Mixing Christmas Eve 2013

Click to enlarge. Note the minimalist EQ. 

Like many of you, our Christmas Eve services were a big deal, production-wise. In our 65 minute service, we did eight songs—only three of which were “sing alongs”— and four underscores. We had eleven musicians and six vocalists on stage with a total of seventeen stereo monitor mixes—eleven M-48s and six wireless IEMs mixed from FOH. I also had a broadcast mix, an overflow room mix, the lobby mix and the outdoor speakers mix. Those were all matrix outputs made up of groups and a few inputs, so I wasn’t hands on with them, but they had to be factored in. I used 55 of my 56 inputs on the stage rack and nearly all my outputs. It was a big day.

Virtual Soundcheck Makes It Possible

Thankfully, we had a band rehearsal on Thursday prior to Christmas Eve. The vocalists were there as well, and I was able to get clean multitrack recordings of each song we were doing. Armed with those tracks, I spent about 7 hours Friday getting mixes dialed in. 

For that virtual mixing session, I focus on a few things. First, I work on any EQ adjustments for all my inputs. Many of the musicians were regulars, so I have pretty good starting presets and those required just a little tweaking to help them sit in the mix. Others were brand new and needed more attention. I focus a lot on getting my mic’ing right, so I don’t do a ton of EQ, but there were a few instruments that needed some work.

Next, I’ll focus on vocals. Again, with good mic choices, I don’t do a ton, but with six vocalists plus vocal tracks, I did have to do some cutting of problem bands to avoid things building up. After the vocal EQs are set, I start spreading them out over the stereo field. Our current system is stereo, and while I don’t normally do much panning, when I have this many vocals, I will. I make sure I put one vocal for each part on each side (eg. I split my altos left and right, my sopranos left and right, etc.) so no matter where you’re sitting, you’ll hear the parts. This also helps the broadcast mix quite a lot. Finally, I work on blends. I like the background vocals to sound rich, balanced and spread out around the lead.

Each block is color-coded. Pink means tracks are coming from the drummer's Mac; Green means tracks are coming from ProPresenter. Blue is a reading. Click to enlarge.

Building Snapshots for Songs

For a normal weekend, I do one snapshot per song. It’s a starting mix point, one that simply recalls the starting fader positions for the song along with my effects settings. It’s pretty low key. But for a big event, especially one that I’m going to mix 6-7 times (including rehearsals), I build more snapshots. Some songs get 2-3, others will have 7-8; it all depends on the song, what I want to do and how much I’m going to change each time. 

I start by listening to the tracks a few times with the faders at starting mix position. I usually have the sheet music in front of me, and I’ll make notes as I try things out. Most of the time, I’m making changes at verse/chorus/bridge breaks, and most of the time, I’m moving a bunch of faders at once. I name the snapshot based on the bar number and highlight the sheet music with a cue mark. By the time we get to the first service, I’ve mixed the songs enough that I know when to hit Next. This year, I also used the Notes feature of my snapshots panel. I found that really handy to remind me where I was.

The notes panel floats on the Master Screen and tracks with each snapshot.

The notes panel floats on the Master Screen and tracks with each snapshot.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once I build a set of snapshots for a song, I’ll run through it 2-3 times with the tracks to make sure I’m happy with the way it lays out. I typically do smaller fader moves between snapshots—we’re still mixing after all—and I want to make sure those moves track with my snapshots. After a song is done, I’ll move on to the next one.

After I mix two or three songs, I’ll take a break. I will get some water, walk around, check twitter, read email, or just go sit in my office in quiet for a few minutes. It’s important to step back every so often so you don’t lose perspective. 

Once all the songs are done, I go through the whole service again, making sure everything sounds consistent. After I’m happy with that, I save the show file in 3 places (including Dropbox, which then populates to about a dozen other computers) and go home. 

Taking a Risk

This year I took a calculated risk when I set up my show file. I knew it was a risk, but I felt like the possible pro’s outweighed the possible con’s. Having done this, I won’t do it again. But I’m glad I tried it. What did I do? Tune in Friday to find out.

Also, we have the service posted on Vimeo. I'm reasonably happy with the way it turned out, though I think it really starts sounding decent on song three.

Gear Techs