An EPIC Mixing Adventure

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This week is VBS week at Coast Hills, which explains my absence from the blog this week. Normally I pre-write a bunch of stuff to stay up with it, but even the prep work this year kept me busy. And I didn’t expect this week to be as busy as it was; but it wasn’t all bad. 

Last year, we decided very late in the week to put together a CD of the worship band’s songs from the week and give it to each of the kids at the end of Friday. This was decided Thursday morning, so there wasn’t much time to do anything. This year, we knew going in we would be mixing a CD, so I did a few things differently. 

Prepare in Advance

Last year, I basically took the tracks, ran them through the SD8 and mixed them to another computer. I didn’t have time to do much more than that; it was really a rebalance of the drums and vocals more than anything. The end result wasn’t great, but time wasn’t on our side.

This year, I planned on mixing the tracks in the studio, so we made sure to start capturing the worship sets from Day 1. The week before, I pulled up last year’s tracks and started building my plug-in chains for each of the tracks. We didn’t have exactly the same band, but getting drums, bass and guitars roughly worked out was a big timesaver on mixing day.

I’ve been collecting plug-ins for a while now, and have plenty to choose from. Once I landed on a series of chains that I liked for each track, I saved them as FX Chains in Reaper. Just being able to call those chains up for each of the tracks got me in the ballpark when I started mixing. It wasn’t exact, as the band was almost completely different, but at least I had the tonal quality I was going for.

Mixing One Song At A Time

I decided to break up the songs into individual project files. I did this because I didn’t want to automate all the FX settings on each track for each song. So before I broke it up, I listened through all the versions of the songs, and decided on the best takes. While I was listening, I was tweaking plug-ins. Getting EQ’s, compressors and effects roughly dialed during the audition process saved me time later.

With my baseline mix done, I simply stared with that project for each song. I saved it as a new project for each song, starting from the same place each time. I’m not 100% sure this was the best way to do it, but it worked for me. 

Build As You Go

As I worked my way through the tracks, I found I was doing the same things over and over. For example, my two female BGVs were very soft, and often had as much drums as vocals in their tracks. A gate cleaned that up, and after putting the gate in for a few songs, I saved it as a preset so it could be recalled quickly. 

I also took a tip from my friend Dave and stacked some of the tracks with multiple plugins. I had two different comps on the bass for example, and picked one based on the song. That saved me time in the mixing process. 

Mix With The Master In Mind

As I did my mixes with automation (the iPad app, AC-7 Core is great for that, by the way), I put a multi-maximizer on the LR buss set to do some gentle maximizing. I ended up bouncing 2-tracks of each song without the maximizer patched in, however. After a little bit of experimentation, I decided to render a 2-track of each song as a 24-bit 48KHz file. Those files all went into another project, and I laid them out in song order of the CD.

Now is when I used the maximizer. I inserted an instance on each track and made my adjustments on each song to get them sounding the way I wanted, and similar to the others on the CD. I knew there would be a good chance my volumes for each track would vary if I went for final versions from the individual projects. Putting in stereo versions of each song in a single project gave me the chance to keep everything consistent. 

The End Result

I’m very pleased with the results. It took me about 12 hours to audition, mix and master 12 songs, though I could have spent much more time. That doesn’t include about 3 hours the week before setting up plug ins. Given that the band was made up of Jr. and Sr. High students (and our 20-something Student Life Worship Leader), it ended up sounding remarkably good. 

As always, when I’m listening back to the finals, I hear stuff I would like to change. But then I remember we’re giving these to kids who are under 12 years old, and I’m not going for a Grammy here. Compared to last year, it’s a huge step in the right direction. And next year, it will be even better, as I have a better starting point.

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And by GearTechs. Technology for Worship is what they do. Audio, video and lighting; if it's part of your worship service, and it has to do with technology, GearTechs can probably help. Great products, great advice, GearTechs.