Running Sound from Stage - How to Mix Church with No Sound Tech
Alright, team roll-call! Keyboard player? Check. Singer? Check. Bass player? Keyboard player’s got a left hand, he can take care of it. Sound tech? Sound tech?? What do you do if there's no sound tech? If you're on the worship team at a small church, you don't always have a sound tech. So what are you going to do if you've got to take care of playing the music and mixing the music? Today, I'm going to show you. It takes some time, and it's not easy, but it's going to get you better results than what you're probably doing right now.
Hey, if you're new here. My name is James and I help church sound techs save the day by eliminating audio distractions at church. If you're passionate about making church sound great so people can focus on Jesus, check out my Youtube channel or other blog posts HERE.
Create Scenes or Snapshots Using Virtual Sound Check
A great mix in the room usually sounds terrible on stage, and that's kind of by design. We want all of the sound going out into the audience, not back into the microphones. As if it wasn't hard enough judging tone from behind the speakers, mixing music and making music requires two different parts of your brain that don't like to operate at the same time. When I'm playing bass, I cannot judge my tone at all while I'm playing. When I'm producing music in the studio, I have to play my bass to the song and then figure out what tone adjustments I need to make after I play it back.
So how are you going to do this with the entire band while you're playing your instrument? The short answer is…you’re not! The biggest key to being able to run sound while playing your instrument is to use virtual soundcheck and set up scenes or snapshots. Use the virtual sound check to record your rehearsal, and then when you're not playing, you can play it back through the console. For each song and section of your worship service, create a new scene that then, from on stage, you can just select those scenes as you go through your setlist. It's a lot easier to hit one button than to move five different faders to get from song to song. Having a tablet or a phone to remote control this is really handy, so you can actually put your soundboard out in the audience. That way, when you're creating your scenes, you're actually hearing what it's like from their perspective.
One of the things you'll have to focus on when creating your scenes is knowing what each song needs. The basic thing that you'll do is get a good, solid mix that works for most of the songs that you're playing. Then you can just ride the faders up and down, and you might have to make some changes to the EQ from song to song, but most of that should stay the same. Some songs highlight the keyboard as the center of the arrangement, other songs might need to emphasize one of the guitars. Or you might have different singers that are leading different songs. For that, you'll definitely want to change the level relationship. Especially if one singer is singing harmony and the other one is singing melody, you don't want the harmony part to be out in front.
One way to make it a little easier on yourself is to go ahead and create a scene or a snapshot for every song or section of your worship service. Then, using virtual sound check, you can save things in the order that they go as they happen.
Here's another pro tip: if you've got a section where the singer or the worship leader is going to be speaking or praying on the mic instead of singing, create a snapshot to turn down the vocal effects so it's less distracting.
The Balancing Act of Dynamics and Compression
Now there's going to be a little bit of difference between what you play in rehearsal and what you play in the worship set, and that's to be expected. If you have a really tight arrangement and everybody's playing the same part every time, that gets a little easier, because the relationships between the instruments and the parts are going to stay consistent. The other thing that makes it easier is if the band plays with consistent dynamic range, or the loud and quiet parts of your own instrument. Now you're only in control of you, you can't control everyone else on the worship team. And that's really where the sound tech comes in handy. They can ride up those different parts in different sections and compensate for any imbalances of the players’ dynamics. But because you're playing an instrument at the same time, you can't really compensate for that as well. So you're just going to have to learn to do it the best that you can with what you've got and the other band members with you.
Now, being in control of your dynamics doesn't mean no dynamics. If you played all at the same level the entire time, it would be really boring. There are parts where you need to play more quietly as a whole and there are parts where a single instrument needs to be a little bit louder so that it can fit into that lead part of the arrangement. Having a boost pedal or a little bit of room at the top of the volume knob can really be helpful for giving you that little boost right when you need it. And then you can tuck it back down when you're going back to playing the rest of the arrangement.
Now for this, there is a secret weapon built into your console. It's called the compressor. Using compression helps keep things in control, but what do you sacrifice is dynamic range. If you compress it too much, either the loud parts won't be loud enough or the quiet parts will be too loud. You've got to figure out the balance between compressing enough, so that you've got control, and not compressing so much that all the dynamics are gone.
If compression is new to you, you can find out more about it in my video HERE. I also have a playlist of worship mixing tutorials HERE that gives you a starting place for my EQ and compression settings and what I'm listening for when I'm mixing different instruments.
Start with a Great Monitor Mix
Now one other thing that's going to help your band play well together when you don't have a sound tech to mix for you is having a great monitor mix. I have a playlist to help you learn how to dial that in HERE. When you can hear yourself and what the other players are doing, you tend to make more space for one another. And really the key to a great mix is a great arrangement. So when you can hear each other well, that's going to really help you get dialed in much faster.
That’s all I have for you today! Remember: it’s all about the low end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves humming the kick drum. We'll see you back here next time on Attaway Audio.
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