The FILO conference brought Jeff Sandstrom, Chris Tomlin’s FOH engineer, to a room full of church audio techs hoping to hear that one tip that would skyrocket their mix quality. Or, they just wanted to meet him – maybe a little of both.
Jeff has a heart for the band and the church and it was evident in everything he said and did. And yes, he did give us some tips but he also made a statement that might be a HUGE revelation for a lot of you. But first, the mixing tips. Oh, Jeff used recorded multi-tracks from the recent Chris Tomlin tour – BONUS.
The Seven Mixing Tips
1. Add some top-end EQ on the kick drum to capture the slap of the beater.
From what I could see on the Yamaha CL5 that Yamaha provided (thanks, Jacob Cody), he had two peaks, one in the 6-7k area and another in the 12k area. I might be wrong on the exact spots but those numbers are close – and you know it’s whatever sounds good in your situation.
2. Wake up the drums.
Use a compression group on the drum skins (toms, kick, snare) to add snap to the drums, or as Jeff says, “to wake them up.” It really did sound a lot better when he compared the two.
3. Add grit to the bass guitar to separate it from other instruments.
Played alone, it sounded odd, but played within the context of the other instruments, it sounded great. This is a tip that Robert Scovill provided at a Guru’s conference years ago so when you get multiple professionals saying the same thing, take note.
4. Be aware of where the vocalist is holding the microphone and WHY.
He said Chris doesn’t like to sing because he’d rather have the audience raising up their voices. (I think he meant he didn’t like his voice over the audience but I’m not sure.) This means there are times Chris moves the microphone away from his mouth even though he’s still singing. It’s easy to think if this happened at your church that you’d boost the vocal channel. The truth is it’s because the worship leader WANTS the congregation’s voices to be out front.
5. Keep vocals on top during the sound check.
When building the mix, we always talk about starting with the kick drum and adding everything on top of that. Sandstrom suggests having the lead vocalist singing throughout that time so their frequencies are always given priority.
6. Approach mixing as a musician.
A singer will sing louder or softer as the song arrangement and the audience (in our case the congregation) demands. The musicians work that ebb and flow. I think Sandstrom explained it as, “play the faders like a keyboardist plays their instrument.”
7. Respect the arrangement.
If the song arrangement builds intensity, then you do the same with the mix at those points. Watch the live concert video below of Tomlin’s Our God and listen to how that song builds and then pulls back and builds again.
This wasn’t a revelation that Jeff had, it’s one that many of you will have the moment you read it. Jeff’s a professional who’s been doing this for…ever. He’s got the mad skillz! His mixes sound amazing! So what do you think when you read what he said:
“Some songs have so much going on, they are hard to mix.”
Yes folks, even professionals have times when they struggle with a song mix. It’s ok if you’ve been doing this for years and still get frustrated with a particular song. I’ve had to scrap a mix during sound check and start all over.
Jeff said that for one song, he takes it to an extreme and _____ ___ _______ ________ ______. Some tips are best kept to only those in attendance. :)
The Next Step
Check out these tips from the last Gurus of Tech conference.