In one article, we’re going to give you everything you need to produce a mix: satisfying everyone in the audience, with each person hearing the same thing with intelligibility, balancing all the elements, along with instruments and voices. It will be done in a way that sounds like a polished CD, averting every distraction that could occur, such as feedback, with it having been mitigated and even identified before it happens.
In a word … No!
We can point to a few things, though, that will certainly help you get to that ideal goal.
A caveat …. without practice, you’ll never get close.
I want to give you six points that sound operators need to think about and implement. Will acting on these six points guarantee you a great mix? No, but if you don’t do these, I can guarantee you that your mix will suffer.
1. The source
Make sure that the sources sound as good as possible, before you place microphones on them.
Are the instruments in tune? Have new heads been put on the drums? New strings on the guitar? Has Sister Lucy warmed up her vocal chords? Does the band listen to each other as they play?
There isn’t a microphone on the planet that will make a poor sounding source sound better.
If the source sounds right without a mic, you’re way ahead of the game. If the band is arranged and self-mixing (listening to each other, knowing when to play and when not to play) you won’t struggle with the mix as much. This is a major problem with many worship bands, those comprised of volunteers, who don’t play together very often. You won’t sound like Hillsong United by practicing one hour a week.
The sound operator can make them louder, but never better.
Do you know the difference between dynamics (moving-coils) and condensers? What applications would we typically use, one over the other?
Are you aware of polar/pick-up patterns of microphones? Learn what omni, cardioid, super-/hypercardioid and figure eight are all about, as this will help you in aiming the microphone the right way: toward the desired sound, to its most sensitive area and away from the less sensitive part, to reject undesired sounds.
If you don’t know anything about these microphones, study, apply, practice, listen. Move them around and see how the sound changes with just an inch or two of adjustment, on and off axis. This will make or break any mix. Too many microphones will typically make things sound worse.
3. Gain Structure
Microphones need to be optimized, so that they produce the greatest amount of level, without overdriving the mic preamp in your console and above the self-noise that is inherent in every electronic device.
It’s a balance.
This is easier to do with one microphone at a time, then all at once. Have the musician or vocalist play or sing with as close to the level as they would performing. If they hold back, encourage them to produce the level needed.
We need a similar level during the soundcheck to set the gain properly. By following this link, it will show you one way, called Target Gain, to set it correctly.
4. High-Pass Filter
This is also known as a Low-Cut Filter. The filter attenuates the lower frequencies and lets the higher frequencies pass. Your mixer may have a switch that says HPF. It may look like a division sign, or with a number under it, like 80 or 100 Hz. The number indicates a low frequency at which point the filter is set, i.e., 80 Hz would indicate that all frequencies below 80 Hz are steeply rolled off, turned down/attenuated. Everything above 80 Hz passes through unaffected.
Almost everything on your platform can be hi-passed. Vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, cymbals, horns, snare drum, hi-hat, etc.
Low- frequency instruments like bass guitar and kick drum most often would not be hi-passed.
If you have a variable hi-pass filter, though, you can adjust at which point the filter starts to work on an instrument/voice. Let’s say we have a flute. Do you have a sense of where the lowest frequency/pitch is with a flute? It’s around 250 Hz. What if the flute is proximal to a drum set or bass guitar speaker-cabinet? A condenser microphone typically is used for a flute, (a sensitive microphone with a wide frequency pickup) and is anywhere near the kick drum or amp, the microphone could pick-up the lower frequencies.
We don’t want lower frequencies in a flute microphone.
By engaging the hi-pass and setting its frequency at 250 Hz, all of the bass frequencies below 250 Hz created by other instruments in the periphery, would end up being attenuated.
Employing the high-pass filter is the one thing that will help to clean up the rumble from the platform. It cleans things up immensely.
Find that using the high pass filter will help in clearing out low frequencies from surrounding instruments.
5. Organize your console inputs and mix with groups
Label everything. Try to keep things consistently the same week to week. The more things remain the same, the less you’ll have to think about where things are. You’ll have plenty to think about, so make it easy to locate inputs/outputs, where things come in and where they go.
Once you’ve got your inputs organized, assign them to groups immediately.
You may have subgroups, DCA groups. Whichever type you have, use them. Subgroups and DCAs (digitally controlled amplifier) although different in some ways, do one thing the same: control the level of a group of channels with one fader.
One such configuration could feature eight microphones on a drum kit. Kick, Snare, Tom 1,2 and 3. OHL (overhead left) and OHR (overhead right), Hi-Hat.
As the dynamics of the band transition from loud to softer, it is difficult at best to adjust eight faders for each of the microphones, and maintain the relative levels between each of the inputs? Impossible for most.
Assign the eight drum mics to one group and with one fader, whereby the level of all the drums can raised or attenuated.
If the kick is too loud, go to the kick’s input and lower it. All the relative levels of the individual microphones remain the same, the group level, raises and lowers them respectively.
If your board has a Left and Right Group only, you can mix the whole service with two faders: One group assigned to instruments and one for vocals. How many times has the band overwhelmed the vocals?
Instead of messing around with 16, 24 or more inputs, pull down the instrument group. Voila, you just made it sound better with one fader.
Keep it simple.
Look to assign your inputs into groups, so that control of the drum kit, for example, can be done with one fader.
Mute microphones when they are not being used. Turn them off.
The more microphones that are open and not being played or sung into, will ring and rob your system of potential headroom and gain.
Unmute them before someone is going to sing. When is that? Ask your worship leader or music director to start giving you notes as to how the songs will be arranged. Communication between the musicians and the techs will always make for a better mix.
Bonus: Pray first. Be a servant. Practice as often as you can.