Same Gear, Different Results

A few months back, my daughter asked me to mix for her worship leading final. Of course, I said yes immediately. Then I discovered the venue. It was not ideal. That’s being polite. It was a big, hard box with lots of parallel walls, a poorly implemented PA and a mix position outside the coverage are of the speakers. Oh, and FOH was only accessed by a tight spiral staircase. Cool. 

The mixer was a little A&H analog deal, the speakers were forgettable and someone decided to mount the projector in a rack right next to the mixing position so the hot air exhaust blew on the engineer the entire time. I fixed that by flipping the door on the rack around to direct the air away from me. But that’s not the point. 

I ended up mixing not only my daughter’s set, but three others as well. When the class was over, four or five people came up and thanked me for being there and every one of them said they had never heard that room sound so good. 

Now, I say that not to blow my own horn, but to make the point that the gear is not necessarily what makes something sound good or not. I have heard terrible mixes on great PA’s and great mixes on less than ideal ones. 

You Have to Get Better at Mixing

I talk to some guys, especially at small churches with small or no budgets and they continually tell me that they could do a better job if they just had better gear. Now, that may be true to some extent. But the reality is, you can get better at mixing no matter what you have to work on. Every time I mix a gig on some really crappy gear, people come up and tell me how much better it sounded than they expected. Again, not to tell you how great I am, but to say that I have spent the last 20 years learning how to wring the most performance out of whatever gear I’m given. 

Sure, I’d rather mix on an SD5 with an L’Acoustics PA, but if what I have to work with is some old JBL cabs and an MG32, I’m going to do my best to make it amazing. It’s what we do.

Complaining and Blaming Equipment Won’t Get You New Gear

If I were writing a book, this would be a chapter. It’s easy to constantly complain that you don’t have the right mixer, the right mic’s, the right speakers, the right lights, the right whatever. But no one likes a complainer. You know what church leaders do like? Someone who knocks it out of the park every week despite the crappy equipment their given. Learn to do that, and you will eventually get what you want.

New Equipment Won’t Magically Make You Better

You have to get better. I’ve walked into churches with fancy new digital boards and listened the result and cringed. When I look at how they have it set up, it’s often a mess. If you don’t understand the fundamentals of gain structure, EQ and basic mixing, it doesn’t really matter how many on-board compressors you have or how many plugins you can rack up. In fact, those usually do more harm than good in inexperienced hands. Learn to mix on crappy gear, then move up the food chain. 

Remember, these are all just tools. It’s up to us to learn how to use them to their fullest capacity. Learn to do that and it won’t matter what you find yourself mixing on.


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Mic'ing Easter, Pt. 2

Last time, we talked about some of the things you’ll run into for the big Good Friday/Easter weekend; specifically, vocal and instrument mic’s. And that’s all good, but what happens when you have more things to mic than you have mic’s?

What To Do When You Run Out Of Mic’s?

Easter is a great time to rent mic’s. It’s hard to justify the purchase of a big mic locker if you only use some of the specialty mic’s once or twice a year. Microphones are one of the cheapest pieces of audio gear to rent, and most large cities have a couple of production houses that have a good selection. Don’t be afraid to go outside your city if you need to, either. Mic’s aren’t heavy or expensive to ship, so you can get them from almost anywhere. 

If you are unsure what mic to use for a particular purpose, ask your rental house, or contact an engineer at a nearby church known for good sound. Keep in mind that everyone has opinions on the best mic for a given purpose, and you may have to compromise based on budget and availability. 

The Wireless Option

Often, people will want to try to put everything on a wireless mic for big productions. I generally advise against this, for several reasons. First, wireless is hard. You have to frequency coordinate everything, deal with batteries and hope your antenna distribution system is up for the task. Second, they simply don’t sound as good as a wired mic. Instruments and sources that don’t move, have no real reason to be wireless. 

For big events, we often switch our worship leaders from the usual wireless mic’s we use for services to wired just to give us a little more security—and to accommodate the additional vocalists we always end up with. The rule of thumb should be, if you can wire it, do.

Mic’s Can Make The Difference

It’s really amazing how much difference the right mic can make, even if the sound system is less than ideal. On the other hand, if the sound system is good, a poor mic choice will produce harsh and brash results or make it sound like there is a blanket over the speakers. I’ve watched many a production and thought, “Oh that voice would sound so much better on a different mic.” 

And it is important to note that we’re not talking about “good” mic’s and “bad” mic’s here; we’re talking about the right mic for a particular source. I’ve personally replaced $2,000 worth of mic’s with ones that cost less than $400 on our Leslie cabinet and the resultant sound improvement was dramatic. It’s not that the expensive mic’s are bad; they were simply not the best choice for that instrument. The cost of the mic is a surprisingly unhelpful indicator of whether or not it will be suitable for a source. 

It’s almost always going to come down to experimentation and a willingness to try something that doesn’t seem like it would work. My current favorite snare mic is marketed as a tom mic; but I love it on the snare. We tried it based on the recommendation from a friend who though, “I wonder what this would sound like here?” 

Preparation is Key

Of course, Easter Sunday morning is not the time to be trying out new mic’s or looking to rent them. You must start working on this now. By the time you read this, we’ll be less than two months from Easter. There is no better time to start figuring out what you will have to put mic’s on, and which mic’s to use. And remember, this is the fun part of our job!

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