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Church Sound: Don’t Touch That Knob—Why Every Song Mix Needs a Vision
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3. Remember how you sculpted sounds in the past. In drafting house plans, one of the most important rooms is the kitchen. 

And the kitchen is a tough one because, not only do you have to consider the work-flow, but you also have to work with a room that usually has several doors such as to a garage and dining room and even a hallway to another room.

Oh, and if I recall correctly, the work-flow includes a 21-foot triangle. This means if you walk from the fridge to the sink to the over, in a triangle pattern, you shouldn’t walk more than 21 feet. 

I’m not sure if 21 feet is right, but I do know that the bigger the kitchen, the harder to conform to that triangle.

Regarding those kitchen designs, I learned that once you have drafted a few different kitchens of varying sizes, you learn what placement works best. You learn where to place the fridge and where to place the oven so they are in proper relationships but they that also make sense in their placement. 

And so it is with mixing. The more you mix for the same band in the same room with the same congregation, the more you know what works and what doesn’t. Let’s look at how this can happen.

The more you mix in a room, the more you know how to achieve:

—The proper drum sound for energetic songs

—Vocals which sound energetic and sit above the rest of band while still blending in the mix

—A subtle bass approach when it’s called for in a song

—A big sound from a small band and vice-versa

Consider your experience in mixing as a wealth of knowledge in mixing the band as well as mixing different instruments and different vocals. Therefore, when you are establishing a vision for mixing the song, you already know how you can bring many of these sounds to fruition.

The One Step To Executing Your Vision

Mix the sounds with the song already playing in your head. 

Now go back and re-read that last sentence about 20 times. You know the vision of the band. You know how the song usually sounds. You know what you have done in the past. Not that your past work is a limitation but it’s instead a great starting point. 

Take all of that information and form a sound in your head of how that vision would be realized. You’re mixing the song in your head not by thinking of how you would do it but how it should sound. With that vision, next you work on the “how.”

Mixing is a three-step process. The first thing you do is evaluate the sounds you are hearing. Does it sound like you want? What is wrong with it?

The second thing you do is evaluate the sound against your vision. Before turning any knobs, you must know your desired sound. 

Lastly, take action against that evaluation and vision. Boost the guitar at 800 Hz because that’s what you think it needs. Don’t randomly boost it and ask yourself “does this sound right?” You need a reason for ever turn of a knob.

Every step in your mix process should be about matching your mix to your vision. By starting with the end in mind, you’ll find you’ll reach that end sooner—and with much better results.

The Take Away

Over the last month or so, I’ve found myself repeating the phrase “mixing for the moment.” You and I are mixing for a moment that won’t come again. We can perform some dynamic mixing to maximize that moment. 

But one thing we have to do BEFORE that moment is establish a vision for the songs of that moment. By working together with the worship leader, pulling in your own experience, and establishing a “sound vision” in your head, you’ll find that mixing is no longer about “does this sound good” but it’s about “I know how to make this sound good.”

Remember the three key steps to realizing your vision: evaluate the sound, compare it to your vision, and then make the required adjustment.

Ready to learn and laugh? Chris Huff writes about the world of church audio at Behind The Mixer. He covers everything from audio fundamentals to dealing with musicians. He can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.

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