Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Quick Tip: Building Dynamics

It’s Friday before VBS week so this will be short. I was going to Tweet something to this effect a few weekends ago, but figured it would make a better post. 

When you’re mixing a song that builds dynamically, don’t use up all your dynamics in the first chorus. The problem is simple; if the song is supposed to build all the way through and you pushed it up to 11 on the first time through the chorus, you now have no where to go as the song “builds.” In fact, it won’t really build because you peaked too early.

Imagine boading a roller coaster and staring up the big hill while you wait for it to start. Anticipation builds as the train pulls out of the station, you take a quick trip to the top of the first hill, then…as you crest the hill…you find the rest of the ride is basically at that height. Not quite what you were hoping for. That’s what happens when we run out of headroom too early in a song. (after that the rest of the analogy breaks down, too)

We do a lot of songs that go like this:

Verse 1—start soft, slowly build a little

Chorus 1—a little bigger

Verse 2—a little bigger

Chorus 2—bigger…

Bridge—Bigger

Chorus 3—HUGE!

End—either HUGE! or settle down

The tendency for younger engineers (and musicians of all ages) is to give it everything they have too soon. While that might feel good in the first chorus, by the time you get to the apex of the song, it’s unsatisfying. Ideally, the band and the engineer are working together to build the dynamics of the song as the tune progresses. The musicians should gradually be playing harder and more as it builds to it’s climax, while the engineer is slowing pushing those elements up.

However, sometimes the band gets too eager in the beginning. In those cases, I will actually pull them back at the beginning of the song so I have someplace to go (hey, someone has to be the adult…). The dynamics end up being a little off from a playing perspective, but at least I can manipulate the volume to create a sense of dynamics. 

So remember, just like good BBQ, you can’t rush the dynamics of a building song.

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2 Comments

  1. mikeward@seacoast.org

    This is an interesting post. If you take the approach that you as the engineer have anything to do with dynamics then I would agree. However as a live engineer I do not feel that I build dynamics. Its the bands job to do that. Its my job to mix what they give me. I mix to where when the chorus drops out the softer more textured instruments come in to play witch builds emotion and depth, but I never turn my mains up or down or bring my all fader up or down to create dynamics in a song. Im no longer being true to the music that is being presented by the band when I do that.

    I ran into something similar at my last church. The pastor wanted more subdued acoustic/vocal driven music and the band gave me 2 electrics 2 vocalists bass, drums and no keys. I mixed what the band gave me and stayed true to the music they were playing(electric driven). The pastor was never happy with my mix, but never bothered to talk to the worship leader about what he was giving me to mix. Funny how that works. Anyway, I think when we as live engineers start creating dynamics and mixes that are not true to what the band is giving us then we are not truly mixing the band. Just my .02 cents.

  2. mikeward@seacoast.org

    This is an interesting post. If you take the approach that you as the engineer have anything to do with dynamics then I would agree. However as a live engineer I do not feel that I build dynamics. Its the bands job to do that. Its my job to mix what they give me. I mix to where when the chorus drops out the softer more textured instruments come in to play witch builds emotion and depth, but I never turn my mains up or down or bring my all fader up or down to create dynamics in a song. Im no longer being true to the music that is being presented by the band when I do that.

    I ran into something similar at my last church. The pastor wanted more subdued acoustic/vocal driven music and the band gave me 2 electrics 2 vocalists bass, drums and no keys. I mixed what the band gave me and stayed true to the music they were playing(electric driven). The pastor was never happy with my mix, but never bothered to talk to the worship leader about what he was giving me to mix. Funny how that works. Anyway, I think when we as live engineers start creating dynamics and mixes that are not true to what the band is giving us then we are not truly mixing the band. Just my .02 cents.

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