Mixing a worship team is more than just setting sound levels. Mixing involves bringing out the particular frequencies in each voice and musicial instrument that, when combined together, present a high quality emotional sound. A high quality sound means no low hums, no muddy sound, no high tinny sounds, and to better think of it, listen to a well eq'd classical music cd. In classical music, there are so many unique instruments each with their own ranges and uniqueness.
Here is a simple 13-stage process to mixing;
This simple stage is a preparation step that makes audio mixer work easier…group instruments and vocals logically when patching cables into the stage. For example, all drum microphones should be in consecutive channels such as 3,4,5 and 6. Not 1,3,7, and 8. Backing vocal singers in 2,3, and 4, not 1,7, and 9. When you are behind the mixer, it's easier to deal with sets of similiars when they are grouped together.
Complete all stage work regarding setting up the stage. Complete any on-stage conversations. In short, have everything for the service ready – minus the mixing of course, so you have nothing to mentally distract you. Mixing is just as much art as science so we want to let the creative part of the mind work unburdened.
Have the mixing area clean of clutter and have a pen/pencil and writing pad available. It's better to use a writing pad than the back of a scrap piece of paper. The writing pad means never running out of room when you write.
Just like I tell my kids before we get in the car…"use the restroom." The last thing you need is to be halfway through mixing and get distracted with that problem. After all, as soon as you leave the sound booth, you are more likely to talk with people and thus break your focus even more.
Now that you are ready to sit down at the mixer…
1. Label all channels. Label so you recognize them immediately when you see them. Therefore, label "Donna Vocal" and not "Vocal 2." If you are far away and can't see who is who, then you might use location; "Left Vocal" / "Middle Vocal" etc.
2. Optional. Place your channels into groups. Groups allow a single fader to control the overall volume of a set of channels. Therefore, you can fade out the band with one finger instead of having your fingers on eight faders and trying to make it sound good.
Perform a line check. This is a test that all sources (microphones, instruments, etc.) are sending signals to the mixing board.
Peform a logical sound check with all microphones (vocal and instrumental). At this stage, you are concerned with setting the Gain (Input volume) for each channel. See the article on EQ 101 for setting the Gain. Then bring up the faders to levels such as described in the article.
At this point the worship team can begin their practice.
Do a bit of "pre-EQ" work. In this case, use the lowpass and highpass filters where appropriate and perform any slight EQ tweaking to eliminate stray sounds such as low hums. Also, using the filters for eliminating stray low/high end sounds means that when instruments that do use those frequencies are EQ'ed, you will have a proper sound that isn't fighting against the stray stuff.
A tip here is use the PFL button and a set of headphones to listen to each instrument / vocal channel individually and do your pre-EQ when you can't figure out who is humming, buzzing, etc.
Balance the channels with each other. Make sure the volume of the lead vocalist stands out, make sure the drum volumes (kick drum, high hat, etc) are where they should be. We are still in the science realm of the work but we are slowly entering into the artistic side. This stage is finished when the instruments and vocals work together at the proper volumes. We are establishing a baseline balance, if you will.
Do not add any effects on the board at this point. We don't want to confuse your ears until they are ready for it.
Start Equalization…now the artistic / creative side of your head comes into play.
There are a few driving sounds in a band. These sounds are your starting point for equalization work. These include the vocals, drums, and bass. Concentrate on these sounds and creating the right mix before working on the more supportive sounds. You don't want to try to mix all instruments at the same time. Your brain will melt and your ears might pack up and leave. By starting with the key sounds and working from there, you are working in a logical organized manner where each step improves the current overall sound.
Drums set the tempo. However, drums are important in the initial set for another reason. A drum kit produces the low thump of a kick drum and the high "sizzle" of a cymbal. This is a huge frequency range. By EQ'ing the drums after the vocals, you'll have an easier time providing the proper blending EQ levels for the supporting instruments.
Perform more equalization…
This is the stage where you will start pulling out your hair, if you have any. The reason is EQ'ing one instrument / vocal can cause the sound of another instrument / vocal to sound bad. A common mistake is to leave the already EQ'ed channels alone and boost the frequencies in the channel you need. There are two ways to make a sound stand out. The first is the default concept of "boost it." The latter is to decrease (cut) the levels of the other sounds that are similar to it. Therefore, before you pull out your hair because you keep boosting frequencies – thus slowly increasing volume, try cutting frequencies in related instruments / vocals.
The EQ isn't used to make all instruments sound the same. It's to make them sound unique. The high notes of the piano should be very distinct when played along side of a flute or piccolo. When you do have two similar sounds, try boosting one a little and see if the uniqueness jumps out. You can't do that with all sounds or you are back to where you started.
If you have stereo lines for your speakers – as compared to mono lines, you have the ability to pan sounds left/right/center and all points inbetween. Due to the nature of the environment and the nature of the effects of panning, avoid panning an instrument to the far left or right. Use panning to separate the sounds of similar instruments. A pair of rhythm guitars sound great together but when you have two high frequency instruments such as tamborine, high-hat, piccolo, flute, etc, pan one of them slight left and one of them slight right. This helps the ear distinguish the difference.
Add audio mixer effects if you use them. For example, add a little reverb for weak and/or young singers. I add a bit to a acoustic guitar if only one guitar is played in a band. This helps "round out" the sound.
Effects are NOT used as a means of replacing the EQ process. They are effects on a sound, not a means of EQ'ing a sound.
At this point in the process, if the effects are not providing the sound you want for a particular vocal or instrumental channel, turn off the effect and re-check your EQ settings as they are likely off a bit – or a lot.
Relax, listen to the worship team and how the sounds stir around in your head. Now go get a drink of water. Make sure you have a few moments to get away from the sound. When you return to the sound booth, listen again to the sound. Do you still like it? Tweak it if you don't.
Now prepare for the worship team to go from playing a fast tempo song to a very slow one, or vice versa. During the song, do your EQ levels still sound good? If not, make notes as to your current settings for the previous song and tweak the EQ / effects for the current song. If you only make one change, then note that on your service outline such as "song #2, bring down effects of guitar" or "song #2, increase high freq by 3db on channel #12."
Each song has it's unique characteristics whether it's the overall sound or a different lead instrument. Respect each song so that your mix is just as much a part of the worship as the team performing it.
Don't over-tweak the sound. You could spend all day trying to find "just the right sound." The next day, you might hate that sound. Remember, you are tweaking for the best sound, not the most sterile sound. I have a few records (yes, the real Lp's) in which the albums were overproduced. They were tweaked and retweaked so much that the album lost it's energy and instead took on a sterile sound. It's hard to explain. It's like all the instruments and vocal lines were balanced and EQ'd in such a textbook fashion that the emotion that the music was to carry had been completely drained.