The Silence of Sound: How to Create a Clean Mix

Worship music, in its current form, presents a complex mix environment. While the various iterations of the 80’s and 90’s Maranatha! Praise Band provided a simple, straightforward musical palette; today’s Hillsong, Tomlin, and Bethel music-scapes are highly textured and multifaceted. Delivering a detailed mix, then, has become more difficult as the space between each instrument and vocal has narrowed considerably. Just like traffic at rush hour, there are times when the song is overwhelmed by the score. So, to make it easier for the congregation to participate and engage, here are some mix tips.

Rule #1 – Vocals always win

In our attempt to include everything in the mix, the important can override the essential. In a worship mix, guitar is important, but the lead vocal is essential. Part of the issue can arise from our tendency to start rehearsal with the kick drum and work through the drum kit, on to the bass, guitars, keys, and BGVs and then, finally the worship leader vocal. Unfortunately, by the time we attempt to lay the WL in the mix, there is no room left. So, one option is to start rehearsal with the WL, then bring in the keys and later add the rhythm section. This top-down approach makes is easier to focus on the primary aspects of the song and bring ancillary pieces in as needed.

Rule #2 – Nobody cares about effects

Digital consoles are wonderful because they have multiple effect engines and dynamics controllers for every input and output. These features also contribute to control-overload. Try leaving all the processing out of the mix during rehearsal and wring a great mix out of the board with gain and tone. After all, that’s how great music was mixed for decades.

Rule #3 – There isn’t room for everyone all the time

Live music is dynamic; it ebbs and flows. So, too, the instrumentation should roll in and out as appropriate tonalities are brought in and pushed back. The better the band, the more they understand this principle and apply it. For less advanced teams, the tech can assist by downplaying certain sections and then later highlighting them via fader control.

Rule #4 – The subs are not a wrecking ball

Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Subs add dramatic impact when used appropriately, but just as too much sauce can hide a great steak, the overuse of subwoofers is counterproductive. Subs can be reduced during intros, verses, and bridges and brought to bear in choruses and endings. Also, (assuming dual 18s properly amp’d) keep them tight by using an HPF at 34Hz and a L/R set at 90Hz. Aux fed subs eliminate issues with headset mics and guitars, but can quickly get the mix out of balance so check out some cool John Mills solutions at www.theavmill.com.

Rule #5 – It’s not about loud, it’s about irritating

“It’s too loud” is a common refrain directed toward the sound booth by people with genuine concerns. Responding with “You’re too old” doesn’t help the situation. Instead, listen, with discretion, to what people are saying when they comment. If they focus on harshness, brittleness, or piercing tones, they may have a point for you to consider. First, get a comprehensive hearing exam and note your discrepancies from what the doctor uncovers. If there is a loss at 4KHz, you may find you tend to boost that range. Get a proper ear cleaning every six months and protect your ears when working around machinery. Finally, walk the room during the mix and listen for deviations from the level at FOH. Each congregation has their own definition of “loud”, but a good rule of thumb for current music is at or below 95dB-A-slow SPL for average songs with peaks around 100 dB-A-slow SPL. Again, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), but it’s a start.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.