We’re all at different experience levels and styles in our church sound applications. Here are a few tips that apply to good FOH mixing practice in nearly any church music application. If they’re new to you, they’ll be helpful. For many of us, they serve as good reminders.
1. What’s the most important component of your mix? It’s simply the lead vocal. The worship leader. Of course, the other musical elements (band, orchestra, whatever) are important and must sound right, but the vocal matters most, bottom line. It’s what the whole room follows. So, get the tone and placement of that right first. While many worship mixers begin sound check with the kick drum, some begin with the lead vocal and keep it up while checking the rest of the band. There’s a lot of wisdom in that.
2. Gain structure is everything! When I was learning as a kid on a modest 6-channel analog mixer, this was true. And it was still true a few days ago while mixing a concert on a state-of-the-art digital console with all the modern toys. Always optimize input gains first, and the rest of the mix gets easier. Period.
3. Loudness. Many of us measure sound pressure level while mixing (correctly measuring and expressing SPL in a relevant way is a different and complex discussion). But the tip is this: Loudness is a perception thing. Someone who feels the mix is too loud or too quiet usually won’t care what the SPL meter says. They just know how the music feels to them. Use your ears and walk the entire room (not just mix position). That said, measuring and logging SPL reference measurements is still a useful practice. Also, keep in mind that some people actually are hypersensitive. It’s a real thing.
The overall mix balance and tone greatly affects perceived loudness. Harsh vocals are often judged as too loud. Rather than turning them down, the solution may be to smooth them (through processing, a different microphone, or correct microphone technique). Sometimes pushing sub-bass elements (kick drum, bass guitar, synths, or tracks) harder without actually turning up the overall mix will make the live mix feel (and measure) louder without harshness. When we’re mixing music, we’re always
4. Watch the stage. It’s easy to bury our heads in the gear at FOH. Look up. Master the gear to the point you can mix without staring down at it. When we keep our eyes on the artists, we mix better. Our eyes and ears need to agree, and what we see affects how we perceive (and mix) sound.
Say the drummer is whacking 8th notes on the floor tom during a bridge. It should probably be big in the mix. If it happens to be very light in the mix, and the operator is looking down… this may be unknowingly missed. Make it sound like it looks. This also speaks to learning the musical arrangements…
5. Learn the music in advance. Listen to it enough to be able to approach sound check while already having an expectation of how the song set should sound, and flow. You don’t have to be a music theory nerd and memorize every chord being played to learn the “sound” and format of each song. But this helps the operator shape the music as intended, hit cues correctly (such as a guitar solo), and avoid blowing things like
6. Mix-minus (sound check only). This is a great technique, but don’t do it with an audience. As the mix is coming together, simply mute a source or group of sources in the PA (careful not to mute any monitor sends). Do you hear it go away? When you punch it back on, does it sit right and blend well?
These are just brief reminders of a few tried-and true tricks I’ve been re-hashing for decades now in various worship service and concert applications. Next topic up is properly measuring, logging, and understanding loudness in worship. Advance questions and suggestions welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org