From its humble beginnings as a summer Bible school in the 1930s, Valley Forge Christian College (VFCC) has built a well-deserved reputation as a respected institution of arts and sciences. As part of the Assemblies of God Fellowship, VFCC belongs to a networked family of more than 30,000 independent colleges and universities worldwide.
Every year, the Assemblies of God sponsors an annual Fine Arts Festival as part of its recruiting drive. The Festival, held in a different major city each year, draws upward of 10,000 students, many of whom prepare presentations to showcase their talents. As VFCC’s Digital Media Communications Department Chairman Lee Bilotta explains, the Festival is crucial to the school’s recruitment efforts. “We offer three different music majors,” he notes, “as well as four different concentrations in Digital Media and Recording Arts, so the Festival is an amazing opportunity for the students to get a good look into our programs.”
For VFCC, the Festival and events like it are a great opportunity to showcase the school’s technology chops. “For the past nine years, we’ve been offering students the opportunity to come in and record their presentations,” says Bilotta. “It’s a quick recording, but it’s very professional, and it gives them the opportunity to leave the Festival with something they’d probably not have had the opportunity to create.”
This year the school has stepped up its recording capabilities in a big way. “We used to arrive with a transporter van and set up a small iso booth on the convention floor,” recalls Bilotta. “This year, some very generous donors helped us to secure a 1994 Kentucky moving van.” VFCC’s Mobile Media Command Center is a 48-foot production trailer that contains two separate recording studios, each equipped with a PreSonus™ StudioLive™ digital console.
“The front part of the trailer is a fully isolated 8×11-foot room,” Bilotta explains. “We record full bands in there. On the other side, we have a 4×6-foot iso booth where we record vocalists, trios, quartets, and such. We have two StudioLive 16.4.2 consoles, both set up with Universal Control and Studio One® software.”
Recordings are made directly to DAW, with the console’s two-track mix outputting directly to a CD burner, making sound quality a critical factor. “We set up Shure KSM42s for the vocalists and record everything direct to the StudioLive,” says Bilotta. He gives the StudioLive’s XMAX™ preamps particularly high marks. “We started out using outboard preamps but we switched to the StudioLive’s onboard preamps. We’re really happy with the quality of the sound and the recordings we’re getting from them.”
Not surprisingly, VFCC’s mobile studio is exceptionally popular. “We’ve done nearly 200 recordings this week alone,” says Bilotta. “We have students scheduled at 10-minute intervals. So they come in, they get a quick sound check and go for it. The StudioLive is great for setting up multiple monitor mixes, so we can give them good sound in the headphones.”
The StudioLive consoles also made it possible for students to get hands-on experience. “We were able to set up two 16.4.2 mixers side by side, with identical signal inputs,” says Bilotta. “This allowed one engineer to mix the recording, while another helped students experiment with the StudioLive console and software. It was an eye-opening experience for a lot of visiting pastors and worship leaders to watch us demonstrate the iPad control, QMix™, Smaart™ integration, and some of the other features.”
Bilotta continues, “A lot of these students have never worked with a digital console before, and they’re thinking they’ll have to figure out all these menus. When I show them that it’s basically an analog workflow, and they begin to realize what kind of features it offers and what they can accomplish with it, you can see the smiles come over their faces. And when they find out what it costs, I’ve actually seen some of them get on their phones and start making calls.”
VFCC’s consoles have gotten very little time off. “Whenever we were not on the road with the Command Center last summer, the StudioLive desks were in pretty much constant demand for shows and rehearsals and events at the school,” Bilotta notes. “And we had two touring bands that represent the school, playing summer festivals and concerts across the Eastern U.S., and they used the consoles all summer. These desks got quite a workout.”