How to be a better audio mixer for your church worship team
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
So you're the sound guy at your church? Let me guess....you were walking by the sound booth and you looked over at the hapless guy that made the same mistake of looking into the booth, right? My first mixing experience came at church. Not because I looked in, but because I wanted the experience and I figured it was the best place to get it. Church is where I became pretty good at mixing live music. I had the opportunity to practice setting up sound systems, troubleshooting technical issues, mixing monitors, dealing with...ahem...egos.
By the way, this might be a good time for a side note: If you don't like working with people, then you probably shouldn't consider being a live audio engineer. This could be a topic all it's own, but you will find that communication is a top skill in being a successful mix engineer. In any case, here are a few non-technical pointers that may help you out:
Practice, Practice, Practice. Well, if it isn't the cliche of the century. Yes, but, learning to mix requires practice, and lots of it. While singers can practice in the car, and musicians can practice their instrument at home, you have only the time spent at church to put in some mileage. I've heard of singers that began performing at age 8 or musicians that started playing their instrument at age 3. I've never heard a sound guy say that he's been mixing since age 5. Yet the expectation for you to know your craft is high, and usually there's no prior training or experience. In a recording studio, the engineer can work for days at getting the song right, but in a live sound environment, it’s a one-shot deal. So, take every opportunity you have behind the console to practice, explore its features and try new techniques (preferably not during an actual event). Today there are digital consoles that allow you to record multi-tracks then play them back later (often called virtual soundcheck). This is a great setup to have if you're looking to practice without the band.
Listen to music. Specifically commercially recorded music. And when you do, take some time to analyze it. Be a music critic for a little bit. When you listen to a song, pay attention to the various instruments that make up the song. See if you can recognize all the musical elements. Listen for placement, and levels of instruments. Take a guess at what the artist was trying to achieve, musically, with the song. This is a good exercise to strengthen your listening skills, which will translate to you listening to your own mix, and analyzing the placement and levels of instruments. Although knowing and understanding music is helpful in mixing, knowing and understanding your worship team goes even further. The worship team may have spent a lot of time rehearsing a song, so it makes sense to spend a little time trying to understand what their expectations are regarding the song. I've seen it so many times, where the guitar player is soloing but he might as well play air-guitar because the sound guy wasn't aware of the musical interlude.
Take it easy! Remember, this is sound reinforcement first, not sound production. In its simplest form, live mixing is about making soft parts louder, so that they can be heard in a larger venue. At times, it may be sound re-production, where we are adding processing (like effects and drastic EQ) in a manner that will represent the ideas that were originally crafted in a studio or the rehearsal. Don't do too much. Don't over mix. Keep it simple. There is a difference mixing for a concert and a worship service. You want to be sensitive to what is going on around you. Remember there is an audience present. Consider what the worship experience is like for them. Hint: when people are running for the doors, covering their ears, it might mean that it's too loud. (Could also mean that they didn't like what the pastor just said, but...the point is - pay attention.)
A good musician knows his instrument. Know your mixing console. Know what it can and can’t do. Be able to instinctively find the knob, (or menu item as in the case of digital boards) you need. Just like a guitarist knows the fret board, or a driver knows the car's dashboard layout, you should know your console.
Study. It goes without saying, but needs to be mentioned. Like any other craft, it's important to seek out opportunities for training. When I started, it was the advent of the internet, and the web was already a huge resource for me. Even more so now, there are sites like YouTube with training videos, and discussion groups like ChurchSoundCheck.com, where you can ask the "stupid" questions. A formal education is not necessary to become a great mixer. There is a vast wealth of information available online that can set you on the right path to becoming one.
Additional content courtesy: www.churchsoundcheck.com