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Church Sound: “Cheating” In The Mix To Dial In Unfamiliar Performers?

Preparing for the best possible result - on the fly

By Gary Zandstra July 22, 2016

This article is provided by Gary

In the eyes of some people, I “cheat” when mixing. 

This cheating usually takes place when I’m working with a band and/or singers that I don’t know that well.

One of the common things that we face in church production today is “the worship team” – usually four to five singers that vocally lead the service or presentation.

Too many times to count, I’ve found myself mixing and not knowing a single person on the team. It’s also common not to have an opportunity to rehearse with them beforehand.

It’s a less than ideal situation, but it happens.

And this is when I turn to cheating, or, as I prefer to call it, prepare for the best possible result:

1) I make sure that all the vocalist have matched mics, and ideally a mic I’m very familiar with (like a Shure SM58);

2) I preset the gain on the channel to all match at the anticipated level needed;

3) I preset the channel EQ of those mics to the anticipated EQ based upon what I know about the performance characteristics of the mics;

4) I set all of channel faders to the same level;

5) And, this is the one where I get called the most on cheating: I use meters to initially set the mix, not my ears.

The how of this is a bit more complex than the why. The minute the singers start singing, I “solo” (or pre-fade listen, PFL) each of them, one at a time.

This is done without headphones on because I need to be very quick to get the mix under control.

During the PFL process, I look at the meters, and work to match the level of all of the singers. If I know who the leader of the group is (if there is one), I set his/her gain 3 dB hotter than the others.  The logic behind this: when I look at my faders while mixing, I have an accurate visual representation of the mix. By the way, I do the same for the band.

My personal goal is to have a “livable” mix with in the first 30 seconds.

Once I get a “livable’ mix, I go back to PFL, but with headphones this time. With Sharpie in hand, I listen to each vocalist separately, mark his/her channel with either arrows pointing to that person’s respective location on stage, or better yet, if I have four-part vocals I will label them S (for soprano) A (for alto) T (for tenor) and B (for bass). 

With the vocals now properly identified and level matched, I start to use my ears to fine-tune the mix.

Maybe you call this mixing by meters, rather than cheating, but it’s served me very well and I plan to keep on doing it, no matter what it’s called.

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.

More PSW Church Sound posts by Gary Zandstra:
Testing Cables Is Essential To Solid Church Sound System Performance
Two Simple Yet Vital Tools Of The Trade For Church Sound Operators

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.


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