You’ve been there. There is nothing more frustrating than attempting to watch any kind of video online that has poor or unintelligible sound quality. Even high definition 4K video that has subpar sound will be less than engaging, and downright irritating, to most online audiences.
Back in March, we covered three things to remember when mixing for your livestream. Let’s review!
First, consider not streaming your service! What?
Yes, make sure you understand why and when you should be launching this new ministry.
Do your homework on more than just making equipment choices!
Next, dedicate a room for mixing.
The distractions that exist in the sanctuary, both sonic and even human, could cause your mix to suffer.
Finally, soundcheck is still your most valuable moment.
This is where you go back to the basics - every time. Zero out your gain, EQ and mix settings. Focus on every channel individually. Take time with your soundchecks!
Let’s pick things up from right there.
Your goals for webcasting worship music are very similar to mixing for other final destinations (e.g., CD, Mp3). You want a clear separation of drums, bass and instruments, with your backing vocals to be less defined and minimally compressed, while your lead vocals are most prominent in the mix, sculpted by high pass filters, EQ and compression. Easy right?
Well, like every art it takes practice - and a good set of closed-eared headphones! (at $149, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are amazing!)
Even if you have a dedicated mixing room, at least referencing in headphones will get you closer to the end-user experience!
Let’s back up just a bit.
At the front of your signal chain, you are receiving separate, clean and strong bussed signals from your sanctuary front of house mixer, ready to be mixed by a digital mixer - nice. As a general rule, you’ll want most signals to be peaking around -6 dB, with an average volume for your MC or pastor’s vocals to be around -12 dB.
A little bit of headroom for processing is a good thing.
Getting into EQ, compressor, gate and reverb settings for every instrument would take quite a while and deserve much attention.
Here are a few often overlooked tips that will keep things sounding tight, while still sounding authentically live:
1. Lock to a CLICK.
Use the healthy relationship that you’ve developed with the worship team to encourage the use of a “click track” or metronome. What may be forgiven in the sanctuary, cannot be hidden online. This will also allow you to edit and overdub parts in post-production. This may take some convincing, so I hope you’ve tilled that relational soil!
2. Cut before you boost.
When adjusting your EQ settings, try to listen for the frequencies that are simply not needed and remove them! If a vocal sounds muddy, don’t immediately reach for the 5K range. Cut the lows first! Yes, this may be a basic mixing concept, but it bears repeating, even for seasoned engineers.
3. Avoid aggressive compression.
Vocals and acoustic instruments that are improperly or overcompressed, (sometimes having a pumping effect) can sound unnatural, especially online. Advanced compression techniques should enhance, clarify, and boost a track’s overall signal. Too much of a good thing, though, repeated across 32 tracks, can result in a chaotic blend of compression ideas. Always err on the side of simplicity, easing into compression with some uniformity, until you get your feet wet!
4. Choose and use your reverb wisely!
While working alongside your room mics, select a hall or room reverb that sonically matches the actual size and feel of your sanctuary space. Bottom line: if you are a church plant meeting in a small school cafeteria, don’t make it sound like St. Paul’s Cathedral! Be natural and consistent with your delay, and decay times. I doubt you’ll want your snare drum lasting three seconds longer than everything else.
5. Premaster the Masters.
This one can get you in trouble. If you’re careful, though, applying overall and subtle EQ and compression settings to cater to your online, earbud wearing audience, may be what is in order. Give a gentle sheen by ever so slightly boosting the highs. Then, make up some of your overall volume (gain) by setting your ratio at 1.25:1 or 1.5:1. Set your threshold pretty high, so that you’re getting no more than 2 dB of gain reduction. Use your ears! If you apply compression and don’t like how it changes your master, turn it off. Keep asking yourself, "Am I making the music better or worse?”
6. Try switching over to mixing in mono, during a portion of your soundcheck.
Mixing only in stereo will often hide problem areas in EQ and volume placement, but “sound” good enough, because you can separate instruments in the stereo field. Combining to mono will reveal your real issues that need to be worked on. Get your mono mix well balanced and clean, and your stereo mix will be twice as awesome!
7. Every artist needs a model.
Another way to achieve realistic and musical streamed material is to critically analyze services that come close to your church’s genre (I’ve used Elevation Church and Bethel Worship as target models). But don’t feel bad if your mixes don’t sound like your model! Chances are they are doing a heavy amount of post-production editing, mixing and mastering, before deploying their “live service worship” to YouTube. They will most likely be using drum triggers as well - live tracked drums rarely sound that good! The important idea here is that you are doing a good amount of critical listening - your Sunday mixes will be better for it.
The art of mixing music is extensive to say the least. There are no shortcuts. But don’t lose heart! God has a plan and purpose for every ounce of energy you put into your mixes.
Your effort really does have the power to change lives. Do you believe it? I hope so!
Now go and do it all for the glory of the one who placed that power in you.