The drummer called in sick. The bassist’s car broke down. The guitarist had a family emergency. Whatever the reason, you’re now missing an instrument in the band. It’s time to adjust your mix to fill the hole.
There are two ways of treating missing instruments:
1) Make it obvious in the mix. For example, if the only electric sound in the band was the electric guitar, then mix it as an acoustic set.
2) Cover up the vacancy with other sounds. It’s here that I’m parking for today.
Here’s how to go about it:
– Pretend you never had that instrument. Eliminate its spot on stage. And deny any knowledge of the musician and his/her family. Seriously, spend a few minutes envisioning what you could do with the instruments and vocals you have. If the instrument was carrying a melody line or played a hook, then see if another musician can fill that role.
– Look at alternative microphone strategies for bringing in the missing frequencies. A djembe is a great percussion instrument with the slap on the top skin. If the drummer calls in sick, add a mic to the bottom of the djembe to bring in more low-end frequencies.
– Consider areas to boost. If the pianist is missing, look at boosting the upper-mid and high frequencies of the acoustic guitar. No bassist? Boost a bit of the low frequencies of the electric guitar. The goal isn’t completely filling in the frequency holes, only to make the holes less obvious.
– Review the effects. Maybe a rhythm instrument was lost so now only the acoustic guitar will perform the primary rhythm function. Add a little delay on the acoustic to fill out the mix in that rhythm area.
– Finally, I’ll note that a missing instrument should give rise to arrangement changes by the worship leader, but that’s not always possible – or in some cases – necessary.
The Take Away
The instruments present at mid-week practices aren’t guaranteed to be there for the church service. That’s part of live audio production – things change.
The good news is your mix doesn’t have to come crashing down. Consider how the mix sounds without that instrument and start making changes to close the gap. Don’t try making a guitar sound like a bass, make subtle changes that can help fill in some of the missing low end.