Getting a Consistent Mix from Different Techs
In ministry, we all experience good and bad weeks. We hope everything goes as planned, but there are times when we crash and burn. The fact remains that each week, people take the time to come to church and meet with God. As ministry leaders, it’s our job to facilitate that. We’re in the business of building bridges in production. If we’re not on top of our game we are a distraction rather then a facilitator. Creating consistency in what we do as production leaders is key to making a worship experience effective. But, how can we create consistency in audio production ministry? Here are a few ideas:
Make sure that you understand the details of getting the job done before you dive into the task at hand. Make sure you have complete input lists, predetermined channel and monitor routing, stage plots and any other information that will prepare and enable you to be effective in your ministry. You cannot be over-prepared for what you are doing. Being prepared allows you to handle last minute complications and adapt on the fly because you are confident in what you are able to handle and where to go from there.
Teach the Basics
One of the main aspects of creating consistency is simply making sure that your tech team understands the basics of what they are trying to accomplish in both objectives and technical “know-how”. Some of those basics include proper mic choice and positioning, simple sound check procedure, correct gain structure, EQ and ear training along with methodical and logical approaches for troubleshooting.
Remember, Bad Mic’ing = Bad Sound
Mic’ing is critical. You will never get a good or consistent tone without using the right mic. Bad mic’ing will translate poorly in the final mix. Have you ever heard the analogy about trying to hammer a nail with a screwdriver? It’s not going to happen. You need a hammer. Unfortunately, it is a little more difficult for church volunteers to understand exactly which tool is the best for the job. I encourage you to make sure your techs understand what tools they have and how they can be intentional with what they decide to use.
Live With Great Gain
Gain structure is almost as important as proper mic’ing technique. The channel preamp determines how much power, or gain, will be needed to bring the signal to an operating level that is usable for the mixing console as well as the rest of the sound system. Without setting the correct gain structure, everything else in the signal chain is quite simply wrong.
Make It Sound Natural
When I train new audio techs, they all ask me, “How do you know what to boost and cut with EQ?” Over the years, I’ve learned what certain frequencies sound like along with some tips and tricks. But the most important tip I give is “make it sound natural”.
Listen critically to what you are working with.
For example, try walking up on stage while the drummer is playing. Listen to how the toms sound. Take note of the attack and how high or low it is. Take note of the pitch of the drum itself and how long it takes to decay or stop vibrating. Listen to the guitarist’s tone. Ask to hear a few different combinations of pedals or sounds that he will be using in that worship set. Stand in front of his amp, concentrate and remember what you hear so when you are in front of house you can accurately reproduce what you heard on stage.
Listen to what each member of the band sounds like before you try to mix them. You will get yourself much closer to their sound when you start EQing them. Notch out an EQ filter on your console. Then use your sweepable control to slowly “sweep” back and forth, listening to the changes that it makes to the signal.
It is the worship leader’s job to help the band with arrangement, playing styles, who plays what, and who does or doesn’t play at certain key places in the songs. A good worship leader will create the intensity and the space needed to make it sound good. It isn’t the audio tech’s job to arrange the song for the worship band. But it is their job to reflect what the band is doing musically and translate that into a solid mix.
If you start by EQing things naturally as they sound, you will be able to tweak each instrument or vocal individually so that they sit in their own sonic space and don’t compete with other instruments. Mirror what is happening in the arrangement and make sure that you are as artistic as the musicians – placing emphasis when needed and backing it off when necessary. Don’t over produce it. Simply facilitate it.
Listen to Studio Recordings
Most likely, another artist or band has previously recorded most of the songs we do in church. Our worship bands are basically doing a cover of what was recorded. This is great for audio techs because you can listen and learn from what you hear on the recordings. I encourage you to sit down and critically listen to those. Listen to the form and arrangement and think of how you can translate that to what you are doing behind the mixing console. Take note of where certain instruments are featured and how they color part of the song a certain way and how it changes as the song progresses. How is the song layered? What stood out to you the first time you listened to it? How can you take the creativity of the professional studio mix and re-create that vibe in your mix without compromising the creativity and structure that the worship leader has asked the band to deliver? Listen to it again and try to take note of things you missed.
Consider creating playlists that can be shared with your volunteers to help them get started with critical listening training. Services such as Spotify make this very easy (and legal) for you to do.
Go and Make Disciples
The Bible speaks a lot about discipleship and training up others to do ministry. The church should be a place where people discover new talents and ways to worship.
Begin by building a core group of volunteers. Once you have built a core group, pull in new people to assist your current people. By doing that, you are giving them the opportunity to lead and grow the team larger. They will also increase their sense of ownership in what they are doing.
Solid consistency isn’t birthed overnight or by the next weekend service. It is a learned skill that requires focus and commitment. What are the areas that your church techs are weakest in? What can you do to immediately affect positive change? What needs to happen gradually? How can you better handle or eliminate the problems and issues you experience on a week-to-week basis?
It’s crucial to remember the motivation behind what we do as church leaders and techs. We have a part in building God’s Kingdom here on earth and we have the privilege of facilitating and communicating the Gospel through the medium of technology. Let’s give our very best to make disciples and use the talents God has given us.