You are a live music remixer. Think about it, the majority of songs performed during a church service are interpretations of the original. They are new arrangements. They are played with more musicians, less musicians, different instruments, no instruments, or in different music keys. It’s your job to take this new arrangement and make it sound great.
I hadn’t really thought about it as remixing until recently. A few days ago, I was thinking about a Hillsong song that I’d heard on CD and live at a couple of churches. They were all different but they sounded great. Then, this morning, I was sitting in my den and glanced at a book on my desk. The book…”The Remix Manual.” And that’s when it hit me.
What is remixing?
When it comes to remixes, most people hear these as alternate versions of songs on the radio. For example, there are a couple of popular country-music songs in which the song has been remixed with a bass emphasis and where rap music is interspersed. I see this as a sign of the second coming.
Seriously, though, a remix is an alternative version of a song in which there can be changes in the tempo, mood, groove, and arrangement. In some cases, the remix sounds like a completely different song. A remix is usually thought of as a version of a song in which a studio engineer has taken parts of a previously recorded song and changed, rearranged, and added new parts.
What is remixing for the church sound tech?
As a musician, I wouldn’t say I was playing a remix of a popular worship song. I’d say I was playing a new arrangement. As a sound guy, I find it helpful to think of it as a remix because I have final control over the sound of the arrangement of an existing song. Remixing for the church sound tech therefore, should be thought of as the mixing of a song in a new way.
Simon Langford, in his studio engineer’s book “The Remix Manual,” expresses the idea of remixing in a perfect way that I believe equally applies to mixing new arrangements in the live environment. He says,
“Think of every song as a story, a collection of words that conveys an emotion, or a journey; something unique and something personal. That story has its own language. That “language” might be pop, it might be R& B, or it might be rock. Our job, as remixers, is essentially that of a translator. We have to take that story and translate it into a different language, our language [that meets the desires of the audience] while keeping at least the meaning of the story intact.”
Areas for consideration
Simon points out several areas where one can remix a song. Consider some of these areas;
- Rhythmic and Percussive sounds. Anything related to the drum kit and added percussion. How does the worship team arrangement need these sounds? Where would they sound right in the mix? Upfront or tucked in the back? Bright and pronounced or subtle and subdued?
- Melodic sounds. Anything that plays a melodic line, from a bass to a lead guitar to even keyboard pads. Which instruments are playing the lead melodic lines and which need to be pronounced?
- Tempo. This is definitely controlled by the musicians but it is an area to consider as far as mixing. For example, how would you use reverb for an acoustic guitar for a fast song compared to a slow one? Do certain sounds blend better at slower tempos than at fast ones?
- Groove. Consider this the feel of the song. If you are going to move your body to the song, what instruments are driving that? What instruments on the worship team can be used to emphasize the feel of the song.
- Vocals. You do have limitations on your vocal mixing as the lead vocal always needs to be out front. But consider the different ways you could mix the backing singers. You might give them a lot of reverb and a lot of depth so they sound far away in the mix or you could blend them with the lead vocals. And you can always change that up from song to song and within the song.
The idea of remixing is exciting to me. It gives a whole new outlook on how I mix well-known songs. It gives the freedom to be expressive and creative while still keeping my focus on serving the congregation.
The idea of remixing let’s you put your own personal stamp on a song. Yes, you are following the needs of the worship leader and their intended arrangement but it’s ultimately up to you as to how to best make it work.
The Take Away
The majority of songs played during a worship service are not songs written by the performing band. Therefore, think of your worship bands performance as an interpretation of the original. The instruments could be different as could the tempo and even the mood of the song. Considering all of these differences, you should think of your work as a remix of the original.
While a good part of the feel of the song is left to the worship leader through song arrangement, you still have a lot of room to mix the song. Keep in mind you are remixing a new version of the song. You must decide how much the mix will resemble the original version and how much will be remixing into a new version. A simple mix change like pushing the drums to the back of the mix, toning down the kick drum, and pushing the keyboard to the front of the mix might be the perfect remix of a song for your congregation.
Take a few minutes for searching youtube for a popular worship song. Listen to different versions. That, my friend, is how much a song can change from the original recording.
On a side note, if you are into home studio recording, consider picking up “The Remix Manual.“ Simon does a great job of exploring the topic of remixes while explaining technical terms and concepts at the same time. Simon has had his remixes make it into the US Billboard Dance Chart and the UK national Top 20 Singles Chart. While the book is on the topic of remixing, he also goes into deal on the heart and soul of a song.
*The book, “The Remix Manual,” was given to me by Focal Press for review purposes. This, in no way, affected my views and opinions of this book.