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Church Sound: The Path To Worship Mix Success

A great worship mix is the sum of a whole lot of critical components, in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs...

By Gary Zandstra May 8, 2017

Image courtesy of Meyer Sound
This article is provided by Gary Zandstra.com.

After mixing sound at worship services for more than three decades, and teaching dozens of others along the way, I’ve formulated these “10 steps to worship mix success” that have proven effective.

None of this is rocket surgery or brain science (or vice versa), but rather, a straightforward playbook that if followed will produce the results that you and other members of the tech team are seeking to deliver at every service.

And note that a lot of what I’ll be discussing is not about hands-on mixing. That’s because a great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs.

Here we go…

1) Be prepared.

Being prepared means “being all there,” ready to engage and do our best. Sound checks and rehearsals can be tedious, but they present us with the opportunity to get off to the right start.

For example, it’s a great time to make sure all tools and “stuff” are available and accessible, right down to the board tape to label the console. And if you know you’re going to get thirsty, have a bottle of water handy ahead of time.

2) Make an input list and keep it handy.

Well before the first musician arrives, make sure that the console is labeled and that you know where every input is plugged into and patched to.

Along these lines, I’ve found that under pressure, my brain throws up the blue screen of death. Because of this I’ve learned to write things down. I also keep a pen in my pocket at all times, and if a piece of paper isn’t available, my original palm pilot (aka, my hand) becomes the notation point.

3) Stage layout.

The layout of the stage should be pre-determined with all equipment in place, including microphone stands, music stands (with stand lights if necessary), direct boxes, monitors, etc. Also make sure that all cables/chords are dressed and neat so that when the musicians arrive they will have plenty of open space to set up their equipment.

And note that if the drummer is bringing his own kit, have all of the mics for the kit ready and set about 5 feet in front of where the drummer will place the kit. If you’re using drum claws to hold the tom mics, set the mics in the claws on the floor (out of harms way from being stepped on!).

Make sure there’s electrical power at all necessary locations. And never assume that musicians will have extension cords, power strips or even the correct line cables to connect to a direct box. Also make sure that all cables needed are in place.

4) Line check.

Never skip a line check. Making sure that all mics and inputs are working, showing up in the correct channels on the board, and don’t have any hum, buzz, or other unwanted noise, is vital. I usually use my iPod with a 1/4-inch to 1/8-inch adapter to check direct inputs. Also, don’t forget to test all of the stage monitors to make sure they’re working and are also patched to the proper output on the board.

5) Do a proper but efficient sound check.

A sound check is not always the easiest or the most fun thing to do. However, when handled in an orderly and proper fashion, it can set the tone for the service. There’s often a debate of what constitutes a sound check and what makes a rehearsal; the lines between the two often get blurred.

To me, sound check is a 15-minute (or so) period with the band where I check input levels and do some initial EQ work. During that time I take the lead and control the flow. Musicians may provide input, but I’m in charge.

Following sound check, I turn over control of the stage to the worship leader who’s running the rehearsal. I can ask to stop or redo a section, but this is his time to get the band comfortable on stage.

It’s also a time when monitor levels are set and tweaked, and tweaked, and tweaked… Are musicians ever satisfied with the monitor mix? More on that later.

6) Sound check with each band member.

During the sound check, also systematically go through each input on the console. I prefer to start with drums then move to bass (drums and bass are the foundation that I build my mix on), followed by keys, guitar(s), other instruments (sax, flute, etc.), and finally vocals. I also ask that all musicians stay on stage, ready to play.

This is important because it insures everything is working (and hopefully working properly), plus I can hear how certain instruments are going to interact and feel. For example, I always listen to the kick and bass guitar together. How I equalize the bass is dependent on how I equalize the kick drum. A word of caution though—keep the whole mix in mind when you sound check to help insure an optimum result.

When I first began running sound, I would spend about an hour on sound check, each musician playing separately for as long as it took me to get their instrument sounding rich and full. (It was usually a considerable amount of time.) And it was so “rich and full” that each player could do a solo concert. This was not helpful to the outcome—the musicians would get bored, restless, and anxious to warm-up and rehearse, while all of that individual work on my part did not translate to a good mix.

Thankfully, a veteran sound operator straightened me out, stressing that the way to approach the mix is by beginning with the end in mind. He also taught me how to EQ the kick and bass to be complementary rather than competitive—and that adding a 10 dB boost at 100 Hz on the kick, bass and keyboards was not the best plan to achieve a tight, chest thumping low end.


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About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
   
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.
http://garyzandstra.com

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