3 Things To Improve Your Mix This Weekend

Image courtesy of Vancouver Film School

Image courtesy of Vancouver Film School

When I was the Technical Director of a good-sized church all technical aspects of the weekend services; sound, lighting, video, presentation and even some stage design and set up were my responsibility. My time was split between all those disciplines. But at the end of the day, my passion is sound. So with that in mind, I have a few suggestions on how you can improve your mixes. They may seem simplistic, but as I’ve been more intentional about doing them, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in the overall quality of my mixes and how fast they come together. It’s further proof you can teach an old dog new tricks...

Listen to the Music

I’m surprised at how few sound guys actually listen to the music they mix, or any music for that matter. I once was talking to an audio volunteer about a festival I was shooting. I started naming some of the artists we had filmed that week; Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, etc (this was a while back, obviously). To each, he shook his head to say, “Never heard of them.” I asked him what kind of music he listened to. “Mmm, I really don’t listen to music,” was the reply. I thought, “That explains a lot...” 

Most worship teams have a method of getting recordings of the songs they will be doing for a given weekend out to the team. The easiest is Planning Center Online, and MP3s can be posted there each week. That enables the team to listen to the songs during the week to learn their parts. Since our part as mixers is to know how the individual parts come together, it’s a good idea for us to listen as well. I often created a playlist on my iPhone and listened to them during the week several times during my driving. Even songs that I’ve mixed before go into the list, as I want to be sure I know when solos are, and to remind myself if it’s a piano- or guitar-led song. When you know how it’s supposed to sound, it’s a lot easier to pull a mix together.

Record and Listen to Your Board Mix

 I had long held to the notion that the board mix doesn’t accurately reflect the acoustic energy in the room, so I didn’t bother with this for a long time. While it may be true, there is still a lot we can learn from listening to the board mix. We may notice that we picked up a guitar solo late, or that the vocal harmonies weren’t balanced properly. The drums may be too loud or too soft in your mix recording, and you can mentally adjust for that, but you can still figure out how everything else sits in the mix.

I admit I didn’t do it every week, but I found when I listened to my Saturday night board mixes, my Sunday morning mixes sounded better. It doesn’t take that long, and is worth the effort if you want to get better at your craft.

Solicit Feedback

We all know feedback is something to be eliminated in the world of sound. However, feedback in the form of constructive criticism from a few people you trust can be a very good thing. These people don’t have to be musical experts or professional sound engineers. They should have a decent ear and know how to describe what they are hearing, however. It’s a pretty rare church where the sound coverage is so even that what you hear at FOH is the same everywhere in the room. It’s good to get some input from people who sit in other areas, and to hear what they liked and didn’t like. 

For example, I really love the sound of the B3 organ. I like to pull it up so I can hear it, which is sometimes too loud. I need people to tell me the organ was starting to over power the vocals. When our mix position was up in the balcony, in a completely different sound field than the rest of the congregation (a particularly egregious sin committed by far too many architects...), my boss would occasionally call up on the com and let me know something is translating too loud or soft on the floor. This is helpful input for me.

So there you go. A few things that are easy to implement and will surely give you results pretty quickly. We owe it to ourselves and our congregations to continually get better at our mixing.

Roland

Today's post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

Re-Thinking Christmas

So this is going to sound like a complete contradiction, after my post from a few weeks back, but I’m OK with that. If my friend Dave has taught me anything it’s that it’s OK to change your mind when new information becomes available. After I posted Inconvenienced by Christmas, there has been quite a dialog in the comment section. And then Jon Acuff’s post, 11 Signs You’re Burning Out Your Staff re-appeared. I saw that when it first posted last year, and when it resurfaced, I started re-thinking my position on the big weekends in the church calendar.

His point #6 is what really spurred my thinking. It’s titled “The church steals the staff members’ family traditions.” He ends that section with this poignant statement:

“I swear Jesus didn’t say, ‘One day, I hope someday Easter is a moment church employees look forward to with exhaustion, burnout and regret.’”

Now, let’s substitute Christmas for Easter and think about what we’re going through this year. And I’m actually not meaning “we’re” as if I’m in the middle of it because for the first time in 10 years, I’m not going crazy getting ready for a huge Christmas production. I remember very vividly the long days, the frustration, the exhaustion, and the pain of being on my feet for 12+ hours a day, 7 days a week for a few weeks. I also remember the joy and the satisfaction of producing a great Christmas experience for our church family. And the fun I had working with a great team. 

But lately, I’ve been thinking; do we really need to do big, elaborate Christmas productions every year? Is the expense of time, talent and money really worth it? Do we really see results that square with the investment? 

Sometimes I feel like the big Christmas productions or Christmas Eve services are almost a bait and switch. We hope to have hundreds or thousands of visitors come through the door, and we hope they come back. And if they do come back, what does the weekend after Christmas look like? Is it the same caliber as Christmas or is it back to normal? And if it’s not the same, do visitors come back a third time? 

I honestly don’t know the answers to all those questions. They’re just rattling around in my head a lot lately. I’m watching my twitter feed and getting texts and emails from friends who are burning the midnight oil going crazy trying to get through Christmas. I’m hearing things like, “Once I get through Christmas, then we can grab lunch or talk,” and “Quick break, then back to the grind.” I know I’ve said those things myself. 

Of course we want to make our church welcoming for visitors and we want visitors and regulars alike to enjoy a great experience. But I don’t know—have we taken it too far? 

Of course, I’m talking to a group that has very little ability to change the status quo. Most of us technical artists do what is asked of us by the service planners. Then again, maybe we go way above and beyond the call of duty, to our own detriment. Maybe we need to dial it back a notch. 

I also know getting the chance to do a really big production can be a lot of fun. I get it. Remember, I did this for 10 years on staff and 15 as a volunteer. I’ve been there, and I really do understand. I also understand that I feel really lost this year at Christmas because I don’t even know what it means anymore. I’ve been telling people I am having a hard time even acknowledging Christmas because it’s not cold and snowing (at least in SoCal) and I’m not prepping for Christmas Eve. 

I’m all for excellence, winning the lost, doing great things, and all that good stuff. But I also wonder if we should at least have a discussion about why we’re doing all this and what the cost/benefit ratio is. Like I said, I don’t have the answers here. But I hope I can start a conversation. What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know.

“Gear

Today's post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 220: The Banjo Museum

We pick up where we left off last week by talking about the building blocks for the modern worship sound, and with some excellent advice on how to structure rehearsals. Ultimately, it's all about relationships; in this case between tech and band.

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Roland

Today's post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.