Make Up For Lost Instruments By Filling In The Hole

Holes are obvious - fill them in.albertoalerigi

Holes are obvious – fill them in.
Photo provided by albertoalerigi

The drummer called in sick.  The bassist’s car broke down.  The guitarist had a family emergency.  Whatever the reason, you are now missing an instrument in the band.  It’s time to adjust your mix to fill in the hole.

There are two ways of treating missing instruments;

  1. Make it obvious in the mix.  For example, if the only electric sound in the band was the electric guitar then mix it as an acoustic set.
  2. Cover up the vacancy with other sounds.  It’s here that I’m parking for today.

Methods for filling in the hole:

  • Pretend you never had that instrument.  This will require denying knowledge of the musician and their family.  This is not a method I recommend.  It simply gets too complicated and if you accidentally mention their name a few years later, then it all falls apart.
  • Look at alternative mic’ing for bringing in the missing frequencies.  A djeme is a great percussion instrument with the slap on the top skin.  If the drummer calls in sick, add a mic to the bottom of the djeme to bring in more low-end frequencies into your mix.
  • Look for areas for boosting.  If the pianist couldn’t make it in, look at boosting the upper-mid’s and high’s on the acoustic guitar.  No bassist? Boost a bit of the low’s in the electric guitar.  Your goal isn’t completely filling in the frequency holes, only to make the holes less obvious.
  • Look for areas for cutting.  Any time an instrument is removed from a mix, the overall balance of the instruments and vocals has changed.  Bottom line, it’s time to re-evaluate your mix.

I will note that a missing instrument should give rise to arrangement changes by the worship leader but that’s not always possible, or in some cases, necessary.

The Take Away

The instruments present at your mid-week practice aren’t guaranteed to be there for the church service.  That’s part of live audio production – things change.  The good news is your mix doesn’t have to come crashing down.  Consider how the mix sounds without that instrument and start making changes to close up the gap.  You shouldn’t try making a guitar sound like a bass and a guitar but you can make subtle changes that fill in some of the missing low end.

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  1. says

    I tried posting the other week, but that was the day the site had issues so it never posted….oh well….won’t be able to remember what I all said now…..

    I would recommend that any Church has a spoken policy that if you are assigned, and you can’t make it, you do your best to find a replacement. This is something I’ve been trying to get our vocalists to do as I talk to them (the vocal is the only spot where we have more then one person that does that role….piano is kinda in that spot I guess)….Below is our recent experience with loss of musicians….

    We basically have 1 piano player. We have 1 other that comes in once a month to allow our primary to have a break. We have 1 guitarist that picks either bass or acoustic depending what he feels like that week. We also have a new drummer (and our only one) that just started picking up the drums about 2 months ago now (and is doing quite good considering she doesn’t bring the drums home and the drums are locked up in the schools storage room during the week).

    The other week, we had a decent snow storm a blowing (Canada lol)…PCO said that our drummer is planning on being at Church, and our guitarist will not be there (not the full worship team is on it yet). Our pianist calls me at 8:30 (8:45 is when I wake up, 9:15 is when arrive at Church, 9:28 is when most of the worship team arrives at Church, and 9:30 is worship rehearsal) saying she’s not coming because of the weather, I call the worship leader and notify her (I told the pianist to let the leader know as well as me for the future lol) and suggested that we may not want to do acapella and a drummer on the drum kit…..fortunately I have a number of tracks pre-loaded to ProPresenter (mp3’s with automated word transitions) so I recommended to plan on being as early as possible to pick out which ones she wants to do.

    I get to the Church a little before 9, and I start figuring out what I need to change on my end (as I’m the sound guy). At 9:15 the WL shows up and we figure out a complete change in the setlist (WLhad planned on 2 track songs already…so that was 2 less to do….) and notify the drummer and ProP operator of the day (WL’s kid)that they aren’t needed today (I let the ProP operator off as I could easily cover it that day and she’s only 12, the more she can hang with her friends the happier she can be as a youth). I also needed to setup one song for automation that was not done yet, so I quickly did a rough draft of that one for the rehearsal and later finished fine tuning it after rehearsal.

    We run through the songs for rehearsal a few times each as some were new to the backup vocalist. We did “You are Holy/Prince of Peace”, and the backup didn’t know the song well….but guess who does…me…the sound guy….so I hook up a mic to the board and send my vocal to his monitor only and help him out. After a few runs, he feels comfortable with it, but we determine that it would still be quite helpful for me to sing along during the service for that song. So I do as such during the service.

    We have the service. And it goes quite well. Everyone had fun, God was definitely with us that day :)

    Afterwards (and a little before service), I talk with the worship leader and the pastor (separately) and we talked a little about the future. Our pianist is 70ish years old….how long will she be around? It could be 10 years, it could be 6 months. Who knows. What do we do when she can’t play? We talked about trying to ask the parents of the young pianist learners to work on chordal based playing so that we could use that for piano playing when the time comes. Now-a-days (we agreed), we don’t need the piano player that plays 6 lines and every possible note combination in the space of 1 bar (like our current pianist does)….so to have people that can play just chords would be great.

    Anyways, the take-away from this is what can you do when your prime position people are not available (and you don’t have replacements)? Our backup was mp3’s on ProP. Our future plan is to promote training with out young musicians to do some basic chordal playing for some basic music (and of course expanding our musician’s completely).

    • says

      Josh, after reading all of that, I want to pin a medal on you. Josh Schultz was awarded the medal of ‘Singing for a Monitor Mix.’ What I loved reading was how you made plans, at nearly every step, as to deal with the problem and prevent such problems in the future.

  2. Tommy says

    I’ve been helping with sound at a Friday night youth meeting for a couple of months now and usually we just have V-drums and piano with two vocals. In this case the keyboard player tries to play more “low” parts on the piano to fill out the low end and I turn up the low and low mid for the piano on the mixer. The V-drums also help fill things out depending on the settings the drummer uses.