Is Your Mixing Workflow Holding You Back?
Do you ever feel like you're playing catch up on Sunday mornings? That from the time you walk in the door to the time the service ends you were doing nothing but tracing down one problem after another and didn’t even get a chance to make things sound good? What if I told you there was a way to change this? I want to share some of my experience with you guys and what I do every week to make sure that I'm not stuck just making things work when I’m behind a console and instead, making things sound good!
I do anywhere from 3-5 shows a week in different venues, churches, clubs, etc. Between being on such a wide arsenal of different consoles and working as a FOH engineer, a monitor engineer, a mix engineer, and even an RF tech for a couple shows a year… it’s been important for me to develop a workflow that I can use across all these roles and to have an internal checklist of sorts to make sure that come showtime, I can have a smooth day regardless of what comes my way. I thought it may be helpful to share with you all what I do to prepare for any mixing situation I walk into.
Get Clear On The Patch Information
It doesn't matter if its a festival show with 5 bands, or just your same ol’ church band from last Sunday. As soon as I possibly can (i.e. whenever the information gets passed down to me) I start thinking about my patch and how I want to lay things out on stage and on my console. Once I have a good idea in my head, I get it out of my head and onto a patch sheet. Having a patch sheet and being very clear about what instruments are going where is invaluable to a smooth show. It keeps you from feeling flustered in the moment because you have already taken the time to think through your inputs and layout. It also makes troubleshooting a breeze when something stops working. Instead of wasting time tracing cables back to the snake and looking like you have no idea whats going on…you are 2 steps ahead of the game and know exactly where to go to fix said problem.
This is arguably the most important, even just for a Sunday morning service: Have a clear head about your input patches. Know where there is extra space as well so that if an extra guitar and vocal gets thrown at you last minute, you know exactly where to put them and you’re still on your A-game.
Organize The Performance Platform
Its not always the case that I walk into a completely empty stage and lay things out from scratch, but whether you are starting with a clean slate, or walking into the same stage setup your church has had for the last 2 years, you always want to take a little time before the band gets there to clean things up. A couple notes on this:
1. Always run cables from the snake to the source.
This helps keep a rats nest from developing around the snake head. It also leaves your slack on the performance end which means that if a singer wants to move 3 feet to their left…the slack is right there for them to do so.
2. Keep cables around the edges of the stage.
To the best of your ability, try to keep all the cables on a similar path around the perimeter of the stage. Don’t cut right through the middle of the performance area, go out to the closest edge and then around to the snake. Yes this may mean you have to use some extra cable length, but it makes for a MUCH cleaner stage.
3. Remove unnecessary setups.
If there is a microphone setup on stage that is not being used, take the extra minute to pack it up and put it away. Far too many times the stage feels crowded to musicians because there are leftover setups from the previous week/show etc. Maybe you usually have 3 worship leaders on your front line and this week you only have 2…take the time to strike the extra microphone, stand, DI and whatever else is a part of that setup, to leave more open space on the stage; even if it means you have to set it up again next week when the worship leader gets back in town.
4. Label things
In a nutshell, label DI boxes, and snake input/output sockets. Do not label XLR Cables or microphones.
Get Familiar With The Gear
How fast can you build and patch a good-sounding, brand new monitor mix on your console? How long does it take you to patch in a new input and get it routed to the house and sounding at least good? If one side of the MainStage keys rig isn’t working…how long does it take you to track down the source of the problem and fix it?
If these questions scare you or you’re not sure how long it would take you, this might be a sign you don’t quite know your gear well enough. Take the time to learn your console, your microphones, and even the software your musicians are using! Its good to have at least a working knowledge of every piece of gear on the stage. There are plenty of readily available resources to help you (and we are working to develop more every day!). Always fight to be as efficient as possible on the gear you have to use.
Go With Your First Impressions
Sometimes, there simply is not enough time to critique every aspect of the band and every little nuance. Now, don't hear what I’m not saying…this is not a license to get lazy with you mix. But every event you mix might not lend you the time to walk up to the stage and back 5 times while moving the kick mic 1/2 inch each time.
Set yourself up for success in the best way you can with solid, proven mic placement technique. Then as you turn things up, diagnose them right away. Go with your first impression and don’t overthink. If a vocal is too boomy, cut out some lows. If its too bright, cut some high-mids or highs out. Don’t second guess or think twice about it. Trust your instincts and most importantly trust your ears. In the end with all the theory and technique aside…the goal is for things to sound good. While I realize that “good” is most definitely a subjective term…if you're the one behind the console, you are there because someone trusts that your definition of good, is good enough for the audience.
Have A Gameplan
Now while I realize not everyone has go-to tricks or techniques for every instrument coming through the console. However, there are a few things that I find myself doing 90% of the time. I’m going to share a few of them with you. Not because they are the only way, or even necessarily the best way; but I do them simply because they work for me.
Hi-pass everything except for kick drum and bass guitar
All rules in audio are made to be broken and I don’t necessarily expect everyone to agree with me on this. None the less, this is a practice I adopted a long time ago and I’m convinced that it leads to much cleaner and tighter low end across all of my mixes. I high pass every instrument on the console to some degree. If I have a variable hi-pass filter, I will even hi-pass the kick drum to 40Hz or so. If I have a fixed HPF at 80 or 100Hz or so, I will engage it on everything but the kick drum and bass guitar. The fact is, in most church scenarios, there is nothing that low that I need. The only exception to this may be not using a HPF on tracks coming from a playback source.
Setup your console in advance
Make sure things like naming your channels, outputs, and mixes are done ahead of time. Make sure all your subgroup and DCA/VCA assignments are done ahead of time. These little things can eat up precious time when the band is on stage waiting on you!
Also, take time to setup your FX in advance! Especially if you're not familiar with creating and routing FX on your console. Have some go-to's ready to pull up in your mix. In my experience, I have found that I lean towards hall reverbs for most inputs. I love a long hall on vocals and drums. And a short one for my acoustics and as a secondary reverb for drums when its fitting. When I know that I won't have time to go through and experiment with various reverbs, these are my go-to's that I know will sound good. I also love having a simple delay setup to use in appropriate moments. This means having an easily accessible tap-tempo is important to me.
Side note: I almost always end-up cutting somewhere around 6-9dB of everything over 5khz on all of my FX returns to help them sit more natural in the mix right off the bat. I like to have all my reverbs setup, routed and working so that I can tweak them from sounding good, to sounding great when the band is actually playing.
To sum everything up, my advice is that preparation is key to having a smooth weekend and actually enjoying your role as a Worship Sound Guy! Prepare yourself technically so that when it comes time, you can be creative and musical and not have to worry about fixing things all through the service! I hope this is helpful and insightful to you all and as always feel free to email us with any and all questions!
- Worship Sound Guy