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Church Sound: Mixing For The Whole Sanctuary

Sometimes the best way to achieve the most even coverage, and understanding of the mix, is to get out of the booth!

By Kent Margraves April 4, 2013

Provided by Sennheiser.

Ever had a comment from a worshipper, whether positive or negative, regarding the live sound experience – and it differs totally from what you thought you just heard and mixed?

Large room acoustics (particularly room modes), loudspeaker selection / orientation / optimization, audience size and participation, and several other factors all contribute to the fact that the live sound experience is different in every seat in your worship space.

If it is a great room with proper system design and installation, those variations may be minor. In many instances, they are not minor.

Either way, they do exist, and the FOH mixer must realize that he or she is only listening to (and mixing to) one position’s perspective when standing behind the mixing console.

During worship, only one of all those factors is under his control – the mix. The best the mixer can do is understand the other factors and learn to mix within that particular environment.

There are some worship facilities where consistency has been achieved across most of the audience area through excellent design and integration…but for the vast majority of venues, it’s one thing to create a brilliant mix for the mix position and another thing to translate that across the whole house.

So it is critical to walk the audience area whenever possible to hear the perspectives of the audience areas (especially if there is a trustworthy A2 to drive the console for a few minutes at a time). Tonality may be noticeably different in some locations.

For instance, it may be discovered that the majority of the house hears a little more bass thump than the mix position does. The mixer that notices this can take it into account in the mixing process. That would never be noticed, and compensated for, without walking away from the mix position.

In addition to tonal variations, it is not uncommon that loudness changes with position as well. If the loudest locations are in the front rows, that may be ok.

Wouldn’t even the least technical worshipper expect a bit of a louder experience when choosing a front row seat? Consider that the overall worship level should be mixed for the loudest location in the house. If that is not the mix position, then periodic walks are necessary to ensure excessive loudness does not occur at any seat (or the complaints that follow).

If the mixer can only walk the house during sound check or review, ok. If he can walk the house discreetly during the live service, even better. Not only does the presence of the audience acoustically affect the result, but an audience participating in corporate worship (singing) markedly affects the overall sonic experience.

For this author, nothing replaces the value of briefly walk-checking the house during the live worship mixing experience.

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