The best way to mix live, is to have a good mix when you begin. Rehearsal is the time to set your mix. If you don’t have a rehearsal scheduled in the morning, you can save your mix from the previous rehearsal or service and make adjustments to the board before service, based on past settings for each vocalist and instrument.
Take some chances, and then ask for feedback from people that you trust who have a good ear.
In the old analog days, we had a chart where we marked the settings for each instrument or vocalist, and we could look at different sheets to get the settings and copy them to the board.
With the advent of digital boards, it is possible to save settings and recall them later. If you are lucky enough to have a rehearsal before service, you can save the settings during rehearsal, which will give you a good starting point for service. It’s a good starting point, because the sound will change between the rehearsal and the service. Once you fill the place with people, adjustments will be needed, as bodies absorb sound. It usually takes about half of the first song to get the sound that you are looking for, once you have people in their seats.
For those needed adjustments, I start with the song leader and the piano. The piano and song leader will give them the key and timing. Then, depending on how many singers and instruments that you have, you start adding or subtracting, to get a proper mix. I mix voices first and get a good blend with the leader out front. Then I go to the instruments, in order of importance to the timing, leaving the bass and drums for last. If you have a choir, you will need to leave room to push them a little louder at the key change or a crescendo.
I always mix from the standpoint of making the vocalists and choir a little louder or more up front, having the leader out front of that, with the musicians in a supportive role.
During rehearsals, I will note if there is a solo (either vocal or instrumental), aiming to be ready to boost that signal, so to be heard, just before they start.
I also leave room in the mix to increase volume when necessary. At a certain point during the rehearsal, you should begin to turn instruments down to get your final mix, so there is room to ebb and flow during the service.
After I have a mix that I am happy with, I try to key into every instrument and vocalist individually, to see if I can hear them in the mix and make adjustments accordingly. You just concentrate on them individually, until you can pick them out in the mix. You can train yourself to do this by putting on the headphones and then soloing and un-soloing that channel in the mix, until you can hear them in the mix or not and then adjust until you do. To get this right, it typically means doing this two or three times. As you make changes to individuals, it affects the overall mix. Do not panic, with practice, you can accomplish all of this in one or two minutes.
I have found it useful to have a sub mix of the vocalists, the band, and the orchestra. This allows you to increase them all at the same time, once you have created the sub mix of each group. That way, you don’t have to do them individually each time, which is a real time saver and then gives you the time to make micro adjustments. Taking notes during rehearsal allows you to make changes to the next song as the previous song is ending, and then you can make micro changes, and be set in just a few seconds.
You can get fast with practice. When you have spent enough time listening to each channel, that you have the sound memorized, it will make it easier and faster to adjust when you need to add or subtract. This is also the key to fixing a ring or feedback, because you can narrow the problem to one or two sources and correct the problem faster.
Another good way to get a mix set up, is to listen to your favorite song with headphones and then try to duplicate that sound during rehearsal.
Practice is the key.
Make your mistakes in rehearsal.
Take some chances, and then ask for feedback from people that you trust who have a good ear. It is also helpful to record the service and listen to it.
What you hear at the board location may also be different than it is in the sanctuary, so it is a good idea to walk around, once you have a basic mix, to hear what it sounds like. I also go on stage and listen to the monitors, to check their levels and to make myself accessible to those on stage who may have a question or a need.
Building a rapport with the people on stage will go a long way to solving problems, when someone is too loud or wants more than you can give them in the monitors. I also periodically turn off the mains at the board, to hear how loud it is on stage.
You may need to have the song leader step into the sanctuary and listen off stage, so that they can hear the noise when a stage mix is interfering with the house mix. This can lead to a muddiness in the audience.
Some more advanced things that you can do is to work with EQ on each instrument and vocalist. Each instrument has a range that you can narrow a bit, to make room for them in the mix. They also have a frequency that you can boost or cut to make them pop. Doing this will give you room in the mix, so that everyone can be heard individually and fit better as a group.
You can also use effects such as reverb, gates, compressors and delay. If you don’t have the experience, I would suggest bringing in a professional to help you. I would also suggest practicing one instrument at a time. After a while, you will be able to do this on your own.
There are a lot of books, articles and videos on these subjects. But practice is the best teacher.
Don’t try to mix like everyone else. You should develop your own sound.
Mixing is like playing the piano. You are constantly making adjustments, to go with the song.
Stay alert. Use the program to make changes as one section ends and the next begins, and you will find that you will have a better mix faster and will have more time to enjoy the service yourself.