Recently, I taught a class on mixing. A four-hour class. This was particularly cool because I finally got to walk people all the way through my weekend mixing process, not just part of it. I had a ton of fun preparing for the class—which is good because it took me 40-50 hours—and learned a lot myself.
I started the class by mixing a track with almost no EQ, compression or effects. Well, I did have high pass filters on most channels, and I put just a little reverb on the vocal. Believe it or not, it sounded pretty darn good! You want to know why? Because I’m an amazing mixer, obviously. That’s tongue-in-cheek, by the way. No, it sounded good because I was mixing some pretty great musicians who knew how to play around each other.
It’s Not Your Fault
I’ve been to plenty of churches where the pastor or worship leader is frustrated by the “mix” and wants to know how I can help. Often, I have to say, “Well, it would help if you had musicians who knew how to tune and play their instruments.” It’s also helpful if they don’t all play the exact same line all the way through the song.
You might have been to a larger church, or a concert and hear a mix that you thought was great and felt bad that you mixes don’t sound like that. It may not be your fault. It could just be that your band isn’t very good. A lot of small- to medium-sized churches have some wonderful people with great hearts who volunteer to play in the worship band. Unfortunately, they’re not great musicians. And often, the ones people think are “great” are only great compared to the truly awful ones that sometimes volunteer there.
At that point, the role of the FOH engineer is damage control. You can do the best job you can, but it’s never going to sound better than the people on stage.
You Can Only Grow So Far
I learned this first-hand. My mixing really didn’t get to the next level until I started mixing bands who were much better than I was. I had reach a point in my mixing where I could make a very mediocre band sound OK. But when I tried those techniques with a really good band, it fell flat. I had to learn and grow and figure out how to make a great band sound amazing. Last time I mixed at church I had three people—two of which I know actually know what they’re talking about—tell me the mix was really, really good. So arguably, I’ve improved over the years.
I say that not to toot my own horn, but because I’m mixing really great musicians, my level of mixing has improved to their level. The better the bands I get to work with are, the better my mix gets.
This is all meant to be encouraging to you. If you feel like your mixes are not where they should be, it may not be your fault. If you’re constantly being berated by your pastor or others in the room about the “sound,” take a look to see if it’s really a mix issue or a musician issue.
And I’m not trying to simply throw musicians under the bus, here. Sometimes, the engineer really is bad. I very recently heard a mix of a really good band that was so uninspiring that I left the room. That wasn’t a band issue, the but the FOH guy ruined it for me.
The point is, the finished product will only be as good as the weakest link. Don’t be that weakest link.