Study Hall

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Church Sound: The Biggest Key To Mixing Like A Pro

Getting beyond the anxiety of mixing a worship service with a simple but vital rule...

In my many years as a professional mixer, I’ve mixed thousands of events ranging from live concerts for thousands of people, to television broadcasts reaching millions, all the way down to intimate club shows for artists in front of high-level music executives where the artist’s career may hang in the balance.

But I must confide that I’m the most anxious while mixing events for houses of worship.

Perhaps it’s because, as a believer, I realize just how much is at stake for the listeners during a worship or praise event, but honestly, there have been times that the butterflies have felt more like dive bombers in my gut when sitting down at the console for one of these events.

But if mixing all of the varied styles of live events in my life has taught me anything, it’s simply this: the only way to truly neutralize the butterflies, or the dive bombers in this case, is with preparation.

Over the past decade or so, I‘ve lead a number of seminars and workshops on the topic of “mixing” and, without fail, I’m constantly amazed by the attendees’ reactions at the conclusion, when they arrive at the stark realization that successful mixing is based on much more than learning to operate a complex console, or some highly touted routing or EQ manipulation.

Now granted, knowing how to actually operate the mixer is important, but as I have been known to say from time to time—“a great pipe wrench does not make a great plumber.”

So what I’m getting at is this: mixing— especially music and event mixing—is an approach and a mindset, not simply a task. And it requires a method. That method has to include a way to anticipate moves before they need to happen.

The Problem & Solution

I’m sure you all have heard the event where it feels like the guy mixing has set his watch about two minutes slower than everyone else’s.

The pastor’s mic comes on after he starts speaking, the audio for the video comes up well after the video actually begins, you hear the backing vocals well after they start singing their parts, you hear the guitar solo about a bar after the guitarist starts playing it, the worship leader prays at the end of the song with all the effects glaring on his or her vocal—for the first half of the prayer.

All of these kinds of happenings are signs of a mixer who is not anticipating but simply reacting to what is happening. The ol’ tail is officially wagging the dog.

No matter how accomplished a tonemeister we become, or how many consoles and effects we know how to operate, if we mix like this, we’re imparting some serious disruption to the worship experience and severely handicapping the pastors and performers from creating any kind of “moment” for the congregation to experience.

So how do we combat this? At the root of changing this is some simple preparation and a change of mindset by you as the mixer.

And I want to put up the disclaimer here: Digital consoles can be very effective in helping us manage certain tasks during an event. However, they do not afford us less preparation. In fact, they put a bit more pressure on us to pre-prepare.

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A very good friend of mine and a fabulous mixer in his own right preaches and practices the following mindset to interns and budding audio professionals. And in my opinion, he’s right on the money. You and your team may be well-served by employing this little ditty: “If you’re early, you’re on time, and if you’re on time, you’re late.”

Granted, in the house of worship world, because of the high proportion of volunteers involved, time, generally speaking, is not money. But don’t let that lull you into believing time is not cherished by those involved. In fact, it may be even more highly scrutinized because people are freely offering it.

One of the sure-fire ways to see your team’s focus and enthusiasm wane is to have them waiting around for you as the sound guy to make even a simple patch, or find that elusive extra DI that you didn’t know you were going to need until the extra player showed up. What may only take a few minutes can seem like an eternity to a musician or a service director.

Frankly, you and your team’s energy and rehearsal time needs to be spent refining and learning what is going to transpire during the service—not doing what is generally considered utility or task work.

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