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4 Vital Production Tips to Propel Your Audio to the Next Level
By: Chris Huff

VitalÖPropelÖNext LevelÖCan four production tips make THAT MUCH of a difference?  Yes, they can! The sad part is a good number of people arenít using these tips and their sound is suffering.

Answer this questionÖwhen does the mixing work begin?

* Once you enter the sound booth.
* Once you enter the sanctuary.
* Once you get the song list.

Too many techs answer this incorrectly.  Thatís where this list of 4 vital tips comes into play.  These are the simple things that should be done, could easily be done, but many times arenít being done.  Letís change that.

1.  Mic Instruments the Right Way
Iím occasionally pulled into a church to listen to their music mix and make recommendations.  Before the event starts, I check out how the instruments are micíd. The wrong mic setup will have a hugely negative impact on their mix. In many cases, mixing tweaks canít compensate for the poor mic setup.

Poor mic setups can be categorized in two forms: too far and too close. Mics that are located too far from the instrument will pick up a lot of stage noise and wonít pick up enough of the instrument. For example, a kick drum mic located too far away from the drum head would give you a dull kick drum sound and a bunch of stage noise.

Mics that are too close to the instrument can produce a distorted signal or a poor sound. For example, if an instrument microphone was set up with an acoustic piano and the microphone is placed too close to the piano strings. In this case, instead of capturing the full sound of the piano, the resulting sound is dominated by the frequencies produced by a handful of strings.

Instruments should be micíd so you hear the best representative sound of the instrument and the least amount of stage noise.  It is the live environment so sound isolation isnít possible but you do have the ability to get really close.

Oh, and make sure you are using the right microphone.

2.  Learn to Set the Channel Gain
Second to microphone location is gain setting. And gain setting is the second place where I see people make mistakes. The problem is itís assumed the GAIN (a.k.a. TRIM) knob is a volume control and from there, itís easy to mess things up. Hey, Iím not judgingÖI used to think the same thing myself.

How do you know if your gain settings are whacked? Do you hear a lot of hiss in a channel even when the musician is playing? Do you have feedback issues all the time? Are your fader controls normally down near the bottom of the fader slot? If you answered yes to any of these, chances are you have gain issues.

The GAIN controls the level of audio signal coming into the mixing board. Along with the audio signal, there is the presence of electrical line noise thatís part of any audio system. When the GAIN control is set too low, you hear this noise in the channel. When the GAIN level is set too high, you experience problems like audio feedback.

Each channelís gain should be set so you have the best audio signal-to-noise ratio (S/N ratio).  This means you hear a strong signal and little-to-no electrical noise.

3.  Donít Treat the Musicians Equally
There is a time and a place for bias, and this is one of them.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. I watched the sound guy during the sound check, and I couldnít believe my eyes. The band took the stage, and he set all of the channel volumes at the same audible volume level and then he stopped. There was no mixing or volume balancing. It was all singers and instruments coming out of the main speakers at the same volume.

In my complete guide to church audio production, I go into detail on volume balancing, and there is even an audio file where I mix instruments all at the same level and then compare it to a properly volume balanced mix. The difference is dramatic. Donít treat musicians equally!

The problem is what you hear and what you think you hear are two different things. For example, if the band is doing a final song that should sound big with full-on instruments and everyone singing, then you might think you should bump up all of the channel volumes. 

But, as soon as you do that, your whole mix falls apart because the bass is stepping on the electric guitar thatís stepping on the acoustic guitar and all the instruments are stepping on the vocals. Taking this scenario as an example, it would be better to boost of house volume so the overall balance of instruments and vocals stays the same. I digress.

How do you learn where musicians should ďsit in the mix?Ē I canít stress this enoughÖanalyze professional recordings of the song. So, whatever Chris Tomlin song your worship band is playing next week, get a copy of the original and listen to it over and over.

Listen to one instrument through the whole song. Is it ďupfrontĒ in the mix? Is it more of a supporting instrument in the background? Imagine all of the musicians on the stage and their location on the stage is based on where you hear them in the mix. Thatís the best way to learn where musicians should ďsit in the mix.Ē

4.  Push Your Pride Aside
Whenever I find significant problems with someoneís music mix, itís because they messed up in one or more of the above areas. And thatís where this last point comes in.

Maybe itís a guy thing. Maybe itís a geek thing. Maybe itís just me, but I doubt it. If something is wrong, I want to figure out why. I want to figure out the hows and whys and wheres and all of that stuff.  While I applaud anyone who desires to learn, I will applaud even more for the person who asks for help.

The last point comes down to this; no matter how long youíve been mixing, no matter how young or old you are, there will always be something to learn from another audio tech. 

One of the best ways Iíve found of learning is by creating my mix, during band practice, and then asking another tech to show me how they would change it to make it better.

These 4 tips are VITAL because they involve the foundation for all mixing work. Get the first three right before starting hands-on mixing. 

As for the 4th on being foundational, one must have the right mindset on mixing, learning, and desiring to create the best sound for the congregation. 

Iíve seen what happens when pride gets in the way.  Itís not pretty.

Chris Huff is the owner of Behind the Mixer, a resource for churches and their research into sound systems, www.BehindtheMixer.com.

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