January 09, 2013, by Kent Margraves
The worship mixer’s job is executed in the mix position during worship, but its success is mostly established outside the mix position, prior to worship.
1. Know The Music Beforehand
Get whatever rehearsal music media is available to the worship team for review (legally). Learn the arrangements by listening during the week. Not only will your mixes come together quicker for each song, you’ll also anticipate things like guitar solos or false endings before they happen—not just after they’ve already begun.
Does it really make sense when everyone on the stage knows the songs and arrangements thoroughly, but the sound tech does not?
2. Host A Pre-Production Meeting
Meet with the music/worship and production teams well in advance of each planned service. Reviewing plans and expectations can ensure an appropriate audio setup, and can avoid potentially tough sound reinforcement surprises.
Example: the worship department requests three wireless lavalier or headworn systems for a worship service. At sound check, they are placed on three actors and the tech quickly finds they’re not actors at all… they’re singers, and they’re asking for their vocals in the monitors! If they are omnidirectional it’s a tough situation at best, and practically impossible in many environments.
Now, the worship department may have requested the drama-style mics because the presentation or mood doesn’t suit the normal handheld vocal miking approach. But they didn’t anticipate the technical disaster that comes with their request. (Is it really their job to understand all the tech stuff?) Heading this surprise off at an advance meeting allows the audio tech to suggest a better miking technique, such as normal handheld vocal mics or possibly cardioid headworn mics.
Our point here is not about which mic technique is right for this application, it is that regardless of the chosen solution or compromise, it can be sorted out in advance – not at sound check.
3. Check RF Performance
If any wireless microphones, wireless personal monitor systems, wireless assistive listening systems or any other RF devices are used in the worship space, they must be properly installed and their frequencies coordinated for compatibility. Assuming proper installation, antenna orientation, and frequency coordination have been accomplished, it remains wise to periodically check RF performance. New sources of interference and other surprises are better found during testing—without an audience!
To properly check the systems, turn on all RF devices that will be on during worship, and turn on any equipment in close proximity to the RF devices. Portable transmitters and receivers should not be clustered together for the test—piling them together on a desk or other surface at the sound booth is convenient, but a common mistake. They should be at least several feet apart, and located onstage or in a general area where they will be used.
The outputs of all devices should be auditioned over the PA or with headphones (RF mics), on headphones or earphones (wireless personal monitor receivers), or the receiver/transducer that will be used by the worshipper (assistive listening device).
Note: It can be alternately argued that piling all portable RF devices together for an RF test/sound check can actually be a wise move as it creates a worst case scenario.
4. Perform System Checks
Verify the PA system is in working order before Sunday morning. A brief walk/listen check a day (or a few) in advance can confirm that all PA zones/loudspeakers are working with no failures, and it’s wise to check other output zones too, like lobby, overflow and monitor sends. A blown horn driver in the main PA cluster is not easy to resolve at 7:45 a.m. on Sunday!
5. Optimize Microphone Technique
Review the microphone selection and placements onstage. Choosing appropriate mics and optimizing placement can influence the PA mix notably by reducing leakage, increasing gain-before-feedback and capturing better sounding sources.
6. Make Or Obtain Cue Sheets
Get a copy of whatever cue/tech sheet or order of service outline is available or draw one up. Clearly mark mic and roll-in cues, and any other important audio notes, in advance of sound check. Mixing notes can be added during sound check.
If mixing on a suitable digital platform, it may be possible to pre-program some or all of the cues and mix changes. But manual control should always be available, and the cue sheet should always be visible, whether in paper or electronic form.
For very busy events, such as dramatic pageants, enlist an assistant to manage and announce the cues.
7. Remember That Sound Check Is Not Set-Up
Clearly distinguish between set-up and sound check. Sound check is the time for the audio team to dial in the mixes, with the elements (gear and musicians, etc.) working exactly as they will be during the worship service.
Complete all audio set-up work in advance of sound check, so that sound check really is just that—sound check!
8. Perform I/O Checks
Some worship audio techs add an input/output (I/O) check procedure prior to sound check. This is highly recommended. I/O check takes a sound source (such as a CD), one person on stage, and one person at each mix position (two people in many church applications). Every input and output is briefly tested over the PA system (inputs) and over wedges or earphones (outputs).
It’s a 5- or 10-minute effort at most, and this procedure verifies the entire signal paths from sources to worshippers (FOH) and sources to artists (monitors). And the occasional I/O that doesn’t work is identified and hopefully resolved before the worship team hits the stage—preserving sound check.
9. Review Mixes
If you record your mixes, review them. If you’re making a classic “board tape” right off the console’s PA mix, review it with the knowledge that it is mixed for the house sound and it does not include the live acoustic portion of the listening experience (which affects mix balance). If you multi-track your services, you’ve got a great practice and training tool—play the tracks back through the FOH console.
And if you’re fortunate enough to own a digital mixing platform that offers “virtual sound check” technology, you’ve got the ultimate tool for practicing, training and fine tuning the sound reinforcement mix.
10. Train Your Ears
Good mixing requires good listening skills, which require training and practice. Listen to great mixes that are relevant to your worship style, and “take them apart” mentally.
Discover the details that make good blends and mixes. Train your ears to identify frequency ranges. This skill is critical for sound reinforcement mixing. There are a number of useful training tools on the market. Or, simply practice with a tone generator and real-time analyzer (RTA).
For more worship audio tips and techniques, go to Sennheiser.