I’m the Technical Director of a good-sized church. As such, I oversee all technical aspects of the weekend services; sound, lighting, video, presentation and even some stage design and set up. In my current role, my time is 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. 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. 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. We use Planning Center Online, and the MP3s are 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 create a playlist on my iPhone and listen to them during the week several times. 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 didn’t start doing this until recently because I had long held to the notion that the board mix doesn’t accurately reflect the acoustic energy in the room. While that 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 don’t do it every week, but I find when I listen to my Saturday night board mixes, my Sunday morning mixes sound better. It doesn’t take that long, and is worth the effort if you want to get better at your craft.
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 is starting to overpower the vocals. Since our current mix position is 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 will 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. As a fourth, bonus tip, you can tune in Tuesday, July 20th for “Mixing, Part 2” with Dave, Jason and I. We may be trying a new service this month, so check back in a few days for the URL of the webinar. You can also listen to Part 1 here.