church and its congregation to a new level and front of house engineer Joey Engel is here to tell us how it came about and what they can do with it now. That’s coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

Joey, thanks for joining us on the SVC Podcast from San Antonio and the Cornerstone Church. Tell us about the Cornerstone Church. I know it’s a big place with a 4,700-seat sanctuary and live music seems to be a very big part of this.

A pleasure to be with you. Thank you for your interest. Well, we have been using analog for over 20 years and we finally were able to start researching and designing for moving to digital. We started with our music minister, Gary Jones. He had a contact out of Atlanta, Georgia, Kent Morris, who is the sound minister for Cornerstone Media. So anyway, Kent Morris came along and he looked at what we had in the sanctuary and he started helping us to design our new digital system. [Timestamp: 1:48]

I know that was a big step for the church especially when you’re putting that big an investment into it. This isn’t just a pastor and choir. You have a lot of live music in there.

Cornerstone has two different music ministries. One is in the morning, and we call that our orchestra, which is the sanctuary orchestra and the Sunday morning choir. And then we have a Sunday night band, which is led by Ricardo Sanchez. He has his own musicians and singers and choir as well. And so we have a big variety of music. Gary Jones is the morning music director and he is just a phenomenal producer, writer, arranger. There is a lot of talent that musicians – we have a horn section that is just top notch. Everybody that’s on stage is really good. They all read and they can do charts or they can do just free-flow. It is an amazing experience to be able to mix these people.[Timestamp: 2:55]

And this isn’t only composed of local performers. The church actually has its own record label.

Correct. The Difference Media record label with created by Pastor (John) Hagee and Pastor Matt Hagee, and they have their own artists and they’re already starting to get some recognition and attract some attention. Pastor Matt has his own gospel quartet, which isn’t a traditional gospel quartet because they do some more contemporary songs, and actually did one for a movie Pastor Hagee produced about the Four Blood Moons, which was – got a lot of attention. [Timestamp: 3:34]

I’m sure there was a lot of initial discussion about the upgrade to a digital sound system and you got Kent Morris and brought him in. So what all did you want to accomplish in this new sound system project? There had to be some specific goals set on it.

The analog system was over 25 years old and just had, inherent, a lot of problems. All the copper was old. There was noise on the system. We didn’t have enough inputs for where we were headed musically onstage. Almost any sonic or input count problem that you could think of we had, and it was always just adding on. We had an analog mixer with 48 channels, but then to add all the choir mics, we had another mixer that we daisy-chained to that. Then we wanted to have background singers, so we added another submixer. So it just became trying to make something work and it just wasn’t going to meet our needs going forward. [Timestamp: 4:32]

We’ve all seen that before where there get to be more and more analog mixers and other gear attached and submixed and strung onto the system but sooner or later it gets to be too shaky and you just have to go back to the beginning and start fresh.

You really do. You have to start from square one. And when Pastor Hagee built this church out here, I don’t think they could have foreseen how far musically they would be right now because their ability to come up with a vision and go after it just got to a point where we had to start over in order to keep up with them. [Timestamp; 5:04]

I know the two kingpins on this project were the new DiGiCo mixing consoles, the SD5 and the SD10 I believe. But other than those, what else was installed for the upgrade?

In addition to the consoles, yeah, all the infrastructure had to be redone. We had to pull all the old copper out. We had to run all fiber. We also upgraded our wireless mic count. We also invested in more wireless in-ear systems to try to get the volume down on stage for the singers and give them better support. [Timestamp: 5:39]

Yeah, just pulling out all of the old copper must have been a huge job just in itself.

Well, Bennett, we had a guest minister on Sunday night and as soon as he said, “Amen,” and was walking off the stage, we started ripping that front-of-house console apart because we only had a couple of days to accomplish that and nobody was really sure the run that that copper went down. And so we had five guys pulling on this cable, plus a cable puller and it took us about five hours to break that thing loose. And it was hundreds and hundreds of yards of cable. [Timestamp: 6:14]

I know you’ve also got a substantial broadcast operation there that goes worldwide and you had to interface the new sound system with that. For the physical interface I believe you use the DiGiCo Purple Boxes; those rack units.

