The Final 10%

A few months ago, I wrote a post called The 90% Principle. In that post, I postulated that most of the time, getting a project 90% (or so) of the way done is a solid game plan. I still hold to that principle; but once in a while an opportunity presents itself to work on that last 10%. For me, that was Easter week. At Coast Hills, we have two types of services during Easter week—two very powerful, no-spoken-word Good Friday services, and five great, celebratory Easter services. Thanks to a variety of factors, I was able to spend a good deal of time working on the mixes for those two services. 

The first factor was that we’ve radically overhauled and upgraded our infrastructure since last year. This made set up and rehearsal go very smoothly. I also had a great team in place, which meant that I could really focus almost all my energy on being the audio director for the week. That, combined with our relatively new SD8 and virtual soundcheck system meant I could spend two entire mornings refining our mixes.

Normally, we don’t do a mid-week rehearsal for our weekend services. So even though we record one service a week in multi-track, it’s really more for training than anything else. But this week, we had a Tuesday night rehearsal for Easter, and a Thursday rehearsal for Good Friday. I tracked both rehearsals, then spent the morning after tweaking. I have to say, it was a lot of fun.

Now, it should be noted that the mixes didn’t get radically better as I tweaked. I had them pretty well dialed in when the band was live. But like I said, this was the final 10%. I decided to employ a feature the SD8 offers in the snapshot function called Groups. Basically, I added each snapshot for a song to a group and from that point forward, every time I made a change to the mix, I could either update every snapshot in the group (eg. Kick up for the whole song), or just that particular snapshot (drop the level of the BGVs during the verse).

 

It took me a little while to get used to what and how it was updating, but again, this was a perfect opportunity for experimenting. Since the band was “virtual,” I could make some changes and if I didn’t like them, re-cue the track and try again. Normally, I will do a single snapshot per song; I record the snapshot at the beginning of the song so when I fire it, it takes me to my starting point for the tune. On a normal weekend, this works fine, and I like doing it this way.

However, for this weekend, I wanted to raise the bar a bit. We were doing some songs that benefited from varying the delay time on the vocal effects, for example, or really punching up the reverb during a breakdown. I could have done that manually, but I had to do it six times for the weekend services (five services plus rehearsal), and I would have to do it the same way each time for consistency’s sake. So I figured why not automate it?

Another benefit of virtual soundcheck was that I was able to really dial in our BGVs. Most weekends, I leave their EQ pretty close to flat. And for most weekends, that’s fine. We typically have 2-3 BGVs so I don’t need to work that hard to make them blend well. But for Easter, we had six vocals; for Good Friday, I had 11. Getting them to all sit right took some work, and it was great to cue up a section of a song when they were all singing and go through them one by one to make them all sound great.

I started by soloing the vocal, and adjusted the EQ. Most took very minor boosts and cuts to get them sounding really sweet, since we’ve already done the hard work of matching singers with the right mic capsules. Then I would solo up a group of them (all the women, for example) and make sure they were blending well. Then I would get them all in the mix and tweak a little more. 

The end result was fantastic. The sound was big, yet tight. I was able to run it louder than normal without a hint of harshness. Several people commented on how great the sound was (mostly musicians who really pay attention to that kind of stuff), and the services were very consistent. I did still mix things live; I didn’t want to automate the whole song. But for each section of each song, everything went were it was supposed to and all I had to do was tweak little things here and there. I wouldn’t want to do every weekend like this, as I normally don’t have the time to set it up and do it well. But for big events when we have a rehearsal, it makes a big difference in the finished result. 

If nothing else, I was happier with the mix overall, even if the vast majority of the people in the pews didn’t notice a difference. And given how much work we do during weeks like that, it’s kind of nice to do something just because it makes us happy.

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