The best way to mix a service, is with a prepared template. That way, you don’t have to start mixing from scratch.
When I started mixing in my career, audio consoles back then were analog, and you had to write down your settings on a special piece of graph paper, with included a layout of your soundboard.
Before each service, you had to reset each knob to the starting point for that day. Each mic. Each instrument. Each knob. This process usually took about 10 minutes, and another five minutes to check.
These days, new boards are digital, where you can save your settings and recall them at will.
With digital boards, one of the benefits is being able to start with a template. During rehearsal, equalize, add reverb, turn mics and instruments up and down, to achieve a mix that you are comfortable with. Then one can save it as a template.
At each rehearsal, you can make small changes to dial in your mix.
You may not have time to set each mic or instrument the way that you want. If you spend the time to get a mix that you like, though, from there, you can work on each mic or instrument, one at a time at rehearsal, and then save it to your template.
During rehearsal, I get a mix that I like and save it. Then I make changes for that service, as necessary, by taking notes during rehearsal, and then make the necessary changes for the next song or speaker, just before they start.
I do not save the changes during service, as there are too many variables at that time to go about it then. And you use your template as a starting point.
If you have available matrix or buses that you can save each song to, great. Mix each song and save it as a separate scene, like they do in concerts, and you will get there much quicker.
Mixing During Services Versus Rehearsals
During a service, you need to have a printed program of what is going to happen. During rehearsals, make your notes so that you can make changes. You want to make changes as fast and as seamless as possible, so that you can keep your concentration on what you hear and keep your eyes on whomever is leading.
Sometimes musicians and vocalists may need more monitor, and you need to have your eyes available on stage for them to be able to communicate with them.
When it comes to communication, I normally start each talk or class I lead, by stating that everything works around our relationships, with the people on stage. Those on stage need to understand what you can and can’t do, especially pertaining to monitors.
The better the relationship that you have built, the easier it will be when you need those on stage to compromise on how many instruments you put in the monitor, that they are sharing with three other people.
You should also work out a way to communicate with those on stage, while you are behind the soundboard. They cannot yell at you while service is ongoing. Find hand signals to use, that are easy for both of you to comprehend. Teach everyone these signals and remember who usually needs help and watch them during the first few songs.
Rehearsal is not as loud as a live service, and they may need something more from you. This is why being prepared with a template will make it easy to make all the minute changes that you will need to make, when everyone decides to go at 100 percent.
You should be dialed in before the second verse. It would be nice if everyone gave 100 percent in practice, but that very rarely happens. So being prepared from the outset, gives you the freedom to make the changes to get dialed in quickly.
Sometimes, if I get a great mix early, I will save that as a template. I label this “band,” so that when they have rehearsals on their own, they have a unique live mix that they can use with a single button push, and not have to worry about making changes to my template.
As detailed as this may seem, it is important that everyone that is mixing, be on the same page about what you do and how you do it.
Training is essential.
Some starting points for building a template are:
1. A high-pass filter, or HPF, is a good starting point for vocal microphones, depending on how many mics that you have. Men usually don’t produce sound below 80Hz, and women below 120 Hz. You can do the same thing for instruments. There are many charts that show the frequencies of instruments, and from there, you can use the HPF and LPF on these instruments for the right match.
2. If you have enough microphones and different people use them, try to designate them individually by type of voice. For example; set one for soprano, one for alto, two for tenor and one for bass. This will make it easier for people figuring out which mic would be the best one for them to use. And easier for the sound tech to dial each of them in.
3. Go to as many rehearsals as possible. If you have more than one sound person, they should try to attend as many of them as well.
4. Monitors learning who needs what is crucial for a good rehearsal and service. Take notes on each musician and vocalist to make it easier to switch over when there are changes.
5. Be prepared for problems to crop up. Come in early, to set up and have a spare mic ready to go, in case a problem suddenly arises.
As you are mixing, listen to see that you can hear everyone. You should be able to concentrate on one voice or instrument and pick them out in the mix.
A great way to train your ear for mixing, is to solo that mic in the headphones and then turn on the house mix and go back and forth, until you can hear it in the mix. This will also teach you how to recognize which musician or singer is too loud or too soft, and you will be able to correct that faster.
Next, ask for feedback from people you trust that know music, and will tell you the truth. It is also good to record the service and play it back to listen, to where you may need to make adjustments. It is good to listen as a team to see if everyone can hear what you hear.
Also, remember that mixing is an art form. It is like playing the piano.
You will be doing many things at once and you need to practice to keep your skills sharp. And everyone mixes differently.
This is not a bad thing.
Let people do it their own way. Encourage them and help them when they struggle.
Every sound engineer mixes sounds as different as two different guitar players. We can all learn from one another.
It is also good to listen to staff members from other churches, to see and hear what they do. And if you can’t do that, call them. I have never been rebuffed from such a request for advice from another church. I have always been welcomed. Others are eager to share.
Listen, learn, and keep on mixing.