Can the congregation tell who’s mixing? The question is not for reasons of pride but for consistency.
The congregation should hear a predictable mix each week, and when a new audio tech joins the team, this can be a problem. The new tech could be experienced or fresh off the street.
Either way, the mix needs to conform to the standard sound set forth by the audio team. It can be achieved by following five points.
1) Microphone selection and placement. We all have our favorite mikes for various applications, from vocals to drums, but obtaining a standard sound starts with using an established microphone setup. Yes, there could be three good snare mikes backstage but one needs to be the standard.
Placement is also key. Whether it’s drum miking or amp miking, everyone has their preferred method. Establish a standard drum miking setup, amp miking setup, and anything else that could vary based on personal preference.
2) Monitor placement. Monitor placement doesn’t determine the sound as much as it helps the band. Musicians should expect floor monitors to be in the same place each week. They know how much room they have to move around and where they can move. By changing monitor locations, they have to figure that out again. And when lighting fixture placement is considered, monitor location is even more important.
3) Volume balance and average volume. This is where personal mixing preferences start to come in. Some folks like to bury the electric guitar or boost the bass or push up one of the backup singers because it’s their girlfriend. Yes, these things do happen.
What they need is a design to follow. Such a model could be described on paper with notes as to how the musicians are layered. However, in doing so, there must be examples of how this sounds. Worship set recordings can be used as long as the recording quality represents what’s heard in the room. This isn’t always the case.
A better method is having the tech shadow the on-duty tech for a few weeks to hear how it should sound. This process will also help in the later steps.
The overall average volume of the service, such as the average band volume and the average volume of the spoken word, should be tracked, with those numbers provided to new techs so they know the right range.
Make sure to include the weight and speed so measurements are equally compared, because 94 dB could mean dBA or dBC, and those would be two different sound pressure levels. Use a slow time measurement to cut down on small volume spike readings.
4) General EQ settings. This is a bit more difficult as I’ve got singers who have different vocal EQ settings depending on the arrangement.
For the most part, singers will have a relatively standard EQ curve. This can be altered from one song to the next, but for the most part, there’s a standard curve that cuts the bad and promotes the good. With digital consoles, these can often be saved as presets.
This isn’t saying that they can’t adjust channel EQs. They should as that’s part of the job. However, if a singer or instrument sounds noticeably different from one week to the next, then a discussion needs to occur. Maybe the new tech found a better sounding EQ curve—or maybe they need some one-on-one instruction time.
5) Effects. This one has bitten me before. A long-time tech, who I took at his word, turned out to have good EQ skills but used effects to excess. For instance, heavy reverb on the pastor in a room that seats 200. Wow.
Have a general game plan with how effects are used and to what degree. This isn’t to limit creativity but to establish boundaries in which the team can work. Band practices are a great time to listen to their mixes and work with them.
Audio production provides a lot of room for creativity in stage work and console work. But when it comes to weekly audio production for the same audience, they should expect some consistency. By establishing a general sound standard, all techs will know how much room they have to be creative and where the canvas ends.
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, and can even tell you the signs the sound guy is having a mental breakdown.