Correct. And Ryan Shelton from DiGiCo really worked with our monitor engineer, Franco, in accomplishing that and making sure that when we made this changeover that there wouldn’t be any kind of a hiccup or any kind of sound degradation or anything for broadcast and they were thrilled. The signal they’re getting is so much better than what they were getting before, so yeah, they’re thrilled. They’re years ahead of where they were before. [Timestamp: 6:56]

How far away from the sanctuary is the broadcast center located?

It’s across the parking lot; several hundred yards – a couple of football fields.

And was that fiber link part of the new project?

No. We had fiber already running over there for our cameras and so there were fiber runs available, but once we pulled out all the copper we had to make sure that they got everything, every input that we had. [Timestamp: 7:19]

I know you do a lot of multitrack recording there. You would have to with that much live music happening. Is that capability shared between the broadcast and house sound?

Monitor world and Front of House both have the capability to record multitrack, but it’s basically for a backup. All the real recording is done from broadcast.

I know that’s a big job when everything is going on and there are so many things and so many people to coordinate. Stage monitoring was a big thing on this and you decided to go with the Allen & Heath ME-1 personal monitor system. So how did the musicians and performers take to that? Is that in-ear or do they use a combination of that and floor monitors?

The band switched over. That was another big jump for us, was that the bad did switch over to all in-ear except for like the bass player and the guitar player still use their cabinets. But Franco, who runs the monitors, had really done his research and really gave them some information beforehand to start looking over so that when we rolled these things out we’d be able to be familiar with them already. And he had them laid out in such a way that it was easy for them to start using immediately. Our other music minister, Justin Ellis, had arranged for us to have a whole day with the band before we rolled this out in front of the congregation on Sunday. So we got to spend a considerable amount of time working with them in getting everything locked in. [Timestamp: 8:43]

That’s great when you can give the musicians that much control over their own monitoring. That’s just a whole new world for them.

Yeah, it really is. It really is. And we have a range of musicians that are really young to really seasoned and everybody got onto it and everybody’s heart was right as far as whatever we can do to make things even better for the congregation, we’ll do it. They just have this great attitude. [Timestamp: 9:07]

So you got all of that in and got it working. What was the first event with the new system? How did that go?

The first event was our Sunday services, but the first big event we had in there outside of our services was Pastor Matthew’s Canton Junction concert where they were introducing their new album, Every Hallelujah. [Timestamp: 9:28]

Wow, so how did everything go on it? Did you have to make any tweaks after that?

We’re still tweaking on the system because we have so many different speaker areas in here right now. But the concert was fabulous. You could tell the quality difference and yeah, the concert was phenomenal. It was just so easy to get what you want out of this system. [Timestamp: 9:46]

Just getting past that first big test is a very big step. That’s got to be a big relief and kind of a big joy for everybody.

You know, for years and years working here – I’ve worked here for 20 years – wanting to give the singers and the musicians what I could see that they needed or that they could have, it was just a matter of being in a position as a ministry to make that investment. We made it and I’m just really excited to see where Pastor Matt and Pastor Hagee go from here because now the governor’s off. I mean they can do what they want to do. [Timestamp: 10:24]

Yep and that’s a big church, high profile and a lot of people are going to see whatever happens. In Part 2 next week we’ll go into the DiGiCo consoles, the details of how you got those up and running. It’s been fun hearing about it. Joey Engel with Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas and their new total digital upgrade. We’ll see you again in Part 2.

Bennett, it is a pleasure. I’ll talk to you soon, sir.

Thank you for being here with us for the SVC Podcast with Joey Engel of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. Show notes are available on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at Be back with us next week for Part 2 when Joey will tell us about first test and the show debut of the new sound system. That’s on the next SVC Podcast.

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